Teddy Dandridge had hoped to make a go of it as an artist in Paris, but sadly, his funds have dried up. Now, instead of creating art that inspires him, he is painting a portrait for the daughter of a wealthy family. Yet, he knows he is lucky to have the commission and a place to live, and perhaps it will lead to more jobs if all goes well. One day, while painting, Teddy is surprised to glimpse his subject’s elusive older brother. All Teddy knows is that the man is supposedly greatly disfigured and mentally deficient as well. But Teddy can’t resist seeking the man out, particularly when he hears how horribly he is treated by his family.
Phineas Abernathy has lived alone in the west wing of his home his entire life, cut off by the family that keeps him at a distance. His parents have made clear that they are just protecting him from those that would judge and ridicule Phin — that is why he is not allowed in the rest of the house. He can’t blame his parents, as it has been made clear to him that with his disfigured hand and unattractive face, he is unfit for the public. Phin is mostly content with his solitary lot in life, though he does dream of having a man of his own (but he has no expectations of that ever happening).
When Teddy makes his way to Phin’s part of the house, he finds a sweet, shy young man who has lived a sheltered life, but is otherwise perfectly normal. Yes, he is not conventionally attractive and he does have a stunted arm. But Teddy doesn’t care about any of that. He enjoys Phin’s company and is delighted that Phin shares his love of art. As Teddy works on the portrait by day, he spends his evenings with Phin, getting to know the man and developing a strong bond. But Teddy’s time at the home is quickly coming to an end, and though he encourages Phin to break free from the prison his family has imposed, Phin isn’t sure that he can take that kind of step. Now Phin must decide if he is ready to face the world, and what could be a future with Teddy, or if he is going to retreat back to his solitary life once Teddy is gone.
The Beauty and the Beast trope is one of my favorites, so I am always eager to pick up a story in this style. I think Dee does a great job here weaving this theme into the book. It is clear from the start that Phin has been hidden away by a family that is ashamed of him and is too embarrassed for anyone to see his less than perfection. It is also clear right away that Phin has internalized their attitude to the point that he believes he is truly grotesque and that somehow they are protecting him from others by keeping him virtually a prisoner in his own home. Dee does a particularly nice job here making it clear that Phin is a flawed narrator and that the way he sees what is happening is totally different from reality. I enjoyed seeing him blossom here from someone who is so sheltered and accepting of his lot, to a man who is able to reach for what he wants and gain confidence to stand up for himself.
The relationship with Teddy grows sweetly as the two bond over a love of art. I particularly liked the way that a bit of the art history of the time is woven in here, as Teddy is on the edge of some new styles and ways of artistic thinking, but is kind of stifled in his role as a portrait painter. While the guys do get together sexually, most of the focus on their relationship is Teddy helping to open up Phin’s world. Not only does he give him a feel for life outside the walls of the home, but also encourages Phin to want more from life and believe that he deserves it.
I did feel at times we were getting more telling than showing, especially in the earlier parts of the book where things are just laid out without as much nuance as I would like. Particularly in the areas where we are getting their emotions, too much was just told to us and it made some sections a little flat. That said, as the story picked up, it came together much better for me, and I really loved the way things all wrapped up in the end. There were easy ways the story could be tied together, and I appreciated that Dee took it in a bit of a different direction, while still giving the men their happy ending.
So I enjoyed this one and if you are fan of historicals or Beauty and the Beast storylines, this is one worth checking out.