Loftus Rivingdon is about to enter society for his first season. He is beautiful and fashionable and certain to easily attract a wealthy and titled spouse. And he needs one, as his father’s gambling has put the family in debt and Loftus’ job is to marry well. Fortunately, under his mother’s watchful eye, Loftus has been training for this all his life. He has the charm, grace, looks, and wardrobe to make him the catch of the season. The only thing holding him back is Morgan Notley.
Morgan, too, was raised to marry well and attract a titled spouse. He too is beautiful, charming, elegant, and well dressed. Like Loftus, Morgan has been raised his entire life for just this moment. Unfortunately, Loftus and Morgan have both cast their eye toward the same man, the gorgeous Viscount Soulden.
Morgan and Loftus are each determined to be the one to win Soulden’s hand, even if that means resorting to some backstabbing, spiteful behavior, and even a little sabotage. But as the season progresses, both men find that their ascent to the top of the social ladder is not as easy as they expected. Not only that, but the pair find common ground that has them grudgingly becoming friends, even as they each hope to wed the same man. The more Morgan and Loftus get to know each other, the more it becomes clear that while they minds might be aiming for Soulden, their hearts are meant for each other.
A Rival for Rivingdon is the third book in J.A. Rock and Lisa Henry’s The Lords of Bucknall Club series, an alternate world historical where same sex marriages are allowed and commonplace among the peerage. Loftus, Morgan, and Soulden made some side appearances in past books (and Morgan is Warry’s cousin from A Husband for Hartwell). The books also seem to overlap timelines a bit, as we see the tail end of the scandal from the first book happening here. That said, this story stands alone just fine, so you can jump in here if desired.
One of the things I appreciate in a good book is character growth and that is really the theme here in this story. Loftus and Morgan are quite a lot and, during the first part of the book, we really see them in all their self absorbed, arrogant glory. These men each have domineering mothers who have raised their sons to believe they are the most beautiful, lovely, charming jewel there is to be found and that the moment they step foot into society, they will be swarmed by gorgeous, wealthy peers ready to sweep them away. They are both quite full of themselves, spoiled and indulged and pampered by their mothers, and truly oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of anyone else. (Morgan’s reaction to thinking a man had been killed at a party was disappointment that it detracted from people noticing the beautiful buttons on his jacket.) The men are fighting with one another because they cannot stand the idea of anyone else being more beautiful, desirable, or better dressed, and so they basically hate one another on sight.
Sometimes I find this type of character so unappealing as to derail the story, but for some reason it worked for me here. I mean, yes, I found them unlikable at the start, but I also think they are so over-the-top that it is nearly impossible to take them seriously. They are almost absurdly arrogant and self absorbed, and I couldn’t help but laugh and roll my eyes most of the time. But also, what the authors do so well here is really develop these characters so we can understand just what got them to this point. These men were raised by their mothers (and mostly ignored by their fathers) to believe that they were “a diamond of the first water.” They have been told their sole purpose in life is to be a beautiful and charming accessory to the right wealthy peer and they were not taught or given anything that did not further that goal. Neither man had the opportunity to grow into a kind and caring person; they were each told that they are the best, the only, the most important. Any interests or desires they might have had toward anything that didn’t fit that path was quickly crushed. For example, Morgan excelled at painting and truly enjoyed it, but once he reached basic proficiency, his mother refused to let him take more lessons, pushing him toward pursuits more likely to snag a spouse. Plus, according to his mother, painting could make him squint and cause unsightly wrinkles. So while these two men are a lot to take early on, it is so clear that they have previously never had a chance to even learn to be anything better.
After the first portion of the story sets the stage, we see that both Loftus and Morgan DO learn to be better. They form a friendship and start to recognize one another as people rather than purely obstacles in their path. They start to care about one another’s feelings, and to see in one another the pain and challenging upbringing that neither can recognize in themselves. They start to make an effort to think about other people, to be aware of real things that matter, and most importantly, to begin to think for themselves rather than be decorative objects their mothers lead around. Of course, both Morgan and Loftus are still vain and arrogant and obsessed with clothes. But they really come so far and grow so much; it was just so rewarding and I couldn’t help but love their absurd selves.
One of the things I loved about the storyline is watching these guys trying to win Viscount Soulden, mostly on the strength of the fact that he is hot. So they have both decided he is the one, despite the fact that they literally know nothing about him. Poor Soulden is just so exasperated as these two clueless peacocks keeping trying to woo him and he is not at all interested. It leads to some funny moments, as it becomes clear that Soulden is not only far too experienced a man for either of these sheltered virgins, but also he definitely is involved in some high stakes business (which we learn more about in the recently released A Sanctuary for Soulden). It adds for some humor as Loftus and Morgan are in totally over their heads. I got a laugh at both Soulden’s exasperation, as well as Morgan and Loftus’ realization that neither of them knows quite what to do with Soulden in bed should they actually manage to snare him. A recurring element of the series surrounds the erotic Maiden Diaries, a series of sexy books that everyone is reading, but no one is admitting it. So the men are using that as their reference point to help them understand sex, and it adds a lot of humor, not to mention some heated moments as they attempt to role play some scenarios from the book.
Overall, I found this one fun and charming. Loftus and Morgan have such wonderful character growth that I could overlook their less appealing moments and enjoy watching them come into their own. There is a nice playfulness to the story, from the characters, to their encounters with Soulden, to their furtive reading of the erotic book. I really enjoyed Loftus and Morgan’s journey and love the way this story sets us up for Soulden’s book. That one is already out and I am quite eager to find out what he has in store for us (and I have the review scheduled for next week).