Rating: 3.75 stars
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Louis-Charles Aumont, the Marquis de Montespan, has hit rock bottom and he is fairly content to stay there. Four years ago, Aumont turned down his true love in an offer for marriage, and Luke went on to get killed in the war. Aumont has never forgiven himself for what he sees as having driven Luke to his death and he is now living in the slums and not so slowly drinking himself to death.
George Darling is a Bow Street Runner who has recently found himself surprisingly mixed up in the troubles and adventures of a group of lords. Darling joined the Runners because he believes in the law and wants to do good. It is a shame that requirements for adherence to the law is mostly reserved for the poor, while the rich get away with just about anything. Still, Darling is determined to live a good life. He takes no bribes, works hard, doesn’t drink, and will have no sex before marriage.
Darling is approached by Lord Christmas Gale with the request to help Teddy Honeyfield, one of Gale’s former companions, who is being threatened by a stalker. The stalker is putting claim on Teddy and seems quite jealous, so the plan is to draw him out by posing as a new companion for Teddy. Darling knows he is far too common to ever realistically present as Teddy’s benefactor, so he goes to Aumont for help instead. Unfortunately, not only does Aumont have no interest in getting involved, he is far too into his cups to stand, let alone help out. Eventually, however, offer of coin for gin manages to attract Aumont enough to agree to the plan.
As Darling and Aumont work together to protect Teddy, a surprising friendship begins to form, and even an attraction. Neither man thinks they are quite right for one another — Darling is a common working man, far below the station of a Marquis; and Aumont still has guilt and grief over Luke’s death and thinks himself unworthy of love. Yet it doesn’t take long for both men’s hearts to get involved, even as their heads warn it could never work. If they can take a chance on love and believe that they are worthy of one another, Darling and Aumont might find they have a future of happiness together.
An Affair for Aumont is the fifth book in J.A. Rock and Lisa Henry’s Lords of Bucknall Club series. The books take place in an alternate historical world where same sex marriage is legal, which I think is quite fun as it allows for HEAs for the characters that can end in marriage and public relationships, unlike most real-world historical stories. I will note that while the blurbs or front matter of these books often state that they can be read in any order, I very much disagree with this assessment. The books feature a group of friends who appear in each other’s stories. They take place essentially chronologically (with a bit of overlap in a few) and refer back to past events that often will spoil prior books. Aumont, for example, reveals both the bad guy from A Sanctuary for Soulden, as well as how that story resolves. If you read this one first, the whole suspense plot would be ruined. So while I do think you could start at any point in the series and be able to follow the key threads, and even skip books, I definitely would not read these out of order.
Ok, that said, let’s dive in here. The tone of this story is a little heavier than some of the others, with less playfulness and some more intense themes. Aumont is still not only grieving Luke’s death, along with the loss of the friendship of Luke’s brother, Phillip, he also very much blames himself for Luke’s death. Aumont is no longer a spy for France, but he is totally at loose ends with no real idea of what to do next, aside from drinking so much he can barely function. It is pretty clear Aumont is depressed and full of self-loathing and it takes him a long time to come to terms with his past and his own self worth. Some of that comes from Darling’s love and support, some comes from realizing he has friends and people who care about him, and some comes just from moving past his own grief. For his part, Darling has found himself surrounded by this group of lords and sees himself far below their station. He feels unworthy of a man like Aumont and out of his element among these rich men who are fairly self indulgent and live above the law by virtue of their wealth and birth. So this story is a very slow burn as Darling and Aumont slowly begin to build a friendship, acknowledge their attraction to one another, and finally feel worthy of actually having one another. I think the romance is well done, capturing the pain and emotions of these men and developing things realistically between them given what they are both going through. I will say, it was intense at times and I did wish for things to move forward faster, even as I understand why it did not. The story just didn’t have the same energy or sense of humor as some of the other books, which again makes sense, but made for a heavier read than I was expecting. As a note, while the other books are fairly explicit in terms of sex content, this one features only kissing as Darling is waiting for marriage. Which again, very much fits with the characters, but I’ll admit I would have loved a scene late in the book between them as Darling is so sweet and earnest and virginal and it would have been lovely to see the men finally come together.
The stalker storyline feels mostly like a vehicle to get Darling and Aumont together, rather than a real suspense element. It is clear someone wants to hurt Teddy, and Teddy himself is delightful and certainly worth of protecting. But while we hear a bit about the threats he is getting, there is not much of a sense of imminent danger at any point and the threats feel sort of removed from the action. Even at the end, the bad guy is found with virtually no fanfare (though the scene where the men discuss just what to do with him is amusing). They never even fully verify they have the right man. So like I said, this storyline is more to provide the reason for Darling and Aumont to spend time together than a plot unto itself. But I did love Teddy and was happy to see him get his own HEA here as well.
While this book and these themes are on the heavier end, there is a dose of humor injected as the various couples from the series all interact. I will never tire of Notley and Rivingdon and their charming lack of self awareness, nor of Gale’s brilliant self absorption. I really enjoy the friendship and camaraderie among the group and it was fun revisiting these characters again here.
I thought this one might be the end of the series, but the next book is promoted at the end of the story and I am intrigued by this character for sure (we have seen him from a distance in past books). So I am enjoying this series and looking forward to seeing what is next.