David Forester and Noah Clarke have been best friends ever since David defended Noah from a school bully as kids. Now, Noah is a respected, up-and-coming tailor and David runs The Curious Fox, a club catering to men like who enjoy other men. David takes his role as the manager of the club very seriously, seeing it as his duty to help take care of his patrons and ensure their safety and happiness. Noah is a frequent guest, often in his Miss Penelope Primrose drag persona. While over the years the men have had their share of sexual interactions together, it has never been more than friendship between them. That hasn’t stopped David from falling hard for Noah, but Noah has never seemed to feel the same.
Running an underground club is a risky endeavor, especially since the Fox also rents rooms for sex and David often helps set up his clients with a date for the night. David knows that if things go badly with the law, he is the one who will face the most trouble, but he feels the risk is worth taking to help out his people. However, dealing with the club’s owner is another story. David knows Lord Henry Belleville is bad news — though just how bad is something David doesn’t want to share with Noah.
When Belleville wants to close the club, David is determined to find a way to stop him. He can’t even imagine losing the Fox, losing a place where so many people can be safe to be themselves. Noah is right by David’s side, committed to being there for his friend and supporting him however he can. The experience also helps Noah to see David in a new light, and he realizes that his feelings for David are more than just friendship. Noah is determined to be there for David, whatever the risk. But facing off against an unscrupulous man, particularly one who has leverage over David, isn’t going to be easy. It is going to take all they have to find a way to save the Fox and keep David from ending up in the kind of trouble that could ruin his life.
A Rulebook for Restless Rogues is the second book in Jess Everlee’s Lucky Lovers of London series. One of the main characters in the first book, A Gentleman’s Book of Vices, spends quite a lot of time at the Fox and so we met both David and Noah in that book. But I think this story should work fine as a standalone.
This is an entertaining, friends-to-lovers story between two men with an intense friendship (along with some occasional fooling around between them since they were teens). But they have never seen each other as more than friends, even as David wishes for more. I could really feel the close bond between David and Noah, and Everlee adds a few flashback scenes that do a great job in establishing that lifelong connection. There are some nice moments here where we see how much Noah truly cares for David, but doesn’t quite realize that all these feelings are adding up to love. It is really rewarding to see Noah finally recognize his love for David and I enjoyed their bond. Once he is in, Noah is all in, even if that means putting himself at risk right beside David. One aspect I thought was really interesting is that Noah’s family are Unitarians, a group that is pragmatic and generally accepting about homosexuality, even at a time when it was outlawed. Everlee adds some nice detail here that really adds some historical interest, but also highlights and develops Noah’s character well.
The conflict here focuses on the risk that David accepts for his role at the Fox and the fear that Belleville may close it. But there is also an underlying conflict with regard to David’s past with Belleville and the hold he has over David. It means David has little leverage and faces great risk if he doesn’t fall in line. Noah wants David to look out for himself more, to not put the club before his own safety. But David is determined to save the Fox, knowing what it means to everyone. I did like this part of the plot and it adds some nice external tension. However, I didn’t fully understand why David was so fearful of Noah learning the truth about his past. I also didn’t fully understand why Belleville was such a personal threat to David. We are told how dangerous he is, but I don’t think the reason David is specifically at risk is fully explained. I liked how Noah and David ultimately make some really good decisions that go a long way to helping them out of this difficult situation. But there is also this sort of fairy godmother situation where some outside party comes in and solves the big hurdle and ties things all up neatly at the end. I had this issue in the first book too, though there I felt the resolution was almost all external, which is definitely not the case here. I just wish that the characters were more agents of their own success, rather than someone else sweeping in to save the day.
As one other random note, I am confused by this title, as I wouldn’t consider either Noah or David to be “restless” or a “rogue.” Both men are actually deeply committed to things that they care about and, in David’s case, he is almost fervent in his dedication to his people. Not to mention both have an intense dedication to each other. Neither man seems particularly roguish either. I know this is a silly thing to care about, but I feel like the title is there because it sounds cute (and fits well with the first book’s title), but not actually because it fits with this particular story.
In the end, I found this an engaging friends-to-lovers story. Everlee does a really nice job developing Noah and David as characters and the story provides a great foundation for understanding these men and what has shaped them. David and Noah are an appealing couple and I really liked them together. This is an interesting historical and I think this series will appeal to a lot of readers.