by Victoria Vale
This is a beautiful, super angsty, second-chance Regency love story. It is the fifth book in this series, and the characters in the previous volumes make an appearance herein. The fact that the 2 main characters featured in this particular book are men dramatically raises the stakes, because in Regency England such a relationship could find both parties imprisoned and/or executed.
Benedict Sterling has fought – literally and physically – to be financially independent of his father. For years he has engaged in boxing matches and won a lot of money. Then, setting up the Gentleman Courtesans helped him achieve that goal while simultaneously helping his friends out of tight situations as well; every time a contract with set up for one of his friends with a “keeper,” Ben received a cut of the money for making the arrangements. As we learned in prior books, the London Gossip has been threatening to expose the secrets of the Gentleman Courtesans. Lord Alexander Osborne, the recent Earl of Vautrey, has come back to London determined to win back the love he was forced to abandon 3 years prior. Ben is just as determined not to let Alex back into his life. Alex is stubbornly resolved to do anything necessary to get Ben to listen to what he needs to tell him … Including hiring him as a courtesan for a month.
This book is a powerhouse of emotion. It is full of gut-wrenching revelations, twists and turns, betrayals and loyalties, cruelty and compassion, intolerance and understanding. Ben’s father is horrible beyond words, as is the London Gossip. By the time we get to the last page, Ben learns that real friendship is a 2-way street, and that he is worthy of true love. I thought the ending of the book was great and was impressed with how perfectly the author brought it all together. I also liked learning that the series will continue, although under new leadership.
I would like to say that if you are skittish of reading this book because it is a MM love story, please give it a try anyway. The intimate scenes are not gratuitous. Rather, they are predominantly about the emotional connection between the characters at different points in the story. But if you don’t want read those pages just skip them, the same way you might skip explicit pages in a traditional MF love story. This book has so much to share about the human spirit, facing adversity, rebuilding oneself, recovering from abuse, coping with consequences when those who should love us hurt us beyond reason, and the redemptive power of forgiveness.