I have really been on a reading terror with the historical romances lately enjoying trying new authors and new series. This story had appeal with the taboo romance, spies, smugglers, ghosts and an awkward engagement. It was a debut novel for the author and I enjoyed the story so that I look forward to what comes next in the series.
The story opens when Sebastian Lewis, the newly made Duke of Lansdowne due to the untimely deaths of his uncle and cousin, arrives in London to arrange his engagement. He is a widower and until recently, a Yorkshire country squire. He prefers his simple estate, hunting and fishing, but now he feels compelled to do his duty by the family and his new dukedom. Too bad, his duties hold no real happiness for him especially after he encounters his intended’s brother Captain William Carlyle.
William fought in India with Wellington now he has returned to England to recover from an injury. At a ball, he encounters a delightful, innocent man who attracts him like no one ever has, but its almost a physical blow when he discovers the man is a duke and his sister’s intended. Her recently deceased fiancé was the current duke’s cousin. Sebastian’s offer with repair her reputation and take care of her financially. William is torn. He tries to stay away after Sebastian makes it clear that he isn’t interested in William though William is not fooled that the man is attracted to him. He wants his sister’s happiness and he wants to honor Sebastian’s wishes to have a normal life, but that doesn’t take away his worry that the marriage isn’t a good idea or take away the longing for Sebastian.
Sebastian is conflicted about his feelings for William and the engagement to Dorothea, but now he has the added concern that something odd is going on in the environs of his estate and its not just the fearful atmosphere that Napoleon and the French will invade there. Odd things are happening in the house, a ghost rides in the night, and someone is staying at the gatehouse cottage. He is in a swirl of activity and yet he feels so out of his element. In the end, Sebastian and William confront the danger in Sussex, but still have no recourse for what they both are feeling.
The plot is a taboo romance between a war-weary man who dreams of finding a man who is willing to vest in a long-term relationship with him regardless of the danger and a naive man who sacrifices his own happiness for duty yet in the midst he is on a journey of sexual discovery and love.
The overall storyline was very engaging. I was vested in the various plot threads and enjoyed that both main characters acted as narrators. There are two main plots that had my attention: the romance and the intrigue surrounding a certain hateful character. I had one of his motives figured out early, though not all of them, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment.
I was a little iffy on the romance just because every time they started to get something going, Sebastian would run like a frightened rabbit. As a result, they spend more time pining for each other than actual page time together. This also means that this isn’t a very scorchy romance. Sebastian knows nothing of being with men so it naturally has to start slow. I tried to be patient since I got Sebastian’s hang-ups really I did. His concerns were pretty legit- hanging being the worst, but other severe punishments possible if caught. Yeah, he had a good reason to think hard about starting something up with William. And I already mentioned earlier that he really hadn’t pursued his thing for men before or really understood it. I just didn’t like the fact that he kept hurting William and pushing things along faster with Dorothea out of fear while he was figuring stuff out.
Now saying this doesn’t mean that I didn’t like Sebastian. He is a loveable bumbling like character who has a sunny, giving disposition. I loved him and William together. William was a favorite too. He is so hopeful and wants what all the other couples have around him. He feels badly for loving his sister’s fiancé, but he is well aware that she loves someone else. He tries to do right by everyone even while he watches the clock run down on his chance at love and happiness. I was really rooting for these guys to get their chance.
I do have to add that normally, I’m not big on cheating since Sebastian was engaged to Dorothea, but the historical context of same sex relations being illegal and the fact that’s its a quick arranged match affair left me with the ability to keep reading and see where it went. Ultimately, Sebastian does act with honor so my worries were set aside.
All in all, this debut m/m historical romance was a delightful blend of romance and intrigue. I’d like to see a bit more romance and character depth, but it wasn’t lacking either. Lots of promise for more.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review thoughts.