Reviewed by Blue
Gareth Alexander, is the unwilling Marquess of Heathgate, due to a tragic accident years ago that took the lives of the current Marquess, his father, older brother, uncle, and cousin, who were all in line to inherit the title before he was. Although the boating incident was ruled an accident, people of the ton speculated that he had a hand in it, in order to inherit. While dealing with his grief, he also had to suffer people suspecting him of murder. So, his defense was building a wall around himself and not caring. He threw himself into making his lands profitable, and becoming a rake. He had no intentions of marrying, and didn’t associate with “decent” women.
Felicity Worthington is the daughter of a Viscount, who died without providing for her or her sister. They are living a meager existence, when Felicity receives word of a surprise inheritance from a distant cousin – a brothel! In order to inherit, Felicity must prove to the solicitors that she has learned how to run the brothel, including pleasing the customers. The cousin named Gareth as the person to teach her. If she refuses Gareth, she may choose Riverton, who is a slimeball of the worst sort. If she doesn’t accept these terms, she doesn’t get the inheritance.
Felicity decides to accept, hoping that the scheme can remain secret, and she’ll have the funds to launch her younger sister in society. She approaches Gareth, who is stunned at the news. He knew the cousin (Callista) and can’t believe that she would concoct such a scheme, because it will surely ruin Felicity. Gareth refuses until Felicity tells him that her other option is Riverton. Gareth reluctantly accepts, but with the thought of finding a way to get around actually taking Felicity’s innocence.
They start meeting, and Gareth begins to teach Felicity the way of the world. He accepts that he’ll have to ruin her, and, in truth, he desires her. Felicity is beginning to care for him, and realizing this, Gareth tells her,
“If you want protestations of profound emotion from me, you are doomed to disappointment. I’ll give you pleasure and teach you how to please a lover. When I have discharged that obligation, I will wish you luck and be on my way.”
When they finally get to the point of having sex, Felicity insists that she will never be intimate with another man after this, Gareth determines to make this time tender and memorable for her. He uses his considerable skill, and in the process realizes he has fallen in love. He also realizes that he is not husband material and could never be faithful. When their night is over, he decides to be cruel to be kind (so he thinks) and tells her,
“You have means now….distract yourself from this dalliance you’ve had with me, and forget what you think you feel for me. Our business is concluded, and I certainly intend to move along to other pleasurable pursuits.”
Felicity, although far less experienced, realizes that Gareth cares for her. She also realizes that he is determined to end their relationship. Holding her tears back, as she leaves, she tells him,
“I will never forget you, or that you are the man who came to be both lover and friend to me. You will continue to dwell in my mind and heart as a friend at least, as I would be to you. And I will miss you, Gareth. I will miss you until my dying day.”
Gareth is a complex character. Although from the beginning we know he’s innocent of any wrongdoing in the deaths of his family, and therefore has a reason to have built his walls, I struggled with him. His courteous cruelty to Felicity made me wonder if he was redeemable. But seeing him after they part, with his walls crumbling down, I was won over, and my heart broke for him.
This is another touching and emotional story by Grace Burrowes, who has rapidly become one of my favorite authors. There is a mystery here, as well, but the focus is on the love story of a hardened (yet redeemed) rake and the innocent lady who brought him back to life. Both aspects have a satisfying ending, and I highly recommend this book.