This is a bit of a Beauty and the Beast story. Lord Harte, Avenell Slade, has dealt with a rather desperate affliction all his life. He has a medical condition that makes his skin so sensitive that it is painful to be touched by another. Initially he searches out the help of Madam Pendragon, a brothel owner with an iron glove. Pendragon enforces discretion and punishes loose tongues; no one would dare gossip that Lord Harte has been serviced by her brothel in anyway, much less rumor a health issue. One doesn’t mess with the steely madam, she’s cunningly intelligent and not afraid to play Eve over Adam. Poor Adam.
Upon the heels of some bad luck, the Chadwick sisters have inherited the debts of their gambling pater. Lily becomes the pawn in a game of desperation when one of her father’s creditors calls in his loan. Mason Hale dipped his fingers in many shady dealings, now he is trying to create a better life for the woman he once loved and his daughter. When his baby momma demands money he finds himself grabbing Lily off the street. Waking up in a brothel with her virtue on at stake is tough luck. Further disconcerting is a scheming madam playing a chess game with her patrons to get the man she most wants to win the young lady.
This book does have a lot of backstory to it, the earlier book–Luck is No Lady is occurring at the same time so they need to be read in order to get the entire scope of events. Lily and her sister Emma’s love stories are separate but intertwined. All the machinations in the background are well developed and told in a way as not to draw away from the main storytelling. It makes the novel very rich in plot and done successfully to boot.
There is a great gathering of strong female characters, Lily and Pendragon are compelling as hell, both far too naughty for the Haute Ton, and too good not to fall in love with.
My one wish is that Amy Sandas had an afterword with an explanation of Lord Harte’s medical condition because I know that it is a verifiable disorder recognized today but it would add to the story to have insight to the history of it and her inspiration to write a story about it.
I do love fairy tales retold and this was very well plotted and adapted. Amy Sandas, YOU are a BAWS! I can’t wait to read more of her novels.
Recommendations Based on This Read:
The Untouchable Earl:
“Are you afraid?”
“Yes,” she replied in a soft voice. “But I love the way you frighten me.”
Lily Chadwick has spent her life playing by society’s rules. But when an unscrupulous moneylender snatches her off the street and puts her up for auction at a pleasure house, she finds herself in the possession of a man who makes her breathless with terror and impossible yearning…
Though the reclusive Earl of Harte claimed Lily with the highest bid, he hides a painful secret—one that has kept him from knowing the pleasure of a lover’s touch. Even the barest brush of skin brings him physical pain, and he’s spent his life keeping the world at arms’ length. But there’s something about Lily that maddens him, bewitches him, compels him…and drives him toward the one woman brave and kind enough to seek to heal his troubled heart.
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The Untouchable Earl Excerpt:
The earl’s curse was muttered so quietly under his breath, Lily almost did not hear it. He was looking out the carriage window as they slowly made their way through a spot of unexpected traffic to the narrow drive that ran alongside the building that housed Pendragon’s Pleasure House.
He turned to look at her, and she could tell by the fierce lines of displeasure on his face that something was wrong. Curious, she shifted on her seat, leaning toward the window in an attempt to see what had irritated him. She managed just a glimpse of the brothel, but it was enough to note that every window in the place appeared to be lit up.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Pendragon is throwing one of her parties tonight. If I had known…”
He did not need to finish. She understood that he would not have chosen to bring her to the brothel on a night when it was clearly very active.
“I will take you home.”
“No.” His eyebrows arched at her swift denial. “Please, there is no need to change our plans.”
The carriage had made it up the drive and stopped near the rear of the brothel.
“There will be guests everywhere. Wandering the hallways, seeking diversions. Pendragon’s parties get very wild.”
Her curiosity spiked. “How wild? Are there orgies?”
He inhaled a swift breath at her words, then coughed a little.
Lily couldn’t be sure if he was choking on shock or amusement. Either way, she felt her cheeks heat.
The groom opened the carriage door, but the earl did not move to get out. He sat staring at her in the dark of the vehicle.
“What do you know of orgies?”
Lily’s blush spread. An innocent should not even know the word, let alone find herself curious how such a thing might manifest. And she was curious. Exceptionally so.
She considered how much she wanted to reveal about her unusual cache of knowledge. He would likely be shocked to discover that she knew certain things, by description if not by actual experience.
“I…ah, understand it is a sort of party,” she replied.
“There is a bit more to it than that.”
She was completely incapable of keeping the breathlessness from her voice when she asked, “Like what?”
He remained silent, staring at her intently by the dim light flowing into the carriage from the open door.
Lily stared back. The growing tension between them was not an unpleasant feeling.
Finally, he asked, “Do you wish to attend Pendragon’s party?”
Excitement flared at the possibility. But before she replied, she tried to determine if there was any hint of shock or censure in his tone. All she heard was a thread of dark sensuality that resonated acutely with the tingling expectation flowing through her.
When she did not answer right away, he added, “I would like you to feel that you can be honest with me, Lily. I would never pass judgment on anything that might bring you pleasure, just as I would honor your wishes in regard to whatever you find abhorrent.”
Lily was warmed by his words in a way that had nothing to do with physical desire. For the first time in her life, she felt free to be fully truthful about what she wanted.
“I am rather curious,” she admitted. “It is not likely I will have many opportunities to experience such an event. Perhaps we could make a brief pass through the party. Just to observe,” she clarified.
This time, there was a definite note of humor in his tone as he replied, “You wish to observe an orgy?”
“Is it an orgy?” she asked, her eyes widening.
“Likely not yet. It is still early.”
His answer eased her shock to some degree, but it also stabbed her awareness with an uncomfortable realization.
“You have attended such parties in the past?”
“Only once,” he replied, his voice very low. Very dark. “To observe.”
“Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say. More silence as he continued to stare at her.
“Wait here,” he said just before he slipped out of the carriage and disappeared through the side door of the brothel.
She waited with strained patience, listening to the sounds of revelry filtering from the brownstone into the night. Why had he gone in without her? Had she succeeded in shocking him after all? Would he insist upon returning her to Angelique’s? Disappointment swept through her at the thought.
Meet Amy Sandas:
Amy Sandas’s love of romance began one summer when she stumbled across one of her mother’s Barbara Cartland books. Her affinity for writing began with sappy pre-teen poems and led to a Bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She lives with her husband and children near Milwaukee.
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