Cat Sebastian is now six for six. Not a stinker among her published books so far (though to be fair, I haven’t *loved* all of them (Unmasked by the Marquess was fun, but didn’t hit me in my swooners).
A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, though saddled with a truly execrable cover*, features more of what I love about her books: two fully realized leads who have good chemistry, and who are kept apart not by asinine plot machinations and outside forces, but by character flaws and life circumstances and their own stubbornness. And any time there is a miscommunication between them, they quickly clear it up. How refreshing. (I will note: this was less steamy than I prefer my romance to be, but what it lacked in sexytimes, it made up for in emotional satisfaction, and the depth of the secondary characters.)
*I autobuy this author’s books, so I felt no guilt about using this book as the ugly cover square on my Read Harder Challenge. Is it really so difficult to create a non-cringeworthy book cover for a m/m historical romance? The dude on the right who is supposed to be Hartley doesn’t even look like he’s in the same room with the dude who’s supposed to be Sam (very handsome, I’ll admit). And what’s up with his hair? And the weird pose? I hate everything about it. It’s even worse than the cover of her first book, which I didn’t think could be topped. And one would THINK that having an ugly cover like this would be a deterrent for customers, and a nice cover an attractant, so what the hell, Avon?? Get it together!
Hartley Sedgwick is the brother of Ben from the first book, and for as fluffy as Ben was, Hartley has angst and dark secrets to spare. Preyed upon in his youth by his godfather, Hartley at the time believed he was gaining favors and influence and security for his brothers by submitting to the much older man’s advances, and most of him is still unwilling to believe that none of what happened was his fault, that he was taken advantage of and abused. And now that his past has been outed and he is a social pariah, his servants quitting one by one and no one will see him socially, he still believes he deserves it.
Enter Sam Fox, ex-boxer and the proprietor of The Bell, a public house where free blacks in London congregate and socialize. An old friend of his, Kate, was also taken advantage of by Hartley’s godfather, and has repeatedly refused to marry Sam’s brother, Nick, though they are obviously in love, because she fears what he would think should the painting she posed for so many years ago be made public. Sam wants Kate and Nick to be happy, so he volunteers to try and track down the painting, which Kate tells him is in Hartley’s house, not knowing that Hartley’s godfather died years before, leaving the house to Hartley in some sort of inscrutable spiteful gesture (disinheriting his own son in the process). But instead of burgling the house, Sam instead makes the acquaintance of Hartley, and the two decide together to get the paintings back. Hartley’s godfather had an entire collection of young people in the nude that he used to hang in his library, the old perv, and though Hartley’s picture never hung there, he posed for one nevertheless.
Sam and Hartley are drawn to each other pretty much immediately. Sam is large and handsome and kind, which is like catnip to the kindness starved Hartley. And Hartley’s obvious trauma (he can’t stand to be touched) pulls at Sam’s heartstrings, even as Hartley’s wealth and status is a huge turn off for him. The two slowly make their way to each other, and spoiler alert, they do get a HEA.
It was satisfying to see Hartley grow so much over the course of the book, realizing that the trappings of society he clung to so hard are the very thing making him miserable. Sam grows, too, overturning his ideas about Hartley as a wealthy, spoiled, and lazy nobleman, and learning to accept help when it is offered. Sebastian navigates the racial and class issues with ease; it’s never the focus, but both characters question their own assumptions about the other, until they feel equals with one another. I also loved Sadie and Alf (Hartley’s unconventional servants) and Kate and Nick (Sam’s family). It’s pretty clear as well that Sebastian is setting up Will (another Sedgwick brother) and Martin (the disinherited son) for the next book, for which I can’t wait. Martin is closeted as hell.
And once again I find myself with no more new Cat Sebastian books to read.
Read Harder Challenge 2018: A book with a cover you hate.