In twenty-first century terms, William de Veres would probably be labeled an alcoholic and a sex addict. Fortunately for him, he inhabits the seventeenth century where he is known to Charles II's court as a libertine. In Libertine's Kiss, Judith James has turned him into a romance hero.
And damn, if she doesn't make it work.
Deep inside, William is actually a romantic, idealistic man, but he hides it beneath a veneer of cynicism. He shows his true self to only one person, Elizabeth Walters. As children, they spent an idyllic year and a half acting as each other's escape from the harsh realities of their world. They pretend to be characters from Spenser's "Faerie Queene" while William teaches Elizabeth to defend herself from bullies. Their friendship comes to a poignant end when William is sent away to school.
Years pass before they see each other again, and on that occasion, William does not recognize his childhood friend. Taking him in one night, when he arrives, wounded, on her doorstep, she heals his physical wounds and offers him comfort of a more baser sort. In the morning, she sends him on, and as a result of this one night, she loses all her properties.
William, it turns out, is a proponent of Charles II, at this point in exile in Europe, and he is hunted by Cromwell's men. They miss William but arrest Elizabeth, who stands trial and pays a heavy price.
The pair do not find each other again until Cromwell is overthrown, and Elizabeth goes to King Charles' court to petition for the restoration of her lands. William has progressed from the "tax collector," a highway man whose proceeds go maintaining the exiled king's lifestyle, to court poet, whose pointed verses insult the king as often as they flatter.
He drinks to excess and beds women at random in an effort to forget his past. This time, when he meets Elizabeth, he recognizes her instantly, both as his childhood friend and the woman who took him in three years previously. He makes her his mistress while he teaches her the ways of the court so she can successfully petition the king.
Their road to happily ever after is paved with twists and turns as each must learn to have faith in the other.
I greatly enjoyed this book for its rich, evocative setting, well rounded characters--and thank goodness for a story set in an unusual time period.
I will warn against two things: if having the hero and heroine spend lengthy periods of time apart or reading about the hero having relations with someone other than the heroine are deal-breakers for you, you might want to give this book a pass. Neither scenario bothered me, as I felt they were well motivated within the story.
If you're willing to cut a highly damaged man a little slack, enjoy the story.