Where can I find a guy like Mark? In present day? There are so many ways to describe Mark, but the way he longs to be described is as just a man. He's famous for writing The Gentleman's Practical Guide to Chastity, and following what he wrote. Knowing that going into the story, I wasn't sure what to except from Mark. Make no mistake, he may be chaste, he may live his life with firm beliefs, and has a sad past that he draws from, but Mark is so...male. He's funny, witty, embarrassed by all the attention he gets, and when he sees Jessica, I think smitten at first sight is a good way to describe him.
Jessica is just trying to survive. After years of living the life of a courtesan and depending on men as protectors, she wants to reclaim her life for herself and finds a way to make a deal with her own personal devil, George Weston. She's to ruin Mark's reputation, so he won't be offered the position as Commissioner of the Poor Laws; Weston wants it for himself. In return for seducing Mark, she'll earn enough money to move to the country and never be dependent on anyone ever again. She follows Mark out to the town he grew up in, Shepton Mallet, and only has days to seduce him, ruin him and collect on her deal. She figures it'll be easy to charm her way into his life and bed, but Mark is unlike any man she's ever met.
To say I was curious about Mark and the type of man he was is an understatement. I find stories about virgin characters for the most part, to be interesting, but for me it all depends on the characters reasons and motives for being chaste. Make no mistake, Mark is a man's MAN, he lusts, he wants and desires Jessica, but a scene from his youth is what led him down the path he's currently on, and nothing will sway him from it until he finds the woman he wants to marry. You just can't help but love a man who takes a painful, horrible moment from his childhood and vows to be better than what he sees around him. He's not anti-sex, but rather he's against the consequences of sex outside marriage, and especially what that means for women during this time. His reasons for waiting until marriage, or at least until he knows he's going to be with the woman he will marry, are sound and completely work for him and the story...and I loved him all the more for it.
Jessica has a hard time with Mark. She initially hates how easy life seems to be for him, how on the outside looking in, he has it all. People who adore him, the ability to truly do no wrong in anyone's eyes, so ruining his reputation and knocking him down a couple of pegs should be easy to live with, especially after she collects the money and leaves a life that's left her, lifeless. What she never planned on was actually liking Mark. She's one of the few people who sees beyond what the masses see in him, and she sees the man, and to Mark, that means everything. He can be himself, he can joke with her, he feels comfortable enough to confide in her, all because she sees him. Their early scenes together range from sweet to fun to tender and it eats at Jessica just a little bit more each time they meet, because even with them growing closer, she still knows that in order to survive in this world, she has to ultimately betray him. She just didn't think it would kill her to do it.
She exhaled slowly. "If you were any other man," she said softly, "I would think that you had just threatened to seduce me."
"Worse." He leaned down, close enough to whisper. "I threatened to like you. I suspect seduction would be easier for you to understand."
It would be so wrong for me to not at least mention Mark's brother, Smite. I love a tortured hero, and Smite's past is exactly that. Being neglected and abused by their insane mother, Smite survived, but still carries wounds inside that might never go away. He hooked me in completely during one scene when Mark brings him a puppy. Just that small moment between brothers shows the truly caring man that Mark is, and made me anxious to learn more about Smite, and see him get his happy ending.
Historical romance isn't a genre that I read on a regular basis, but for me these stories end up being some of the most romantic, sweetest stories I read. Courtney Milan has a way with words and character dialogue that even if you're not familiar at all with the setting or the time period (I'm in the basically clueless camp) you just get it. The words flow so well, and it's easy to picture the scenes whether it's seeing Mark struggle with his popularity and his many adoring fans or my favorite moments of the simple settings with just Mark walking Jessica home and them talking. It's during these quieter scenes that Jessica's feelings for Mark go from hatred to like to love and having Mark actually care about her, and stand up for her, only makes her fall that much faster. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and the characters, and look forward to the next book in the series.
Blog rating: 4.5/5 stars