by Stacy Reid
Series: Sweetest Taboo #3
Also in this series: Passion and Ink
Publisher: Entangled: Scorched
Publication Date: February 18, 2019
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Beneath Lily Layton’s sweet and charming exterior beats the heart of a vixen—one with shocking and scandalous secrets and desires. But as a genteel lady, she confines her forbidden fantasies, like those about her employer’s devastatingly handsome son, to her diary…until she loses it.
Oliver Carlyle, Marquess of Ambrose, has finally found the perfect wife, a woman who will not hide from his dark, carnal cravings. He just needs to figure out who she is. When he has a secret rendezvous with a mysterious stranger, suddenly he starts to believe she might be the author of the diary.
He’s determined to find out who his mystery woman is…
His biggest fear—and deepest fantasy—is she may be the one woman he cannot have.
Dissatisfied with his life, Oliver, the Marquess of Ambrose, is attending his mother’s latest house party to find a bride – but he finds something else entirely: a widow’s scandalous diary, full of her explicit sexual desires. Oliver has hoped to find a wife that can handle his varied and immense sexual appetite, and since the writer’s desires closely match his, she’s now at the top of his marriage list – if only he can figure out who she is. Oh, and ignore his attraction to his mother’s lady’s companion. Lily has been widowed twice, and isn’t particularly eager to marry again. Instead, she hopes to use the money she’s making as the Marchioness’s companion to open a shop featuring her fashion designs. But she can’t help sneaking through the hidden passages during the house party to spy on other’s carnal activities. When she meets a mysterious man who has her diary, it seems like all of her hidden dreams have come true, at least for one night. But she’s no lady, and she can’t let the mystery mind find out who she really is. Between that and her strange connection to Oliver, she should be glad to leaving her post soon. How far will Oliver and Lily go to explore what they have between them?
“We all hunger for a taste of something forbidden, only some of us have the audacity or courage to act on those needs.”
Lily was an interesting character. Her previous husband – a vicar – had berated her for enjoying sex, so she’s carrying around a lot of shame related to her desires, and that affects a lot of her relationships with men. I was proud of her, though, for refusing to submit to the Marchioness’ pressure to marry again, and the way she stood up to Oliver. Oliver, well, I didn’t like him as much. He was extremely disapproving of the wrongness of the common practice of having a gently-born wife (and a marriage bed only useful for getting heirs) and a mistress on the side to fulfill all of a husband’s more base desires. While I agree with him, he seemed a bit overly focused on that and the pain and it brought to his family.
“Tell me,” her mysterious stranger coaxed. “I want to know your cravings.”
Lily knew without a hint of any doubt that her life would never be the same if she succumbed to the lust in her heart. But she didn’t want to return to that realm of uncertainty, of restraining of one’s passion and true heart.”
When Lily and Oliver’s sexual relationship starts, they don’t know who the other is, and Oliver assumes she’s one of his mother’s well-born friends. He does, eventually, reveal who he is to Lily-in-disguise, but she still refuses to tell him, asshe doesn’t think he’d take too kindly to figuring out he’s sleeping with the help. While that relationship is going on, he’s also flirting with Lily in her position of his mother’s companion. While he’s aware of the power imbalance between them (another bit of baggage from his father), he still acts in ways that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like that Oliver offered to pay her £500 – actually a total of £1000 – for “helping” him find a wife. It was thinly disguised charity (what does she know about his mother’s well-to-do guests), and even she realized it at the time. According to this handy website, depending on what year of the regency it was, £500 would be between $45-50k in today’s money! Even with the understanding that that’s pocket change to him, it’s an incredibly odd offer to make to an employee. While she does eventually agree to take the money, it’s in return for giving him a percentage investment in the business.
There was definitely a higher heat level than I was expecting – to give an example, there’s a mention of cunnilingus on the very first page. There’s a lot covered here, from your garden variety sex to oral sex, voyeurism (both ways), even anal. I thought the scenes were well-done, and I appreciated how Ms. Reid handled Lily’s enthusiasm, even though she wasn’t particularly experienced. Despite the power imbalance, I didn’t feel like there were any consent issues between the two in regards to sex.
My biggest issue is with the something that happens in the last quarter of the book. View Spoiler »Lily believes she’s barren, but hides it from him, even after they’re married – so the last three chapters, or about 15% of the book. One of the main reasons Oliver was looking for a wife was because he wants to start a family. Lily has some deniability, as she wasn’t very sexually active with either of her previous husbands, and her brother-in-law, a doctor, points out that it’s hard to get pregnant when you’re only having sex once a month (I assume Oliver thought the same thing, as he doesn’t seem worried that she’s been married twice and has no children). But, the specter of infertility is a huge worry for her, and she doesn’t bring it up with Oliver, casting a pall over their marriage. I was fine with the earlier deceptions about their identities because, well, yes, I thought it perfectly reasonable that she’d be frightened to reveal who she was for fear of losing her job. But hiding her worries about infertility was just inexcusable to me. In addition (another major spoiler, since I can’t do a spoiler tag inside a spoiler), after all the infertility talk and the marriage issues it caused, the book ends with her being pregnant with twins. While I’ve never had issues in that area, I would guess that that might be a slap in the face to readers who’ve experienced that. « Hide Spoiler
Overall, I enjoyed the majority of the book, but was disappointed with the resolution. I’ll definitely read books by Ms. Reid again, though, as I love her voice and take on historical romance. I’d cautiously recommend this to someone looking for a very steamy historical.