Driven to uncover the truth about the mysterious death of his ladylove, the Duke of Hawkscliffe will go to any lengths to unmask a murderer. Even if it means jeopardizing his reputation by engaging in a scandalous affair with London's most provocative courtesan - the desirable but aloof Belinda Hamilton.
Bel has used her intelligence and wit to charm the city's titled gentlemen, while struggling to put the pieces of her life back together. She needs a protector, so she accepts Hawk's invitation to become his mistress in name only. He asks nothing of her body, but seeks her help in snaring the same man who shattered her virtue. Together they tempt the unforgiving wrath of society - until their risky charade turns into a dangerous attraction, and Bel must make a devastating decision that could ruin her last chance at love...
Because Carrie recommended it to me. Click here to read her review. :)
Robert Knight, the ninth duke of Hawkscliffe, is a man of integrity, power and honor; he is otherwise called the paragon duke. He is a responsible brother, a competent duke, and an eloquent man. In other words, flawless. Miss Belinda Hamilton is a loving daughter, an intelligent beauty with a giving heart, a principled and dignified woman. It is important to remember who they were, to understand who they become, and to know who they truly are. Because when their lives converge, it is not through the glorious act of love, but of bitter revenge.
Granted, it is love that pushes them to exact revenge ... it is love that becomes their undoing. For him, it is his undeclared love for a certain married woman, a now-suspiciously-dead woman; and for her, it is really her love for her father, and for herself, that was key in her decision making, which lead her to this ... Good people, driven to revenge. Revenge and deception, concealments and charades. Both playing a dangerous game, both manipulating and being manipulated.
[It would do well to remember: false ploys lead to real heartbreaks. I find myself caring for these two people very much that I'm afraid for the moment reality sets in and their hearts get broken.]
"In this life, we make our choices and we pay the price." True words from Bel's father, but oh, if he only knew what price his daughter has to pay, what kind of sacrifices she has to make, and what kind of life fate has awarded her for all her troubles, he wouldn not be able to forgive himself. Maybe then he will choose money over books? Harsh reality over pride and principle. His ideals cannot did not really allow them in their situation to live a simple albeit comfortable, with food in their stomachs and shelter in their daily lives. In the end, his very choices only exposed Bel to jeopardy; left defenseless against the unwanted advances of a horrible, nasty man. It was she who had to suffer the most.
Because of what happened, she saw herself as "another sort of creature now, as lost and degraded as the prostitutes." This is the divide. As painful and traumatic as her experience was, it only proved that she is made of sterner stuff. That as wounded and hurt as she is, she will not break, she will not disintegrate. When she was finally able to pick herself up, she has decided. She will fight. Fight back and refuse fate to dictate her life. Anger as her propellant. Her body as ammunition. Her actions as retribution.
So Bel sought to have a protector, "someone to help her, take all her fears away." A protector she will need, for she has chosen to extract a delicious revenge ... to be the mistress of his worst enemy. Dolph Breckinridge is the man she blames for all her tribulations, for his obsessive pursuance of her, for his calculating and cruel attention. In choosing the man to use in her revenge against Dolph, she only cares that he would be able to give her two things for her to make it worth his while: he only had to be gentle with her and not too unpleasant, and be there for her to rescue her father and when she faced her rapist. And there he was, Hawkscliffe with his guilt, feeling honor-bound to find out what really happened to the woman he was supposed to marry, Lady Coldfell. Willing to do it, at whatever cost. Not so noble now. The man accused of harming the woman? No other than Dolph Breckinridge.
One mortal enemy. Together they concoct a scheme. Bel as bait to prove Dolph's guilt so that Hawk can avenge Lady Coldfell's death, and Hawk as Bel's protector, exploiting the fact that Dolph could never have her. Foolish people. Angry souls. Two months of pretending, of living together in Knight House, of giving protection, money, and of not being required to bed him.
My question then, was this: for how long will they each be able to keep up this charade? For Hawk is a gentle man, kind, and regardless of whether he wanted to or not, right from the very beginning his actions already betray him -- his care for Bel shines through. And what of our Bel? Trying to hard to forget her past, to fill the "fearless and hardened" courtesan role she thinks she now must personify - her heart just will not mislead her. Attraction is strong from the get-go, and their chemistry is sizzling. Every interaction is revealing. The more time spent together, the better they understand each other. He makes her feel safe, she makes him feel needed. She brings joy to his life, and he shows her tenderness. She opens his mind to other realities and he gives her assurance to be confident again. They take what they need from each other, and they give ... they give as best they can. The little gifts they share shows how much they have come to care for one another. To make each other happy is to be happy.
If only they could trust each other explicitly. If only holding on to their principles is easy. If only politics would not interfere, ambitions, and families and scandals and society. If only loving each other is enough so they can live happily.
The ultimate challenge if for them to live the lives they so desperately want and deserve, without losing sight of who they are in the process. What good is living life without your love? And yet, would you be able to live with your love knowing you have betrayed yourself? They are left with few choices. They have to know which life they are willing to give up in order to live the life they want. It was not easy, by God, it was anything but that. It was complicated and messy and heartbreaking, and it was soul crushing. To be broken again and again, to be shattered just as they have only healed ... it takes strength of character, resilience and fortitude. It takes love. For self. For others. Simple and utter devotion.
And love ... it is what they have. Theirs to take. Theirs to give. It was beautiful. And you know what? It was good.