No man had ever looked at her that way. No man would likely ever do so again. But he made her insides feel like clockwork for a moment, ingenious subtle clockwork instead of fallible flesh, and it occurred to her she might stay in that moment forever, given the choice. She might bask wordless in such a transformative gaze for as many moments as remained to her life.
No. Not transformative. This was who she was, quick and gleaming and intricate. She’d known that already. Now someone else knew.
What I liked most about Will is that he never judges Lydia for her choice. He is immediately attracted to her innate sensuality and, when they embark upon a scheme to gain fast money for each of their personal needs, that attraction develops from lust to something much more.
“You’re wearing stockings, I suppose?” And here was the voice he would use for seduction, its soft rasp a kind of promissory note for the touch of his weather-beaten soldier’s hands.
But she would not permit the use of hands, and the only kind of seduction worth recognizing was the kind that came with an offer of carte blanche. “Of course I’m wearing stockings.” No change whatsoever in the timbre of her own voice.
“What color are the garters?” His eyes were steady on hers.
“Blue, tonight.” So were hers steady on him.
“Blue.” He repeated the word as though to take possession of it. He might possess a lady piece by piece in this way, if she weren’t strong-willed and otherwise occupied.
“Blue, indeed. That’s one point settled. Is that your idea of distraction?” She ought, of course, to feel his hot attention creeping up like fingertips to the place where her garter was knotted on her thigh. Perhaps she would, later. For the moment his words only redoubled the lucidity with which the needful facts came to her. Here would be a queen of clubs, and her left thumb knew precisely the spot at which it must slide into the deck.
“Give me time.” His voice sank a few notches down the scale. “Dark blue like the body of your gown, or medium blue like the trimmings?”
“Royal blue, it’s called. Not medium. And I told you your time is limited.” She gave her head a slight toss, just to show how little she was affected. “If you mean to make an inventory of my underclothes, you’d better pick up your pace.”
“Hasty men miss so much. There’s a pleasure in lingering over these things.”
Lingering, indeed. And over garters, of all things. “What a vexing sort of lover you must be.” Three more cards to go. “All that meandering about would drive a lady to distraction.”
“That, as I recall it, was my mission. Did I succeed to any degree?”
For all that Will was honourable and noble most of the time, he did have a bit of a wicked sense of humour and he wasn’t at all bashful, as he shares with Lydia here regarding the size of his penis.
“It’s an imperfect art, mental unclothing. One relies to a woeful degree on one’s own imagination. At least as far as all the interesting particulars are concerned.”
“I’ll spare you the effort. It’s big.
Lydia is prickly – she has a hard outer layer which she uses to protect herself. Will Blackshear threatens her hard won equanimity. He treats her as a lady. She has few defences with him. Nevertheless, she does employ what she has to keep him at arm’s length for as long as possible and even when they first become intimate, she clings to old habits to protect her heart. Will is wise to her tricks however and he wants the woman not the courtesan so a sort of battle of wills ensues.
God above, that gown! All over again he felt the electrical frisson, the nerve-sizzling, blood-simmering charge that had raced through him at the sight. Now his brain had had a bit of time to clear and to consider, he could perceive she’d left off some three or four of the usual layers that came between a lady and her gown. At the time he hadn’t known how to account for the blunt force of its appeal. Hadn’t tried to account, either, nor cared to. That gown had bypassed his brain to address his body directly, and his body had paid it the fervent attention of a treasure-hunter poring over a newly discovered map.
There were many things in the book I wasn’t expecting. I certainly wasn’t expecting the way they got together. I won’t give it away, but suffice to say that Will, for all his nobility, can only hold on to honour for so long. Strangely, I liked that he showed himself to be a person who could make colossal mistakes. Up until that point he had been noble and honourable almost to the point of being boring and weak. I say almost, because he did manage to portray honour as a strength, even as it ate him away. Will is haunted by the events surrounding the death of a Sergeant Talbot during the war with Napoleon and has sacrificed greatly to try and atone for what he believes is his great sin. We readers know that he is suffering more from survivor’s guilt and perhaps a form of PTSD but his feelings of dishonour are so real to him that he is prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to make things, if not right, then better, for Sgt. Talbot’s widow and young son. Lydia, who is very insightful, sees where this somewhat twisted sense of honour may lead him and I thought her steps in that regard were clever, even at the same time that I thought Mrs. Talbot’s thoughts on the matter were… convenient.
Where the story fell down a little for me was right at the end. There was an activity which kind of fizzled as a denouement to the story. I understood it but it didn’t have the dramatic impact I was expecting to see at the end of the book (or, that is to say, there wasn’t something else to have that dramatic impact – it was the only candidate. While it was fitting enough, it lacked something in terms of a grand finale).
The other thing was that Lydia seemed to give in too easily. I didn’t quite track exactly how Lydia went from being all about self preservation and self hatred (an interesting juxtaposition) to being in love with Will and all about garnering a life together. There was some step in there that I missed, some emotional “click’ that felt missing for me. It was nearly there, but not quite.
I will also say that there is MATHS in this book. For those who know me, maths is not my favourite thing. Fortunately, I mostly understood it and it was well integrated into the story, with enough detail to be interesting and fitting but without descending to tedium. I suspect I missed a little of it because I hate maths and probability makes my eyes bleed, but I did understand the Monty Hall problem, having now seen it explained in a live comedy show (I know!), on Mythbusters and in this book.
The book is beautiful and I liked the risks the author took with Lydia’s character but I felt a little disconnected from the romance aspect especially toward the end.
I did wonder why Will stopped gambling at the end – why not go back and earn a bit more for a stake in a business? Some family things were left kind of unresolved, but they may be addressed in the next book, which is about Will’s brother Nick.
He lay awake for well over an hour after she’d dropped into sleep, partly on the watch for nightmares, partly reviewing all the scenes of their acquaintance as though he could somehow rearrange them to arrive at a different ending.
There ought to be a different ending. They belonged with one another. Her broken edges fit with his.