When Hannah’s caught watching her late husband’s cousin debauch the maid in the library, she’s mortified — but also intrigued. An unpaid companion to his aunt, she’s used to being ignored.
The black sheep of the family, Leo has nothing but his good looks and noble birth to recommend him. Hannah ought to be appalled at what she’s witnessed, but there’s something about Leo that draws her to him. When Leo claims he can prove that women can feel desire as passionately as men, Hannah is incredulous. Her own experiences have been uninspiring. Yet she can’t bring herself to refuse his audacious proposal when he offers to tutor her in the art of lovemaking. As the tantalizing, wicked lessons continue, she begins to fear she’s losing not just her inhibitions, but her heart as well. The poorest of relations, she has nothing to offer Leo but herself. Will it be enough when their erotic education ends?
Perhaps the most cruel social ill that was alive and well in 19th century England was the practice of taking in “poor relations” and because of their total lack of resources or income, treated worse than servants. Yes they were allowed to eat at the family table whenever there were no other outsiders present, and yes they were given a title such as “companion” rather than “maid.” But the truth is that they were worse off than servants who at least had a social standing within the corp of servants and who received a wage for their work. Women like Hannah Bell were nothing socially and they were treated like nothing. She had endured a marriage to a man who was quite a bit older, whose mis-management of his wealth had resulted in overwhelming debt at the time of his death, so that she really only had one small satchel of poor and much repaired clothing to her name. She was literally one step away from the workhouse. She had no “time off” and only as her benefactor daily napped was Hannah ever able to have time alone in the family library, a room never used by a family who was not disposed to read. It was here she happened to witness her “cousin” Leo making free with the body of one of the maids, a woman who was happily participating in activities that were completely unknown previously to Hannah even though she had been married. Her knowledge of sex was virtually nil.
This is a very erotic novella set in the 19th century and is really about the sexual education at the behest of a man whose place in the family as “second son” was merely that of a “spare” so that the title would be retained. He was viewed as the “bad boy” and given little credence as a man of worth and so, as he himself said, if that is what they thought of him then he did little to disabuse them of that opinion. Yet Leo as Lord Alfred was called within the family, was a kind and sensitive man, who saw in Hannah a woman of merit even though she did everything she could to stay in the shadows. He honestly had never noticed her before that afternoon in the library, but once he did, he saw aspects of Hannah’s appearance and her personality which began to attract him. Yet this story has some twists that reveal Hannah’s “family” for the people they really were, and even though she and Leo had an affair of sorts, there was no protection for her should anything happen to turn her husband’s relatives against her.
This is not a long read and one that will easily be enjoyed in a small amount of time. Yet it is a story that is beautifully written and one that is not rushed or any part stinted because of the shorter literary format. It exposes a slice of English life and its aristocracy which is certainly less than noble. Yet it is a love story in the truest sense although the eventual outcome is not revealed until almost the last. The writing is wonderful and the characters will developed. The reader has a very clear understanding of the context in which the characters move. It is sexy and erotic to be sure, but under all that is the story of two people who are, in their own way, square pegs in round holes and who must determine their own path in life. It is a really fine read.
I give it a rating of 4 out of 5
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.
This book is available from Carina Press. You can buy it here or here in e-format.