(Jaded Gentlemen, #4)
Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)
After the darkness of a dungeon in India, artist Josiah Hastings dreamt of returning to a world lush with color—only to discover that years of imprisonment left his eyesight weak and failing. So when the fiery beauty of Miss Eleanor Beckett appears in his vision amidst the bleak grays of a London winter, he knows he’s found his muse and one last chance at a masterpiece.
Once a spoiled and exultant girl, Eleanor is struggling to survive in a city where men prey upon her. Saving her from assault and ruin, Josiah will pay her a fortune to sit for a painting. To restore her life, Eleanor must risk her reputation modeling for an artist without a chaperone—and try not to lose her heart to a man with dark secrets and unseen enemies…
This is the fourth book in the Jaded Gentlemen series and, as always, Ms Bernard captivated me with her authentic story, intriguing characters, witty dialogue and sensual romance.
Josiah Hastings has one wish before his eyesight finally fails – to paint a masterpiece that will bring him immortality – but he has found “nothing to stir his soul” and give him the impetus to paint. He has become guarded and reclusive and his pride prevents him from admitting that his eyesight is failing even to his closest friends, the fellow Jaded. Only Dr. Rowan West manages to wheedle the truth out of him but, as a physician, he is sworn to secrecy. When Josiah rescues Miss Eleanor Beckett from being kidnapped and worse, he knows he has found his muse.
In a world of fog and fleeting shadows that haunted his vision, she was color. A living, breathing pillar of all his senses longed for – a muse of beauty that defied science and logic.
Orphaned and penniless, Eleanor Beckett is forced to take a job as a seamstress in Madame Claremont’s dress shop. She suffers the harsh conditions and long hours because the work is at least considered respectable for someone in her position. Respectability is the one thing she values above all else. However, events threaten that very respectability when she is rescued from a would-be kidnapping and assault by Josiah Hastings – a painter who offers her a huge amount of money if she will sit for a painting. It means a life she once knew…one of security and comfort…too tempting to refuse but Eleanor will have the last word.
“I’m not taking off my…” She swallowed hard, unsure of how a person delicately addressed the subject of nudity with such a man. “I won’t pose without…”
“I’ll not ask you to remove a thing against your will.” His brown eyes blazed hotter than the embers of a fire. “And if that is you last objection, I take it that your answer is…”
God help me. Yes.
I felt that Ms Bernard’s portrayal of Josiah’s impending blindness was realistic. I could see the grey and black clouds that swirled across his vision and I could feel his anger and humiliation each time he stumbles or falls. He is a complex man, trying to come to terms with the reality of his situation but still clinging to the last vestiges of his pride.
“It’s pride. I’m too proud and it’s a sin, but I want to stand as an equal in the eyes of the Jaded for as long as I can. I don’t want pit. I just want to be myself and paint and enjoy what’s left to me. I walk about London each afternoon and I am my own man, Rowan.”
I love how the main focus of the book is on the developing relationship between Josiah and Eleanor. Watching the prim and proper Eleanor letting go of her inhibitions was delightful.
“I have but one question, Mr Hastings.”
He warily opened one eye. “And what is that?”
“As to etiquette – how soon can a person reasonably request you do that again?”
It was his turn to laugh before he kissed her, a gentle, reverent gesture that reignited and renewed the bonds between them. “Give me a few minutes to rest my eyes and I’ll see if I can’t demonstrate a satisfactory answer, Miss Beckett.”
I sometimes wanted to knock some sense into Josiah for keeping the truth about his blindness from Eleanor for so long because he doesn’t want to be a burden to her. This causes some misunderstandings between them but, of course, love will always find a way.
He loved her. She loved him. Where was the problem? The path looked crystal clear.
The love scenes are highly sensual but written with tenderness and humour as well. My only criticisms are that the occasional purple prose creeps in and one of the scenes came as a total surprise and seemed very out of character.
Ms Bernard gathers together some memorable secondary characters.
~~ despicable Madame Claremont who is well and truly humiliated by Josiah.
~~ Mrs Clay, the owner of The Grove guest house where Eleanor rooms, who is like “ a large, benevolent fairy godmother”.
~~ deaf, mute Tally, Mrs Clay’s “adopted son” who is a real sweetheart.
~~ Josiah’s loyal, elderly servants, the creaky-boned Mr Escher and his gruff wife who, according to Josiah, is “…as sweet as a kitten when you get to know her.”
The other Jaded Gentlemen make an appearance as they complete plans to flush out their enemy, the Jackal, but the mystery very much takes a back seat to the romance in this book. There are some dramatic events towards the end of the book and the Jaded discover that the Jackal may not be their only enemy.
My verdict: Captivating, romantic, witty and lusciously sensual!
REVIEW RATING: 4.5/5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: HOT
Read April 2015
The Jaded Gentlemen series (click on the book covers for more details):