Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
Rhys Merrick, Duke of Roydan, is determined to be the antitheses of his depraved father, repressing his desires so severely he is dubbed “the Monk” by Society. But when Olivia Weston turns up demanding payment for gowns ordered by his former mistress, Rhys is totally flummoxed and inexplicably smitten. He pays her to remove her from his house, and mind. But logic be damned, he must have this fiercely independent woman.
Olivia’s greatest fear is becoming a kept woman. She has escaped the role of mistress once and vows never to be owned by any man. Rather than make money in the boudoir, she chooses to clothe the women who do. But when a fire nearly kills her friend and business partner, Olivia’s world goes up in smoke and she is forced to barter with the lofty duke.
As their lives weave together, Olivia unravels the man underneath the Monk, while Rhys desires to expose the lady hiding behind the dressmaker. Will his raw passion fan a long-buried ember of hope within her? Can this mismatched pair be the perfect fit?
It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel because Ms Russell weaves such a compelling and intensely emotional story with complex and flawed characters that I really cared about.
Rhys is such a fascinating hero and I like how Ms Russell gradually develops his character allowing us to see the lonely, insecure man beneath the mask of sobriety and aloofness…a man who has forgotten what happiness is.
Happiness? He was not even sure what it was anymore. The feeling had eroded to almost nothing. A vague shadow lurking at the edges of his heart.
The cruelty and terrible humiliations Rhys endured at the hands of his depraved father, shown in flashbacks, were so heart-breaking but revealed just how much they had forged him into the introverted man he became. I felt so much revulsion for Rhys’s father who should have loved and nurtured his son.
I love how during the story we discover unexpected things about Rhys – his lovely, deep, resonant bass singing voice and his passion for making automatons. They somehow emphasise his vulnerability.
Forced to flee the traumatic events of her past, Olivia knows there are few options for someone who is seen as “ruined” in the eyes of society. I admire her tenacity in using her talents as a dressmaker to clothe men’s mistresses rather than becoming one herself. Although she is strong, determined and independent, there is a moment of vulnerability in which she describes her secret yearnings and her words touched my heart. Her love of painting was an extra facet to her character and it plays quite a significant role later in the story.
There are some delightful touches of humour which helped relieve the dark and intense mood of the story. My favourite is Olivia’s imaginary harassment of Mrs Battersby (Rhys’s former mistress) which conjured up such a comical picture.
Take that! Creating a mental series of feints and parries, Olivia had the woman huffing and puffing in no time.
Slice— one sleeve gaped. Slash— the other soon followed. Now the poor lady’s bodice lay gaping, her bosom a tad less buoyant now.
Ms Russell took me on an engrossing and emotional roller-coaster of a journey before Rhys and Olivia finally attain their hard-earned Happy Ever After. Here are a few of my favourite moments from that journey.
He wanted to be more than a bloody title. He wanted to be more than a rutting beast. This woman made him want more but he didn’t know how… how to make her see… To see him. To see him as… Rhys.
They had danced. They had waltzed to Vivaldi. He had held her within his arms and, heaven help her, it had been magic.
They did not speak. They only loved. Simply touching and learning each other. Words were too harmful and too much a source of misunderstanding. Words were for later. Much later. Now there was only love.
Then she saw a slight miracle. He smiled. It was by no means a full-fledged smile, but as he gazed intently up into the clouds, his lips curved and his eyes crinkled.
I loved the secondary characters, especially Olivia’s dearest friend and her rock, Eglantine (Egg) and Rhys’s Uncle Bertram who has always had his nephew’s best interests at heart.
It’s not difficult to guess the identity of the villain who has Olivia in his sights but he does provide a heart-stopping climax when both Rhys and Olivia’s lives hang in the balance.
Ms Russell more than fulfilled my longing for a heart-melting Epilogue with these beautiful words…
Tiny fingers, soft as new-churned butter, gripped his own with surprising strength. Could there be anything more perfectly beautiful in this amazing world? Could God be so generous? Then his wife— his Olivia— looked up at him, closed her hand over theirs, and smiled. Yes, by heavens, the answer was a resounding yes.
My Verdict: If you enjoy a well-written, compelling story with fascinating characters and plenty of angst, I can definitely recommend this book.
REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: WARM
Read August 2015
. **I received copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review. **