My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I was looking for a diversion from something and Eliza Lloyd’s The Darkness in the Marquess of Dane sounded like something that’d fit my mood. I was also quite ready to dismiss it as ‘another one of those Regency porn’ but the author made me realize that this novel is not as simple as that. Since this was my first book by the author, I had no prior expectations and quite delightfully discovered that I found something worth my time. Something I absolutely enjoyed.
The Darkness in the Marquess of Dane tells you the story of a depraved soul; a man who apparently isn’t bound by any moral code whatsoever. He thrives on debauchery, runs a whorehouse, has his own commissioned prostitutes— quite a large number of them who are at his beck and call whenever the mood strikes him. Dane, whose real name is not known until much later in the story, is what you’d call a rake of the worst order. Maybe even something more than that. The Ton knows him, is very intrigued by him but he rebuffs the Ton’s attention like the plague. He doesn’t mingle with that “set” at all, not even for sex and fun. No, Dane loves his whores, enjoys them. Their transaction is basic and most definitely, honest. He has business ventures that bring him money (that whorehouse is one of the very latest, so he was rich to begin with, though I never knew why he even thought about opening one :/). To him, sex is an art that should be perfected. And it can’t be done if you are entangled in feelings and emotions with your partner. So Dane doesn’t do emotions. His whores know what he wants; they’re paid and looked after well, so they return the “favor” quite generously.
Dane is also a lover of pain, something his whores know. He has done stuff with them that many noblewomen would find distasteful... disgusting even. Some would probably want it secretly, but outwardly they’d mark him as depraved. Oh Dane knows the hypocrisy behind it all, one of the reasons why he shuns the Ton.
The above description should’ve made me shudder in disgust and DNF the story. Fortunately the author, though she starts the book with a slight example of Dane’s depraved lifestyle, lets our H and h met right afterwards and strictly sticks with them the rest of the story. The other stuff were either narrated or told from character monologues to give us a glimpse of what was and how things were changing between him and Christina.
Our h, Christina Turnbow is in a big dilemma. Her father just passed and left a HUGE burden of debt on her and her siblings. She’s got quite a few, with 2 elder brothers and 2 other sisters. The heir, John, is disabled from a long ago accident. He basically can do nothing but sit there and watch the misery written on his siblings’ faces. The younger sisters aren’t aware of the state of their finance as per Christina and her other brother, Mark’s decision. Mark is already involved with an heiress but he has no title, so her family isn’t all that interested in him. Their father’s gambling habits and the rumors of debt would kill any chance he may have with his heiress. The younger sisters need a season and settle down and unless the debts are paid ASAP, they have no future to speak. So Christina and Mark have a lot on their minds. What can they do to change the situation? From where would this huge amount come?
The solution seems to be Christina herself. After getting caught with her ex-fiancé while kissing, her reputation was ruined. The jerk later broke off the engagement leaving her without any matrimonial aspect. Now, with this added financial burden she has no chance of marrying ever again. She has heard of the Marquess of Dane and his debauched ways. She’d also heard that he’s very rich; someone who could just be the solution to all their misery. But what can Christina bargain with? All she has is a tattered reputation and her virginity. In desperation, she comes up with this farfetched plan about selling her virginity to Dane, not knowing if he’d even be interested in such a proposition.
Christina heard of Dane from Mark and I had to question myself how can a brother direct her to someone like Dane? Even though it was always emphasized that the plan and the actions taken afterwards were Christina’s own— adamant about seeing to her siblings’ happiness— even then it seemed Mark was only too happy to let her do it. For some reason, his apparent lack of brotherly concern seemed rather shady to me. I was glad that I didn’t have to deal with him a lot in the story.
Christina had no idea what she’s getting into when she goes to Dane’s home with the proposition. In her inexperience, she thought it’ll all be over quickly. Judging from Dane’s reputation, he’d probably jump her and be done with ‘it’ in a trice. But what she finds when she drops the bomb completely confuses her. Yes, Dane is debauched, as he tries to show her at every turn but it wasn’t as easy or quick at she thought it’d be. Christina couldn’t help but feel like the prey to a predator, stalking her with his eyes… and it excited her like no other! It’s a sensation she’d never known before.
For Dane it was torture. When he was called to deal with this beautiful young thing he also didn’t know what to expect. Then she dumps the most astounding offer on his lap, quite literally, and now he’s the one who is flabbergasted. Though he tries to be as crude in word and action (he makes her strip to have a look at her ‘wares’, then masturbates in front of her) all the while hoping she’d go away, then secretly wishing he could take her right then and there, without any compunction. Christina Turnbow had a body and bearing every man dreams of; it was a wonder she was still not taken by anyone. And she had the looks and coloring of his long deceased wife, Clara. I should’ve been worried over this matter but the author somehow managed not to make it a big issue later in the story.
Though, as mentioned before, Dane wanted to shag her right then and there, he found himself unable to do just that, as if not to sully her with his touch. Quite a weird reason for a rake without any scruples! But when it seemed that Christina wouldn’t listen, even begged him to reconsider (he was trying to dissuade her all this time, again weird for a rake!), Dane throws in his own dice in the bargain. It would not end in a quick humping as Christina was hoping for. If she takes the money, she’d have to cater to his whims for next 7 days, whenever he wished it, whatever he wished for. Take it or leave it.
Christina was already so intrigued by Dane and his odd reluctance contradicting his rather severe reputation as someone so grossly debauched that she couldn’t have said “no” even if there was another option for her. His blatant show of self-pleasure with so little remorse only brought her curiosity to the forefront, highlighting their undeniable attraction. It was as if they were meant to be. However, she didn’t know how she’d far after this experience. Will she be able to come out of it alive and whole?
But it wasn’t until she went to keep her side of the bargain that Christina began to understand just how complex Dane is inside. He’d say things, but won’t necessarily act on them. Then he’d do things when she was least expecting it, totally catching her by surprise! At first, Dane won’t touch her for a while, eating, drinking and chatting away, though Christina was totally prepared to be rid her virginity…. Then, as if sensing her restlessness, he made good on his promise and delivered it. Her first time couldn’t have been more erotic for a totally inexperienced Christina. Dane’s ruthless seduction, as well as coarse talks only served to heighten her curiosity even more. Then there was that part when he asks his Chinese servant, a soul of discretion hence his presence in this secluded home where they were residing, to bind him up. Christina had no idea what was happening until... she just does, as Dane commands that she must whip him. And when she declines, he goes on and on about things to disturb her so that she finally snaps. Christina ends up whipping him, then is full of remorse for hurting him... Somewhere in their oddly erotic dance she begins to grasp that Dane doesn’t only crave it because it’s kinky, he actually believes he deserves the whipping for some unknown past fallacy. And though he’s not cruel in bed, he refuses to show any affection towards her, likewise spurning hers.
Unfortunately, Christina wasn’t wired to give something so intimate up without the bindings of her heart and soon enough she knew this experience is going to ruin her every single way possible. Dane doesn’t back away from anything he wants to do with her body just because she’s newly introduced to the world of pleasure, oh no! He, it seems, is driven by this unknown madness to somehow stake his claim on her body, even if he won’t acknowledge it to anyone. Privately though, Dane knew something is not right in this arrangement. Actually he was aware since the beginning that sex with Christina would be something different than his previous experiences because of the way he reacted to everything about her. To have her so unabashed in his bed, always reacting to his touch just blew Dane’s mind. Then there were times afterwards when she couldn’t help pressing soft kisses on his cheeks. Any show of affection turns Dane cold and he handles it the only way possible, by becoming even colder unless it’s sex that’s their means of communication.
Soon their time together comes to an end and Christina returns to her home an irrevocably changed person. She was sure she’d never see Dane again, until, some weeks later, she attends a ball only to find Lucian Conover attending it. Apparently he had a given name and women of the Ton were still ga-ga over him despite his disinterest. His presence to this particular ball even surprises the hostess, who was once his sister-in-law. But Christina or anyone else for that matter, didn’t know that she’d also left behind an irrevocably changed individual who demanded that his men find out where she is so that he can go and grab her again….. Lucian was obsessed with his new plaything, or so he liked to think of her, if only to tell himself that it’s nothing but lust. And he’s not above manipulation to get her where he wants her the most; in his bed letting him do whatever he wants with her.
In here, we also learn bits and pieces of Lucian’s sordid past which included his wife and his own brother. It ruined the lives of 5 people, 3 of them are now dead. Clara, Peter and the baby she was carrying when she died. Lucian needed to know whose baby was it, a curiosity what was appeased by his ex-SIL, now happily married to another man. It’s been a long time, but the guilt of that incident still lingers and Lucian is still haunted by it every day.
Christina wasn’t happy to see Lucian at all. Not because she didn’t want to but for many other reasons. For one, she was trying to push this experience away since it made her miserable. In one word, she missed him something fierce. And she was sure she’s already a part of his past. Then to see him so suddenly, where everyone noticed his intense interest in her— it was not good news. Gossips will fly soon and her sisters would be the victims. Christina can’t let it happen, not after everything. But Lucian brings the news of new markers of her father’s debt, of which she or any of her siblings were even aware of! This brings in such a devastating picture that there was nothing left to do. Lucian wanted one thing, and one thing only in exchange of the markers he’d already bought. Nothing and no one but Christina will do.
Mark shows some anger (finally!), trying to be big brother but he was as much a captive of Lucian’s manipulation as was Christina. But before you start hating Lucian, you must know that he was trying to be the devil, the deviant. To be true to his reputation. But inside he simply couldn’t come to terms with the fact that Christina can’t be his. He knew she can’t be, she deserved better. She deserved to be loved and he didn’t believe in love. Hell, he didn’t even believe that he deserves to be loved or even return the emotion! But Lucian can, at the least, have her for a while. Christina declines the offer to be his mistress but she can’t turn him away. It was breaking her heart for she wanted Lucian but she knew he wasn’t ready for anything more. So they settle on a few weeks together. Lucian surprises her by taking her to his ancestral seat; a place where he doesn’t venture often. Certainly not with female company!
These couple of weeks proves to be the most intense of their lives, spend as if they were a couple already. Talking, touring the estate... more talking and a lot of sex. Then the time came to say goodbye came again. I can’t say Christina wasn’t disappointed that Lucian didn’t want anything more between them but when she left, she noticed some changes. He even told her some of those painful secrets of his past… but ultimately, how can they be together when one of them doesn’t seem to be ready to leave the past behind and move forward?
After that Christina “vanishes” from London to some unknown place. Lucian never looked for her again, thinking it’s for the best. But it wasn’t until his visit to China, spending months with the Buddhist monks, that Lucian finally wakes up from his hazy nightmares. His mind is finally clear of that miasma of misery. He’s able to grasp at the fact that he’s been in love with Christina since the first moment, yet had done everything to push her away. The heightened intensity of his feelings for Christina pushes Lucian to break into actions. He returns to London, only to find her gone... and no one could give him her whereabouts.
Lucian was hoping it wasn’t too late, and even though things seemed that way, he finds help from the most unexpected of sources. But would he be able to convince her of his feelings and win her back into his life; this time as his wife? Let me just tell you, I ADORED the epilogue. It was be-eau-ti-ful! I won’t tell you why, so you better go and grab the book now! Highly recommended. 4 stars.
PS: Just now noticed that this book seems to be a part of a series. I never read series out of order but honestly, it seemed to be a good standalone.