My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
When I picked up the novella, Lady Chamberly's Choices, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’m glad that I read this story. Meta Mathews is a new-to-me author, and I did like her writing style. The story, as a whole, was interesting. Sometimes I was agog, sometimes I just shook my head because I didn’t know what to think, while the other times I found myself laughing at some of the attributes of the story.
The story opens up with the Marquess of Chamberly in France. He’s supposed to be in disguise of a French peasant, though he’s fighting against them. Of course, he’s a soldier and a spy. BTW, we’re never told of his first name so he’s only mentioned as Chamberly. So Chamberly is now in the arms of this buxom French widow, who supposedly saved him when he was pretty badly injured. The woman took him in, fed him, gave him a place to stay and apparently, now shagging him too. Chamberly can only comply because it’s not every day at a battlefield that you come across a beautiful, eager woman. Cerise provided him some valuable information too. She is just the type he never encountered in any of in his previous mistresses, totally uninhibited. She likes games, spankings and stuff and Chamberly complies with her. And he’s in love with her boobies. *snickers*
Umm, personally, I don’t like reading stuff like that. I’d rather not know about the H’s previous sexual encounters. When I was kinda skimming through, I found that Chamberly is thinking he might be in love with Cerise. Whoa, whoa, whoa! While I was contemplating what that might mean, then, in the middle of their fondling, French soldiers burst in to catch Chamberly. He somehow runs out to save himself... stark naked! Apparently, the b*tch was working for the French and the poor guy fell for her open and eager invitation. Ouch!
3 years later, that betrayal still needles Chamberly like nothing else and he steers clear of anything that might be called ‘love or affection’ where women are concerned. He’s been in England for a while, still working for the government. Chamberly doesn’t want to marry because his line is secured via his younger brother, who also produced more than the necessary heirs. But then, he didn’t think he’d meet Lady Eliza in a bizarre set of incidents and would fall for her, just like that.
‘Bizarre’ is the correct word because I couldn’t really think of how else to explain what happens next. Eliza is one of 10 offspring of an Earl. She never hopes to marry, though most of her siblings are married. Not that Eliza is looking forward to spinsterhood, but so far, not sure why, she remained unmarried. Eliza right now is busy composing a letter for sister Martha, who’s expecting her child to be born any day now. Her parents have also traveled there to support their daughter. While she’s engrossed, a footman, who has been hired only a couple of weeks ago, startles Eliza, informing her that there’s a missive for her. Eliza doesn’t like this Mayhew much who seems to sneer at her always. The missive contains a dangerous note; her simpleminded younger sister Abby has been taken hostage. If she doesn’t follow the orders of the missive, Abby will be in danger.
Eliza can’t think of anything but following the orders. Oddly enough, there is no one present at the moment to help her or to advise her. So Eliza stays awake at night, then slips out the back door to find the ugly looking guy waiting for her to take her wherever she’s supposed to go. There she finds a tall and thin looking man, who is also sneering at her. (don’t ask!!) The man introduces himself as one ‘Mr. Cockington’ (let me laugh for a while at that! Ha ha ha!!) and she’d be known as one ‘Miss Jillian’. He cautions her to obey his orders at all cost, otherwise...! Eliza’s brain is sort of woozy right now at the weird turn of events. She’s wearing her night-rail as instructed. Then she’s led inside a room where another man was waiting. Now, this man is very handsome and sets Eliza’s heart aflutter. But when he looks at her, there’s nothing but hatred in there. Whaaaaaaa? Eliza doesn’t recognize him so she can’t tell why he’d hate her that much.
So you can see, the storyline had me intrigued. Yes, the man was Chamberly and he was also being blackmailed by Cockington. And then begins the ‘bizarre events’ I was talking about. Chamberly’s two good friends Garrett and Jerome were also invited, though, at first, I thought they were just youths looking for some revelry. Eliza and the guys are somewhat forced to perform some... erm, sexual acts. But none knew the others’ identities. The whole thing also kinda made me cringe because I could feel Eliza’s embarrassment as she was a virgin. And the guys were led to believe that it’s the initiation of a prostitute!!
Anyway, after Eliza’s sexual humiliation (as is pointed in the blurb) is finished, she is smuggled back to her house. And Chamberly, along with Jerome and Garrett couldn’t understand how Cockington fled making them complete fools! Though Chamberly finds his own niece safe after this farce, he vows to bring Cockington to justice for causing trouble. It’s easier said than done because for a while, they’re not successful. Chamberly can’t keep the beautiful Miss Jillian out of his mind. There is no trace of her at all. But Chamberly is determined to catch her too for surely she’s in league with Cockington.
When Chamberly sees Miss Jillian again, it’s in a ball thrown by his own aunt, which temporarily renders him speechless. She certainly doesn’t talk or act like a prostitute. Chamberly soon learns that she’s the daughter of an Earl. Then what the hell was she doing that night? For that matter, how did she come to know a bastard like Cockington in the first place?!
These questions needed to be answered and Chamberly is now determined to find them. Eliza doesn’t freak out seeing Chamberly (though I would’ve after what he did to her! lol). Then they find some secluded spot to talk but are not successful. Chamberly draws out an invitation for a curricle ride from Eliza. On that ride the next day, some things become clear. Eliza now knows why Chamberly was there, as does he. Chamberly is extremely sorry for what she ‘suffered’ in their hands. He even extends apologies from Jerome and Garrett who also thought her to be a prostitute. Then Eliza finds that she’s more aware of Chamberly’s presence and good looks than she has any business of doing... and then, Chamberly informs her that he’s willing to marry her. In fact, they need to marry soon!
Whoa... huh??? Hold on there for a min.
Eliza is NOT happy about this new development. With that encounter still fresh in her mind, she can’t think of marrying anyone, let alone the man who used his hands on her. She can’t think of marrying Chamberly and she keeps vehemently denying his proposal/attempts to convince her. But at night, she can’t help but think of those things he did to her. Chamberly is determined to marry her though, he’s just gotten stuck at her… with her through this incident. He wins Eliza’s mother over with his considerable charm, who was already ga-ga over the fact that Eliza finally snagged someone; a Marquess no less! Chamberly finally convinces Eliza by pointing out that Cockington is definitely her enemy contrary to what she might think, and that if she’s married to him, he can protect her better. Then Eliza presents her last argument. She’s determined never to have sex! Chamberly gives in, totally surprising her. He’s willing to wait which Eliza never thought he would.
Meanwhile, Jerome, Garrett and Chamberly were investigating the matter at hand, zooming in on one suspect. While they were at it, Chamberly was trying his best to be away from his alluring wife, whom he wanted fiercely. But he’ll keep his promise, hoping that she changes her mind soon. Luckily, some incidents occur to bring them closer, thrusting them together in bed. Eliza has grown fond of her husband by now, who has been nothing but kind to her. After another attempted kidnap (which was foiled by Chamberly), she decides not to wait for their marital relations anymore. Chamberly takes a lot of care with her, trying to show her how good physical pleasure can be, and yet also, making sure that he doesn’t offend her in any way or remind her of that night. I found this very sweet. In fact, Chamberly turned out to be a very different man than what I thought of him in the beginning.
I will leave my review here, only mentioning that they do track the villain down alongside his cohorts. To me, it did seem a little easy and convenient. Then again, the story had some such ‘convenient’ moments but it wasn’t boring.
There were some things that I felt were a bit off. One was the fact that how easily Eliza became ok with Jerome and Garrett’s presence. I would’ve thought she’d feel embarrassed to have been the center of sexual activities with them, who were virtual strangers to her, you know, she being virgin and all. This kept bugging me all over the story. Also how Chamberly never seemed disturbed by this. There was nothing he could’ve done about it though. But I was very glad that the other b!tch wasn’t back in the story, because originally, I thought she’d be a part of Cockington’s gang. Overall, even with these ‘huh’ moments, I enjoyed Lady Chamberly's Choices. 4 stars.