My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The Corrupt Comte, book 1 of The Bourbon Boys Quartet, was a pure impulsive try. I hadn’t read anything by Edie Harris before but some of the reviews had me intrigued so very much that I had to read it. I was blown away, quite literally because of how exceptionally this was well-written. It’s been a while I've been so engrossed in a story that I began neglecting the other books I was reading at the same time and genuinely didn’t want it to end.
The Corrupt Comte had it all that a spy novel should have. Reminded me a lot of Gaelen Foley’s older (and the best by far) writing, the Knight Miscellany series. This had an original plot, some amazing characters, the intrigue and dark aspects... and of course the intense attraction and all consuming love. I couldn’t have expected a sexier hero than Gaspard and an adorable heroine than Claudia. None of them were perfect, and yet those imperfections drew and glued them together in an inseparable bond; a bond that was tested more than once but was never broken.
Gaspard, le Comte du Lorraine-Mâche, is known throughout the 1820s French society as a ‘molly’ or gay. But Gaspard is more than what meets the eyes. His hidden depths and secret of secrets have never been revealed, even to his closest friends Sabien, Maxence and Faron. A blacksmith’s son, Gaspard didn’t have a lot of prospect when he joined the army at a young age. He had big family of parents and several siblings, but they all perished as far as I remember. It is when he joined the army is when hell broke loose. Gaspard was caught in a snare of depravity, introduced to him by the Captain of his battalion; a married man who had a sick penchant for young boys and loved raping them. For 4 years, Gaspard suffered and there was no one to help him. He didn’t even know Sabien or the others back then. One day, Gaspard, who had been relieved of the Captain’s attentions as he had grown bigger and stronger, finds him abusing another young soldier. For Gaspard, that was enough. This had to stop once and for all. Gaspard beat the Captain to death out of sheer anger, also because now, he didn’t need anyone to rescue him. That was the day he met Sabien, too. Everyone thought he did it out of jealousy because the Captain’s attention had shifted. But no one knew Gaspard’s origin, that he had always thought himself as a straight man; that he was forced to do something his body accepted even when his mind rejected it.
After that, he, Sabien and the rest were recruited one by one by le Duc d’Évoque to ‘serve the country’. Yah, they were spies, doing the dirty jobs in the name of their country. But it was more of doing-the-dirty for the Duke because they had to do what he asked them to do. Gaspard, in particular, always had the work that had something to do with gay men, or men who had a penchant for a man’s d!ck. Gaspard has seen and done everything with men. At that point, it was just better to showcase as a molly rather than to declare his real preference. If he needed a woman, he’d go to this seedy brothel near his small, rented apartment where no one knew his identity because Gaspard couldn’t let anyone know the truth. More so, because he is already trapped in this sick, debauched life of a spy. Évoque is a wily, sick bastard, a fact he’d known for a long time since his days in the army. Gaspard was given the lure of his own lands and a title. He obviously wanted those and everything that comes with being a part of the nobility. Now that he’s got all that, Gaspard knows just how foully he’s been played by Évoque. His title is a milestone around his neck, his land full of so heavy a debt that Gaspard, with his little income as a spy, would never be able to pay... unless he keeps whoring himself for Évoque’s little games of intrigue. The other option is to marry a wealthy heiress, which is when Claudia Pascale enters his life and turns it upside down.
This was another of those debauched Paris ball. Gaspard was in attendance with Sabien and Maxence. Sabien, the dashing lieutenant, is said to have blonde, angelic good looks, though there is nothing angelic about him. Max is darker in coloring, while Gaspard has blue-green eyes and golden brown hair. Max is one step ahead and in the ball, right now, playing this game with a loose woman that lets the revelers drag them into the nearest linen closet for a quick shag. But Gaspard is bored, just as Sabien. As his eyes begin wondering, Gasper sees a girl at the corner of the room, as if she’s trying to blend in with shadows. She’s petit yet curvy, a body that catches Gaspard’s attention instantly. He could feel his own body stirring just by staring at her. The girl has dark hair and eyes. Then Sabien explains that she’s the granddaughter of an infamous spy, Amaury Pascale, who escaped Paris a long time ago to save his neck. No one knows where he is now. But it seems that his son, along with his family, is here and looking for a husband for Claudia. Sabien slips in that she has a huge dowry, yet, there are precious little offers. When Gaspard inquires, quite genuinely surprised, as to why a girl like her (whom he has already deemed as very attractive) can’t find a husband, Sabien tells him she stutters, quite horribly so.
But the fact of the matter was, the girl’s eyes were on Sabien all the time with a longing that punched straight into Gaspard’s gut. It was plain that she wanted Sabien but his friend has no intention of marrying the girl, even for that big a dowry. A plan forms in Gaspard’s head. Even though he was a definite goner by then, Gaspard needed to maintain a façade of indifference. His body is telling him quite fiercely that it wants her, so he’d seduce her to agree to marry him instead. When Sabien understands his intentions, he’s more than surprised. But Gaspard explains that he needs the money and soon. After that, on the next set of that game, Gaspard catches a blindfolded Claudia and takes her to the closet, his mind bend on seduction and having this girl for himself.
Claudia needs a husband, and soon because her horrible parents are making her life hell. I felt so sad for her when I learned that her parents had hated her since the moment they caught her stutter and treated her as a pariah. It was no surprise that Claudia grew up lonely and miserable without friends and an ounce of affection in her life, except whatever she found in her grandfather Amaury. Even then, she hasn’t seen him for a long time. Being the only daughter, her parents never missed one moment to remind her what an useless thing she is. But witty and smart, the real Claudia the world never saw because they never cared. Now, if she doesn’t secure a husband soon, her parents would choose for her and Claudia shudders to think about that. She would marry by her own choice, which is why when she started attending the balls in Paris, she decided on Sabien. He seemed nice but she knew it’d be hard to convince him, seeing how he winces at her halted efforts at making conversations. She has followed him everywhere, even to this ball where she shouldn’t be. It seems like fate has looked upon her. Could it be Sabien who has chosen her for the game?
That closet scene turned out to be more of a revelation than I ever would’ve imagined. That scene told me what I can expect from Gaspard and Claudia when they come together in passion. Yes, unfettered, illogical passion that just made me hot, among other things. I knew these two belong together, no matter the reason. No matter what the world thought of them. When Claudia, after removing the blindfold, finds Gaspard instead of Sabien, she was a little surprised but not for long. She was attracted to that big and strong body, the teal eyes and the ragged handsomeness of Gasperd’s face immediately. And Gaspard made every attempt to make sure she forgets Sabien’s name... well almost. He introduces her to passion with a lesson that she never forgot.
When she returns home from the ball, Claudia’s mind is in disarray. She can’t forget the Comte with the scarred hands, those that held the most magical of touches. Claudia didn’t know about Gaspard’s identity in the society, though she does soon and left a little more than confused. Soon, they meet again in another sexy scene. It was in Évoque’s house, and Gaspard sneaked in to give the SOB some information he’d just whored himself for, again. In Évoque’s study, he also discovers that Évoque is to marry Claudia as her parents’ arrangement. Gaspard is shocked, not knowing that Claudia has no idea about this. The engagement would be announced soon. But he can’t let it happen as Gaspard knows what kinda creep Évoque really is and how he’ll make sure that Claudia... suffers. Upon learning that Claudia is staying here, Gaspard sneaks his way through the house and finds Claudia’s room. I’ll leave you to contemplate what he finds there but it blows his head, making him hot as hell. Even though the scene was sensual, Gaspard’s moves sexy, they manage to talk about some stuff. Claudia out and out asks him about the rumors of him being gay... and finds the true answers there in his eyes. I knew she’s the one who’d understand him like no other, just as Gaspard did. And he emphasizes that Claudia needs to make a decision and soon.
In the next ball where they were meant to meet, Gaspard, oh the poor thing, was aroused by the thought of Claudia, also scared that she’d not choose him but Sabien. There was no doubt in my mind that it was not entirely about her dowry, but that deep inside, Gaspard already started craving Claudia like the fresh air. His need for her support, both physical and emotional, was so visceral that I felt the tug at my heart. The moment she comes to him, instead of Sabien, was the moment Gaspard knew at last she’s his. That he will have her now, and no one can do anything about it. The next scene, when he drags her to a secret nook of the house..... ooo la-la! *fans herself* Damn, that scene was SO hot. *gets distracted for a while.....*
After tending to Claudia, Gaspard finally meets up with his fellow spies. They were already anticipating some actions and if Évoque was to be trusted, a final one to be precise. He promised to them freedom after this one last mission. And to be free, Gaspard needs to murder a member of the Royal family, the Duke of Barry (this is a historical fact, blended into the story as you’d find in the author note). Gaspard’s freedom was more important because he wanted to marry Claudia soon. If he can pay the debt, he can keep his title and the lands. If not, well... he doesn’t even want to consider that life. Évoque needs this guy gone, so that he can... I don’t know, rule France? But now that he’ll have to commit another murder, Gaspard wavers. Can he drag Claudia into his sh!tty mess of a life? He decides he’d better leave her alone and escape to somewhere else. I was getting a bit scared that he’d do it, but I was wrong.
On the day he executes Barry is the day when Claudia’s engagement is announced; all planned nicely by Évoque so that no one ever connects him to this incident. She is shocked at the news because she still had no idea and heartsick that Gaspard is nowhere to be seen. Claudia immediately assumes that he has left her to her fate. Once again, she’s an unwanted burden, neglected by someone she has come to care for. This time it hurt worse because she’d already allowed herself to feel deeply for Gaspard and his intense eyes full of longing. Were those lies he said? On the engagement dance, Claudia gets an idea of Évoque’s true self. She’s no ninny and subtle hints in his voice and demeanor gives him away. Claudia now must contemplate a life with his cold and cruel elderly man... and suddenly, she can’t breathe.
Outside, all alone, Claudia finds she can’t even cry. Gaspard finds her like that. He is angry and concerned that she’s come outside, all alone in this cold. Claudia felt she could finally breathe. He has come for her! Gaspard did his job well but guilt was wrecking his inside, making him sick. Claudia takes him to her room and tends to his injury that he got from the scuffle. She’s angry at him for not being there to her. But their open and honest talk, where Gaspard’s confession, even if a little, about his job finally breaks whatever thin barrier they were holding onto. Claudia was wearing something special underneath her clothing because she wanted to surprise Gaspard; it comes handy. It was one heck of a scene where they finally make love like there’s no tomorrow, because that night, it was something like that for Claudia and Gaspard.
But things change when Gaspard sneaks out of Claudia’s room at dawn and decides to confront Évoque. His emotions were twisting and he needed answers; answers of today, answers for a long ago torment at Évoque’s hand, thanks to that Captain. Oh God, when I discovered that part, my heart just broke. :( At one point, Gaspard begins threatening Évoque, to fess up. Why Claudia? Of course, there’s the dowry but the thought of her in bed with Évoque made Gaspard ill. When Évoque confesses that it was more of a plan to get to her grandfather, Gaspard knew that he can’t leave Claudia with this monster.
Gaspard makes his decision fast. He runs out, screaming Claudia’s name throughout the house, so that there are people to witness he’s about to do. Even Claudia’s parents come out, as Claudia herself. In front of everyone, he ruins her reputation by mentioning of them having sex the night before. Within moments, Claudia catches up on his ploy. Her eyes are so grateful, Gaspard cringes on the inside because now he has to tell her that he has no money. And you can guess what Claudia thought when she heard of it. She thought he loved her, and now... now it seems it was all about her dowry after all. Claudia’s heart breaks, yet she’s not about to give up on Gaspard.
For Gaspard, he can’t tell her about his feelings because... it’s complicated. I could see why he was so scared. It all came down to maintaining his façade. Even though he told Évoque that he’s no longer working for him, Gaspard knew things won’t end that easily. Before he ran out, Évoque threatened him too; with ruin and a promise to make him his once again. Damn I was mad and wanted to cut off that creep’s balls!
To escape, Gaspard needed to flee to London. Claudia understood this and they set sail immediately afterwards. I liked how Claudia, even though angry, hurt and disappointed, wanted to take care of a sick Gaspard whose stomach refused to agree with the journey. They talk more; more about his past, more than Gaspard would’ve ever told her if he was himself. Oh secrets, how Claudia hates them! But after that talk, Claudia at last understood the depth of Gaspard’s emotional scar. She learns that his real name is a little different than what the world knows, also what happened to him in that Captain’s tent and how miserable his life was until he took care of that himself. What made me so happy was, even though Claudia knew that challenges are ahead and confused if she can actually live a happy life with him, Claudia still was willing to be with him, loving him in secret.
This thought returns to haunt Claudia later. She begins to think they can’t really make a life together. Amaury comes out from hiding, presenting her with two houses as wedding gifts, so that Claudia has a place to turn to. But all Claudia wants is everything to be alright for her and Gaspard. In the meantime, Gaspard is heartsick too. He’s not sure what’s wrong with his fiancée, why she looks so sad and withdrawn. He begins to suspect that he’d unwittingly confessed too much and now she’s disgusted. Well, that was SO much further from the fact that I had to smile. Claudia knew she can never resist Gaspard and end up in bed with him no matter what. That’s the kind of attraction they had for each-other. But she was scared, what if he starts missing his old life? Would he cheat on her? What about the rest of the society? They’d be ridiculed everywhere they go! And so, Claudia begs Gaspard for a separate life once they’re married. Maybe then, she can live without feeling so lost and confused...
Ok, I was a little frustrated at this point. I DID NOT want them to part and be miserable because... well, they just can’t live apart. Have to mention here of how I loved every endearment Gaspard had ever called Claudia, from chaton, to bébé to lastly, his ange. *shivers in delight* IMO, a jolt was definitely needed and thanks to the author, it’s delivered sooner, rather than later. Gaspard loses it on the day of his wedding when he finds Claudia packed and ready to depart. He can’t see or think straight. His chaton leaving him? After all they went through together? Damn the world, he needed to know what she wants so that he can make her stay. Even if it means to hand over the control of his being, that much visceral was his need for her. It was another sexy scene full of talks and demonstrations, of truths, trust and dispersing the strict control of their being and be together. Claudia, helpless once she’s in his arms, confesses that she loves her, a fact that makes Gaspard weak at his knees as well as feral in his passion. Gaspard knew why Claudia had ‘demon in her eyes’; a constant sadness because she never felt worthy of love. Now Gaspard was going to make sure she never ever feels any lack on that regard.
The whole of it is just not possible for me to express, unless you read the book yourself.
Some reviews, I found, expressing astonishment about the last scene, of what Gaspard does to Claudia in front of Sabien, mentioning that it was unnecessary or uncomfortable. To me, it was plain gorgeous, as was Gaspard’s demonstration of his love, affection and possession of Claudia, who reciprocated as much. I don’t really read ménages, yet my mind was quite veering towards that direction... lol Either way, it was marvelous in one word! Sabien had no doubt, when he left, that Claudia would ever lack any kind of husbandly attention from Gaspard, also finally learning of Gaspard’s most hidden and hated secret. You can’t even imagine how happy I felt to see them together. Yes, there’d be challenges still but Claudia realizes that she can’t ultimately live without Gaspard. With him she has everything. And that she’d never be alone in her life.
Now I’m dying to read Sabien’s story but as far as I know, it doesn’t have any immediate pub date. *sigh* It’s going to be a torture for sure. In the meantime, 5 wonderful stars for Gaspard and Claudia! Highly recommended!