My review contains spoilers and they're are mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The rating (3.75 stars) is based on 3 stories, Wickedly Ever After (3.75), Scandalously Ever After (4) and Sinfully Ever After (3.5).
Behind the Red Door was a hot little anthology no doubt but my feelings are mixed about the stories, which I’ll try to elaborate in my review. But one thing I was sure of, that Jackie Barbosa is an excellent writer. I just loved her writing and her way with words. I’ll be checking out more of her books in the future.
“Wickedly Ever After”
I wasn’t sure if I’d love this story or not, seeing how I didn’t much like the hero, Nathaniel in the first novella of the series, Carnally Ever After. Nathaniel was Louisa’s fiancé, who jilted her at the altar. Speaks volume of his irresponsibility. Eleanor, the heroine, was Alistair’s fiancée. It was revealed later that none of the pairs actually suited since the marriages were arranged by their parents, but I was glad that Louisa and Alistair had chance to be together.
Nathaniel is a rakehell; a bi rakehell TBE. He’s likes both men and women. Even though his gay side wasn’t explored, it was said to have been one of the games that fashionable but debauched set of the Ton played and Nathaniel was one of the top. I’m not sure when he started fantasizing about Eleanor, but it seemed like he has been for a while. She is the kind of woman he prefers in bed and her apparent prudishness calls out to his jaded-rake side. Then, surprise, surprise! Nathaniel is also a scholarly poet, who likes translating stuff such as Ovid’s writing. But he hides behind a penname. His relationship with his parents is bad, though he loves his younger sister Jane. Nathaniel thinks that his scholarly pursuits wouldn’t be welcomed by anyone, hence the penname. But what he doesn’t know is that Eleanor is crazy about that poet.
The story starts just after Louisa and Alistair’s elopement. Alistair already knew Eleanor would be good for Nathaniel and asked him to try to court her. Inside, Nathaniel is very interested, but he’s unsure of the proper lady Eleanor’s reactions to his suit. Then Eleanor is suddenly at his house, to let him know that she’ll never say ‘yes’ to his suit. This starts there word games and innuendoes, in which Nathaniel is a master but Eleanor isn’t. Ok, so she has also been attracted to Nathaniel and now that she’s free to do so, Eleanor isn’t sure if he’s the right choice. Can’t say I blame her for thinking that, seeing how she knew all the whispered gossips (much of it was true BTW) about him.
At one point, Eleanor finds someone in Nathaniel’s study that almost revealed him to her. To keep this all a secret, Nathaniel lies, telling her that Clarence Matthews (his penname) is a recluse friend. Eleanor wants to meet him, and Nathaniel can’t deny her eager requests. They make up a plan. I found the plan to meet at the Red Door, the brothel Nathaniel frequents, a little weird. Nathaniel’s plan was to seduce Eleanor and then marry her. Eleanor wanted to be seduced, at least after the kiss they shared before making this plan. They also meet at a few balls and Nathaniel keeps pushing his suit. I could see that he really wants her, but still unsure. To prove his ‘suit’, he even demonstrates a little his expertise in the bed skills to Eleanor, who was, by the end of it, pretty much a mush. *heehee*
Now, I didn’t like that Nathaniel goes back to Red Door sometimes later, to the prostitute he pretty regularly sleeps with. I wasn’t sure if I should be disturbed that she looked much like Eleanor; tall, blonde and thin. I don’t know if this was just Nathaniel’s preference for women or somewhere in his mind, he has always wanted Eleanor and made it so. It was never really explained. Anyway, he doesn’t sleep with her since the prostitute, Calliope, can’t make him hard anymore. Right now, there’s only one woman in Nathaniel’s mind.
Their adventure, or so to speak, at Red Door was hot. Eleanor finds a lot of shocking but not unwelcome education regarding sex, at first by looking and then, by experience. Her family has always been rather very oblivious to her and her bookish self, so much so that they let her wonder away in a ball, which made it easy for her to slip away with Nathaniel. Anyway, the Madame helps Nathaniel in his quest. There are some scenes of voyeurism here, as Nathaniel takes Eleanor to find if Clarence is one of the customers who are busy. Hmm well, one of the scenes was of Calliope with another man. I’m mentioning her because she’s the heroine of the next novella, which I’m reading at the moment. And it’s her that Eleanor finally sees in action through the peephole to quell her curiosity... This makes her all hot and bothered and Nathaniel’s words at her ear weren’t helping. And he has also asked her to marry him at some point so what the hell? She gives in pretty easily... After some hot lovin’, some misunderstandings were ahead regarding Nathaniel’s penname...
I could go on and say that they both were immature the way they reacted but I understood Eleanor’s fear that she’d been played by Nathaniel. It was logical, seeing his reputation. Yet, I was also pretty sure that Nathaniel felt something deeper for her. I applauded when he ruminated over his whole life later; past and present. I was never sure why he led such a debauched lifestyle to begin with and why his relationship with his parents was so strained. At the beginning, I thought he was just a wimp. Yet, he takes the courage to face it all and apologies to his father. It made me warm up to him big-time. Some heartbreaking revelations were also coming forth from the old man about his behavior towards him son.
The matter of Eleanor was still to be seen, but Nathaniel takes a chance at her too, which she thankfully doesn’t throw away, for you see, Eleanor was also regretting her rash actions. I liked that she took the responsibility. So even though Nathaniel’s bi side was bugging me a bit, overall, I was happy for them. There were also some nice poems quoted in the story, as both Eleanor and Nathaniel’s translated works, which I appreciated. A good, hot short story. 3.75 stars.
“Scandalously Ever After”
This one gave me mixed feelings, and yet the story was done very well. I enjoyed it mostly. Scandalously Ever After is the story of one of the prostitutes of Red Door, Calliope and Lt. Capt. Prescott, aka Jack. We meet Calliope, or Callie in the first story. She was one of the prostitutes that Nathaniel, the hero, frequently visited. I didn’t think she was an important anything until I started reading this story. I’d rather not read about one hero’s exs (whoever it is) being paired with another man. Just my preference.
Anyway, this was another regular day for Callie when this gruff looking gentleman with stormy gray eyes comes to the Red Door. He keeps measuring all the girls who are obviously a bit apprehensive about him. Then, suddenly, he zooms on her. Callie is flattered by the fact that he’s chosen her. Then he goes and tells the Madame that he wants her for a week and gives a big pouch jangling with gold coins. So, the deal was done and Callie leads him to her room.
In her room, Callie was in for a big surprise. She was thinking of what could be his preference or if he has any proclivities or not when the man asks her to strip and go to sleep, and then, he himself lies down and goes to sleep, literally! Then we get to know about Jack’s PTSD. Poor man was a soldier and can remember every face and information who has died in front of him. His life has become a living nightmare and he can’t sleep alone anymore. But beside this prostitute he does so, like a babe. And he wakes up in the morning with his d*ck being taken care of by someone... ooh, that was one hot scene. Poor darling couldn’t even comprehend what had hit him. *heehee* Don’t even ask me about the conversations the other whores have together at breakfast table and the things they ask Callie when she went down to have a bite! I had fits of giggle. :p
At first, Jack wouldn’t sleep with Callie but in other ways, he shows her how a man should make love to a woman. She’s beautiful and he wants definitely her. Callie wants him no doubt, yet the tug that she experiences whenever she’s with him starts to bug her. Whores can’t have such sentiments, not good for the trade! So far, Callie had always been in control of herself, but with Jack, she’s unsure of what to do. Jack gradually begins to open up to her. He likes her genuinely and what I loved about him most was his instant acceptance. He doesn’t make a lot of fuss about Callie being a prostitute. Later on, when they start having sex, things go much deeper for both, with Callie trying to resist it and Jack accepting his feelings. But they both don’t know what’ll happen when the week ends. Can they leave apart?
One day, Jack asks Callie about her past and how she came to be in this situation. I didn’t think his curiosity was abnormal or that he was trying to humiliate her. But Callie instantly went into her defensive mode. Her words struck to me as someone quite insecure inside, though she tried hard to show that she loves what she does. I didn’t like her rudeness to Jack just because he asked. We already got some idea about her past from her musings but as she revealed more, I couldn’t really respect her anymore. Yes, I liked her in the beginning but after knowing that she ‘chose’ this trade for more money and less hard work that those ‘respectable’ jobs would surely require, not anymore. That at 15 she knew she didn’t want hard work and this was the easiest way out. She worked as a maid to some gentleman’s house and then slept around to gain various conveniences from the staff. And even though she had the option later on to go to any other better job, she still chose to be a prostitute. Just NO from my part. I have no problem with the fact that she likes f*cking according to her, but choosing a job like this is not a healthy mentality.
And then Jack goes and proposes her just after her epic confession. OMG, I thought, doesn’t bode well for an HEA when she just confessed that she likes/prefers to be a whore!!!
By this part, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually like it anymore. But JB surprised me, bringing in twists and giving us a glimpse of what might happen. Jack convinces Callie that things would work out. Though, after her confession, Callie’s giving into a ‘respectable life’ rang false to some extent, I get that she liked Jack enough to be with him. Jack doesn’t want her to be his mistress but his wife and so, they start planning.
After sometimes, they go to meet Jack’s mother, older brother, the Earl and his countess. Callie was apprehensive. One look at the handsome as God yet the lecherous earl and she knew the man was aiming to seduce her. The earl has cheated his way through his marriage, and always said that his marriage was only for money, his wife being plain and all. He never regretted his actions, always taking cheating in stride, like he was entitled to it. He was a miserable SOB and I hated him on spot. Jack had some affection for his older brother, but I felt nothing. Later on, when he died in a duel with some irate cuckolded husband, I thought he deserved it, the cheater f*cker! Good riddance and glad that I didn’t have to endure many pages with him in it!!! I felt sad for the wife though.
The trouble brew when the dead earl’s friend turned out to be Nathaniel himself, who brought the dying man in. And of course, he sees Callie in Jack’s house. One glance at them both, and Jack understood. Oh, I felt sad for the babe. But how come, if the earl and Nathaniel roamed in the same debauched circle, that he never met Callie before, seeing how Nathaniel was a frequenter at the popular Red Door? I have NO idea! But I digress. Callie understands immediately that they’re building castles in the sand. That look, however subtle, will be a commonplace thing for Jack every time he meets one of her former clients. And so, she decides to leave...
The ending was beautiful. I already said I adored Jack and he goes to bring Callie back, though Nathaniel had to play a part to convince him. 4 stars.
“Sinfully Ever After”
Umm, no. Couldn’t really like this story, mainly because I couldn’t stand the can’t-keep-his-d*ck-in-his-pants, hypocritical hero Gerard. The plot was also messy. I wanted to like Jane, but she was a total doormat where Gerard was concerned. Too bad that the sex scenes were hot, and yet, couldn’t enjoy them either because I couldn’t care for the main characters.
Jane is Nathaniel’s sister. Even though she has a fat dowry and super bloodline, she’s got a plain face. No one takes her as a great beauty and she knows because people can be pretty unpleasant about such things. To make matters worse, she’s been pining away for Gerard for it seems like forever, though he’s never thought of her as anything but a friend.
Gerard ‘esteems’ Jane with the highest of regards, takes her as a good friend. Why not? She’s smart and all that. But of course, he’s not attracted to her because she’s not beautiful. I mean why be attracted to her when he can f*ck any empty-headed Ton beauties, widows, courtesans etc., right? And he has never practiced restrain where f*cking is concerned. Then, he decides that he wants to marry Jane. Yes, Jane would be the perfect wife for an Earl and after a few months into the marriage, he can take a mistress. According to him, no matter where he puts his d*ck, his heart will always be Jane’s.
OMFG!!! WTF??? I mean........... What an unpleasant SOB!!! Gerard was worse than Nathaniel, who actually had some kind of obsession over Eleanor, which made me believe in his love.
Now, Jane already knew that Gerard would be incapable of fidelity and even though she craves that and his love, she already is sure that she’ll never have anything. So Jane to settle for whatever scraps of affections he throws at her! Then she’s scared but no less curious about how to keep Gerard’s attentions more than a few days. I mean he’ll stray of course, but Jane wants to keep his attentions a little longer than that. I wasn’t sure if I should pity her or be mad.
This is where Eleanor and Callie come in. I already knew that Nathaniel was going to help Callie to get the Ton’s approval with Eleanor’s help. But seeing these two together made me uncomfortable. How could Eleanor be ‘best buds’ with a woman who was her husband’s ex-lover? I don’t mind that Callie was a former prostitute, but if you read the review of the first two stories, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This rang entirely false to me.
Anyhooo, they formulate a plan that obviously include Red Door and the Madame, who is going to ‘help’ Jane further her carnal education. And while they are talking about it, Gerard makes a call. He’s suddenly attracted to Jane and her lovely bosoms. He acts as if the hellfire is biting on his arse, as he runs out thinking he needs to f*ck soon to get this edge off. I mean, nothing can be horrible than being attracted to his plain-faced fiancée, right?
The mofo actually visits Red Door that night with the same intention. When I read the blurb I felt a prickle of discomfort and my instinct came away correct. The story afterwards just made me mad. Gerard doesn’t sleep with the prostitute he was aiming to f*ck, when the Madame comes in with a proposal; she’s training a virgin girl fallen on hard times, and Gerard is the man to ‘initiate’ her into prostitution. But he has to promise that in the first encounters, she’d be virgin, lest she decides not to do it and her face would be masked to avoid recognition. Stupider plan was never made but Gerard’s d*ck was already hard thinking of the ‘new’ prospect, doesn’t matter this morning he professed his undying devotion to Jane.
Of course, the girl was Jane. She wanted to further her education a bit, and unknowing to Eleanor or Callie, she convinces Madame to give her the opportunity. She also sees Gerard here, though I don’t know why the Madame chose him. As far as I know she had no idea who Jane’s fiancé was. Anyway, the first encounter was hot and Jane was pretty good is giving head (unbelievable, seeing how she’s a virgin). Gerard, of course, doesn’t recognize her. Goes to show his mental capability. Meh. But he is instantly in lust with her body. He even starts calling her ‘Venus’ and afterwards makes proposition that if she’s willing, he’d set her up as her mistress. All the while I kept thinking that he doesn’t know that she’s Jane, and he’s already planning away adultery, not caring one whit how Jane would feel!!!!
And he never did, until the end when Eleanor tells him on his face that Jane deserves so much more than a life of adultery he is planning away. He was that transparent! While he’s with Jane, Gerard keeps thinking of ‘Venus’, though Jane gives him déjà vu. He was resolute of having ‘Venus’ as his mistress and even confesses his love for her when things get intense. But as soon as Jane, oh poor girl, reveals her identity, the SOB is seething with righteous indignation. How dare Jane deceive him, betray him?! He’s the man, he can do whatever he wants, including adultery but Jane has no right whatsoever!! I know I know, that was how things went back in those days, but I still couldn’t stand Gerard and just wanted to cut off his balls!!!!!! And I wished Jane wouldn’t be such a doormat and keep thinking it’s all her fault. *facepalm*
How can I believe in their HEA after that? Even though Eleanor had to slap the truth on his face and he understood, I’m not sure if Gerard wouldn’t go on d*ck rampage after a few months in the marriage. 3.5 stars.