My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
A Man Above Reproach was sexy, funny, dramatic... but above all, a heartwarming read. I enjoyed the book for the most part because I adored the H Elias/Eli, the prudish Duke gone maniac over our Bluestocking h, Josephine (Analise). It was just so much fun to watch him fall and then chasing her around. Ooh, I do loved it. LOVED.IT! Evelyn Pryce is a promising new author and I believe, was well-deserving of the ABNA or Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (for Romance).
Elias, the Duke of Lennox, is young but, as I already mentioned, is known as a serious man on the verge of being prudish. His close friends can’t but wonder if there’s any entertainment in his strictly led life. Eli is tall, handsome (maybe not in the traditional way) but he has always been like that. Eli never enjoyed many of those things young bucks generally like doing; gambling or whoring. He even detests whorehouses. But this certainly doesn’t mean that he has no heart or can’t feel. Eli has also written some academic papers to pursue his scholarly interests. He had very much aspired to become an academic at the Oxford. But his fate has been tied to assume the Ducal responsibilities since his birth and Eli had to take over once his father passed on. Since then, he has been mired in the numerous paperwork regarding thousand things, so much so that he has no time for himself. Having ‘fun’ with his childhood friends no longer apply, his dreams of becoming an academician remaining long buried. Today though, Nicholas, his closest buddy has dragged him to this whorehouse called The Sleeping Dove in order to loosen up his tight schedule, among other things that is. :p
Though Eli was not very amused, as we see on the very first scene, I found it very much so; how he didn’t like the overall closed-up and dirty environment of this place. But apparently it is very popular with all sorts of folks, nobles and commoners alike. The girls are also popular and Nicholas can’t wait to show him the ‘fun’ of this place, also his new-found ‘love’ (or light o’love) Sally. Before that though, they have to wear masks. Eli finds it ridiculous because he knows he’d be able to recognize everyone who is accompanying them. But when they’re finally in the back area, wearing the masks and all, the only person Eli could focus on was the woman in a pair of bright blue stockings, playing the piano. Eli can’t take his eyes off of that girl, and Nicholas laughs, telling him that he had to zoom on the one that is off limits to all. The woman goes by the name ‘Bawdy Bluestocking’ or BB. No one knows her real identity it seems, so the gossips abound where she’s concerned. Some says she’s a prostitute, some says she comes from an impoverished but good family. But Eli doesn’t care. He has to talk to her, which he does and is pleasantly surprised to find that she’s not only pretty (whatever he could make out beneath the mask) but also smart. Then there were those shapely legs encased in those pair of stockings that have already taken a place inside his head, making him imagine things... *coughmrprudegettingthehardoncough* :D
Now to our BB, who is known to the Madam and the others of the brothel as ‘Josephine’. She’s originally the proprietress of a book shop called Paper Garden. But, the ‘Josephine’ underneath is more that what she lets on. She’s intelligent, has seen more of the ‘real’ world than many of those young ladies of her age. Josephine has been playing the piano at the brothel for couple of years now, so she’d seen misery and bad things happening to the unassuming, more often than not, orphaned girls who have no one to look after them. Josephine has even written and published a book detailing those, discussing her radical thoughts on this particular evil of the society; from prostitution and perversion that runs among the so-called nobles, to how the lazy nobles do nothing to make things better. Worse still, she knows, they take part in this! Apart from her radical ideas, Josephine harbors some secrets of her own. She was raised as a noblewoman herself, or at the least, to have a debut once upon a time. But sadly, things went wrong for her and her mother, so they had to escape her father and London society altogether. After her parents died, Josephine had to look after herself. Her lazy, selfish lecher of a father had left her with nothing but debts and this book shop. She had to scrimp to go by, which is where the piano playing comes in, bringing in some much needed extra coins because the book shop doesn’t give her enough. And she needs money to keep it loaded with books, and that means more customers.
So Josephine certainly doesn’t have the time or space for a Duke in her well-maintained life, even if it sometimes feels empty. Even if sometimes she craves for someone to take care of her burdens. Soon, it was more than apparent that Eli is interested in her. More so when he finally comes to her bookshop with him mother in toe and recognizes her (her eyes, those he remembered all too well). He lets her know calling her ‘Blue’, as he called her before, when they have some sort of privacy. Josephine vehemently tries to deny it but... well, she’s no good at lying and it was not at all convincing, seeing how she’s so attracted to the man that she sees nothing but him whenever he’s near. She also feels the Duke’s interest. Umm, that can’t be good news, certainly not for a poor bookseller like her! This will ruin her good name or whatever you call it. Josephine just can’t let the Duke seduce her, cause obviously that’s where his interest lies, right? To make her his mistress? For, what else could ever happen between them?
But Eli had other plans. Yes he wants her no doubt. He freakin’ wears a hard on whenever he sees her for crying loud, something that actually introduced him to her writing (I’ll leave you to imagine how that happened *snickers*)! Eli read her book too, which impressed him to no end. Being a once aspiring scholar, he could certainly appreciate her writing but it’s her logic and her ideas that make everything tick for him. Eli now knows his Blue is as intelligent as he always suspected her to be. He becomes more than determined to sway her iron-will, as she was showing each passing day by trying to show indifference towards him.
It’s not that Josephine wasn’t convinced. It’s not that she didn’t want Eli (damn but she got jealous, thinking Eli’s mother his wife, that made me laugh so hard), certainly so after their secretly shared frantic kisses and fondling. But Josephine can’t let him take it any further. And she has no intention of sharing her secrets with him. She was convinced that if those are revealed, Eli would lose interest in her. By now, they had made this pact to act as his mistress to stay on the safer side, for Josephine appreciated the fact that being known as a Duke’s mistress will give her some certain conveniences. Oh she was annoyed when he bought that new piano for the brothel (everyone knew where that came from and for who), or when he planned on taking care of her too but it all, IMO, stemmed from her indecision of how far this ‘plan’ should go.
Eli had no intention of making Josephine a fallen woman of any kind. He just wanted to make sure she’s safe and that her book gets the exposure it deserves. For that, he’d even write a forward and finance a republishing! It was so wonderful to see him falling so hard, like a piece of heavy log for Josephine and there was no moving him from that direction. He’d basically do anything that he thinks would win her over. But Josephine is as prickly as ever about… almost everything. She’s forever vexed at Eli’s high-handed interference of her life because she can’t really do a thing about it. Even when Sally, now living as Nicholas’s mistress, tells her that she should take it all in stride and enjoy Eli’s attentions, Josephine still can’t do it. After all, she was the one who warned Sally that maybe she’s feeling the ‘love’ right now, that thing with Nicholas would never end well. It just never does from what Josephine has seen. Nicholas, heir to a Marquisate, will never marry someone like Sally (as we learn from his own admission), no matter how many times they call it ‘love’. Can Josephine do it to herself, knowing the dangers?
I understood her, really, still at times I was frustrated that she’d not enjoy the simplicity of Eli’s devotion (for what can I call it?) for her. But when I think it through, I must admit that it looked more like a fantasy and our Josie girl is nothing if not practical. Even when her head wants to float towards the cloud, she’d think/do something to drag herself down from there; even if it meant by scribbling small notes that said ‘doesn’t matter’ or ‘changes nothing’, all over her bookshop. Ah, I did feel for her… it was just an all around crazy situation. I took Josephine’s prickliness as a means to self-preservation from throwing herself into Eli’s ever inviting arms.
In the meantime, we get to know how Josephine has secretly helped many of these girls who were destines for a vile fate. Some stayed and worked in her bookshop before moving away either by marriage or becoming mistresses to other men, just as Sally used to until she went away with Nicholas. Now another girl replaced her, helping out in the bookshop. What happens next is Josephine suspecting a threat on her life. She knew if the Madame finds out, she’ll have to face the music. This gives Josephine a pause. She knows Eli can keep her safe, but can she become his mistress? The threat does come one day and fortunately, Eli, being pocked and prodded by Nicholas and Sebastian, the cousin who recently returned from India (both good friends to him), comes to visit her at the brothel. He finds Josephine being attacked by the pet brute of the Madame and saves her in time. He was so angry he would’ve killed the man if she didn’t stop him in time. After that there was nothing to be said, really because Josephine was tired of fighting this anymore.
But when, after a night of love making, Eli assumes the lord of her life and tries to take things into his capable hands, Josephine is feeling the need to flee once more. She’s not sure this is going to do any good, more so when Eli announces that he means to marry her ASAP. But beforehand, he’ll break off his betrothal with Miss Francis, the daughter of an Earl. He sends his men to clean up Josephine’s bookshop, an accountant to take care of her finances and debts that he made his own. Gosh, it was just lovely, how Eli had no qualms about showing off his affection for her. But Josephine is scared to trust him that far and that deep. So she decides to go away, writing him only a letter. She even packs up. There’s an ever-present footman on the door of the bookshop+Josephine’s rooms; all she has to do is to find the right time to escape.
Poor Eli, on the other hand, had springs on his steps. He was happy beyond belief, thinking he had his Josephine at last! He broke off the betrothal quite easily, discovering that Miss Francis is not as much of a simpering debutante as he believed her to be in the first place. She understood, and it was clear that she too thought theirs wasn’t a good match by any means. I also felt that she had some kind of interest in Sebastian. When Eli returns, he has plans for Josephine; proposing to her seemed all too perfect. Eli goes to the bookshop as planned to have dinner with her and then spend the night making her his over and over again… which he does. At one point, he even confesses is love for her, something makes Josephine realize how close she was of making a stupendously huge mistake, because she had already given into the fact that she has fallen for him. There’s no happiness in her life without him. Josephine finally decides to come clean about her own past secrets, and her real name, Analise (well, that Eli may have made her say by... erm, other means :p).
But... but, at dawn, Eli finds that cursed letter Analise wrote (but never got the chance to dispose of) about leaving him, also her packed cases. It was a disaster in the making; I knew it when I read what she was doing. Eli is frustrated, mad but most of all, he’s so very hurt. Oh, what can I say? :( Even though I thought he was adorable when he stomped off full of indignation, I couldn’t really blame him. It was just.................... *sigh*
Ah well, the ending... that made me grin ear-to-ear. Like an idiot. Really. It was just good to see Eli and Analise finally resolving their differences. After weeks of foul mood, drinks and huffing and puffing, that didn’t take long (for which I was more than glad). All it took Eli to see Analise once more, thanks to Alessandra, his sister (tactical little thing she was!). Analise thought she’d never be happy ever again but once she had the chance to explain to him what really happened, he couldn’t keep his hands off of her. And so it was, The Uncatchable (as the Ton has termed Eli) was finally, happily caught in the holy matrimony.
For now, I want Sebastian’s book bad and to see if there’d be anything between him and Miss Francis. Nicholas? Don’t know really, because for some reasons I was not as interested in him as I was in Sebastian throughout. But whatever it is, I can’t wait to find out what Ms. Pryce has in store for us in future! 4 stars.
This ARC was provided to me by Montlake Romance via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.