My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I have been meaning to read Lori Brighton’s Seduction series for sometimes now. This year, when I found book 3 is coming soon, I thought it’s the perfect opportunity to finish the series back to back because I love gigolo heroes a lot! In book 1, To Seduce an Earl, there were some lovely moments, and I did enjoy them, however there were also just too many frustrating moments I had to spend with Alex. And I couldn’t even blame him for that. Why? Let’s just get into the review...
Lavender Hills, where the story is mostly centered in the late 1860s, is a brothel that caters only to women’s pleasure. Trained, impeccably beautiful male are waiting for them to present them with their ultimate fantasies, a relief from boring married life or show them passion when their husbands fail. All these for a hefty price. The property is private, just on the outskirt of London, in the middle of a vast lavender field. The Madame of the brothel, a beautiful French woman with cold lavender eyes (who also loves everything in the color of lavender), Ophelia, wields a very strict management where her business is concerned. She has her own bodyguards, two lumbering males who would do anything for her if she so much even moves a finger. The place runs smoothly, almost, and Ophelia probably has more power in her hands (and means to blackmail, causing a scandal) than any other individual in London.
Ophelia brought in 3 boys some 10/12 years ago. They came from different backgrounds, all beautiful and in their early teens. The boys didn’t even begin to realize what she had in store for them, or why exactly they were brought in together. They needed food and shelter, which Ophelia was only happy to provide... in exchange of their bodies. They were groomed, and later, when grown up, trained to pleasure women. These 3 men are her most treasured male escorts, most sought after too. Seduced series will tell you their stories and unravel the secrets of what happened to them and how fate and a vengeful woman brought them together.
Alex has been working on Lavender Hills for the past 10 or so years. But he’s tired of this life and the fact that he always receives the virgins, more often than not, to relieve them off their virginity and train them to pleasure their future husbands. Some even become regular clients afterwards. It’s not very difficult since he’s beautiful with dark hair and blue eyes, and does his job rather well. So far, he thought he’s content but for a couple of years, Alex has been thinking about the ‘why’s of his situation. Lately, it’s been about all three of them; him, Gideon and James. Gideon, the more rebellious one, has planted the seed of doubt in his mind and now, Alex is also looking for a way out of this life, even if he knows he can’t never really have a ‘normal’ life or the fact that Ophelia will never let them go as she deems them her property.
At first, Alex thought he was helping out his family. His father, a Russian and mother, an English woman, with the country in turmoil, his family had to hide in England. Alex’s father didn’t seem like a nice guy, rather a dictator in his own home. When he couldn’t provide for Alex, his mother and his siblings, a 14 yrs. old Alex naturally was looking for a way to provide. One day, he was approached by this beautiful, if older, woman who lured him in, promising a world of pleasure and luxurious living, with an earning that would no doubt give his family a comfortable living. Alex didn’t know what was waiting for him, until it was too late. He was groomed and trained by Ophelia herself (a fact that bothered me). He’s been a prized stud ever since and has done anything and everything that she asked for to pleasure his clients. But now... now things are changing and Alex just doesn’t want this anymore. But first, he has to find a way.
The way, of sort, comes in the form of Grace, a relatively naïve and poor girl who doesn’t have a lot in life. A prank played by her step-brother brings her to Lavender Hills. I was a bit surprised that Grace didn’t know it was a brothel because Grace was rather smart. After her father died, leaving her, her mother and Patience, her younger sister, Grace has been trying to make do with whatever of the money was left. Then her mother married a Lord, and now John, the elder step-brother, is wasting away whatever was left; money that is not even his or his father’s but what her mother brought into the marriage. And he’s wasting those gambling and whoring because… he’s a male and the ‘heir’. And because he can! OMG, I was mad, so mad at the jerk. Then he sends Grace to this brothel so that she can be ‘trained’ to satisfy this Earl, a friend of his, Rodrick, whom Grace knows as a nice man; someone she’s already planning to marry. The money for this ‘session’ was provided by the said man. Grace has always known him a friend, a well-wisher of the family. But she should’ve known better; that a man who is friends with her step-brother is probably the same kinda scumbag.
Grace has many, many things on her mind right now. An ailing, possibly dying mother who is not receiving the treatment she should, a teenager sister who deserves a coming out, but she probably won’t... all because her worthless sh!t of a step-brother. Now they’re probably eye-balls up in debt, may even end up on the streets. And she had no idea why John would even send her there in the first place. Though she’s still now aware of the truth, Grace is struck speechless to meet this absolutely gorgeous creature whose saying he has no idea of the ‘letters’ she’s asking about! Letters that might (or might not) contain the information of a buried treasure that might help her improve her condition. Grace being a connoisseur of all things antique, John thought it’s what will drive her there than anything else. But IMO, this hobby of hers remains largely unexplored, so I couldn’t really see Grace as someone going after treasures and all that.
Meeting Alex makes her realize quite a few things; this is THE infamous Lavender Hills, she’s going to kill her step-brother and Alex is simply delish. And it’s simple he wants to pleasure her. But Grace doesn’t have the time, even though she’s sorely tempted to give into this, so she runs, planning to give a ‘what-for’ to John. Even though her suspicion is confirmed, Grace sees the reason in learning to pleasure because... well, she wanted to impress Rodrick and marry him for the sake of her family. She kept convincing herself that she wants him too, loves him even. Grace even goes back to Alex, this time very adamant to learn how to pleasure a man, spending what little she had for one session with him. But instead what she learns is that her heart going all jumpy, while her body going soft whenever she nears him. An irrational response and Grace is ever the practical girl, if not anything else. Yet, she can’t escape her wayward thoughts on Alex’s sad, yet gorgeous blue eyes, his kisses and his touch.
The attraction between them was palpable since the scene of their first meeting. The kisses and fondlings were bound to follow. She even learns a few things from him about his past and how he was blackmailed into this profession. Grace now can only think that she wants to save this man, and maybe show him the way to a better life. If possible. But is it? It didn’t help matters that Alex was more than interested in her. His longing for Grace ran deeper each time they met. It took him a while to understand this, but there it was, shimmering underneath, then going insane whenever Grace was near. Whenever he’d meet her somewhere; be it accidentally or a planned one. There were plenty of those, Grace trying to tell or show Alex that he needs to break away from that place but Alex… *sigh* he didn’t think he can live a ‘normal’ life anymore. So much so, he couldn’t believe in Grace’s invitations. Oh he was so so tempted, and yet he knew Lady Lavender will find him no matter where he is and the repercussion would be to be beaten to bloody pulp by her two behemoth-like minions. That b!tch was forever manipulating him into forgetting that he’s a human being, and not a plaything.
There was no sex for a long, loooong time in the story, yet plenty of frustrating fondlings that went nowhere because after he realized his true feelings, Alex didn’t want to take Grace’s virginity. Those were sexy but not enough for me. I was already very frustrated with Alex and his tendency of giving up just-like-that whenever a doubt aroused somewhere. Even Grace began to feeling frustrated, both physically and emotionally, both for sex and the fact that she wanted him like no other. How could I even blame her for that? She was still determined on having her Earl, but in her mind, she knew if she could have Alex, she would without any hesitation. But marrying a whore? This is just not done!
This brings me to the next point. I hated this overuse of the word ‘whore’ everywhere; general narrative, Alex’s own thought... even Grace’s thoughts for crying out loud! Like I needed to be reminded of Alex’s profession over and over and over again! It was unappealing to say the least, the repetition. And it hurt to read Alex’s thoughts on his ‘lower than a scum station’ in life, that he doesn’t deserve a better life, let alone with someone as pure and good as Grace. He’d let this and the thought of Ophelia finding him mess with his head. I couldn’t really blame him, and yet, it was making me very unhappy.
At one point, he even tries to escape but returns (for the same reason) and is beaten. Grace, on the other hand, becomes so worried knowing what she now knows of Ophelia’s possessive, vindictive nature, finds another way to meet him. Even though she’s not permitted even to enter the establishment, she does so with Gideon’s help. This is where we meet Gideon, who’s known for his insensitive, stubborn, arrogant and selfish nature. But to me, this cast him in a different light. Gideon was already trying to convince both Alex and James that they were brought in together for some ulterior motives and should make plans for escape. James, ever the loyal puppy of Ophelia, wasn’t very happy with this but Alex, by now, was very convinced that something is wrong. And, maybe Grace is his last chance at a normal life. Gideon obviously understood what’s going on between the two and helps Grace into Alex’s room, where he was injured and feverish, no one really bothering to take care of him.
When she discovered Alex in such a state, Grace is horrified. Her only mission in life, now, is to help Alex escape. Yes she has many responsibilities but now her heart is also involved. She cares for this sad, yet beautiful creature with all she has to offer. Though she’s yet to find a proper solution, Grace returns home, only to find another nasty surprise waiting for her; this time from Rodrick the a$$hole. Apparently her gutless step-brother has taken a lot of money from Rodrick, making Grace a lure. Oh no, there’ll be no marriage. How can an Earl marry some nobody like Grace?! Rodrick wants her as his mistress and he makes some dirty propositions, which Grace vehemently rejects. She’s shocked to say the least. Either way, her mind has been only centered on helping Alex. Yet, now, alongside Ophelia, she has another threat to consider.
Later, Alex escapes with Gideon’s help... Grace talks to him, telling him that he needs to check on his family and open up to them. I thought it was very nice of Grace, if only she knew what’s coming next. That scene with Alex’s family was very depressing. Though Alex’s mother is happy to see him, his father is angry as hell. And he asks Alex never to show his face again when Alex tells him what he’s been doing for the past 10 yrs. Alex did it all thinking he’s helping his family, only to find his money was not needed, as his family is thriving pretty well. He was manipulated and used, his money was never sent. His family thought him dead, very much moving on with their lives and his younger brother, whom we meet very briefly at a ball, doesn’t even know he exists. His father now is more interested in keeping the family’s good name alive, rather than welcoming his son with open arms. After all, he has to consider Dimitri’s future! All of Alex’s sacrifices were for nothing. His realization broke my heart, and the condemnation for something he hasn’t even done willingly... It was terrible even to imagine.
Grace was mad on his behalf and they leave knowing no help would be coming from that area. Alex takes care of the Rodrick problem because he was suspicious of John, Grace confirms that too. After that, he decides on a plan. Alex remembers a patch of land in Devon bestowed by his maternal side of the family. It has always been his. He remembers loving this place when he was young and decides to move there with Grace. If only she agrees to come with him. Alex was almost convinced she won’t, even when he was waiting at the train station with tickets. But Grace would go with him anywhere, and now that Patience has assured her that she can take care of their mother, Grace leaves with her meager things. They had more challenges ahead, the big and bad one yet, Ophelia because Alex knew very well that she’d find him. And soon.
The place in Devon puts Alex down (again) because, by now, it was a run-down place that no one took care of for a long time. He got insecure, that Grace won’t stay with him. Grace becomes frustrated that he’d even think this way, again! (see what I mean?) But she turns the event by seducing Alex herself. It was way too much and she wanted him. End of story. Lol But, when Ophelia finally finds them together and manipulates Alex again, first by words and then, with threats on Grace’s life, Alex, again, gives into that, deciding to leave with her, leaving Grace all alone in this small village. Oh, I was just............... can’t explain. I would’ve loved to see him give a little fight at least. *sigh*
The most intense emotion was wrenched out of Alex when Ophelia orders her man to shoot Grace anyway (it was predictable that she’d never let her go), leaving him stunned speechless. Though Grace is hurt, it wasn’t fatal but it did shake Alex from his stupor and made him realize just what and who he was going to leave... again. Grace is now the ray of light in his world and Alex can’t very well, ever, live without her again.
At that point, they’re also waylaid by Alex’s father, who finally came to his senses, even if a small bit and asks Ophelia to leave his son alone. Then we learn of what happened to Ophelia and why she planned this downfall of these three boys, turning them into prostitutes. She was raped by a man of the nobility. Turns out, Alex’s father was that man’s friend and helped him cover up his crime. Only when Alex’s father threatens her instead with exposing her real identity to the greater world, is when Ophelia gives up her madness. At least where Alex was concerned. But Alex and Grace could see that this woman is pretty much beyond anybody’s help with her need for vengeance. Nothing could ever make her veer away from that path, but she leaves Alex in peace at last.
I adored the epilogue. It was quite longer for an epilogue because the loose ends were obviously being tied in it, but I loved it nonetheless. The treasure Alex and Grace so briefly talked about and thought could help them to survive if they can find it, was also found. But by then it’s been some years and they didn’t need it anymore. I thought that part was kinda unnecessary because I didn’t take the treasure part seriously anyway. Either way, the epilogue only made me eager for the next book to find out how Gideon makes his escape from Ophelia’s clutches. 3.75 stars.