My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I have to admit I’ve enjoyed To Capture a Rake by Lori Brighton much more than book 1, To Seduce an Earl, even though it had its own frustrating moments aka Gideon’s stomping away whenever the mood struck him. But I, somehow, thought he was just too sexy and broody to ignore. Can’t blame Elizabeth for falling for him. Let’s just get on with the review.
The story here is not as centered on Lavender Hill, the famous brothel that caters the sexual needs of women only, as it was in book 1. Lavender Hill, run by a beautiful but cold, lavender-eyed French woman named Ophelia is famous for its beautiful and experienced male prostitutes. They cater the needs of all sorts of women, be it virgins or bored housewives and widows, all for those who can pay the hefty price. The story also tells us about three boys who were brought in together by Ophelia in their early teens; Alex, Gideon and James. They have been her priced possessions, the most sought after among women. It’s been sometimes that doubts were brewing, mainly in Gideon’s mind. He’s the most rebellious among three men. He wanted out since the moment he knew why he was brought in and was being polished for. He has tried his best to break free but his attempts weren’t fruitful. Gideon always thought there was something fishy about the way they were brought here together. Thankfully, he was successful in helping Alex escape this place, who is now happily married to Grace. But for Gideon, the hell goes on, until the arrival of auburn haired beauty Elizabeth.
It’s been two years since Alex’s escape and Gideon is still performing his ‘duty’. He’s a big, handsome man with gray eyes and a ruthless, animalistic air about him that titillates the more experienced women. Hence he always gets to service them. Gideon thought, so far, that he could at least take some solace from his tortured past and ugly childhood by f*cking women. In truth, this has never really worked for him. Gideon comes from a very poor family. I was very saddened to know that his mother was sort of duped by a so-called nobleman into believing things that weren’t there. Gideon’s father married his mother, who was very beautiful, though from an impoverished family, secretly but he never accepted Gideon or his younger sister. No one from his father’s side of the family knew of them, or rather, chose to ignore them. The man would visit his mother on and off, taking no responsibility of the children whatsoever. And so, after a while, their situation worsened. At one point, his mother occasionally had to prostitute herself to pay for their food. When things were this bad, Gideon was looking for a way to improve their situation. Then, as he always does, one day his father suddenly returns. He was an abusive a$$hole who’d beat his mother and sister up whenever the mood struck him. That is what he was doing when a 14/15 yrs. old Gideon finds them in their shabby home. And he did what he had to do to save his mother; hitting him violently, a single blow that killed him instantly. Gideon dumped his body later on and ran. Right after that, Ophelia approached him, blackmailing him about his ‘secret’, also luring him about money and food, a luxury life of pleasure. Gideon is aware of the fact that neither his mother, nor his sister has survived the poverty and the guilt is sometimes too overwhelming to bear.
Oddly enough, just as book 1, it was tough for me to picture any other individual in Lavender Hill because we don’t really meet many characters in and out of the place; a handful of other male prostitutes who never really had any sort of limelight. And apart from Wavers, not many servants either. It did feel that Ophelia ran her brothel only with Alex, Gideon and James which obviously wasn’t the case. To my utter relief, there were no sex scenes with other clients in here or in Alex’s book involving our men.
For years, Gideon tried his best to be the ‘bad boy’ of the brothel but Ophelia always found and punished him, as she does to maintain her control, by ordering to beat him up by her bodyguard Wavers, a mammoth-like man who does whatever she wishes for. But Gideon is not that young boy anymore. He has also grown tall and big. He is known for his insensitive, selfish and arrogant nature, who cares about nothing but himself or his pleasure. In the last two years, Gideon has been closely guarded by Ophelia’s men. When Elizabeth arrives in a whirlwind, he had no idea what was coming his way. It was another day for him, he just begin his ‘time’ with one regular client when Ophelia calls him outside; something she never ever does; interruption when they’re with clients. Turns out, she wants him to service this very wealthy widow who just arrived and asked for a man, who somehow matches his description. She’d obviously pay very well.
When Gideon meets Elizabeth, he doesn’t see her veiled face but instantly zooms on her gorgeously curvy figure. He’s entranced, hooked, wanting to see the face too. Then the woman speaks to him revealing her face, and Gideon is a goner. Elizabeth’s green eyes and auburn hair makes him hard instantly, but he’s used to not showing his true feelings. Next, he hears that he’s supposed to be travelling with her in a remote English countryside for two weeks. WHAT??? Ophelia never EVER lets them go out with a client, let alone for such a long period. She raises objection, which was later quelled by Elizabeth with blackmail. I think she knew about Ophelia’s little secret. Gideon doesn’t question anything because suddenly, to him, it seems like a ticket to freedom! Maybe he can service the woman, or not, and escape on the way to wherever she’s taking him.
Elizabeth on the other hand, knows who Gideon really is. She’s been looking for him desperately for a while now, locating him in a brothel of all places! You see, Elizabeth’s life is in danger, alongside her sister’s children. Then you ask what’s the connection between her and Gideon? Well, Gideon’s father’s elder brother, the Baron married Elizabeth. He passed away a while ago. This is somewhat of a convoluted little family history. The Baron, who was in a bad marriage himself, made Elizabeth’s sister, a main in his house, his secret mistress. She had his daughter, Callie and disappeared when she fell pregnant again. She died while having Henry, the son, living with Elizabeth at that time. Elizabeth comes from a poor family and had no one but her sister’s children, until one day, the Baron come in search for her sister after his own wife had died. He wanted to marry her but it was too late. Elizabeth was living in dire poverty, so he made a deal with her; marry him, and make the children legitimate. People will know they’re hers. Since he never had an heir thru his marriage, Henry was to be the one. It was a marriage without consummation, as it soon turns out that the Baron was not doing well himself. So yah, convoluted, convenient too! They lived aboard for a while, she trained to become a woman of her newly gained status, and she inherited a lot of money. It seems that Elizabeth had a knack for business, which her dearly departed husband didn’t and increased the amount of his property by tenfold. She is still managing everything on Henry’s behalf. But now she needs Gideon’s help more than anything.
I wasn’t bothered by the fact that Elizabeth was married to Gideon’s uncle but I did think her plan was somewhat crazy. It helped to know she knew it too, but only too desperate to do whatever it takes to bring Gideon home. First of all, she assumed it was her MIL who is creating all sorts of trouble. She never approved of the marriage and has always been suspicious of the children, even though they call Elizabeth ‘mother’. Threats have been coming Elizabeth’s way too often and she’s worried. Then, she has also been worried that her MIL will order a doctor’s checkup to see if she’s... well, if the consummation occurred or not. So when, with the help of very smart Mr. Smith, her friend and estate manager, Elizabeth tracks down the other, quite legitimate heir of the barony, she needed to do whatever it is to bring him back in the country estate where she resides with the children. And she plans to marry him to keep the estate for Henry.
On their way to their destination, Elizabeth realizes she’s quite attracted to Gideon, something she wasn’t expecting. She wanted to be rid of her virginity and he being a male escort helped moving her plan forward. But she doesn’t know how to approach this scowling, big male riding with her in the carriage, who has been looking at her with an unreadable intensity. Gideon was only trying to figure out what this widow is up to and why it’s so necessary for her to take him so far away from London... and Lavender Hill. But most importantly, he was contemplating escape. This is when they’re attacked and he rescues her. Elizabeth begins opening up little by little, and Gideon now knows about her suspicion of her MIL. He’s so intrigued, not to mention so very attracted to her, he decides to go along with her plan. At an inn, they take shelter as a couple. That night, they also have sex, and Gideon is confounded to find her a virgin. What the hell is going on?
Elizabeth realizes something else too, that she can’t up and tell him everything because Gideon is unpredictable, volatile. He raises the guard around himself way too easily. When they arrive at the estate, Gideon instantly understands she’s a very rich heiress. But it’s Henry and Callie calling her ‘mother’ which makes him suspicious; something he knew to be impossible. He confronts Elizabeth and seeing no alternatives, she just tells him that she needs a bodyguard and he seems to be a man who had a keen instinct on this matter. She also lures him with money. She offers him plenty if he leaves Lavender Hill forever. With the money, he can go to America (something Gideon has been contemplating, and told her) and make a new life for himself. Gideon is tempted… actually he begins feeling the urge to take up on her offer. Then he goes and tells her that he wants something else from her too; to have the right to have sex with her whenever he wishes it. This, in turn, confounds Elizabeth. What made me want to slap Gideon was when he calls her a ‘whore’ when Elizabeth agrees to his demands. Um, huh?! Trust me, she just wanted him, and knew this is so good between them. But Gideon… ugh. He felt things for her that was so unlike him that he decided to lash out in his way, by being cutting and rude.
This should’ve made him a jerk in my eyes and for quite a while, he was. Elizabeth was very hurt by his words. It didn’t help matters that the man would ignore her whenever he felt like it, then would seek her out and shake her world again. But, the fact was, Gideon was having a bad time all over. He was thoroughly enchanted by Elizabeth’s beauty as well as her many fine qualities; her intelligence, her compassion and obvious love for those children not even her own. He found that he couldn’t even stand Mr. Smith anywhere near her as it was obvious that she greatly treasured their friendship, and that the man was also very protective of her. He hated children anywhere near him because Gideon was forever haunted by the nightmares of his poor, neglected, hungry and dirty childhood, his dead mother and sister always there heaping upon his guilt. He wanted to save them, instead now they’re dead. His life has no meaning if he really looks into it. But when Henry and Callie decided to ‘adopt’ him instead, Gideon couldn’t push away their childish pleas and urgings for a game or two. He wanted Elizabeth’s acceptance but didn’t know how to get over his past and that tower of guilt... and his life as male-whore. He just had no idea how to connect to Elizabeth’s purity, her offers of help that turned into pleading after a while.
At that time in the story, I found the time-frame pretty confusing. They were supposed to have been together for 2 weeks, yet it felt like months have passed in between. By now, Elizabeth is certain that she wants Gideon just more than the means to an end. She very much wanted to marry him and give him back what’s legally his. But most of all, she wanted to offer him a ‘life’ full of love and laughter. But obviously, the prickly man wouldn’t take her offering so easily. Well, Elizabeth is stubborn, and patient. And she knows how to fight, so she’s not about to give up on this man she’s falling in love with each passing day. I was cheering on for her, so when Gideon acts like a jerk once more hearing Elizabeth’s proposal of marriage… I was so mad because he wasn’t nice to her. He just leaves her standing there, alone, instantly rejecting it. It’s not like the jerk didn’t want this, but quite the opposite. But those feelings he kept having for her, he couldn’t come to terms with them so easily. Gideon was frustrating yes, but I understood what was going on. Still I wanted him to accept Elizabeth, rather than pushing her away. IMO she deserved a little better treatment.
What hooked me was the last 30 or so percent of the story that were riddled with revelations, one after another; some shocking, unexpected, some I already guessed. When Gideon finally learns of exactly why Elizabeth brought him here, I liked that he became more protective of her and the kids, coming to terms with a future he never even imagined he’d ever have. I loved that he was determined to stay here with Elizabeth, protect her from the dangers that were already lurking, becoming a worthy man for her. Or, at the least, die trying. He was duly angry and worried when Henry was poisoned, the first glimpse of the real, fierce Gideon for us. Then they were married, marriage consummated... and the emotion that he felt, once again, making him vulnerable. Could he survive such strong and deep feeling for one woman?
Sadly yet, none of them were aware of the ‘actual’ threat, rather focusing on Elizabeth’s MIL or Gideon’s grandmother. He even forces the woman and her companion to leave the estate once he decides to assume his responsibilities. They didn’t even guess who that might be or that they’re going to fess up to another of his disgusting father’s messes.
We also revisit Alex, who in urging of Mr. Smith, goes to talk to Ophelia to let Gideon go. I’m still not sure how he accomplished it but he became sure of something more sinister: that Ophelia helped the person who was after Elizabeth just out of spite! Mr. Smith, Alex, they all know of Ophelia’s little ‘secret’, which was hinted at in book 1. Turns out, it was Gideon’s creep of a father who raped her and thus, making Gideon her target for revenge. I had nothing for Ophelia but pity because she was beyond help.
I enjoyed the ending, even though Elizabeth’s life was put in danger. Then again, Gideon needed that jolt for a stark realization. Loved the epilogue so much, which takes place a year or so afterwards, ending with a family picnic where we find that Alex is coming to visit them, for the first time with his family. We were also given a hint of something between Mr. Smith and Grace’s feisty sister Patience which I thought was rather amusing. It was a sweet and fitting ending to a rather chaotic read. 4 stars.