My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The 3rd book in Lori Brighton’s Seduction series, To Please A Lady, wasn’t bad overall, however was a bit of a drag for the majority of it. James was quite an underdeveloped character in the first two books. He came and went on and off in those; I knew he was one of Lady Lavender’s most devoted boys but I never really felt I knew him that well. This story starts out in Lavender Hill, the famous brothel that caters to the sexual needs of women only, as James was still working there while Alex and Gideon have made their escapes.
As for an intro, 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 the women. Gideon has been the one to put doubts in Alex and James’s minds. He’s the most rebellious of them all. 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 (book 1, To Seduce an Earl). Two years after Alex’s escape, Gideon also had his chance, thanks to one stubborn little red haired heiress, Elizabeth. Because of her, he now knows more about his own past, and though the truth may not have been pretty, Gideon has finally found the love of his life and the peace of mind that had always eluded him, alongside a title and financial stability.
Yet none of Gideon’s attempts were that successful in convincing James to look for a way out. However, by the end of book 2, To Capture a Rake, the seed of suspicion were planted inside James’ mind regarding his presence at Lavender Hill. James has been hovering, indecisive ever since, not knowing what he can do to change anything about his life. He was brought here so that he can provide for his mother and sister and save them from dire poverty. Ophelia promised him as such in the very beginning. James has been the good little whore for her, doing anything she asked for without any objection. He has the gentle demeanor, with green eyes and light brown hair that put women always at ease. He’s also one of the crowd favorite, as was Alex and Gideon for their specialties. Alex was always given virgins for his youthful good looks and Gideon has had the more experienced women who preferred rough play rather than gentle wooing.
One day, James is assigned to this married woman who has just visited brothel for the first time. She seems fidgety when Ophelia calls him in to have a talk to make the woman comfortable. One look at her and James’s heart stops beating, literally! She’s like one of those golden goddesses, with statuesque figure, creamy skin and large blue eyes. She seems very regal in bearing as well, no doubt the wife of some old, titled gentleman who can’t please his young wife in bed. And her name’s Eleanor. But as he goes to kiss her, Eleanor breaks off and runs out as if she can’t bear to do it. James thought she looked terrified at the prospect of experiencing pleasure, as she originally told Ophelia.
And James would’ve been correct no doubt had he knew about Eleanor’s life... because Eleanor was terrified, of her suspicious monster of a husband. Initially, I wasn’t too thrilled to know that she has decided to cheat on her husband. But as I begin learning of the hell she has been living under that SOB’s roof, I could only pray that she could make her escape; someday, somehow.
Eleanor must’ve been the most tortured heroine of this series. She comes from a noble but impoverished family and was sort of sold to her husband, Lord Beckett, who seduced her with sweet words of fake love, married her and in about a week, showed his real face to her, clear that the only thing he wanted was to possess her. Come to think of it, Eleanor’s wedding night musing told me he showed his true face on that very night, being cruel to her on her first time. And that’s been his way throughout, making Eleanor despise sex. Beckett started blatantly cheating on her with multiple women; even the maids of his house weren’t spared. He’d flaunt his mistresses to her as if to humiliate her in every possible way. Not conceiving the ever expected heir only worsened her stature in the house that was nothing sort of a prison to Eleanor, with a butler and servants always spying on her. Of course, being the woman and the wife, she has to maintain the façade of virtue and a picture of loving couple in front of the society, so no talking to other men. Any niggling suspicion (however misguided) of cheating and Beckett would beat the living daylight out of her. It was horrible, disgusting...... I was SO MAD at that filthy SOB, can’t even explain.
It’s not that Eleanor didn’t speak out. After 10 plus years into this, she has become somewhat resigned to the beatings and humiliation, knowing there’s no other way for her. Her family has already abandoned her in lieu of the money Beckett gave them. The only good thing, from all these, was the fact that her husband doesn’t force his sexual need on her anymore. A profound relief for Eleanor as she hates him touching her. I remember one scene where she finds him with his mistress. Later the woman, a dumb widow, comes to her making excuses on Beckett’s behalf, citing he’s ‘in love’ with her and that, in a MOC, things like this are bound to happen. Eleanor could only laugh at the woman’s idiocy but she also says something to her that I loved. She, at first, states the fact that hers also was a ‘love match’ or so she was led to believe by Beckett and not a MOC. Then she thanks the woman for taking him away from her bed and wished her all the luck, because no doubt she’d need it at some point when she inevitably faces the reality of Beckett’s ‘love’.
But what I failed to see was just why this man was so cruel to Eleanor. Yes, he was somewhat mentally imbalanced, no doubt, yet a good actor to fool everyone into thinking he’s a doting husband. And he’s also very amenable with his mistress. It’s like all his hatred was centered only on Eleanor, on a campaign of breaking her in every way. He accuses her of being cold and distant in bed being a crappy f*ck, he accuses her of never conceiving children. There was a mention of an abusive childhood, but I didn’t care. That guy was plain sh!t, at the height of sheer hypocrisy but only got away because it was that time when a woman was her husband’s property and no one cared whatever the hell happened to a married couple in private.
So going to the Lady Lavender’s was quite the rebellious step for Eleanor. But she had to hide it, knowing if the words get to Beckett, he’d probably kill her this time for ‘sullying his noble blood and name’. Eleanor, finally, wanted to know for once how it feels truly feels like to be with a man. But of course, she begins stalling her engagements. She sees James a few more times, being attracted to his manly beauty and gentle ways, but in none of those she actually has sex with him. James, feeling something was definitely wrong from Eleanor’s looks and fidgetiness, couldn’t stay away. He kept feeling protective of her and an urge reach out... maybe even help. Yet, apart from the fact that James is younger than her, Eleanor can’t see anything good coming from this unexpected attraction. At the end of the day, James is a prostitute, her husband is still alive and well… he can’t know of her secret meetings with James. You gotta believe that the guy was sick enough to commit murder.
But the first 70% or so of the book was pretty dragging, the reason why my attention was also wondering. It was, I believe, because Eleanor’s story was revealing slowing and there weren’t much of anything happening, except for those meetings, planned or otherwise and she running away from James scared of her husband. But when they finally have sex is when the story begins picking up its pace. This is also when James becomes aware of the bruises on Eleanor’s body, understanding dawning on him. Just what has been happening to her and why she has been so scared. It wasn’t her association with him, or scares of ruining her pristine reputation after all. James already knew that every touch of Eleanor’s showed that she craved it as much as James liked giving it to her. He is furious on her behalf but at the same time, helpless, not knowing how to save her. To make matters worse, he also kept finding clues that Ophelia might not have seen through her promises.
I could feel the despair of the situation, and the helplessness in both James and Eleanor. But still, I wasn’t sure if he was the right person to be Eleanor’s knight-in-shining-armor, or so to speak. I didn’t know if he was strong enough to take care of her. But he wanted to, that much was sure.
At one point, Eleanor becomes suspicious of Ophelia too, as James tells her of his own suspicion. She makes discreet queries, and hits the goldmine. She finds that indeed, Ophelia never send a penny to James’s family and they led a terrible time since his supposed disappearance from their life. It was only too sadly ironical that his mother was forced to sell her body until one day she was murdered. His father was already deceased, killing himself for reason; something James thought was caused by his own rudeness... which wasn’t entirely true as we learn later in the story. James’s sister ended up in a convent, still alive but barely living a life. Eleanor visits her in the excuses of donating money. The girl, it seemed, harbored misguided idea of the whispers she’d heard about James abandoning them for a luxurious life and selling his body. Which was only half truth as Eleanor defends James vehemently. But no matter, she’s unable to make the girl come away from the convent. And then, as she was leaving, Eleanor finds her nightmare waiting for her on the doorstep; Beckett with his chilling smile that screams retribution. It seems he’d found out about her and James.
I don’t think I have to spell it out that the SOB beats Eleanor, but this time she replies back, even knowing what’s coming for her. Eleanor was tired of this and she had come to realize that her feelings were not simple lust. She’s in love with James. James, who seemed to have an understanding of her inside and out in these couple of weeks that her husband of 10 plus years never did, nor even bothered. At the same time, James also gets the confirmation of Ophelia’s treachery. When he confronts her, Ophelia with that mad laugh confesses with glee that she had already told the viscount of his wife’s little trysts. James is shocked by the implications. He was already being kept in captivity but he manages to break free and run from Lavender Hills, in hopes of saving Eleanor, knowing she might not live to see him again.
Even though James beats the a$$hole and saves Eleanor, beaten but still alive, James had no idea what to do at that moment. Then he remembers Patience, Grace’s (h of book 1) sister. Patience has been pretty determined of helping Eleanor and James to be together since the moment she saw the hint of something special between them. Seeing no other viable options, its Patience James finally seeks out. In the inn where she was staying, Patience is appalled seeing the bruises on Eleanor’s body but ever the industrial girl does everything she can to take care of her. Then Mr. Smith happens by. Not surprising, considering we’ve already seen something between him and Patience in the first two books. At that point, a desperate James decides he’d take this chance and kill the bastard so that Eleanor doesn’t have to suffer ever in her life. Yah, he’d hang but at the least, Eleanor will live. Oh that was some stupid yet heart-wrenching decision from James, as the climax of the story begins unfolding.
Ophelia plays her dirty tricks again, because of course, she couldn’t let the last of her popular (and profitable) boys go so easily. I was fuming at this loco, reading just how she relished seeing James and Eleanor suffer when she comes there outside of the inn to taunt Eleanor. At the same time, James was being taken away by the police, based on the complaint filed by Beckett something in the lines of ‘kidnapping his wife and assaulting him’. It’s with Alex and Gideon’s help that James is finally able to escape the gallows just in time. I can’t explain how happy I was at the moment as they proved to James that the bond they formed so many years ago, as unwanted and surprising as it may have been, has not been broken. It has only strengthened, now that Alex and Gideon have known the love of a family, having their own. All they wanted James to have the same chance with Eleanor... But how? Would they run away together, in some other counties, living incognito? What can they do?
But the solution comes rather sooner than later...
If you read book 1 and 2, you’ll know that Ophelia was a victim of rape many years ago, instigated by Gideon’s nasty father. Alex’s father helped him in keeping this hidden. Here, it was revealed at last that James’s father was the coachman of Gideon’s father and knew of this incident, yet did nothing to save her. Hence Ophelia’s plotting of taking the boys and making prostitutes out of them. It was also seen many a times in the other books that Ophelia is not a sane individual anymore, too embroiled in her need for revenge. There was a scene at the end, a couple of pages told from her POV, the very first time in the series. It was probably done to garner some sympathy for her, but I really had none... and when she’s killed by another lunatic, Beckett, I felt nothing for any of them. The a$$hole finally gets his comeuppance but I say, way too easily- by hanging. I’m not really sure what happens to Lavender Hill after this ‘tragedy’ because there weren’t anything significant to wrap things up.
The epilogue was beautiful. It takes place a year or so after this story. We see a bit of it in book 2. Now it’s clear that in that gathering of families, Alex and Gideon were waiting for James to arrive with Eleanor... Watching Alex, Gideon and James having fun together with their own families was a treat for me and a satisfying ending to the series. However, I hope someday, Patience and Mr. Smith get to have their own book. Their chemistry is just too good to ignore. 3.5 stars.
This ARC was provided to me by Montlake Romance via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.