It’s almost unfair that a book like Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman comes out in December. We’re all busy with various holidays, our “Best Reads of 2010” lists are locked into place, there isn’t any room in the month to start squealing with the excitement of a really good read. I’m going to suggest that you clear some time in your calendar in advance. Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman shouldn’t be put off to 2011.
This is the second book of what will be at least a trilogy dealing with three half-brothers. (I say at least because their mother could carry a book on her own, if romance embraced a forty-something woman torn between a younger man and a past love.) While reading October’s Passions of a Wicked Earl will certainly add emotional impact to Pleasures, it’s not required to follow the story. Stephen is the middle brother, the one that charms effortlessly and uses that as the currency of his life. Sent into the military during the Crimean War, Stephen is reinvented as a man of integrity and inspiration. Unfortunately for him, Stephen has no recollection of his life since the close of Passions. He has (in a sense) laid down as a beautiful but useless man and arisen as a broken and confused one.
Mercy meets Stephen after Passions but before his final injury. As one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses, she was a witness to the best of his character under the worst of times. Stephen, of course, remained Stephen. He may have been a better version of himself, but he was still a licentious one. When Mercy returns home, she returns home with Stephen’s child. Believing him killed in battle, she brings her son to his father’s family. She is completely unprepared for the man she finds there. He is neither the Stephen of Passions nor the Stephen of her experience. War changes a man, then peace changes him again.
Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman deals with so many things and so well. Is your identity what you recall, or what people expect from you? Are you who you were or who you want to be? Does the factual truth matter or the emotional truth? What makes a parent? While Mercy and Stephen struggle with these issues, Mercy is refreshingly uninterested in less than her son deserves from a father. Nor is she interested in settling for less than she deserves in a husband, low as her prior expectations were. She has seen what Stephen is capable of, even if he has not, and she expects him to conduct himself appropriately.
My only problem with Pleasures is the cover. (It seems wrong not to have anything to complain about since complaining is one of my favorite things.) I was completely distracted by Mercy’s breasts. Has she been airbrushed? It seems to me that given the amount of flesh exposed some gradual color change should be occurring, especially on the left. I’m not sure why Mercy chose to dress in such a tonal match to her bedding, either. It’s confused Stephen – look how his hand is under the blanket to raise her head. Who knows how long that poor man has been searching for something more than the sheet? Sartorial issues aside, buy this book. Lorraine Heath is proving herself to be one of romance’s best authors and this is one of her best books. Call it a holiday gift to yourself.