The Price of Temptation - M. J. Pearson
We all have our guilty little pleasures. For all my love (and envy) of really great writing, I do enjoy a daft romance once in a while. Yes, I’ve been known to buy and read Mills and Boon, and thoroughly enjoyed them when I’m in the mood. So, when Cerisaye saw this one advertised I just had to get it! Daft, nineteenth century slash romance! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, despite the outrageous cover, to find that this novel actually has some substance. It’s certainly romantic, but it’s a much better read than I’d been expecting. It has genuine character development and an engaging plot.
James, the illegitimate son of a doting mother who has recently died, comes to London to take up a position of tutor with the Earl of St James and his family. Unfortunately, the Earl and his wife and sons were drowned, and the younger brother, Stephen, has inherited the title. A gambler, a drinker and lover of men, Stephen is not the least interested in employing this little “mouse” as he names Jamie. Talked into it by his valet, Charles, however, Jamie gets taken on as secretary with the almost impossible task of sorting his lordship’s woeful finances. Paying Jamie the sum of £50 a quarter, it’s an indication of the Earl’s priorities that he pays his lover, a so-called actor, ten times that, in an exclusive contract for personal services that are illegal in nineteenth century England.
Gradually, Jamie’s quiet manners and simple goodness win the Earl around, and a deep romance develops between them. Can they survive a dastardly plot hatched by the scorned lover? Will Jamie’s sweet love be enough for a man who tears a strip off the whores and rakes of London?
This was a delightful, guilty read. But many a more worthy, pretentious writer could learn a few simple lessons from this story. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
I wanted this novel as soon as I saw the steamy cover. However that seductiveness is actually misleading and makes the novel jolly hard to read in mixed company. Which is a shame as it possibly limits the readership. Sex content is limited and erotic more than graphic, so this is a book you can’t judge by its cover.
If you’re a fan of Regency Romances you’re bound to like it. The plot obeys expected conventions of the genre, with the exception being substitution of a mousy young man where tradition would have a girl. My only quibble is this youth is too feminised- a touch of the Mary Sue’s? It is, however, very readable, building to a tense climax.
When Yorkshire lad Jamie Riley obtains a position in the household of handsome aristocrat Stephen, Earl of St Joseph, he doesn’t know what he’s let himself in for. He joins a bunch of misfits, because the Earl’s personal life means he can’t retain servants who could find work elsewhere.
As Stephen’s personal secretary, Jamie is responsible for restoring order to the Earl’s chaotic and impoverished affairs. A job the young man attacks with relish, eager to please his charming employer.
It’s no secret the Earl’s amorous interests lie with men. Jamie isn’t totally unprepared, having experienced the heat of desire for another man, despite a sheltered upbringing. So he’s not shocked to learn Stephen keeps golden-hired actor, Julian Jeffries, on retainer to meet his needs.
Jeffries though alluring is a dissolute, rapacious ne’er do well bleeding his patron dry. Jamie quickly endears himself to the household, just what Stephen needs to make him the man he could be.
So, jolly fun as the valet, Charles, and fellow matchmakers, without Jamie knowing what they’re up to, transform the bespectacled shabby sparrow into a peacock to attract Stephen’s appreciative eye.
Set at a time when to be caught in a homosexual act meant death, ready acceptance of same-sex love might seem out of time/place. However we’re dealing here with the upper echelons of a rigidly hierarchical society where birth and wealth meant a large degree of impunity providing discretion was observed. Stephen attracts other men like him to his employ, a believable way for lower orders to survive a hostile world. Stephen’s Aunt Matilda, holder of the purse strings, is also remarkably sympathetic, but in her time she’s seen it all- the 18th C was a remarkably tolerant society, something we forget because of the prim prudish Victorians. She loves her nephew and likes Jamie therefore it’s believable she’d want them happy together. Anything to get rid of vile Julian!
Jamie is a peach ripe for plucking. Stephen the experienced older man just perfect to unleash hidden passion. But Jamie, for good reason, wants more than to replace Julian as kept boy. Stephen, however, shies from intimacy, preferring casual affairs based on commerce not love. Though both want each other desperately they deny love for much of the story.
Julian is not about to give up the goose that lays his golden eggs. He realises what’s going on and fights back dirty, a real nasty bit of work, digging into Jamie’s past to uncover a hidden secret.
Pearson shows how men who loved men might’ve lived long before there was any consciousness about sexual identity and labelling…in many ways a more attractive state of affairs than our society. Easy of course if you’re an Earl to insist upon living openly not in fear, and it’s never really addressed what’s going to happen to his title if Stephen doesn’t marry and produce an heir.
I liked that the story shows gay men with the same concerns as today: dealing with feelings and desires, fear and guilt, the need for love as much if not more than sex, whether to come out or live in the closet, attitudes of family and society in general. Neither Jamie nor Stephen questions their feelings are wrong because they’re both men, only class/social considerations. So it’s a wonderfully positive book.
I certainly hope Pearson plans a series. Very highly recommended.