Two men with a past. Will their mutual obsession with art draw them closer together, or drive a wedge between them forever?
What’s it About?
An honorable artist: Benedict Pennington’s greatest ambition is not to paint a masterpiece, but to make the world’s greatest art accessible to all by establishing England’s first national art museum. Success in persuading a reluctant philanthropist to donate his collection of Old Master paintings brings his dream tantalizingly close to reality. Until Viscount Dulcie, the object of Benedict’s illicit adolescent desire, begins to court the donor’s granddaughter, set on winning the paintings for himself . . .
A hedonistic viscount: Sinclair Milne, Lord Dulcie, far prefers collecting innovative art and dallying with handsome men than burdening himself with a wife. But when rivals imply Dulcie’s refusal to pursue wealthy Miss Adler and her paintings is due to lingering tender feelings for Benedict Pennington, Dulcie vows to prove them wrong. Not only will he woo her away from the holier-than-thou painter, he’ll also placate his matchmaking father in the process.
Sinner and saint–can both win at love? But when Benedict is dragooned into painting his portrait, Dulcie finds himself once again drawn to the intense artist. Can the sinful viscount entice the wary painter into a casual liaison, one that will put neither their reputations, nor their feelings, at risk? Or will the not-so-saintly artist demand something far more vulnerable–his heart?
A feature you notice from the very opening page of this book, and which the author should be commended for, is that it truly feels as though we have been transported to the Regency Era. I’m sure some of you are thinking that for a 19th century historical read, we damn well better feel like we’re in the 1800s. Well, hear me out! To write a historical romance is one thing, but to feel as though the novel was actually written in the 1800s? That’s a talent all in itself. From the syntax to the British slang, the work felt reminiscent of something written by Jane Austen or Frances Burney. While it was a noticeably admirable trait of the novel, it did also make for a slightly slower read. What can I say? It took me some time to decipher what the characters were actually trying to say. But I also couldn’t deny that my desire for a pot of tea and tray of cucumber sandwiches grew stronger with every page turned.
Classic Beauty vs. the Unnatural
In my opinion, the true mastery of this novel lay not necessarily with the romance between Benedict and Dulcie, but instead through their discussions and debates of art. Benedict’s goal in life is to open a national art museum for the British people. All British people, regardless of class, station, or wealth. Dulcie on the other hand is one of the leading art critics of the day, with his sights set on acquiring unique pieces for his own private collection. The heated discussions which erupt between the two, as well as with their fellow high-class art peers, were so insightful and thought-provoking that you couldn’t help but feel moved to take up an opinion on the matter as well. As the novel progresses we see a shift in the conversation from who is worthy of appreciating good art to who decides what good art is in the first place. The scrutiny placed on the artistic system was riveting, as our characters understand that sometimes you have to look beyond the paint to what is hiding underneath.
What hit me the most though was how this discussion of art and beauty could find direct symmetry in the romance between Benedict and Dulcie. The two are art connoisseurs, yet they can both appreciate the talent in an artistic piece that might not be considered classically beautiful. While some might view tangled limbs and an imperfect male specimen on a canvas as grotesque, they are both enamored with the emotion such a piece can evoke in the viewer, and therefore can’t deny that it deserves praise. Even if the majority of their contemporaries don’t agree with them.
When we look at Benedict and Dulcie’s relationship, the majority of regency society would also look upon it as something grotesque and unnatural. And sadly, there are many in our own time who would see it in the same context. But what lies underneath the surface? What do you have when you push the physical component to the side. What lies beneath the paint? Simple, it’s love. Love between two consenting adults who want to spend the rest of their lives together. Love is love and romance is for all. While they can see the beauty in this, and a minuscule number of their contemporaries understand it, for the majority it is seen as too far removed from what society deems as “right” or “proper”. Again, the parallels between their love and the discussion of modern art was so subtly clever that I’m still thinking about it.
Romance vs. Challenge
While I was fully entranced by the discussion of art for the masses, unfortunately there was one aspect of the novel that I’m sorry to say I had a much harder time falling in love with. And that would be Dulcie. Now, let me start off by saying that eventually he does manage to redeem himself by becoming a devoted partner and friend once again to Benedict. The problem is that it took sooooo long to happen. Throughout the novel Benedict is this adorable, wide-eyed puppy dog that I just wanted to pick up and snuggle, even though he definitely has some bark behind his bite. When it came to Dulcie though, he was like a predatory hawk. Constantly circling, searching for who he could mess with next.
Ok, ok, so a hawk might be too harsh a comparison. How about a puppet master who loved to pull the strings of others? He could tease, seduce and manipulate with the best of ’em. It was really a struggle to know whether or not his heart was ever behind his pursuit of Benedict, or if it was simply a challenge to regain Benedict’s childhood affections. Again, eventually we see Dulcie open up with Benedict, and share some of his innermost thoughts, feelings and fears. I just wish it had come a bit earlier on in the novel. Something else which I think could have helped me warm up to Dulcie earlier was if we could have received a prologue to show how the two initially connected at school all those years before. We see the moment where their interaction ends, and towards the end of the novel we realize how both of them suffered following the end of their friendship, but the missing element for me was that initial crucial moment which connected them in the first place.
Let’s Get Physical…Or Not
Duclie’s pursuit of Benedict throughout the novel is fairly relentless. Both admit to an undeniable attraction that seems to be pulling the two of them together. For Benedict though, he doesn’t want anything to happen between them unless Dulcie is willing to offer up his mind in addition to his body. For Dulcie? He’s basically just looking for a good ole rough and tumble in the back room of a tavern. He employs all the seductive looks, touches, and smirks at his disposal to try and sway Benedict to his line of thinking. Essentially, he’s a classic playboy. What I found to be so fascinating though was what happened when the two finally did get physical.
There’s some rubbing, some tugging, some “spending”. Anything beyond that though? Shockingly this is where Dulcie becomes more reserved! Throughout the whole novel his attitude and confidence towards getting Benedict in his hands sort of implies that he’d be the expert and dominant when it came to the physical side of their relationship. What debauchery might they get into when the seducer finally captures his prey? Who knew it would be the complete opposite with Benedict being the more experienced one?!?! It was very interesting to hear Dulcie’s rather negative opinion towards the concept of oral sex, not to mention penetration, almost as though it was beneath his high stature to engage in such uncivilized and…unsanitary behavior. I have a feeling Benedict might succeed in changing his opinion on that matter though 😉
*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*
Series: The Penningtons, book 4. This was the first book I read in this series, and I will admit I had trouble with the links between some of the different characters. It was kind of difficult to understand the relationship and familial webs at times.
Final Impression: Overall I can’t say I was fully connected to Dulcie and Benedict as a couple. I couldn’t help but feel that Dulcie’s eventual transformation into a caring and selfless lover came a bit too late in the game for me, and if anything I wanted more for Benedict. As a social and artistic commentary though it was an enthralling read. There are arguments about classic beauty versus opening the mind to modern interpretations that will keep you thinking for a few days.
Smut Level: Any time a couple can successfully balance on a chaise longue whilst exploring each other’s bodies deserves honorable mention. While we don’t get any scenes involving penetration, we get a few decent kissing scenes, tingling spines, tightening of groins, cock-stands, and “spending” a time or two.
Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Bliss Bennet Books. 298 Pages.
Tomorrow’s Extravaganza Post: The Mate by Abigail Owen. Paranormal, Shifters.