Three cups of coffee later, I closed my Kindle with a long drawn-out sigh. Another KJ Charles book was over, and I was bereft. She is one of those rare writers who pens near perfect romances. The juxtaposition of menace and affection, control and submission in this book are as exquisite as they are irresistible.
“How ought one dress to hire a thief?”
Lord Alexander Greville de Keppel Pyne-ffoulkes, the second son of the Duke of Ilvar, is now known simply as Mr. Alec Pyne. He has come rather down in the world and works as a lowly sketch artist for illustrated papers and books, toiling in his studio under London’s skylights. On this late Victorian June evening, he is at the Grand Cirque presumably to attend a performance, but in reality, to meet the Lilywhite Boys AKA professional jewel thieves. He wants to commission the theft of an obscenely expensive diamond parure gifted by the Duke of Ilvar to his duchess.
This larcenous act is not for revenge, nor to settle a grudge, but out of sheer spite for throwing his children out to starve when they would not pay obeisance to his second wife, whom he rushed to marry without properly mourning his first wife. He would not even lift a finger to help when his oldest daughter lay dying or even after she died, though both times Alec begged for his help. Hurt and anger lay deep in Alec’s heart and congealed in his gut. The diamonds were going to act as panacea for all ills.
Jerry Crozier of the Lilywhite Boys assumes the persona of a man-about-town and commences to charm Alec and publicize his role as Alec’s newfound close friend. They’re enacting their predetermined play to snow the duke into inviting them both to a house party at his castle in the countryside where the robbery would occur.
Alec goes to the duke on bended knee with apologies tripping from his lips, rife with misery from this betrayal of his self and nauseous with hate for the man in front of him. He likewise gifts the duchess with his deference and allows their Graces to heap abuse on his head. Having gotten into their good graces, he is issued an invitation to their castle. He prevails upon the duke to invite his good friend, Crozier, who takes the other Lilywhite Boy as his valet. Thus the two burglars have gained access to the site of the crime.
Alec and Crozier’s attraction to each other, while it takes Alec by surprise, is engineered by Crozier with the intent of having Alec eating out of his hand. That Crozier would develop a warm regard for Alec comes out of the left field for him. Alec’s acquiescence to Crozier’s dominance, his agreement to fall in with his plans, his ability to dig deep inside himself and sacrifice for the goal, and his almost boyish innocence beguile Crozier completely, and he starts to feel protective and tender towards Alec.
And Alec responds to this like a flower seeking the sun despite the ever-present reminder that Crozier is unambiguously dangerous and a damned intrusive impertinent bastard. That is perhaps part of Crozier’s attraction for Alec.
I have said this before: Charles does consent really well, in intimate moments and outside of them. Usually, consent is a simple question that requires a yes/no answer. However, in Charles’ books, it is far more nuanced and couched in a wide variety of ways and situations that inform on the characters and who they are as individuals.
Time and time again, Crozier shows how much he cares for Alec’s wishes and desires, no matter what they may be. He gifts Alec his acceptance… and frees him from his shame. In myriad ways, he shows Alec that he values him just the way he is. Thus, consent draws them closer to each other because it is rooted in trust and respect.
If you’re a historical romance reader who enjoys a strong immersion into the historical era of the story, then you will be well pleased with this novel. The details are well-researched and always used judiciously and in service of the story, never extraneous or over-the-top.
Are the Lilywhite Boys able to pull the heist off? Will Alec be able to rise above his sense of debasement to find peace within himself? And will restoring his sense of self-worth be sufficient for him to allow Jerry into his life? What in the world is Jerry going to do with himself and with Alec? Is rapprochement even possible from the nadir of their relationship?
I will leave you to find out all of this as you read the book. The details and the twists and turns — oh, there are a few of those — are too delicious to spoil. If you have never read a KJ Charles book before, I envy you your journey into some of the best stories romance has to offer. If you, like me, are a fan, then I know your book is preordered and you plan on reading it on release day.