Reviewed by Mandi
First review of 2016 and it gets an ‘A’ grade! A good start to the new year.
A historical romance where the protagonists are not wealthy. They are not of the ton – they have worked in service their entire lives. Our hero is John Toogood. A valet for a wealthy family, after the war and a family fight, he is let go. Oh the embarrassment. He has some money saved so all is not lost, but his pride is hurt. John prides himself on being the very best. His father is the butler of a great estate, and John learned much from him. So when a butler position opens in the local vicarage, John’s spirits lift. He hasn’t necessarily wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, and the vicarage is nothing like the house or family he used to serve, but it’s employment and he hopes he can make a difference. The only problem – the vicar wishes his butler to be married. The previous butler was a single man who made advances on the females on staff. Not only advances -but he sexually abused some of them. The vicar has it set, that a married man will have better virtues.
But lucky for John, he has befriended a local maid named Sukey. Sukey works for a boarding house across the street from his lodgings. He is instantly attracted to her – despite the age difference. (John is 40, Sukey is 22. I loved this). While John strives for perfection in his job, Sukey leaves dust piles in the corner and steals her employers hair pins. While John reads extensively and presents himself as the best he can, Sukey talks to much, has a heavy accent and is loud. I adored her.
John knows Sukey hates her current job and employer and decides since they both are quite fond of each other, why not get married, so John can accept the butler position, and Sukey can take a job as the upper house maid. She finally agrees, and the marriage happens.
I love a marriage of convenience story, and this one is done so well. John and Sukey do get married to get this job, but they like each other and are very attracted to each other to start. There isn’t really any physical awkwardness in the bedroom. John, being 40 is a little worried he will be too old (tire too fast) to keep up with his very sexually promiscuous wife. Sukey, while a virgin, is not shy in the bedroom. They have a very passionate relationship in this book. It’s dirty and romantic all at the same time. I loved their chemistry. She gets so hot watching him work…
But vigorous scrubbing, well…it got the blood pumping. Sukey was flushed and breathing hard, and all at once even looking at him seemed indecent. Muscles shifted under his breeches as he rubbed vigorously at a tomato stain that had been on the wall (Sukey reflected guiltily) since Michaelmas.
His big apron hugged half his wool-covered arse, leaving the central seam to her lustful gaze. He has one of the finer arses it had ever been her privilege to gawk at. The small of his back dipped nicely and then flared in a firm, commanding curve. Even my arse is better than yours, it proclaimed truthfully to the world. And the way it moved…
He turned away from the wall to pick up her boots. Face burning, Sukey dropped her eyes to the jelly mold she was cleaning. I’d like a jelly mold in the shape of his arse.
But it’s not all orgasms and smiles. John and Sukey both have a lot of imperfections, making them perfectly not perfect to me. John is very strict when it comes to running his household. His first instinct is to criticize. This not only rubs his small staff the wrong way, but being married to one of your employees is very difficult. Sukey takes offense to his remarks. The staff has worked together for some time before John comes on board, and they don’t always take kindly to his demeanor. He makes them work hard and resentment rears its head. There is also the lingering issue of the previous butler’s abuse on the very young girls in the house. While they trust John, it’s hard for them to move on. The staff in this book play a wonderful supporting cast that adds much to this story.
Sukey’s father abandoned his family when she was young, and those trust issues with men run through her head from time to time after her marriage to John. It’s hard for her to completely let her guard down with him. I love the moments in this book – late in the book – when Sukey still acts a little selfish, or John still gets a little embarrassed over her accent or her demeanor. They love each other, but just like in real life, there are some things you don’t love about your partner. Their relationship felt so, so real.
Also impressive is the service culture. I feel like this author really shows up what’s it’s like to work or be born into service. The hours, the expectations, the absolute sanctity of that one half day of freedom every week. The perfection, the dedication. The hurdles women must face. Such a fascinating read.
Highly recommend this one. It can be read as a stand alone. Romantic, passionate and an intriguing story.