Another present from JMC and a great one too. Here's the blurb:
Abandoned as a child and raised in a brothel, Gabriel St. Croix has never known tenderness, friendship or affection. Although fluent in sex, he knows nothing of love. Lost and alone inside a nightmare world, all he’s ever wanted was companionship and a place to belong. Hiding physical and emotional scars behind an icy façade, his only relationship is with a young boy he has spent the last five years protecting from the brutal reality of their environment. But all that is about to change. The boy’s family has found him, and they are coming to take him home.
Sarah Munroe blames herself for her brother’s disappearance. When he’s located, safe and unharmed despite where he as been living. Sarah vows to help the man who rescued and protected him in any way she can. With loving patience she helps Gabriel face his demons and teaches him to trust in friendship and love. But when the past catches up with him, Gabriel must face it on his own.
Becoming a mercenary, pirate and a professional gambler, Gabriel travels to London, France, and the Barbary Coast in a desperate attempt to find Sarah again and all he knows of love. On the way, however, he will discover the most dangerous journey, and the greatest gamble of all, is within the darkest reaches of his own heart.
Short on time so the review will be short. I mostly liked this book. I was extremely in love with it for the first 200 pages or so where Gabriel and Sarah fall in love - and it's a slow, delicate then sometimes aggressive courtship where he's testing her to find proof that she really thinks he's nothing but a prostitute, but it doesn't come and he falls in love with her very convincingly, very sweetly and his devotion is never doubted. It was a very pleasurable read.
Where this book gets a bit confusing is the way it's been plotted. See, I'm in the habit of reading a romance where either they get married hasty-fashion and then discover their love, or they discover their love and get married at the end. This book has them falling in love and getting married halfway through and it almost feels like the book is done; but no! Gabriel goes a bit Westley in Princess Bride and wants to make his own fortune and support his (Countess) wife all by himself with pride intact. So after a hasty wedding he sets off to sea.
It doesn't go terribly well as he's swept overboard during a ship's battle in the middle of a storm. He does survive, sold into slavery and ultimately sold back to one of his former boy-loving clients. This is where things go a bit weak for me; Gabriel manages to not only escape his master, but also to sever those emotionally damaging ties forever - Yay Gabriel, way to slay the beast within. He then
You'd think the first thing he'd do is write his beloved Sarah and let her know he was alive and coming home. You'd think getting back to her was the number one priority but no. He gambles, he makes money, he broods and pouts and sneers and hates everyone - himself most of all. He then moves back to London - still not writing to Sarah who thinks he's dead. More gambling, more brooding, making a name for himself amongst the ton.
Eventually Sarah hears about him while visiting in London and goes to see for herself. Wouldn't you be pissed off if you were Sarah? Wouldn't you be screaming blue murder if you'd found your beloved, who you've been pining and crying over for a few years in your desperate widowhood - when you find him entertaining a bunch of toffs and another woman on his arm?? You would wouldn't you. I know I would.
I just feel if this story had be rearranged a bit it would've been a keeper. Gabriel needed to show a bit more determination to get back to Sarah. I was getting a bit fed up with his self-loathing and had hoped it ended with Sarah's devotion. Something had to change in it's telling, something had to motivate him beyond mere survival which he's shown before isn't all that important to him. It all falls a bit flat and predictable after the wedding. I don't think Ms. James was all that invest beyond the romance - it was more of a struggle to read and I imagine, for her, a struggle to write.
But such promise from a new writer. I will look forward to her next book. This was her first and I can forgive hiccups and niggling things on a first.