Master of Pleasure (School of Gallantry #5)
Author: Delilah Marvelle
Release Date: 28 November 2014
The greatest divide between a man and a woman is not the one society sets before them but the one they set before themselves...
After Miss Leona Olivia Webster had allowed herself to fall in love with a dashing childhood friend who had left her scorned and pregnant, she is done chasing her happily-ever-after. Shunned by society, she dedicates herself to raising her young son and putting money in their pockets. She doesn't expect to be drawn to her latest master, a brooding man of hulking presence who carves random messages into walls with his Persian blade as a means of starting a flirtation.
Malcolm Gregory Thayer, the earl of Brayton, may have dedicated himself to a life of religious virtue after leaving the monastery due to dark tendencies, but after meeting Leona, he begins to yearn for the life that had never been his. When he meets a retired French courtesan who invites him to embrace what he has long feared, he seizes the opportunity to become the man he always wanted to be. His new mission is clear. He intends to finally serve the one thing he never had: his heart.
Woohoo, it's Brayton's story! This mysterious man has appeared in the previous School of Gallantry books, and is one of the characters whose story I was most curious to read.
The story starts with a young Malcolm in a monastery as a punishment for a moral crime that he didn't commit, but he accepted this punishment to try and save his brother from himself. It's quite clear that Malcolm doesn't belong at the monastery, he's honourable and kind whereas most of the other boys are depraved and cruel. Fast forward and Malcolm is a strong, brave man serving as an admiral in the Persian navy. I thought Malcolm was a thoroughly intriguing and unusual hero, with an adorable gruffness that was irresistible. He has an affinity for pain, something he's ashamed of and tries very hard to hide, which has also led to him avoiding women all his life. He's an attractive, rough-hewn guy with a quiet sense of honour that leads to his meeting with Leona.
Leona is a pretty great heroine, she's courageous and a fiercely protective mother. She's trying to save money so she can leave London and give her young son a better life. When Malcolm helps her in a tricky situation, he follows with a generous job offer as a housekeeper during his stay in London.
Malcolm is drawn to helping those in need, but as he talks with Leona he realises that the attraction between them is powerful and only increases as he spends time with her. I loved the development of their relationship. Malcolm starts off as being perfect in Leona's eyes, he basically saves her and her son, instantly gaining her admiration. As they grow closer, Malcolm starts to let her know more about his issues which makes him less 'perfect' but also more vulnerable. Whilst Leona and Malcolm love each other, they have a lot of issues that they need to overcome. Malcolm can be a bit blunt and domineering, and Leona certainly doesn't appreciate it when he tries to take charge off her life without consulting her on her wishes. Then there's Malcolm's problems with controlling and accepting his need for pain, which he tries to resolve through the School of Gallantry.
They have a great chemistry, even as Malcolm uses his impressive self control to try to keep his physical distance from Leona. I loved that even when Leona is unsure about Malcolm's darker inclinations, she still tries to understand. I was a little disappointed that the resolution of this conflict between them seemed to happen quickly at the end of the book, it just felt like a lot of build up that ended a bit abruptly. There were also some things that were skimmed over or ignored that I would have liked to read about, like Leona's fear of water and how that played out in the end.
Overall though, this is another terrific example of how Delilah Marvelle writes unique historical romances that don't shy away from the darker side of her characters. Malcolm is certainly nothing like the rakish heroes books are full of, and he stands out all the better for it. I've loved the previous books in this series I've read and we still have one more to go before the end, so I'm definitely looking forward to Madame de Maitenon's story!
*I received a review copy from the author for my honest opinion. Thank you!