This is a historical romance with a major twist; the hero is a tortured type who finds emotional and physical release in subjugation. Hence, his membership at an exclusive club where he is regularly whipped. Being a duke, he must marry, however, and as soon as possible in order to get an heir and secure the line of succession away from a cousin who will certainly not see to it that his younger sister Constance is taken care of.
Intending to offer for the first young woman who will take his ring and his money and not demand any sort of emotional connection, Archer is somewhat horrified to find himself falling for Poppy Cavendish, an independent young woman his sister has hired to transform their ballroom into a magical garden in which he is to woo a bride.
Poppy is too much of everything; too clever, too questioning, too appealing. He should stay well away.
Of course, he fails dismally and his sister’s machinations leave him with no choice but to propose. He tries to make it a business arrangement and fails dismally at that as well. In fact, he’s an utter failure as a husband, giving Poppy mixed signals, making loving gestures and encouraging her to trust him while refusing to give the same trust in return.
I really liked Poppy, and Archer’s tortured past made him an easy hero to root for even if I didn’t quite comprehend his addiction to subjugation. BDSM isn’t something you find a lot of in historical novels, and particularly not with the male in the submissive role. Scarlett Peckham writes it very well and believably, and I’d probably have given the book four stars (well written, but not quite my cup of tea) if it hadn’t been for one episode where Archer returned to the club after his marriage and Poppy caught him being whipped, in the throes of clear arousal. In my book, that’s cheating, and that’s a massive nope for me in a romance novel. Poppy’s reaction just wasn’t believable either; she didn’t even ask Archer if that was his first visit there since their marriage, didn’t rebuke him for seeking sexual gratification elsewhere. I didn’t like it, I didn’t buy her reaction as genuine, and I nearly DNF’d the book right there. It was pretty close to the end, though, so I finished it.
At the end of the day, I ended the book with a bad taste in my mouth, and therefore I have to give it two stars.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.