Anything but a Gentleman
In Elisa Braden’s Anything but a Gentleman, readers are treated (finally) to Sebastian Reaver’s story, which sees the gruff, brooding giant of a man meet his match in the form of a woman who refuses to be cowed by either his size or his manner. Sebastian – the owner of one of London’s most popular and exclusive gaming clubs – is a self-made man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and prefers to turn a deaf ear to the matchmaking attempts of his friends and the advice from the redoubtable dowager Lady Wallingham (his aunt) whose letters he mostly ignores. In a previous book, Sebastian, who had believed himself to be a lowborn ruffian or some nobleman’s by-blow, discovered he was in fact Elijah Kilbrenner and heir presumptive to his (distant) cousin James Kilbrenner, Earl of Tannenbrook. Sebastian has no interest in being an heir, an earl or in getting married so he can start producing babies; Tannenbrook and his wife are young and sure to fill their nursery with strapping boys, and besides, Sebastian likes his life just the way it is. Even if he has been feeling a little restless recently.
Augusta Widmore has repeatedly requested an appointment with Sebastian and repeatedly been refused. But she is undeterred and instead, resorts to sneaking into the club (with the aid of a street urchin who distracts the doorman) and making her way to his office. She can’t take no for an answer if she’s to save her sister Phoebe from ruination; she needs to obtain the markers (for gambling debts) signed by Lord Glassington in order to force him to do the right thing by Phoebe, who is pregnant with his child. Sebastian holds those markers, and Augusta is willing to do anything in order to obtain them – but she can’t tell him why she needs them and risk her sister’s already shaky reputation. When Sebastian catches Augusta sneaking into the club a second time, he’s annoyed and angry and hits upon an idea to get rid of her once and for all. Assuming Augusta wants to force Glassington into marriage herself, Sebastian makes an outrageous demand; he’ll allow her to make use of the markers if she’ll be his mistress for six weeks. Of course, he’s bluffing. Augusta is clearly a respectable female who will naturally be horrified at such a disgraceful suggestion and will run away screaming – but Sebastian has reckoned without Augusta’s determination or deep love for her sister and is stunned when she agrees to his proposition.
Now his bluff has been called, Sebastian can’t back down, so he installs Augusta in the almost empty town house he owns but never spends time in, intending to leave her to her own devices. The few times they’ve met, Augusta’s luscious, Junoesque figure and her willingness to stand up to him have him thoroughly fascinated, but he believes she is angling to marry Glassington; and besides, Sebastian is married to his business and has no desire for a wife. Or so he tells himself. Until he doesn’t.
Augusta is similarly intrigued by Sebastian and when, after a few days of their agreement, he shows no sign of doing… well, the things men are supposed to do with their mistresses, she is miffed to say the least. It’s not just that they struck a bargain and she’s not being allowed to uphold her part of it – she finds Sebastian attractive and as she comes to know the compassionate, loyal and honourable man that lies beneath the forbidding exterior, realises that she is falling for him and wants to be his in truth.
Ms. Braden writes an entertaining story and peoples it with likeable characters. Sebastian and Augusta each give as good as they get when it comes to the verbal sparring, and they have strong chemistry, but on the downside, they fall for each other quickly and most of their romance consists of Sebastian thinking Augusta wants another man and Augusta wondering why Sebastian is so keen to keep away from her. Now, I haven’t read all the previous books, but I believe Sebastian has been painted as a dangerous, ruthless giant of a man who makes others quake in their boots by the merest raise of an eyebrow. Here, however, he’s a pussy cat. A big pussy cat, it’s true, but a pussy cat nonetheless. He growls and scowls at Augusta, he throws her over his shoulder and out of the club – but it’s all bluster, and while I understand the appeal of the ‘big bad’ falling completely for his heroine, I found it impossible to believe Sebastian was so feared by all.
The biggest problem with the book though, is the weakness of its premise. Augusta has been like a mother to Phoebe since they were children, and has spent her entire life trying to ensure her sister’s happiness and comfort, even in their straitened circumstances. On the one hand this is admirable – siblings should look out for one another and it’s natural that the older sister should want to take care of the younger. But for all that, Augusta somehow forgot to tell Phoebe about the birds and the bees or warn her that lifting her skirts for the guy before he’d put a ring on it wasn’t the best idea. Phoebe’s pregnancy drives the whole story, and the author then compounds an already weak plotline by drawing it out for too long and having Sebastian find out the truth – that Augusta wants to force Glassington to marry Phoebe (and not her) – from someone other than Augusta herself. However, I did quite like the way the author shows us that what one may believe is the best for someone does not always equate with what they want for themselves. Augusta is so blinkered that she is prepared to force a marriage between her sister and a man who obviously doesn’t want her, and it’s not until fairly late in the book, that Phoebe finally grows a backbone and asserts her own wants and desires. Those desires involve Sebastian’s Anglo-Indian business partner, Adam Shaw, and in fact, I often found the secondary romance in the book to be more interesting than the primary one. Ms. Braden makes no bones about the sort of prejudice Shaw faces, or that he and Phoebe and their children are likely to face in future – and I rather wish he had got book to himself.
I’m going to give Anything but a Gentleman a cautious recommendation, as I’m sure that fans who have been waiting for Sebastian’s book will enjoy it, and it’s an easy, readable story featuring attractive characters. Ms. Braden writes with warmth and intelligence, the relationships are well-drawn and the dialogue is witty – I just wish the premise had been stronger and the misunderstandings between the hero and heroine hadn’t been so flimsy and drawn-out.