Emma Holly is known for her erotic stories in the Secrets anthologies and her erotic novels for the Black Lace publishing company. With Beyond Innocence she turns her hand to historical romance and gives us a very good story with hotter than average love scenes. However, if you are looking for erotic scenes that push the envelope, you might want to go elsewhere. The love scenes in this book, while burning hot, are not kinky. There’s no threesomes, whippings or (in the words of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum) “butt stuff” – and that suited me just fine. I thought the love scenes were an excellent mixture of eroticism and romance and they are some of the best ones I have read this year. I had some quibbles with the book, but they were not enough to spoil my enjoyment overall.
Freddie Burbrooke is in trouble. He’s been caught in a compromising position with a footman. Society is all aquiver over this delicious scandal, and Freddie’s brother Edward, Earl of Greystowe is angry. Edward loves his brother Freddie dearly and cannot abide the idea that he will be ostracized as a result of this scandal (oddly, since homosexual acts were a crime at this time, they don’t seem to worry about a possible jail term for Freddie – but then, he is a member of a noble family). Edward’s solution is to find Freddie a wife ASAP.
Miss Florence Fairleigh is a vicar’s daughter. Her parents are dead and she is left with very little money. She comes to London where she meets with her father’s attorney friend Mr. Mowbrey and tells him her plan. Florence wants to take her money and spend it on a Season where she can find a husband. She won’t ask for love, just kindness and security, and she wants Mowbrey to find her a sponsor for the Season. Coincidently, Mr. Mowbrey is also the attorney for the Burbrooke family and knows of their plans to find a compliant wife for Freddie. Florence would be a perfect candidate.
Mowbrey arranges for Florence to get some new clothes (courtesy of his mistress Madame Victoire) and while she is being fitted, he arranges for Edward to see Florence (courtesy of a peephole to the dressing room) Edward’s first sight of Florence (in chemise and knickers) causes him to become furiously aroused. But when he hears of her circumstances he agrees that she would be a perfect wife for Freddie and arranges for her to be sponsored by his aunt Hypatia, a duchess.
Aunt Hypatia arranges for Florence to see and be seen at social functions in the company of Edward and Freddie. Florence can’t help but like Freddie, he is charming and kind, but she is a bit disconcerted by the handsome and smoldering Edward. At a dance, Edward, who has not forgotten his first sight of Florence in dishabille, gives her a kiss that scorches them both. He goes to slake his lust with his mistress Lady Hargreave, but the experience gives him no ease. When Edward breaks off their relationship, Lady Hargreave maliciously spreads the rumor that Freddie was seen at a brothel that caters to pedophiles.
Edward, Freddie, Aunt Hypatia and Florence leave London and go to the Greystowe estate where Freddie dutifully proposes and Florence accepts. But when Freddie is laid up with a broken leg, Florence is forced into the company of Edward and matters soon come to a head between them.
As an historical romance, Beyond Innocence does not break any new ground. The characters are not new – Florence is a sweet, innocent vicar’s daughter and Edward is the cold, heartless rake who only needs the right woman to touch his heart and thaw him. We’ve seen these characters many times before, yet Florence and Edward are good examples of their types. Freddie is something different. Those who are looking for a sympathetic gay character will like Freddie very much as he is handsome, good and kind. His family support and love him no matter what. There is an especially good scene where Freddie and Edward have a frank talk and Edward finally comes to truly understand his brother. At the end, Freddie gets an HEA that warmed my heart.
So how does Emma Holly stack up against other well-known writers of erotic romances? Very well indeed. She manages to engage the character’s hearts and souls as well as their sex organs. The scene where Edward allows Florence total access to his body to do with as she pleases – thereby making himself vulnerable to her – is hot as can be (like erotica) but intimate and touching in a way that erotica is not. The prose has only a few purple phrases that work very well given the period the story is set in, and the love scenes are not so many that they become tedious or laughable.
The quibbles I have with the book have to do with the fact that every titled character (except Edward) has his/her title given wrong. Merry Vance, a duke’s daughter, is referred to as Miss Vance instead of Lady Merry, and Freddie is given the title of Viscount. Younger sons do not get the next lowest title. Also, mourning customs, which in the Victorian period were very strict, are blithely discarded with no social consequences.
Despite this, I liked this book very much. It had enough eroticism to make it different from the average historical romance and the eroticism is the kind I like as it is romantic and not cruel. Those who like hot romances but who still want a good story and not just a string of sex scenes will love this book. I hope Emma Holly will continue in the historical romance field; I know I am looking forward to her next book.