Desert Isle Keeper
Reading Restored was like a balm to the soul. It’s a beautiful – and beautifully written – story of love, forgiveness and second chances that I practically inhaled and which left me with a warm glow and a book hangover of the best kind. It’s book five in the author’s Enlightenment series, but it’s not necessary to have read the rest to be able to enjoy Restored, as it’s only loosely linked to them and works perfectly as a standalone. That said, if you haven’t read the other books in the series, they’re wonderful and you should add them to your TBR stat.
The central characters – club-owner Kit Redford and Henry, Duke of Avesbury – have appeared briefly in other books in the series, and readers will recall it being hinted at that Kit’s previous life wasn’t always an easy one. Eighteen years earlier, Kit had been Henry’s ‘kept man’, set up in his own house and visited by his lover on a twice-weekly schedule, his contract brokered by the madam of The Golden Lily, the select brothel at which he used to work. The year-long contract has another two months to run, and both Kit – or Christopher, as he was known then – and Henry realise that they have begun to feel a great deal more for each other than is wise. Kit is a whore and Henry is a duke (and a married duke at that) and knowing that love was never supposed to be part of their agreement, neither man says anything about how he feels.
Henry inherited his title at twenty and takes his responsibilities very seriously. He’s married to Caroline, with whom he has four children, although after the birth of their youngest, Caroline told Henry she no longer wished him to visit her bed and encouraged him to seek his pleasure elsewhere. They are best friends and care for each other deeply – and when Caroline gives Henry the devastating news that she is dying, she asks him to take her and the children out of London to the family seat in Wiltshire immediately. Henry can’t help but think of Kit; he wants a chance to explain and say goodbye, but Caroline is so distraught and has never really asked him for anything, so he agrees to leave town straight away, knowing that his contract with Kit stipulates that his lover will be well taken care of, given the house they’d used for their assignations and a large sum of money.
Henry takes his family to the country and rarely visits London after that, banishing all thoughts of Kit from his mind. Caroline’s death just a few short months later shatters him, and leaves him with the sole responsibility for his children, who give him a reason to wake each morning, and who keep him going through some dark and difficult times.
Now, nearly two decades later, his children are grown, and Henry realises he has a lonely road ahead as they forge lives of their own. A rare trip to the capital finds him thinking of Kit for the first time in years – and when he learns that far from being well taken care of, Kit was left almost destitute when he they parted ways, he’s horrified. Desperate to make amends, Henry gets a message to Kit that he’d like to see him – but Kit can’t see any point in their meeting again after so many years have passed, and refuses.
Henry knows he should let things lie; he learns that Kit is the proprietor of a highly successful and discreet club for gentlemen who prefer the company of other men, and that whatever happened in the past, he’s doing well now. But Henry’s conscience won’t let him forget it. He pays a call on Kit at his home, half expecting to be turned away – and is both relieved and a little shocked when Kit appears, still as beautiful as ever but with a new wariness and hardness about him, as though he’s holding himself back behind a mask of suspicion and barely suppressed anger.
Kit is astonished at the fury and resentment that rush through him at the sight of his former lover; he thought he’d put all that behind him long ago. Even worse, however, he discovers that the attraction he’d also thought long dead and buried is still alive and kicking. As he and Henry circle each other, prodding and testing each other’s truths and vulnerabilities, both men start to see a glimmer of possibility, a hope that perhaps there are some things that can be restored to the way they should have been all along.
Restored is a gorgeous second-chance romance which brilliantly charts the journey Henry and Kit take to find their way back to each other both physically and emotionally. Old resentments and hurts are faced openly, engendering a new honesty between them and encouraging Henry especially to think seriously about the transactional dynamics and inherent inequality of their earlier relationship, and to realise that no matter how good he and Kit were together, no matter how he really felt about Kit, Kit was never in a position to make any choices for himself. Adding that new clarity to the realisation he’s come to over the years that the desire he’d previously believed a weakness is actually a part of his nature he’s no longer willing to deny, Henry longs for the chance to convince Kit that they can have something different, something real where they can come together as equals with nothing between them but honesty and love.
There’s a well-written sub-plot featuring Henry’s younger son, and I really enjoyed the insight into Henry’s family life as a father, with its attendant ups and downs. His relationship with the rebellious and often resentful Freddy is really well observed, and I liked the glimpses of the happiness shared by his daughter and her husband. Henry’s eldest son George doesn’t appear on the page until near the end, but he has an important part to play in the story (and oh, my heart broke for him and his dad both!) and if Ms. Chambers decides to write a story for him one day, then I certainly won’t object!
Henry and Kit are fully-rounded, complex characters whose flaws make them that much more human and relatable; and there are some colourful secondary characters I’d definitely be interested in reading about in future. Restored is simply lovely, a poignant, emotional and immensely satisfying tale of two people finding one another again and choosing to make a life together on their own terms. Happy sigh.