Secrets of a Gentleman Escort
I seem to have read a number of books over the last year in which the hero has been a man who is paid for sexual services, either as a way of making his living, or for some other reason, such as getting the heroine pregnant, as in Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened.
In Secrets of a Gentleman Escort, Nicholas D’Arcy is the former, a man who, for the past few years, has made his living as a high-class, highly paid prostitute. For the most part, he enjoys his life in the hurly-burly of London, although it seems that his job isn’t quite as satisfying as it once was, even though he’s extremely good at it.
Along with a number of other men – some of whom are down-on-their-luck gentlemen of good birth, some of whom are in it for the kicks – Nicholas is a member of the League of Discreet Gentlemen, an agency which provides male companionship mostly to bored wives and widows, for a fat fee. The existence of the League is a rumor in society and nothing more. The husbands of the straying wives may suspect that such a thing exists, but there is no proof and the League’s founder, Channing Deveril, wants to keep it that way. After all, their clientele come to them because they want to have a little fun on the side without being found out; the men involved want to preserve a degree of anonymity – mutual discretion is ensured.
Nicholas is one of the agency’s most sought-after escorts. He’s gorgeous, charming and witty, and – naturally – knows what women want and how to provide it. The trouble is, he provides it too well, and one night is almost caught on the job by a client’s husband. He manages to evade exposure by the skin of his teeth. A jealous husband on the warpath is a threat not only to Nicholas, but to the League’s very existence, so Deveril sends Nicholas on a five-day assignment out of London to give things time to cool off.
But Nick is dismayed. For one thing, he grew up in the country and has too many unhappy memories for him to feel comfortable at spending time away from the city; and for another he feels like he’s being punished for a situation over which he had no control. But he has little alternative other than to accept the job and head off into Sussex post haste.
His client, Miss Annorah Price-Ellis is incredibly wealthy, but will not remain so if she remains unmarried. The terms of her father’s will state that if she is unwed on her thirty-third birthday, the bulk of the fortune she inherited will be given to charitable organizations, allowing Annorah a small property in the north of England and just enough money to live on. Having been relentlessly pursued for her fortune and suffered the humiliation of discovering that the men who expressed an interest in her were just after her money, she eventually withdrew from society, unwilling to risk that sort of hurt and mortification again. Her avaricious aunt repeatedly throws suitors at her, obviously expecting to reap some of the financial rewards should Annorah marry one of them; and time has slipped by, leaving Annorah with Hobson’s Choice. She can marry a man she does not love who just wants her money, or she can eke out a meagre existence far from the home she has lived in all her life.
But before she does either of those things, she has decided it’s time to live a little. Reasoning that, if she’s to give herself to a man she doesn’t know or love, it should be a man of her choosing who will at the very least ensure she finds pleasure in the experience, she writes to the League of Discreet Gentlemen requesting a companion for five nights.
I thought the way the relationship between Annorah and Nicholas developed was very well done, even though they spend only a few days together. The romance is tender and very sensual – there are a number of love scenes, none of which is especially graphic – and I really felt that here was a relationship that was about much more than the lust which had been its impetus. While Annorah had thought all she wanted was a few days of sex-without-strings, Nicholas is perceptive enough to realize that what she really wants (as well as the sex) is romance. He’s good at both things – when women want to enact out a Prince Charming fantasy, he’s the one they send for – but it’s immediately clear to him that his “usual routine” isn’t going to be enough to provide what Annorah wants. Doing that, however, is going to cost him the detachment he holds dear – because in his line of work, emotional involvement is something he can’t afford.
Annorah too is very torn. She knows that when Nick flirts with her, she’s getting what she’s paid for. But she’s spent a lifetime avoiding the superficial compliments of fortune hunters and soon realizes that she doesn’t want empty words and meaningless sex from this man, despite his reasons for being with her. On the other hand, she’s tempted to surrender to the fiction he’s offering her – a fiction which Nick is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain, because he’s finding something with Annorah that he’s never before experienced with a woman; friendship and possibly something more.
Annorah has hidden from society for years in an attempt at self-protection while Nicholas lives in the social whirl of London and keeps his true self well hidden, preferring instead to inhabit his persona of “every woman’s dream man”. I really liked the way Ms Scott had both characters gradually emerge from their respective shells under the tutelage of the other. Nick, especially, begins to reveal more and more of himself, and what we see is a decent and honorable man who, for reasons of his own, has embarked upon this particular way of life because there were few alternatives. And while Annorah helps Nick to “find” himself again, he helps her to rediscover many of the simple joys of life that, in her isolation, she had forgotten.
I enjoyed the book very much, but there was one thing about the plotline that bothered me somewhat. Almost from the outset, it’s clear that Nick harbors a sense of worthlessness and guilt over an event which devastated his family, and that the reason he embarked on his current course of employment is because he needs to be able both to support them, and to stay as far away from them as possible. When Nick’s reasons for running away and staying away were made clear, I couldn’t help thinking they were somewhat anti-climactic.
But that aside, Secrets of A Gentleman Escort is well-written and the two leads are very engaging and well-matched. It’s also one of the most sensually romantic stories I’ve read in a while, and one I’d certainly recommend for one of those dull winter afternoons which could do with a bit of warming up!