Desert Isle Keeper
The Labours of Lord Perry Cavendish
Lord Peregrine Cavendish has been friends with Lysander (Zander) Winterbourne (Introducing Mr. Winterbourne) since they were young boys and schoolmates. Lysander was the golden boy Perry hero-worshiped, while Perry was just Zander’s hulking friend – Gogmagog, as old Warner, their housemaster at Fletcherfield, had called him. He’s loved Zander for years, and only discovered they shared the same forbidden desire when he caught Zander and Adam Freeman kissing one another during a Christmas house party (Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas) at Adam’s estate, Edgeley Park. He spent the ensuing months wondering what might have happened if he confessed his feelings to Zander years ago and knowing he’s missed his chance. He left the house party determined to try things he only ever fantasized about, but instead wound up drinking heavily and gambling the months away.
When The Labours of Lord Perry Cavendish begins, Perry is tired of the aimless life he’s living, and has finally taken up Zander’s offer to visit him at Edgeley Park. Unfortunately, his last minute decision to go means he’s arrived just when Zander (who is Adam’s estate manager) is working around the clock to get the wheat harvest in, and Adam is away on business.
Thanks to his own stupidity and impulsiveness, Perry had been left to entertain himself since he’d arrived, only seeing Zander for dinner in the evenings.
Old Warner had had the right of it. Lord Perry Cavendish was an out-and-out imbecile.
He’s spent the afternoon outdoors (his favorite place to be), and returns to the house to discover carriages out front. He guesses Adam has returned, but is surprised to discover quite the comeliest fellow Perry had ever seen… standing in the entryway.
When the Honourable Jonathan Mainwaring turns and spots a handsome stranger staring at him from the doorway, his first words, “My word. . . Aren’t you a big fellow!” earn him a beautiful blush. He can tell said fellow is embarrassed to have been caught staring, but can’t help teasing him anyway. Jonny, an artist and close friend of Adam since their school days, often spends months at a time at Edgeley Park painting. He’s arrived after a recent break-up with yet another partner who found him too demanding, too needy, and too emotional, and hopes a visit with two of his favorite friends is just what he needs to get over it. He’s already guessed the identity of the man at the door, but permits the fellow to introduce himself anyway. Perry Cavendish is just the sort of man Jonny likes – big, handsome, with lots of muscles – but he reminds himself that he has a history of falling too hard and too fast for the wrong men, and sternly resolves to keep Perry firmly in the friend category.
The arrival of Jonny shakes Perry to his core. He’s beautiful, yes, but funny, too. And interesting. And sweet. And talkative. And flirtatious. Perry can’t stop thinking about him (fantasizing about him), and when Jonny asks him to pose for him as Herakles – and then asks him to remove most of his clothes – he’s embarrassed but willing. And secretly thrilled. Jonny is happy Perry is willing to pose for him, and when he easily agrees to pose in nothing but his drawers, he can’t resist staring at his beautiful, muscular body. He’s perfect, and Jonny reminds himself again – despite his curiosity about Perry’s lack of experience with other men (or lack of) – to keep his hands to himself. The portrait session passes quickly. Jonny sketches and loses himself in his art, while Perry quietly holds his position. Only after Jonny realizes how much time has passed, and decides to pose as Hylas (Herakles companion and servant) on his knees at Perry’s feet, does the afternoon go totally off the rails.
Friends, I’m not going to tell you much more about this story except to say Jonny loses the battle to keep his hands off Perry, and regrets it; he pushes a hurt Perry away and leaves him confused about what went wrong. Their relationship stalls before the portrait settings provide an environment for them to become friends once again. The pacing and set-up for the second half of the novel is excellent, but ir does flag – just a bit – as these two struggle to understand what they need and want in a lover and partner. And unfortunately, once we witness the first throes of their passion and attraction to each other, we want more. Right away! Instead, it’s a supremely slow burn as Jonny bungles and fumbles his way back to Perry, and Perry convinces himself he’ll never find someone as perfect as Jonny to love. Le sigh. The second half is frustrating, but improved by an absolutely perfect, swoony epilogue. It’s excellent.
Perry and Jonny are lovely characters you can’t help but root for. Perry grew up with a demanding mother, who always puts her needs ahead of anyone else around her. He’s patient and kind and good – even with people considered ‘difficult.’ He’s grown accustomed to people assuming he’s dumb and slow because of his difficulties reading and writing, and is quick to deflect attention by playing the oaf – much to the dismay of his friends; Perry loves to take care of others, and his lack of sexual experience frustrates him. Reader, the author refers to Perry as her Chelsea Bun Hero (the Regency version of a Cinnamon Roll Hero), and it’s the perfect description of this sweet and big-hearted man. By contrast, Jonny is an unconventional free-thinking artist and dandy who can’t resist a beautiful waistcoat or a beautiful man; he loves to flirt, and falls in love with all the wrong sorts of men. His life was marked by rejection and criticism – first from his father (who found his behavior and interests aggravating) and then former lovers, and his deeply emotional and sensitive nature often finds him tearing up around those closest to him. Jonny struggles to see the good in himself and is his own worst critic; it nearly costs him the love of his life.
The Labours of Lord Perry Cavendish follows two supremely opposite men – each a cinnamon roll hero in his own way – who stumble and fumble their way to true love. Perry and Jonny have both struggled with a lifetime of believing they were never ‘good enough,’ and both bring that baggage with them as they slowly but surely fall for each other. Fortunately, their loving found family of friends – Adam and Lysander; Jasper and Sam (The First Snow of Winter) – provide the gentle nudge they need to recognize they belong together, and these secondary characters are a terrific addition to the narrative. I wish the steam level was slightly higher – the author quickly turns the temperature up, only to drop it down to a slow burn simmer for a tad too long – and that the happily ever after was longer, but these complaints are minor. It’s a labor of love watching Perry and Jonny fall in love.