The Untouchable Earl
Amy Sandas’ The Untouchable Earl starts with one of the most interesting prologues I’ve ever read. A young gentleman meets the madam of a brothel to confess a personal issue—he’s never touched a woman and can’t bear being touched in turn, yet he has to mingle in society, and no one must suspect his limitations. The madam, a confident and insightful woman, assures him she’ll solve his problem.
I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Even if the madam wasn’t likely to be the heroine, perhaps it would be a woman working for her, and the combination of experienced prostitute and virgin earl with severe touch issues would have been fascinating.
Alas, what I got was the exact opposite.
Five years later, Lily Chadwick is midway through the Season. Her late father left his daughters in debt, so her sister Emma, heroine of the previous book Luck Is No Lady, is anxious to see Lily safely married. Having no particular purpose in life herself, Lily goes along with the plan, but her primary criterion in a husband is that he turn her on. So far none of the friendly, courteous men she’s met have done the trick, but then she sees a tall, dark, handsome stranger across a ballroom floor. White-hot sparks dance through her blood as her pulse quickens and her temperature rises.
Clearly, he is the The One.
Avenell Slade, the Earl of Harte, snubs her rudely after they’ve been introduced – not that this makes one whit of difference to her skin prickling and her breath hitching any time he’s in the vicinity. But fortunately for her, she’s victimized by lechers on two separate occasions, so Avenell swoops in each time to save her. She offers to be his mistress so she’ll be under his protection if the lechers gossip and ruin her reputation. I’m sure pregnancy out of wedlock could also do that to a woman’s reputation, but thinking ahead isn’t Lily’s strong suit.
Avenell agrees to her proposition because he feels the same instant, all-consuming attraction. I’d call this a lust-at-first-sight story, except Lily makes it clear she fell in love the moment she saw him.
“I have loved you from the moment I saw you through the crowd. My heart and soul already knew you. My body yearned for you. My whole life began in your arms.”
This is entirely accurate. Lily has no existence outside of reading erotic novels and longing for Avenell. But that makes them a perfectly matched pair. He has no friends, no ambitions, and no surprises or depth to his character at all.
The story proceeds along familiar lines. When she makes eye contact, he marvels at her courage. When she gazes into his midnight-blue eyes, she senses the depth of passion and pain behind his harsh, icy exterior. Since they have few if any interests outside each other, they don’t have any real conflict either. The story sums up in a sentence what they do when they’re not having sex:
The low tones of her voice soothed as they discussed everything from topics of great importance to casual observations of daily life.
Naturally, we’re not privy to these conversations. The sex scenes are numerous and detailed, though, and they might have been hot if I’d felt anything for the participants.
The book might have earned a grade in the low C range, but the plot dropped it to a D. A man who kidnaps Lily just happens to be related to the madam of the brothel, so he takes Lily there. And the madam just happens to decide Lily would be perfect for Avenell, although no one knows he’s obsessed with her already. What are the odds? As for the kidnapper, he needs the ransom to support his child, whose deadbeat mom is an opium addict. But since his subplot ends unresolved halfway through the book, I don’t know who got custody in the end, nor did I care.
The Untouchable Earl was a quick read, because I skimmed through most of the descriptions of Lily pulsing and panting while Avenell’s fists clench, his teeth clench, his guts clench, etc. The poor man was constantly clenching hard. If he swallowed coal, he’d get diamonds a day later. His aversion to touch could have set up an intriguing story, but since nothing from the florid style to the flat characters in this book worked for me, I can’t recommend it.