Lady Eliza Warren loves her family, particularly her much younger, mentally impaired sister. That's why when she receives an anonymous note from someone who claims to have abducted her sister, giving her instruction which she must follow to the letter in order to get the girl back, she willingly complies. However, she never expected to be taken to the home of a man or that the man and his two companions would be instructed to sexually molest her. She has no idea who might hate her enough to humiliate her in such a way. Feeling grateful that they didn't go any further than they did and that her sister was returned unharmed, Eliza only hopes that she never has to encounter them again. But fate is not on her side when she runs into the man, who turns out to be a titled gentleman, at a ball.
The Marquess of Chamberly was unwittingly coerced into participating in Eliza's ordeal. He was told she was merely a prostitute in training, but after seeing her at the ball and having a chat, he knows that he was deceived. Feeling badly about how he'd treated her and wanting to protect her, he offers for her hand, but after what she went through, Eliza isn't eager to marry anyone. However, knowing that it's the right thing to do and wanting to keep her close, Chamberly suggests a marriage in name only. Will Eliza ever warm up to the idea of consummating their union? And what will happen when the villains who engineered the plot against them reappear and don't seem to be finished with them yet?
Lady Chamberly's Choices has been on my TBR list for quite some time, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. It's the first novella in Meta Mathews' Riotous Revelers historical erotic romance series, which is named for the fictitious group - possibly patterned after the Hellfire Club of a slightly earlier time - that the hero created as a cover to explain his and his friends' long absences from society while spying for the British during the Napoleonic war. The story is a fairly simple one in which the heroine is sent a letter demanding that she steal away in the night and follow a guide to the home of a man. Once there, she is to obey everything she's told to do, and if she doesn't, her little sister, who was abducted, will be harmed. She reluctantly complies with what becomes an embarrassing and humiliating introduction to sexual intimacies involving four men, one of whom is the hero. After doing everything she's told, both she and her sister are released. Some time later, she discovers the hero's identity when they meet at a ball. He's shocked to find out that she is a lady of quality, while she's surprised to find that he was also coerced into being there that night. He offers marriage, both as a way to make up for what he did to her, and as a way to offer her protection, as he believes that she might still be in danger from those who forced them to participate in their sick game. After her ordeal, she wishes a marriage in name only, which he agrees to, saying that any intimacies would have to be initiated by her. Meanwhile, he continues to search for the people who hated them enough to humiliate them in such a way. Although it was admittedly a bit light on the character and plot development, I still generally enjoyed this story. I only wish it had been a little longer and fleshed out a bit better.
Throughout the story, the hero is only referred to by his title, the Marquess of Chamberly or simply Chamberly. Even the heroine thinks of him this way, which is a little odd even for a historical romance. Surprisingly, though, I didn't notice it until the end, when I was suddenly left wondering what his given name was and if I'd somehow missed it. However, I skimmed back through the book and never found any other name by which he was referred to. In any case, Chamberly, as I mentioned, was a talented spy who headed up a network of covert operatives. During his time in France, he met and found himself falling in love with a French widow, only to be betrayed by her. As a result, he doesn't trust his own judgment with regards to choosing a wife, so he's simply planning to allow his title to pass to his younger brother and/or nephews. Then he's drawn into the intrigue surrounding Eliza and the mysterious people who brought her to him. Normally I take a hard pass on any books in which the heroine is subjected to non-consensual sexual contact perpetrated by the hero. But I found myself immediately giving Chamberly a pass for his behavior because it was pretty clear right away that he didn't want to be in that situation either and was somehow being manipulated into doing it. He also had been led to believe that Eliza was a prostitute in training, and he did draw a hard line on raping her. Also when he meets her again and realizes she was actually a victim, too, he's very sympathetic and apologetic. I loved that he wanted to make things right and that he was willing to give her a marriage in name only. And when they do consummate their union, he's extremely gentle with her. So overall, I thought Chamberly was a really good hero.
Eliza comes from a large family of eleven children with her youngest sister being only seven and mentally impaired. With her parents and siblings too far away to get in touch with them, she has little choice but to follow the directions in the missive sent to her and then submit to what her captor asks of her in hopes of ensuring her sister's safety. She's frightened and embarrassed to do some of the things he demands, but the man who is touching her the most is surprisingly kind to her despite him apparently being angry. As a result, there is some small part of her that feels drawn to him. When she meets Chamberly at the ball, she's understandably a bit scared of him at first, but after talking with him, she realizes he was a victim, too, who was forced into his role every bit as much as she was. Because of her ordeal, though, she's decided not to marry, until he persuades her that it's his best option to be able to protect her and assures her that no intimacies will take place unless she asks for them. Although Eliza was perhaps a bit foolhardy in her actions at the end of the story, I still had to give her some credit for both trusting Chamberly with her life and for bravely taking on the bad guys. So ultimately she was a sweet heroine who loves her family deeply and yet has some backbone.
While I did enjoy Lady Chamberly's Choices, I felt that the shorter format of a novella didn't allow enough space to really explore the characters and the plot. I saw opportunities for deepening the characterizations and for creating an even richer and more involved story, particularly surrounding the mystery of who had engineered Chamberly and Eliza's first meeting, that could have made it truly great. The villains could have really been given some bite as well, but instead they were dispatched with little fanfare. Also the romance between Chamberly and Eliza could have built more gradually. As is, things move pretty quickly without much time for either of them to make careful considerations before moving forward with their relationship. However, even with these weaknesses, I could see a great deal of promise in the story and I believe that's why I still liked it anyway.
Unfortunately this book is no longer available for purchase at this time, and although I'd like to continue with the series, the other books aren't available either.:-( They were originally released by Ellora's Cave, a now defunct publishing house, so unless the author finds a new publisher for them or chooses to re-release them as an indie author, I many never get a chance to read the rest of the stories. Based on her bio, it appears Meta Matthews is a pen name for an author of other romances in both the contemporary and historical sub-genres, but I haven't been able to discover what other name(s) she might have published under.
Note: This book contains non-consensual sexual activities, which may distress sensitive readers.
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