Angelique is a prostitute in a Paris brothel who is content with her work but not truly happy. She can take men to the heights of ecstasy, but none of them has ever done the same for her. Then the young, handsome Alexandre Laurent comes to her door, and with a mere brush of his lips on her hand, he inflames her desires in a way no man ever has before. She senses that he could be the one to finally give her the pleasure she's longed for. However, Alexandre is rather shy at first, taking his time warming up to being with Angelique. They share deep, intimate conversations and interactions that make her feel like she's truly being seen for the first time. In return, she is able to give him solace from the grief of losing his wife. Together, they help each other find the fulfillment in life that they've both been seeking.
Lovely is a short, stand-alone, erotic fiction novelette. In turn-of-the-century Paris, Angelique is a prostitute in a brothel. She's mostly content with her lot in life and doesn't mind her work over-much, but she's not genuinely happy. She knows how to well-pleasure the men she services, but she has never experienced pleasure with any of them. Most of the men call her lovely, but she never really feels like she is. Then, one day, the young, handsome Alexandre comes to her. He's a recent widower who is a bit shy, but he inflames her desires with a mere brush of his lips on the back of her hand. In him, Angelique senses a man who could finally give her all that she longs for. At first, though, he only seems to want to talk, so they share many hours together simply getting to know one another, building a deeply intimate connection. Gradually Alexandre makes Angelique feel truly lovely, and together, they help each other find fulfillment in life.
Before starting Lovely, I noticed that it had a rather low rating on GoodReads. As I was reading along, I couldn't help wondering why, because it was a wonderful story that was on track to receive five stars from me. When I hit the epilogue, I finally figured it out, and I'm guessing it's because the story doesn't have an HEA ending for our protagonists. It has a happy ending of a sort--Angelique and Alexandre both find self-actualization--but this isn't the sort of happy ending that most romance readers are looking for, which is why I dropped the star. It's more what you might find in women's fiction rather than romance, so it really shouldn't be categorized as such (and as far as I can tell, it is). However, this is still an artfully written story that has a lyrical quality to it. It's told from Angelique's first-person POV, which immerses the reader in everything that she's feeling. I loved both Angelique and Alexandre as characters. They're both sweet, kind, perceptive people who see each other in a meaningful way that others don't. Their emotional connection is undeniable, and it's rare that an author's writing style can make me feel so much, especially in such a short space as a novelette. They share a potent sensuality that eventually leads to a smokin' hot love scene. These two just seemed tailor-made for one another, which is why my heart felt bruised at the end when I realized they weren't going to share a future together. It seemed like it would have been such a simple thing for the author to write an HEA for them, although I recognize that it's her creative prerogative not to. If she had, I would have happily given Lovely five stars, but as is, I felt like there was a missed opportunity to leave readers' hearts soaring with an equally wonderful ending to this otherwise beautiful story.
Note: I've categorized this story as erotic fiction because it focuses on exploring the intersection between sexual desire and true intimacy. It also treats the heroine's profession as a sex worker in a more sex positive way. However, there's little of a truly kinky nature aside from a short scene involving a bit of spanking with one of her clients.
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