Maximilian de Rohan is a man who lives a simple middle-class lifestyle and avoids the trappings of the upper class like the plague. He is a former police officer who now finds himself working as a glorified paper-pusher for the Home Office. Even though it was a dirty business, Max misses life on the streets doing real detective work. Through a request from some very powerful politicians who are trying to clean up police corruption, he finds himself investigating officers who may be on the take. Max's investigation leads him into Hyde Park in the early morning hours where Lady Catherine Wodeway takes her daily ride. He has seen her there every day for a week, but this morning, she nearly crashed into him because of the fog. To her eyes, Max is a rather ominous looking fellow, all dressed in black with a huge beast trailing at his heels, but somehow she isn't really frightened of him. He warns her that it isn't safe in the park at that hour, but Catherine, being a rather stubborn and unconventional lady, returns to the park the next day anyway. This time she is unwittingly caught right in the middle of Max's investigation. In order to save her from being discovered by the corrupt ne'er-do-wells he has been following, Max does the first thing that comes to mind, dragging her into the bushes and kissing her.
Though Catherine's first instinct is to scream, she is an intelligent woman and quickly realizes what is really going on, so she plays along until the unscrupulous men leave. Catherine had been experiencing long-term sadness and depression over the death of her first husband that she can't seem to shake off. She finds the kiss and the intrigue surrounding it to be a very pleasant distraction. She is also thoroughly attracted to this mysterious man, and boldly invites him to dinner. Unfortunately, Max had an unpleasant past experience with a "lady of quality" who left him rather jaded when it comes to the upper class. Even though he is mutually attracted to Catherine, Max sabotages himself by making an impertinent statement about her intentions, and Catherine responds with a shockingly improper retort of her own. They angrily part ways with each of them completely embarrassed by their own behavior and hoping not to see each other again. Their wish is not to be fulfilled though, as Max has been called in to help investigate the murder of a lady of the ton as a personal favor to a friend, and he and Catherine cross paths once again at that friend's home.
Later they attend the same ball where they share a dance and apologies, and then escape the stuffiness of society to enjoy a late dinner together at a restaurant. Over dinner, Catherine offers to help with the investigation, but Max declines. On their walk home, Max saves Catherine again, this time from some footpads who are trying to steal her jewelry. He then escorts her on home where they share a passionate embrace on her doorstep, and Catherine invites Max inside to do much more. Again he declines, but Catherine has already decided to pursue a love affair with this darkly handsome man and is not to be deterred. A few days later she personally delivers some evidence in the investigation right to his home. Alone in his apartment, their passion flares beyond their control as Catherine all but throws herself at him. Afterward though, Max realizes that he is having intense feelings for her that are foreign and frightening to him. Being what and who he is, Max doesn't really feel worthy of a woman like Catherine, and he worries for her safety because of his chosen profession. He also has family issues from the past that haunt him. Added to that, is the fact that Catherine's brother, Bentley, is a prime suspect in the murder investigation, and Catherine has unknowingly placed herself in danger by her mere involvement in the case. When all is said and done, these two lovers will have a lot of obstacles to overcome in their quest for true love, but with a little help from fate and Max's meddling grandmother, they just might have a fighting chance.
After reading several of Liz Carlyle's books, I have come to the conclusion that she, in my opinion, simply does not write a bad story. Some are better than others, but I have not yet found one that I didn't like. Such is the case with No True Gentleman. It was yet another worthy effort from Ms. Carlyle. The story hooked me in right at the beginning with the murder of a lady of ton. As usual the author kept me guessing about the solution to this mystery right up until the big reveal. The middle section of the book moved a little slower for me, but it had a truly wonderful ending. I thought the climax was very exciting, and the final pages showed a hint of humor as well as Ms. Carlyle's talent for writing beautifully romantic scenes. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the exploration of a romance involving class differences between a titled lady and a middle-class man who is rather rough around the edges. Even though there were a couple of plot devices used to make this pairing more plausible and acceptable to society, Max chose to live a very simple life and truly hated all the conventions associated with trying to be a proper gentleman. Yet Catherine fell in love with him anyway, and it was Max who felt unworthy of her. It is also rather rare, when one of the main characters had a previous spouse, for that person to have been likable, and for those characters to have shared love in their marriage. I really like when authors are able to believably pull this off. It was a refreshing change for Catherine to have been in love with her first husband, Will, and still missing him at the beginning of the story, but yet she had room in her heart to love Max. It was just a different kind of love and a very different relationship that they shared.
In spite of it being a likable story, there were a few weaknesses in my opinion. One was that until close to the end of the story, I did not feel that I could fully understand or become involved in the emotional issues that seemed to be plaguing Max. I think the story might have benefited from the author revealing more of Max's past and his emotions surrounding it earlier on. It also would have been nice if Max and Catherine had had more discussion of his family, his past, and his feelings surrounding their differences. I think this was part of the reason that some of the story moved slowly for me, but another reason was Max and Catherine's romance beginning as a casual affair. Of course this made for lots of steamy sensuality, but few of the heartwarming romantic moments and building of friendship between the two main characters that are present in some of Ms. Carlyle's other books. Because of the limited communication, I didn't feel that a deep friendship was ever truly built and the beautiful romance didn't really happen until toward the end when both characters were beginning to accept that they were falling in love. In the past, I have really enjoyed the child and animal characters in Ms. Carlyle's other works as they usually help to create a deep sense of home and family. Unfortunately, the only child character in No True Gentleman, was the street urchin, Nate, who was a very cute, likable and well-written secondary character, but didn't really add much in a familial sense. I did really like Max's dog, Lucifer, a lovable canine who could be sweet and docile one minute and viciously protective the next.
I really enjoyed the hero and heroine. Max's simplistic way of life was sweetly endearing, and I loved his sense of justice and fairness and his compassion for people of the lower classes. I also found his need to be out amongst the masses, doing hands-on work instead of just pushing papers, to be very attractive as well. Also, I just adore a hero who is an animal lover. And of course, what woman could resist a man who whispers endearments in a romantic foreign language during lovemaking. Catherine was another of Ms. Carlyle's independent and unconventional heroines. She seems to be the perfect mixture of her two brothers, Cam and Bentley. She showed Cam's commitment to responsibility in that she was apparently the brains and discipline behind the running of her late husband's estate, and she is an expert horsewoman who prefers the outdoors and the country to the stuffiness of London society. Yet, she shows a bit of Bentley's mischievousness when she climbs over the wall at Max's apartment to secretly visit him. Readers who dislike clingy heroines will not find one in Catherine. In fact, she stubbornly drives Max to distraction by keeping her distance, patiently waiting for him to come to terms with the possibility of them having a future together. All in all, these are two wonderful characters whose passion rules their hearts and whose stubbornness leads them into a few heated moments.
Ms. Carlyle continues her web of interconnected characters in No True Gentleman. Max and his dog, Lucifer, first appeared in A Woman of Virtue, while Catherine and her brother, Bentley, made their first appearances in Beauty Like the Night. Incorrigible rakehell, Bentley, added another layer to his character by showing off his thoughtful and sensitive side with Catherine periodically throughout the story, making him one of the fullest and most satisfying secondary characters I have ever read. He also appeared in A Woman of Virtue and gets his own story in The Devil You Know. The intriguing and multi-talented antiques dealer, George Kemble, who was formerly a gentleman's gentleman, also appears in My False Heart, A Woman of Virtue, The Devil You Know, A Deal with the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. Kem is another well-rounded secondary character who is fun to read and always full of surprises. Also making an appearance are Lord and Lady Delacourt, aka David and Cecelia; Cecelia's brother and stepson, Harry Markham-Sands and Giles Lorimer, respectively; and Catherine's aunt, Isabel, Lady Kirton, all of whom were first seen in A Woman of Virtue, except for David who was the hero of that story, but was originally conceived of in A Woman Scorned. Overall, No True Gentleman was yet another fun and enjoyable story to come from Liz Carlyle's fertile imagination. She is truly a talent and an asset to the romance writing profession.
Note: Ms. Carlyle's didn't used to officially consider her books as series, but recently she began grouping them together on her website. No True Gentleman is now listed as book #2 in the Rutledge Family series. However, I would advise readers that Ms. Carlyle's character web is very complex, with past and future characters popping up throughout all of her books. With this in mind, it is my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by beginning with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continuing to read them in their publication order. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.
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