Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne, was wrongly accused of murdering three of his friends and spent four years committed to Bedlam for it. There he was beaten senseless, his throat badly injured, so that he is now mute. With the help of his twin sister's husband, he escaped and is on the run from the authorities. His friend, Asa, is the owner of a theater and pleasure garden that recently burned down, so he allows Apollo to stay in the charred ruins. There he takes up the persona of a common gardener, helping Asa to design and rebuild the garden, while also hoping to find some clue that will clear his name. When a young boy follows him one day, Apollo realizes that the child and his mother are also sharing this humble abode, and from the moment he lays eyes on the young woman, he's smitten.
Lily Stump is a talented actress who is down on her luck. With no current employment and nowhere else to go, she, her young son, Indio, and their maid were forced to take up residence in the ruins of the theater. When Indio brings Apollo home one day, Lily is rather taken with the hulking, muscled man, but at first, she thinks him mentally slow. When she catches him reading one of the plays she wrote, she realizes there's more to him than meets the eye. They begin to grow closer, but he still refuses to tell her his real name or virtually anything about himself. When soldiers come looking for Apollo and Lily finds out the truth of his identity and of what he is accused, can she ever believe in him again, and if she does, how can there ever be a future for them when he is an aristocrat and she, a mere actress?
Darling Beast is another lovely story from Elizabeth Hoyt in her Maiden Lane series. This one has a Beauty and the Beast theme, which is one of my all-time favorite fairy tales. It follows Apollo, the wrongly accused twin brother of Artemis, the heroine of the previous book, Duke of Midnight. He spent four years in Bedlam for a triple murder he didn't commit, before being rescued by Artemis' hero, Maximus. That doesn't, however, mean that they've become friends. Apollo insists on calling Maximus His Grace the Ass throughout the story, and on the couple of occasions they share a scene, the two men enjoy taking jabs at one another, much to my amusement. I have a feeling that they'll someday bury the hatchet though. As is tradition, Ms. Hoyt also includes a short fairy tale story that begins each chapter, and which mirrors the main story. This one was called The Minotaur. It's a twist on an existing Greek myth that also has a sweet Beauty and the Beast theme that I really enjoyed.
As I mentioned, Maximus previously helped Apollo escape from Bedlam, and now he's on the run, trying to evade the soldiers who would imprison him again or worse, hang him for the murder of his three friends four years ago. He's hiding out in the charred ruins of a theater and pleasure garden owned by his friend, Asa. Apollo is a genius with plants and designing gardens, a talent which he's using to help Asa, who is trying to rebuild. Everyone thinks Apollo is just a common laborer, although in reality he's not only the head gardener but also the technical heir to an Earldom. Of course, he can't take up his title of Viscount Kilbourne without being found and recaptured. On top of that, he's also mute (at least temporarily) from a severe beating he sustained in Bedlam months earlier. Apollo is attempting to find the real murderer to clear his name, but doesn't have much to go on or much hope he'll succeed. All he's trying to do is stay one step ahead of the authorities. I had fallen for Apollo when he was only a secondary character in the previous book and was so thrilled when I found out he was going to be the next hero. Unlike most "beast" characters, he isn't scarred or maimed, but is equally as vulnerable. He's a great hulking man who pretty much towers over everyone and who doesn't consider himself to be much of a catch. In fact, he refers to himself as an "ugly lump" and feels completely inadequate next to Lily's beauty. Before being committed to Bedlam he had to pay for most of his bedmates and has never had a woman truly find him attractive until Lily. After spending so much time locked up, he's a very lonely man who is starved for affection. Apollo may be a giant, but he's a gentle one, who is kind to both children and animals. He's also extremely protective of Lily and abhors any kind of violence against women. In fact, it was his defense of a helpless woman that earned him the beating in Bedlam. Overall, he's a very sweet man who never considered himself to be violent before being committed, and although that experience changed him, he still only engages in violence in self-defense or defense of others. Apollo is just a very yummy hero who I definitely wouldn't mind having in my corner.:-)
Lily is a talented actress who is well-known throughout London for her unconventional roles. She's also a playwright, but that is a fact virtually no one knows. Partly because she is a woman and partly because her brother has the proper connections to sell the plays, she allows him to do so in his own name, taking no credit for her work. She is the mother of a young son and desperately needs the money to provide for him and their maid. They're down on their luck and living in the part of the theater that was left standing after the fire. Lily is an excellent mother, kind and caring but firm, and she would do anything to protect her son. When she meets Apollo, she can't help being drawn to him, even though she doesn't really know anything about him. I love how Lily sees him as an attractive man, perhaps not quite in the classical sense, but she appreciates all of his physical attributes - even the ones he himself finds unattractive - when no one else really has. She accepts him for who he is right from the start and instinctively knows that he's a gentle soul. I love how she believes in his innate goodness even before he's able to open up to her about his past and even though she has good reasons not to. When she finds out what he stands accused of, she knows deep in her heart that this man who has treated her and her child with so much kindness and tenderness couldn't be guilty, so she stands by his side, doing what she can to help.
Darling Beast boasts a number of memorable secondary characters. Lily's son, Indio, is as cute as a button and so is his little dog, Daffodil. These two get into lots of trouble together. Of course, since Artemis is Apollo's sister, she and Maximus show up a few times. Apollo's friend, Asa, is, if memory serves, the last of the Makepeace clan still unattached. He has the makings of an interesting character with his cluttered rooms and collection of do-dads, and I have a feeling he's going to get his own book sometime in the future. Another intriguing new character who has loads of potential is Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery. He's a foppish and very mysterious man who seems to thoroughly enjoy collecting information on people and using it to his advantage. No one fully trusts him, but he's invested in helping Asa rebuild and becomes an ally for Apollo. I'll definitely be looking forward to seeing where Ms. Hoyt takes his character. James Trevillion, the former dragoon captain and nemesis of the Ghost of St. Giles, has softened a bit. He realizes pretty quickly the mistake he made in arresting Apollo all those years ago, and tries to make things right by helping him with his investigation to find the real killer. Since his injuries ended his career as a soldier, James is employed by Maximus as a bodyguard to his now completely blind sister, Phoebe, who as a very independent lady rather resents having a babysitter. This leads to some tension between them, and I can't wait to see where it goes when their book, Dearest Rogue, is released next spring (2015). I've been waiting for Phoebe to get her own book for a long time now and think it has the potential to be quite good.
Overall, Darling Beast was a very good read, but not quite perfect. The early part of the book moved rather slowly for me. I think this was because I was having a hard time feeling a deep connection between Apollo and Lily. They become fast friends and share an attraction for one another that is more than skin-deep. They also have a few romantic moments, but in general, I couldn't quite sense the why of their chemistry because they didn't really know each other. (I had this same problem with Duke of Midnight.) Apollo literally can't tell Lily anything about himself, not even his real name, for fear of being found out or worse yet, putting her in danger. Lily is slightly more open, but she still harbors some secrets of her own that she's reluctant to share. Thankfully, once both their secrets start to come out, this all cleared up. Their love scenes were intense and steamy, full of the passion that Elizabeth Hoyt is so talented at creating. These moments bonded them together in a loving and giving way that was impossible not to feel, and brought things full-circle to a romantic and satisfying HEA. Now, I'll be sitting on the edge of my seat for the next six months, eagerly awaiting the release of James and Phoebe's book.
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