Kate Collier married young, but her husband died, leaving her with a mountain of debt to pay and a niece to keep in school. Seeing no other options open to her, she accepted the offer to become the mistress of a titled gentleman. After going through several protectors, she made the mistake of accepting one who ended up cruelly betraying her for revenge. Now she's recovering from a brutal rape and trying to piece her life back together, while running a successful dress shop.
Jason Randall and Anthony Richards fought together during the Napoleonic wars and became close friends during that time. After suffering through all the wartime horrors, they had both emotionally disconnected from life, until one fateful night when they accidentally discovered how much they enjoyed sharing women. Now they have become inseparable and both of them have fallen in love with Kate. They've known her and loved her from afar for years, but every time they were in England, she was unavailable to them. Now they're back from the Continent and determined to pursue her until she agrees to marry them both.
Kate has loved Jason and Tony every bit as much as they've loved her, but now she feels it's too late for anything lasting between them. Her reputation with the ton is ruined beyond repair, and with Jason being a titled gentleman, she fears her presence in his life would bring society's censure upon him. She agrees to one night - and one night only - with Jason and Tony, but she quickly finds the two men to be irresistible, especially when she seems to be the catalyst for them beginning to explore their passion for one another. Kate is very close to accepting their offer of marriage until the man who haunts her nightmares returns, placing the life of one of her men in grave danger.
I've been looking forward to reading The Courage to Love for some time now, mainly because, based on the cover blurb, it sounded like a book I would really enjoy. I admittedly did end up mostly enjoying it. Overall, the mechanics of the writing are fairly sound, especially for an erotic romance. The story also has a high level of emotional and sexual intensity, which helped me to feel the connection between the characters reasonably well. But ultimately, there isn't much substance to the plot or characters. I would say more than anything, this is a story of sexual exploration between three people who have loved each other from afar for a long while. The other elements of the plot, of which there are few, are definitely secondary to the sex. The main subplot revolved around Kate having been raped while Jason and Tony were away on the Continent, but the only time this really comes into play is when the man who instigated it reappears, leaving her a bit shaken and the heroes challenging the man to a duel. Unfortunately, even this wasn't particularly satisfying, because the man doesn't really pay for his crimes, which was pretty disappointing. Given that this is a historical romance, the reader will have to suspend disbelief somewhat in order to buy into the notion that Jason and Tony's "special relationship" seems to be rather well-known, not just among their close friends, but also among the ton at large, which leads to a bit of censure. It was probably equally odd to believe that Kate's niece, who is only sixteen and basically grew up learning to be a proper lady at a girl's school, as well as Jason's mother would not only accept Jason, Tony, and Kate's unconventional relationship, but also encourage it. Not to mention, Jason's mother made a miraculous turnaround to do so. So while the sex was hot and I could tell that these three really did care deeply for one another, I still came away from reading this book with a half-full feeling.
I liked Jason, Tony, and Kate for as well as I got to know them, but unfortunately that wasn't really well. Jason and Tony fought together in the Napoleonic Wars, and both apparently have their share of emotional demons, but we don't see any of that. Instead, they just briefly tell about how the horrors of war made them disconnect from other people and from their own emotions. Then they accidentally discovered a way to reconnect by sharing sexual partners, and they shared this information with other young soldiers who were similarly affected. I felt like there was something missing from this part of the story, and I really wanted to know more about how they arrived at this conclusion. As is, it merely seemed like a miraculous discovery that also happened to be a convenient plot device. As for their personalities, Jason is more driven by his emotions and prone to impassioned moments, while also enjoying playing the sexual dominant. Tony, on the other hand, is more controlled in his actions, and happy to play the submissive. While the two men have shared women before, they've never crossed that line into becoming lovers to one another until they rekindle their relationship with Kate.
I found Kate to be equally, if not more, underdeveloped than the men. She married a gentleman, who was a friend of Jason and Tony, when she was quite young, and appeared to have a reasonably satisfying relationship with him. However, he died, leaving her with a mountain of debt and no way to keep her young niece in school. Having no other option at the time, Kate became the mistress of several different gentlemen over the next few years, until one of them cruelly betrayed her by basically facilitating her gang rape at the hands of himself and several of his friends. I felt like this should have made her a deeply tortured soul, but in all honesty, she seemed to suffer few ill effects from this experience. When Jason and Tony return, she's reluctant to become involved with them, but not for the reasons one might think under these circumstances. Instead, she's all too willing to indulge in one night of sexual play with the both of them to appease her fantasies. I'm afraid I had a somewhat difficult time believing that a woman who had been brutally raped in that way would be so eager to be with not one, but two men relatively soon after her horrible experience, no matter how attracted to them she was. I also felt like she was perhaps protesting a bit too much with regards to why she couldn't be with the two of them for more than one night, but then she gets over it pretty quickly. I guess they turned her brain to mush with all the hot sex.;-)
As for the romance between the three of them, I really felt like the book was sorely in need of a prologue or some kind of introduction to explain how these three met and why they had fallen for each other years before. All we know is that Jason and Tony met Kate when she ended up marrying their friend. We don't really know at all what it was each of them saw in the others. Nursing broken hearts, Jason and Tony took a trip to the continent, and when they returned, their friend was dead and Kate was already mistress to another man, so they left again. This dance continued for three years, I believe, during which Jason and Tony thought that Kate was sowing her wild oats so to speak, while of course, what Kate was experiencing was something entirely different. She would have loved for Jason and Tony to come whisk her away from that life, but they kept leaving her. I thought this made Jason and Tony seem rather oblivious. Not to mention, if they really loved Kate and wanted her that badly, why didn't they get their alpha on and pursue her anyway? It's not like she was married to the men she was seeing. She was only trying to survive and should have been able to walk away from these relationships if she so chose, but Jason and Tony never presented her with that option until the worst had already happened. I noticed that a short prequel story titled Love and War: The Beginning was written six years after this book was first published, and perhaps it will answer some of these questions, or at least, I can hope. However, for the time being, with no real understanding of the origins of their love, I felt like I was simply immersed in this intense desire they all feel for one another without any build-up. The scenes are emotional, but I didn't grasp the why of their chemistry. I just feel like the characters needed to be developed more fully before throwing them into this torrid sexual relationship, and unfortunately, they don't grow much beyond the brief descriptions I gave of their characterizations earlier. It's simply page after page of more and more heated sexual encounters, which while appealing in their own way, would have been even better if there had been more actual romance.
The Courage to Love is the first book in the fairly prolific Brothers in Arms series, which is currently twelve books long. Several of the young men to whom Jason and Tony taught their secret formula for overcoming the nightmares of their time in the war are introduced, and they are basically Jason and Tony's inner circle of friends. I think all of them will become heroes in future books of the series, but there were so many of them and so little time to get to know them that few sufficiently stood out for me to recall their names. The only exceptions would probably be Phillip and Jonathan, whom the trio met up with while out getting ices at Gunther's. They and Maggie, the young lady they were with, become the heroes and heroine of the next book, Love Under Siege. Maggie kind of caught my eye, because she seemed really sweet. The others would be Michael and Wolf. Michael shared a passionate encounter with Kate's niece, Veronica, about which he felt quite guilty afterwards. Veronica, however, is a head-strong miss, who wasn't really fazed by it except in a positive way. These three will become the heroes and heroine of book #8, Prisoner of Love.
In addition to the deficiencies in plot and characterizations, there were several other things that bothered me about this book. While I did state earlier that it was reasonably well-written - and that is true - there were still the occasional grammatical errors or clunkily worded sentences that a sharp editor should have caught. The dialog, especially during the love scenes, which were a little too chatty for my taste anyway, felt rather clumsy and stilted. Oftentimes, the characters' actions and introspection would follow the dialog, but my editor taught me that these tidbits of narrative should come before it. It not only increases the impact of those actions but also makes it clearer who is speaking. I also feel like the author overused the "f" word. It's not that I'm offended by it or anything. I expect it to be used frequently in any erotic romance, but it was used so repetitively that it become rather annoying to me, just like any other overused word would. I also feel like using strong words like that too frequently, instead of in controlled moments, lessens their impact on the reader. The book is also basically a wallpaper historical, with little actual history and few historical details in it, which considering that the author's bio says that she's a history major, is pretty disappointing. Even some of the dialog is anachronistic. Last but not least, the author engages in almost constant head-hopping POVs, which was only made worse by the fact that there are three main characters instead of only two. I've never really cared much for this style of writing, as I feel that the reader can connect more deeply with a character when they see things from their perspective for longer periods of time. Despite my dislike for it, I got used to it after a while, but still found it very jarring when the POV switch came mid-paragraph, again something a good editor should have caught.
It may seem like I've had a lot of criticisms of The Courage to Love, and admittedly there were a number of things I thought could have been better. However, as I said at the beginning of the review, I still mostly enjoyed it for what it was. It might not have been quite as good as I was expecting, but it was still a pretty agreeable way to spend a few hours of my reading time. It appears that this may have been Samantha Kane's first published novel, and it looks like the future books of the series have higher rating, so perhaps she's learned and grown as an author since this early effort. I have to admit a certain degree of curiosity about Maggie, Phillip, and Jonathan, so I'm sure I'll give their book a try at some point.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations which may offend some readers, including menage a trois, some light dom/sub dynamics, a little biting, one instance of minor spanking (really just a playful swat) and anal sex within M/M/F and M/F/M combinations.
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