Matthew, the Earl of Wallingford, is a debauched rake, who has earned a scandalous reputation for his sexual exploits. He regularly partakes in the pleasures of the flesh, but for him, they are nothing but a physical release that leaves him feeling numb and empty. He never thought he wanted a wife and children, but seeing his best friend, Lindsey's happiness makes him wonder... Still he keeps his heart locked up tight behind a cold facade of indifference, until the night he is beaten senseless in an alley and taken to a hospital. Temporarily unable to see, Matthew finds comfort and solace in the calming, angelic voice of his nurse. He is inexplicably drawn to her like he's never been drawn to any woman in his life, and soon finds himself wanting things from her that he never thought he could want from anyone.
Jane Rankin is a shy, plain woman who values her independence. In addition to working as a nurse at the hospital, she is also employed as a ladies' companion. Despite her position as companion, she would not be welcomed by the upper classes, because of her lowly birth as the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat and his mistress. She has often wondered what it would be like to be desired by a man, so Matthew's attentions toward her ignite an unquenchable fire within her that she knows only he can satisfy. Still, she values respectability above all else, and will not give him what he really wants unless he agrees to reveal his true self to her.
Matthew does not trust easily and finds the intimacy that Jane asks from him to be not only frightening but also a foreign concept. However, it doesn't stop him from craving her presence in his life and wanting to give her everything her heart desires. Her gentleness gradually draws him out and begins tearing down his carefully erected walls, but there is one dark secret in his past that he fears even she may find too scandalous to bear. Even if she can accept him once everything is out in the open, his father has declared he must marry a woman of his choosing and has threatened to take away one of the few things Matthew holds dear if he doesn't comply. Because of the circumstances of her birth, Jane cannot bear the thought of only being his mistress, leaving Matthew believing that all is lost and he is doomed to live half a life without her by his side.
Charlotte Featherstone is masterful at writing emotional, deeply sensual, and incredibly touching love stories. She's also extremely talented with creating emotionally broken and deeply flawed characters who despite their failings, still manage to capture my heart and make me want to root for them to get their HEA. Addicted, the first book of the series, completely engrossed me, so that I had a hard time putting it down and never wanted it to end. Perhaps because of his cynicism, Matthew didn't quite appeal to me in the same way Lindsey did at the time I was reading Addicted. Nevertheless, it didn't keep me from being excited about reading his book, and I can't say that I was disappointed. Sinful was every bit as engaging as Addicted, and once again, I found myself eager to get back to it every time I had to put it down and wishing it would never end.
As I mentioned, in the previous book, Matthew seemed pretty hard and cold, yet I couldn't help but sense something in him - something that was buried deep but once uncovered and brought into the light of day would free him from his jaded view of people and of life in general. I couldn't have been more thrilled to discover I was correct. At the time, I had discerned that Matthew seemed a bit jealous of the deep love that Lindsay and Anais share. Of course, he won't admit it even when Lindsey calls him on the mat, but Lindsay saw right through him in this regard just like I did. It's readily apparent early in the story that there is something in Matthew's past that torments him and colors his opinion of women and romantic relationships in a bad light. Matthew doesn't consider himself to be a smart man. Academics never came easy for him, and although he's his father's heir to the dukedom, he has no head for running an estate and no real interest in the title. Instead, he's a brilliant artist who harbors a lot of the stereotypical angst and temperamental nature that comes with such a gift. This was only made worse by his father's coldness toward him and lack of understanding of his talents, but most of all by a secret trauma from the past that tortures his psyche, haunts his nightmares, and has warped the way he thinks about sex. Perhaps I was so caught up in the emotion of the story that I didn't even realize just how incredibly bent this experience was until near the end, when he finally reveals his most scandalous secret, which was a twist I didn't see coming. Just like Jane, nothing he did in this story or had done in the past made me think less of him, but instead, it broke my heart to know all the pain he'd endured throughout the years until she came into his life, bringing light and hope.
After Matthew left the hospital where he met Jane, he couldn't stop thinking about her even though he'd never actually seen her. He can't help admitting to himself that he desires more from her than he's ever wanted from any woman before. However, that doesn't stop him from doing something later that made me want to slap him silly. It hurts Jane and causes her to hurt him right back, which sends Matthew off the rails in a flurry of anger and self-loathing. Still, they found their way back to each other and he does eventually explain how he was feeling in that moment and apologizes for his actions which was good enough for me. There are just so many thing about Matthew that made him capture my heart: The way he looks at the world through an artist's eyes, his incredibly touching love for his youngest sister when he doesn't really care about anyone else, his impassioned declarations of love once he gets to that place, and of course his tortured past that made me want to wrap him up in my arms and make all the pain go away.
Jane is a kind, caring, intelligent woman, but she knows that she's no man's idea of a catch. I have to commend the author for writing a plain heroine who actually is. Jane has a fairly voluptuous figure, fiery red hair, and she wears glasses. Her mother was a prostitute, and she's the product of her mother's relationship with an aristocrat who left them destitute. Beyond that, Jane has a pretty distressing past herself. After her mother's death, she was sold to a pervert who beat her badly, leaving a scar on her lip, and she barely managed to escape his clutches with her virginity intact. She was extremely lucky in that the woman who now employs her found her on the street, took her in, and has been like a mother to her ever since. Knowing that the lady she works for is aging and not wanting to be left in the same position as her mother if she should die, Jane is determined to be an independent woman. She took up a second job, nursing patients in a hospital in the poor part of town, and is exceptional at her work. Even though nursing was a relatively new and not-well-respected vocation at the time, she puts forth her best effort to put a positive face on her profession. I liked that Jane is a shy woman. In spite of being twenty-seven, she's only been kissed once, but she knows something of relations between a man and a woman and wonders what it might be like to be close to a man. Because of her more worldly knowledge, she isn't afraid of Matthew's overt sexuality. In fact, he intrigues her and makes her feel more like a woman than she's ever felt before. More than anything she desires to be desired, and after navigating a few bumps in the road, Matthew is able to give her that and so much more. However, because of the uncertainties surrounding the way she was brought up and watching what her mother went through when her protector tossed her aside, Jane also craves respectability and stability. When things come to a head and there seems to be no way they can be together except with her as Matthew's mistress, she cannot bring herself to do it. I have to admit that at this moment, I don't think I could have made the same choice she did. I couldn't have borne leaving Matthew, especially when he made such a fervent plea, but I understood and respected her reasons for doing it anyway. It takes her a while to come to terms with some things, but eventually she realizes that Matthew means more to her than anything else in the world.
As with Addicted, I'm reluctant to call Sinful an erotic romance as it's been labeled. Yes, the love scenes are lushly sensual and descriptive, but they're also taut with emotion. While the author uses more explicit language, it's not done in a gratuitous way, and also aside from one scene of light bondage, there's nothing that I found to be particularly out of the ordinary. Matthew and Jane's every interaction is intensely beautiful and a true expression of their growing love for one another. In the beginning, since Matthew can't see and can only hear Jane's voice, which he calls the voice of an angel, what they share almost seems like a magical, mystical attraction. What in other books might not work for me, here I really loved, because I could truly feel it and believe in it. Like Matthew, Jane is blind in her own way, because she doesn't exactly know who he is either, as he never mentions being the Earl of Wallingford. To her, he's simply her Matthew. When each of them fully discovers the other's identity, they're both rather appalled, he because she's just a plain spinster and she because of his scandalous reputation. Despite their best efforts to ignore it though, the attraction is still there, simmering below the surface. Once they open their eyes to really see each other as they are, warts and all, their relationship experiences a beautiful metamorphosis. I love how Matthew finally finds the beauty beneath Jane's plainness, and Jane discovers what a wonderful man Matthew actually is. Also the way Jane helps Matthew find his way back to wholeness, to a place where he can enjoy true intimacy with another human being - not just sex - and find beauty in the act rather than horror and disgust was absolutely amazing. Both Matthew and Jane feel like they've found the lost half of their soul in each other. Neither one of them really knows how to trust, but together, they learn.
While I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed Sinful, I feel compelled to let others know that the ending is probably not what most readers will be expecting. It is an HEA, but it's a non-traditional one. Also the road to that HEA leads to another year of pain and heartache, particularly for Matthew. After everything he'd already been through, I really hated that Matthew had to endure more, but I also understood that Jane needed time to grow and change and she's nearly as miserable as he is during their separation. I would say that the author chose a more realistic path for these two lost souls. There probably wouldn't have been any easy or magical answers to the dilemma they find themselves faced with, and for that, I respect the author's choice to write it the way she did. If I had finished Sinful, thinking that this was truly the end of the road for Matthew and Jane, I probably would have knocked off a half star, because it was so difficult to read. However, I already knew ahead of time that the author had written an epilogue, as well as a Valentine's themed short story (both of which are free reads) for this couple, and my GoodReads friends who read them, particularly the epilogue, said that it really stamps "The End" to their HEA and makes it much more satisfying. Since the author's website has disappeared, I had a hard time getting my hands on copies of these stories, but thanks to my hubby's ingenuity, I finally have them in my hot little hands and can't wait to read them.
Overall, Sinful was yet another amazing book from Charlotte Featherstone's creative mind. I'm very sad to see that this author seems to have dropped off the radar for the past three years. I do hope that she returns at some point, because she has a real talent for writing romance that is truly romantic. In the meantime, there are still more of her books and novellas waiting for me to try, which is something I'll be doing eagerly. But as for Sinful, it was an utterly beautiful love story of two wounded souls finding love, healing, and comfort in each other's arms.
Note: This book is labeled as erotic romance, and while there are several love scenes, all of which are explicit, they're about so much than just body parts and titillation. Also, nothing that I would consider to be particularly kinky or offensive occurs within them except for one scene involving a bit of light bondage. However, there are flashback sequences to Matthew's abuse that may disturb more sensitive readers.
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