Title: A Private Gentleman
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Length: 288 Pages
At a Glance: A Private Gentleman is an outstanding historical novel that should not be missed.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Painfully introverted and rendered nearly mute by a heavy stammer, Lord George Albert Westin rarely ventures any farther than the club or his beloved gardens. When he hears rumors of an exotic new orchid sighted at a local hobbyist’s house, though, he girds himself with opiates and determination to attend a house party, hoping to sneak a peek.
He finds the orchid, yes but he finds something else even more rare and exquisite: Michael Vallant. Professional sodomite.
Michael climbed out of an adolescent hell as a courtesan’s bastard to become successful and independent-minded, seeing men on his own terms, protected by a powerful friend. He is master of his own world until Wes. Not only because, for once, the sex is for pleasure and not for profit. They are joined by tendrils of a shameful, unspoken history. The closer his shy, poppy-addicted lover lures him to the light of love, the harder his past works to drag him back into the dark.
There’s only one way out of this tangle. Help Wes face the fears that cripple him right after Michael finds the courage to reveal the devastating truth that binds them.
Review: Honestly, there was so much to love about Heidi Cullinan’s re-release of A Private Gentleman, beginning with the two main characters, Wes and Michael. It’s really a wonderful and true accounting of a writer’s talent when a novel can stand the test of time and still be recognized as beautifully executed, with a storyline that captivates the reader. Part romance, part action adventure and pure historical, the novel relates the lives of two social opposites but refuses to dip into a Pretty Woman type of trope, instead relying on creative storytelling to make it stand out. Dealing with pedophilia, rape and addiction, this story has a difficult tale to relate but does so with compassion and care—giving, only the details needed to set the emotional stage and give the acts importance rather than to simply titillate the senses. This story dealt with pretty horrific circumstances, but never once did I feel that the author cheapened the impact such violations have on a person by sensationalizing their telling.
The book begins by introducing Wes, the second born son of a Marquis, who has spent his life hiding away from society. He’s afflicted with a stammer that renders his speech nearly incomprehensible. But it is the crushing feeling of anxiety that makes moving in public circles a nightmare. As was the custom of the day, Wes was prescribed opium to calm his nerves, and has slowly been using more and more of it to allow him to merely function in the presence of others—including his own family. After his mother’s death at an early age, Wes was left with a harsh and demanding father who never failed to make known to the young boy how much of a disappointment he was to the family. Now, as an adult, Wes can barely be in the same room with the man and must self-medicate in order to allay his overwhelming feelings of fear and shame when he must present himself at the home estate.
This night he has forced himself to go out to a party hosted by a fellow orchid enthusiast in order to get a view of a rare orchid that has just arrived. Being a botanist and in love with every form of plant life, it is the delicate and beautiful orchids that enthrall Wes. While attending the soiree, he is accosted by a gorgeous young man who had mistaken him for his friend, and the two meet in an explosive encounter that will leave a lasting impression on both of them for entirely different reasons. Now Wes decides to step completely out of his comfort zone and pursue Michael, despite the fact that the man is a whore for hire.
Michael, too, finds himself attracted to the reserved gentlemen, only to discover that he is inextricably linked to a past that haunts Michael relentlessly. Recently the nightmares have returned, making it impossible for him to perform the duties that are his bread and butter. But the man who runs the house where Michael works is also his best friend, and proposes that Wes may be the answer to all of the young man’s problems. Wes and Michael enter into a paid companionship agreement, but soon their mutual feelings for each other grow, leaving them both longing for more than simple friendship. However, both men have secrets that threaten to tear them apart, and the shadow of opium addiction hangs over Wes like a malignancy ready to pull him into a darkness he will never escape.
There were so many layers to this story, from Michael’s past, which was threatening to become his undoing, both emotionally and financially, to Wes’ crippling fears and guilt that drove him deeper and deeper into addiction. Their stories made my heart ache for them, and their love for each other was almost bittersweet. This story moved beyond the scope of historical romance and dove down into how our past both haunts and shapes us. In so many ways, the author reminded us again and again how strong her men were—how much they had truly overcome to even be cognizant members of society, no matter how much they both lived on the fringe of the same. But it was the stark moments of revelation about their pasts that really felled me and tapped my emotions. These memories were devastating to Wes and Michael as they pulled them relentlessly back into a time when they were young and helpless and had to endure horrific things at the hands of monsters. I wept for these men—for the innocence lost and the scars that remained. Yet, in the same breath, I rejoiced in the fact that they were surrounded by a few caring souls who would help them begin the long journey toward healing, and each other.
Heidi Cullinan is a gifted author who can create characters who live beyond the page and craft stories around them that have the reader hanging on every word. If you have never read A Private Gentleman, I recommend you grab this gem up today. If you have already partaken of this wonderful story, I would suggest you give it a re-read, as I am sure to do. Either way, A Private Gentleman is an outstanding historical novel that should not be missed.
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