Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Release Day Spotlight & Review: A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian
Series A Seducing the Sedgwicks Novel
Genre Adult Historical Romance
Publisher Avon Impulse
Publication Date July 10, 2018


Once beloved by London's fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

As one of my go-to M/M authors, it's always a pleasure to pick up one of Cat Sebastian's novels and this second book in the Seducing The Sedgwicks is a welcome treat. Although we have previously met Hartley Sedgwick in It Takes Two To Tumble, this novel can be read as a standalone.

Hartley Sedgwick is like a prisoner in his own house; one he inherited from his godfather. Along with his inheritance came a souring of his reputation as rumours circulate about the circumstances surrounding his bequest. One evening after noticing a man loitering near his house, he decides to challenge the stranger...a meeting which changes the course of his future as they work together to right a wrong for differing reasons and an unexpected outcome.

Samuel Fox works hard running his pub in the East End of London. Working alongside his brother, he has done well after using his winnings as a boxer to secure his future. When his future sister-in-law asks for his help, he agrees to try to solve the issue on her behalf and leads him to a man he never would otherwise have met.

An unlikely pairing, yet Hartley and Sam are a convincing couple. Both struggle to be accepted in society, albeit for far differing reasons. Hartley comes across as slightly aloof, whereas Sam is caring and attentive. However, over time, Hartley explores his compassionate side as he becomes more comfortable in his surroundings and more importantly; his own skin.

Although the main focus is on Hartley and Sam, the secondary characters mainly Alf, Sadie, Kate and Nick are integral to the overall feel of the narrative. Unlikely friendships are forged to create an unconventional family of sorts.

As I've come to expect, the writing from Ms Sebastian is impeccable. Set during the Regency period, I'm always surprised by how the narrative unfolds making her one of my favourite historical romance writers. There's always an element of surprise and Hartley and Sam's unlikely friendship turned relationship certainly meets that expectation.
***arc generously received courtesy of Avon Impulse via Edelweiss+***

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Now that he had this stranger in his library, Hartley was having misgivings about the soundness of his plan.
First, this man was significantly larger than anyone needed to be. The Hepplewhite chair hardly contained him. Hartley had good reasons for not feeling particularly at ease around large men, but this man didn’t seem threatening. He sat in that chair as if it were a church pew, his hat politely on his lap. Hartley started to lower himself into the matching chair beside his guest, but then thought better of it and perched on the edge of a table, enjoying a false but comforting sense of height.
Second, it was unwise to trust strangers with his secrets. But Hartley had no secrets anymore; he had nothing to lose. It occurred to him for the first time that he could perhaps take advantage of his situation. He might as well behave fearlessly, if it meant getting a bit of his own back.
He was aware that Will would say he ought to put his grievances to rest, that making peace with the wrongs that had been done him was the only way forward. And he had to concede that Will knew something about that topic. But Will was also kind and decent, and Hartley was neither; he was petty and vindictive, because those qualities were all the sword or shield he had.
He poured some brandy into two glasses and handed one to his guest. “The long and short of it is that I would like nothing more than to do a grand disservice to Martin Easterbrook. If you’d like to join forces with me, then I’m interested. If not, so be it. We can pretend tonight never happened.”
And if I don’t want anything to do with you? If it turns out this Martin fellow is my best mate and I tell him you’re set against him? What if I tell a gossip rag that you tried to approach me?” The man spoke with a rough London accent that was laced through with something else that Hartley couldn’t identify.
You’re welcome to,” Hartley said lightly. “My name is Hartley Sedgwick. Hartley with an E. Be sure to have the paper spell it correctly.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his card case with a flourish that was marred by the hinge being stiff from want of use. “For reference,” he said, holding out a card between two fingers.
Something went wrong because the man palmed the card but then politely shook Hartley’s hand. Hartley froze. The man wasn’t wearing gloves and Hartley had removed his own—gentlemen didn’t eat or drink with gloves on, and Hartley couldn’t bring himself to abandon the rules he had worked so blasted hard to master. Hartley didn’t much care for being touched, least of all being touched skin to skin. He felt like he was being flayed alive. Were other people’s hands always so warm, or was this stranger about to succumb to the ague?
Samuel Fox,” the man said as he finally let go of Hartley’s hand.
A pleasure, Mr. Fox.” Hartley tried to sound like someone who wasn’t in danger of becoming unglued.
Mr. Fox took a sip of the brandy, and Hartley realized belatedly he ought to have offered ale or cider. Fox wore trousers that were worn at the knees and a coat that strained badly across his broad shoulders; his hands were rough with work. He was plainly not of the brandy drinking classes, and to have presented him with the drink now seemed farcically affected.
Who is Easterbrook to you?” Fox asked. “I thought this was his house.”
It was. It’s mine now. Sir Humphrey Easterbrook was my godfather.” Hartley’s voice only caught a little on that designation. “He died a few years ago and left this house to me. Your turn,” he said briskly. “What was Easterbrook to you?”
He has—had—something that belongs to a friend of mine.”
Hartley raised his eyebrows. “I’m not going to ask whether you intended to walk in and help yourself to—to what, may I ask?”
He took a sip of brandy as he watched Mr. Fox decide whether he could be trusted. Hartley wondered what it must be like to be able to judge trustworthiness on sight. No, he wondered what it must be like to even want to. It was much easier to simply not trust people at all. Hartley trusted Will. He also trusted his older brother, Ben, but that wasn’t any great accomplishment because Ben was utterly incapable of malice. He supposed he also trusted his youngest two brothers, but they were far away so he didn’t have to put it to the test.
It’s a painting,” Fox said.
Hartley’s glass dropped to the parquet, shattering into bloodred shards. He squeezed his eyes shut. He didn’t want to see Fox, didn’t want to see the mess he had made, didn’t want to see the empty spaces on the walls. A second passed, and he willed his composure to freeze him over into something cold and solid and impenetrable. When he opened his eyes, he knew he had mastered himself, at least as far as it was possible for him to do so.

Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.

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