Secret Desires of a Gentleman by Laura Lee Guhrke
published by Avon in September 2008
Once Upon a Time...
Maria Martingale was going to elope. But Phillip Hawthorne, Marquess of Kayne, put a stop to those plans when he learned his younger brother intended to marry a cook's daughter. Now, twelve years later, Maria discovers that the man who holds her fate in his hands is none other than the haughty gentleman who sent her packing - and he's as handsome and arrogant as ever.
Happily Ever After?
Always the proper gentleman, Phillip will do anything to protect his family from scandal, and when Maria dares to move in right next door, he knows scandal will surely follow. She is as tempting as he remembered... and the more he sees her, the harder it is for Phillip to keep his own secret desire for her a secret...
Genre: Historical romance
Series: The Girl-Bachelors series, book #3
The Story: As the daughter of the Hawthorne family's chef, Maria Martingale grew up with the Hawthorne brothers, Phillip and Lawrence. Not long after the death of her father, at 17 years old, Maria and Lawrence planned to elope; however, they were stopped by Phillip and Maria was sent away with a draft of 1000 pounds and the promise that she would never see Lawrence again. Meanwhile, Lawrence was sent to America on an extended trip.
Twelve years later, Maria has become a pâtisserie chef. With the backing of her best friend, newly heiress and duchess of St. Cyres, Prudence, Maria can now realize her dream: open a pâtisserie. After months of searching, Maria finds the perfect shop... but who lives next door? Not only Phillip whose estate house is being renovated... but Lawrence who has just returned from America. Phillip Hawthorne can't help but be suspicious... is this really coincidence? Or does Maria has a motive?
My Opinion: To begin with, I'd like to say that I had my doubts about this book when I first read the synopsis... for many reasons. First, I was quite disappointed with the last installment in the series, The Wicked Ways of a Duke. and didn't really know what to expect of this book? Would it be as good as And Then He Kissed Her? Or would it flop like The Wicked Ways of a Duke? Then, there was the story plot line. From the synopsis, it is obvious that the hero is Phillip... So how would this turn out to be? I mean, the Marquess stops his younger brother from eloping with the girl, but ends up falling for the girl? Hmmmmm... can I say that I see conflict? So yes, I did not know what to expect and it worried me a bit... However, I wanted to read this book for Maria whom we've met in the first two books.
I should never had doubted. Ms Guhrke pulled it out admirably and I simply LOVE Secret Desires of a Gentleman!! Really, this book was great and I devoured it in half a day. So where to start? I definitively think that one of the reasons why this book was so good was the heroine. Maria Martingale is everything I look for in a heroine in a romance, be it historical or contemporary. She's a strong woman, definitively knows what she wants and doesn't let people step over her. She can handle herself and others, is witty and clever and not unreasonable. I liked how she work hard to attain her goal. She wasn't as dreamy or naive as Prudence and wasn't as hopeful as Emma. It was enjoyable to see how confident she was in her skills as a pâtisserie chef and how hard she fought for recognition. One of my favorite scene was when she was arguing with Phillip's chef, LOL. I loved her character and she's one of the reasons why the book was so enjoyable.
Phillip Hawthorne is another story however. For the first quarter of the book, I wasn't sure what to think of him. He's very different from most heroes and he's the complex character between the H/H. I think that Ms Guhrke came up with a very interesting hero in Phillip Hawthorne and one that wouldn't work in any kind of storyline. At first, I thought that Phillip was insufferable and I didn't like his assumptions about Maria... I mean, let's face it, they were less than flattering. However, the more I read and the more I got attached to Phillip. As I said, he's very different than most heroes I read, especially historical heroes. He's not a rake and wasn't involved in any scandals. Actually, his past with women was only briefly mentioned... He didn't make me swoon either. He's actually quite snob and haughty, but at the same time, very noble and honest. The more you read, the more you got to learn about him... and you learn things that explained his behavior and his actions. Of course, he could be a jerk at time... the whole "We are peers and you are 'normal'" speech got annoying, but at the same time, I understood why he was clinging to it. Phillip was raised a certain way, was thought to think a certain way and he did what he believe would be good for everyone. In the end, I really liked Phillip and was glad that he was different :)
Aside from the H/H, what made this book so interesting is how Ms Guhrke handled the whole situation between Maria, Phillip and Lawrence. I mean, this is an awkward situation and could have been very disagreeable to read... however, instead of going with the typical direction: the resentment and anger... Ms Guhrke surprised me. Turns out that Maria and Lawrence have both figured out that what Phillip did was the best... and they did not resent him, Lawrence in particular. It was fun to see Lawrence actually reuniting everyone, meeting Maria as his longtime childhood friend instead of as the girl who he planned to elope with. Lawrence character was very fun, very cheerful and he relieved a lot of the tension in the book... without being comical. Hey, you have to give the author credits for doing so :P
Finally, I enjoyed the storyline and the writing style. I really liked the flow of the storyline and the events that happened. Nothing felt too precipitated. Ms Guhrke took her time setting up everything in place and it paid off. Readers really got to know Maria and Phillip and I think this was necessary for the book to be so enjoyable. What really got me hooked was all the arguments between Maria and Phillip, their banters and sarcasms. It was great... it was like seeing two friends who have parted on the wrong foot being reunited... which is what Maria and Phillip are essentially. You know that familiarity between two persons that comes from long years of friendship... So they know exactly what annoys the other and can use it to their advantage... they also understand how the other is thinking and what s/he is planning... the reminiscence of childhood adventures. Of course, the writing was top notch quality, so it didn't hurt :)
My only complaint was the ending. I thought the ending was a bit rushed and a few extra pages sure wouldn't have hurt. In fact, I think it would have brought some more closure... the way Secret Desires of a Gentleman ended, it seems a bit too open to my taste. Also, I'm not sure about Phillip's public declaration. Personally, I think that what he said didn't need to be in front of a public. As long as the words were being said, it was enough. One thing that I liked though is you could feel how hard it was for Phillip to say the words out loud, but he said them nonetheless. Very romantic :) So the ending wasn't bad, but I don't think it was the right ending.
Few thoughts before finishing up this review... I really like the time period Ms Guhrke is exploring in the Girl-Bachelors series. Most historicals take place in the early 1800s, but this series is taking place in the late 1800s and it's really astonishing how few decades change the feel and ambiance of a historical romance. I have to say that I like this time period, because women had more freedom and options. I'm not a feminist, but I have to admit that it's nice to see that women could be something other than a maid, governess or lady companion :) Also, I thought Secret Desires of a Gentleman had a very "contemporary" feel to it and I liked it :)
In my review of The Wicked Ways of a Duke, I complained about the series baiting. In Secret Desires of a Gentleman, I believe Ms Guhrke did a fine job. We were again reminded of the girls who are still living at the girl-bachelors pad; however, none had an active role in this book. None really stood out either and I have to say, I like it that way. Emma and Prudence from the first two books both appeared in this book, but neither stole the show... and for some reasons, I'm happy that none of them were pregnant yet. Overall, I think that Ms Guhrke balanced it out very well... and I'm now really looking forward to the next installment of the series. I do hope though that the next hero won't be a peer... I mean, what are the chances that 6 regular girls all land marquesses, earls and dukes?
My Grade: A-. One of the best historicals I've read this year :) I would have given it an A if it had the perfect ending :P
ps - Can someone explain this to me? So, Secret Desires of a Gentleman, Mr. Cavendish, I presume? and Seduce me at Sunrise are all historical romances from Avon. So how come they are 7.99$, 8.99$ and 9.99$ (CDN) respectively? I mean, isn't that a bit unfair, the difference of price between them?