No Earls Allowed
Release date March 6, 2018
386 pages, ebook, paperback, audiobook, audio CD
I was provided a complimentary ARC by Sourcebooks Casablanca via NetGalley. This is my honest review for which I receive no compensation of any kind.
The cover is lovely with all that pretty blue that is so eye-catching. It really doesn’t say a whole lot about the book, but there are an old house and a lovely lady in the book, so I guess you could say it relates, but the old house is in town and the lovely lady is working in an orphanage wearing her simplest gowns and getting her hands dirty. The story is quite entertaining. I really enjoyed it. The characters were very well-done, good and bad ones. The bad, bad guy was really creepy and I wasn’t sorry to see him finally get his just rewards. The pace was brisk with all the mishaps and trouble the orphans got into and the trouble brought on by the bad guys. The tension was pretty constant, even during the love scenes, when you were just sure they were going to be discovered!
And here begins the reveal…
This is a series called The Survivors. The survivors are from a suicide troop hand-picked to go because they answered the question “Are you afraid to die?” with the correct answer. Of the thirty who went, only a dozen came back. They called themselves Draven’s Dozen after the man who sent them and established the Draven Club, a gentlemen’s club, for themselves in London that was available to them 24-hours a day. With their PTSD and other battle induced problems, often they used it 24-hours a day. They had given each other nicknames over the time they were together. Our hero, Neil Wraxall, the recognized bastard son of the Marquiss of Kensington, was known as The Warrior. To those who were close to him, he was known as The Virgin Warrior. The Warrior because he was the recognized leader of their group and a mighty fighter. The men took orders from him without hesitation and still do. The virgin part took a bit more explaining. He was a recognized bastard. He had been educated and raised as a gentleman, however, when it came to women and marriage, he was still a penniless bastard. It was hands-off as far as society was concerned. He never wanted to pass that on to any child of his, so he refused to chance to foster any bastards. He was a virgin. That’s not to say he hadn’t made love to a woman, but he had never had actual intercourse. He had made an art of the act of love without intercourse.
Our heroine is Lady Juliana, the daughter of the Earl of St. Maur. The only surviving daughter. Her sister was dead, lost in childbirth. Her son lost to his highly unsuitable father at six months of age. Her sister had been mistreated and discarded in her marriage, and Juliana had set herself against marriage as a whole and for herself specifically. She dedicated herself to caring for the discarded boys at Sunnybrooke Home for Boys, previously known as St. Dismas’ Home for Wayward Youth. This was a crumbling house with twelve boys of varying ages. Lady Juliana had moved in there against her father’s wishes, but she felt she needed to be onsight. Her lady’s maid had quit last week. Mrs. Nesbit, the cook, quit today sighting the crumbling house and old equipment that no number of promises to replace would fix. And 3 rats!
Mr. Slag comes to call to make an offer of protection. Mr. Goring has let him in, which Juliana isn’t particularly happy about, but she figures Mr. Goring is as afraid of him as she is. Mr. Slag’s price for protection includes time in Lady Juliana’s bed as well as a whole lot of money. She tries to keep things polite and double talks him with polite misunderstanding, but Mr. Slag is just totally unpleasant and evil. Thankfully, there is a disaster with the boys’ breakfast burning and she is able to escape Mr. Slag. Then Mr. Neil Wraxall shows up. He ends up buying pies for breakfast and getting a firsthand introduction to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. When he inquires about John, he is told: “We don’t discuss John”. Matthew, Mark, and Luke happened to be the boys’ pet rats. Little Charlie is especially fond of them. They do have a cage, but it’s not terribly secure. Neil promises to make them a more secure cage at his first opportunity. Rats are not his favorite animal.
The Earl has contacted his old school friend the Marquiss, who has sent his son to bring the recalcitrant daughter home. But the daughter is not coming home. She feels the orphanage is her home now. So Neil decides what he has to do is figure out how he can ensure her safety in the orphanage. He finds the house itself is wide open to invasion… no a single latch on windows or doors fastens properly or securely, things have been fiddled with so only look like they’re locked or latched. The roof leaks really badly as well, to the point that they can’t cook a meal if it’s raining since it requires all the buckets, pots, and pans to catch the leaks.
The teacher, Mrs. Fleming quits as well. So Lady Juliana calls in her former governess, Mrs. Dunwitty. Mr. Goring keeps going missing and no one seems to know where, so Neil sets Lord Jasper Grantham, Runner on his trail to find out just what the servant is up to. In the meantime, Neil is treating the boys the only way he knows how, like a bunch of tender, young soldiers, and they love it. They’ve started calling him Major and they see him as a father figure. They’re working on keeping the old house clean and neat and getting repairs done as well as learning the basics of how society gets along.
Neil and Juliana have a run-in in the library one night. Both are exhausted and frustrated. They talk, actually talk, for the first time about each of their points of view and start to really see each other as people rather than adversaries. Neil talks about the war. Juliana talks about her sister. They both fall asleep on a couch in the library and are still there the next morning when Mrs. Dunwitty arrives. Thank heavens she’s an understanding woman with a lot of common sense. She takes over the boys’ education and that leaves Neil and Juliana more time for other things. Things like kisses, going to balls, setting fire to the Ox and Bull (Mr. Slag’s business), and falling into bed together. The first ball is an opportunity for Mr. Slag to get close enough to Juliana to threaten her again and tell her that the price of his protection is now doubled and a month in her bed. This leads to a fight at the Ox and Bull, to which Wraxall takes The Protector, Ewan Mostyn, and Lady Juliana (at her insistence). A fire starts and the Ox and Bull burns with Mr. Slag inside. It is assumed Mr. Slag is now dead.
Not so! The Protector is left in charge of sleeping boys while everyone else is at another ball. They come home to find a sleeping Charlie in The Protector’s arms. “He needed a hug.” Upstairs Juliana finds Mr. Slag, burned to look like the evil he is and still threatening them. Another fight, this time Neil has Rafe Beaumont with him and it is finally an end to Mr. Slag’s evil. Mr. Goring is set straight. Billy is given a choice. The boys are all safe and sound. And Neil and Juliana are married. As a special surprise, Neil tracks down little Davy, Juliana’s nephew, and bribes his father to let him go. He brings Davy home to Juliana, who couldn’t be happier with her bastard husband, bought nephew, and house full of orphans. She’s even on better terms with her father now.
A wonderful romp, a hot love story, and a lot of fun!