Finally got a chance to sit down and read this after having it on my TR pile for 2 years. I've read and heard so many rave reviews about this book and I'll be lying if I say I didn't go into this with somewhat high expectations. While I enjoyed reading it, the story seemed to drag on forever before coming to a conclusion and I had some issues with the hero, Robert's actions.
The whole 'I love you, I would do anything for you please stay with me forever as my mistress' just didn't work for me and is what made this a 3 star. Complete wah-wah-wah let down. The pay off wasn't satisfying given what the couple goes through and the ending was a little forced for me. The ending and the overall progress of the story was underwhelming. An important scene/confrontation happens in the middle of the story, where the heroine Bel shares her tragic past with Robert and it opens his eyes up to what she had been put through and what catapulted her into becoming a courtesan. This scene naturally breaks a lot of barriers between them and of course a dual that follows this confession where Robert is the chivalrous knight fighting for 'his lady' cemented that he would do anything for her. Right? Right? Wrong. Everything just comes to a screeching halt and becomes incredibly muddled after the dual. It just took a complete nosedive into 'WTF? Land' after that dual. Robert becomes a complete selfish oblivious cad with Bel just standing there taking it like a good little mistress. I felt everything went 20 steps backward after that dual much to my frustration. Robert doesn't want to marry her, he can't! His reputation, his position in politics, his family's legacy relies on him to do the right thing by marrying someone within the peerage. So he wants Bel to stay on as his mistress. Forever. She loves him and he loves her so why not? She could want for nothing and he is her protector and he's healed her. Oh Robert I was loving you up until this point. He started to morph into a selfish arrogant ass. I really felt his actions in the second half were completely inconsistent and out of character to the kind of man he is. I wasn't expecting him to play the self-centered oblivious cad who wants his cake and eat it too. I really felt his sense of character completely regressed in the second half of the book and it's a shame. He said she was his lady and not a whore when Bel begged him not to risk his life for her, yet he turns around and does exactly that by asking her to stay his mistress and treating her like an illicit dirty secrete. I found it very contradictory.
We pretty much have Robert sit on his hands and dig his heels in through the entire second half of the book, refusing to let Belinda go but not willing to marry her because she's a demirep. And Belinda just takes it all in with a brittle smile and a lump in her throat. I just expected more from Robert given the lengths he goes through to protect her and keep her safe and happy, but like Bel's father says he seemed to love his name more than Belinda. And I found it very true. It was a big disappointment because it took him a little too long to realize what was in front of his face and how wrong he was. While I do think he has a very loving heart and had his own fears and is a gentleman, I found his excuses for not marrying her to be sad, selfish and pitiful. His actions and behavior near the end I found to be contradictory to his character when he first met Bel and they started to fall for each other. He seriously seemed completely poleaxed and angry over why she kept refusing to stay with him after he breaks the news that he has agreed to marry a family friend's daughter. He was going to marry someone else yet wanted to keep her on the side. That's not a flattering situation to be in especially for a woman like Bel. And his lordly 'you will have nothing without me!' speech did nothing for him.
Another thing that made me raise a brow was the first time Belinda gives Robert a blow job. Now this happens a few weeks after she takes him on as her protector. Mind you at this time she has only been a courtesan for only a few months and hasn't been involved with anyone else before meeting Robert. She is supposed to be repulsed and terrified of men touching her in any sexual way. But she seemed to be completely happy and at ease with the seduction routine, giving him the blow job of his life with a saucy smile and some bold moves without any hesitation or fear on her part. I found that scene contrived and out of character for her given her past experience with a brutal man and her innocence in all sexual acts. At this time she's only been 'taught' what to do by Harriet Wilson the courtesan who took her under her wing. It's safe to say Bel felt safe with Robert, but still, I found her bold actions and lose flirty pet names with him to be inconsistent with her cautious character.
I probably would have been swooning over this book and given this a 5 star if I had read this 2 years ago when I started to devour HR books left and right. But now, I just wasn't blown away with it and had some issues with it. Even with the issues, the overall story and character motivations just did nothing for me. These two kept sharing ILY's for a good portion of this book, but I struggled to be swept away by it. And I tried. I really did. I'm kind of surprised actually how this book has been credited as Gaelen Foley's best work, I disagree on that. I don't think this was her strongest work. And I kept waiting for that sucker-punch breathless moment where I'm completely enthralled by a story and it just didn't happen here.
Also I kept noticing a lot of odd grammatical errors and awkward sentence structuring in this. I really felt this could have been polished up more with the number of mistakes I found. Her choice of phrasing certain things did not read right and were confusing to follow at times.