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Libertine's Kiss by Judith James

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Libertine's Kiss
Rakes and Rogues of the Restoration #1

Judith James
Historical Romance
Published in 2010

H/h - William de Veres, the Earl of Rivers/Lady Elizabeth Walters
Setting: Kent and London, in the era of Charles II, from 1658-60/61.

Read in April, 2012.
My rating:

                                                    [spoiler alert]

In Libertine's Kiss, we get to meet a notorious rakehell, whose character is loosely based on John Wilmot; a poet and a close friend of Charles II. Now-a-days, I’m often leery about reading books on rakes; they annoy me and most of the times, I don’t feel any respect, love or affection for them. Not all author can convince me about a so-called ‘bad boy’ and so, I’d like to congratulate JJ for making me fall for this one, for convincing me that William was someone worthy of love and affection. I had ups and downs in this book too, some pet peeves I’d rather not read about but I knew that any woman lucky enough to get past his prickly barriers would be helluva lucky girl!

William’s father abandoned him and his mother when he wasn’t even born. His mother, a puritan in every sense, never really cared for him. He grew up pretty much on his own and from a very early age, had the notion of the darker side of the world, when he was being sexually abused by his tutor. His mother never believed his words over his hypocritical master and so, from an early age William developed some bad habits; like drinking. He was depressed and had other physical problems and I could so understand why he was always in a volatile mood. When I learned of this, my heart broke for him, knowing neither one of his parents was there to help him out. On one summer, when he was 12, he met an 11 yrs old Lizzy, who was his neighbor. I loved those scenes; they were so sweet and gave me the view of a man who was supposed to be sweet and caring, if not for fickle fate intruding and ruining this for them. There was budding romance, with storytelling of Artegall and Britomart, with other knights and warrior ladies. William, even then, had a wonderful way with storytelling and expressions. I was just saddened to see him becoming this jaded, f*cked up man later. Even though he thought he was only weaving a make-believe world for an innocent Lizzy, I knew he believed in that fantasy world and love that it talks about. Lizzy was his strength and only escape from the horror he suffered at the hands of his nasty tutor. She made him smile and do things a kid of his age should do.

Lizzy was also orphaned and his father, who works for Cromwell, was almost never at home. She was as lonely as William, both being the only child and as neglected by their respective parents. She met William and instantly fell for her knight in shining armor when he saved her from some bullyboys. William was tall and beautiful even as a child. It makes me sick to think that it was one reason why his tutor pawed on him. Lizzy didn’t know the dark secrets but she could feel it oozing through his volatile mood. But no matter what, even as a child they shared a connection that only makes one jealous. Only Lizzy saw the real man, or a man he should’ve become and never forgot that man as she met him later at court as a jaded rake. I already said that fate intervened and they were forced apart. But before that, they shared their first kiss and exchanged ILU, which, to anyone, would seem like a childish fancy; until you get to know them as grownups. William went away to study with every intension of returning, even wanted to marry Lizzy. There was war, and they were at the opposite sides of it. William returned 3 yrs later but due to some misunderstandings, they never met again. He then went to Charles’s court and became his friend and confidante. He was also spending his life with much drinking and whoring, to forget about his unsettling childhood memories. But all in his life, William was never close with anyone, as close as he was with Lizzy; neither his merry monarch, nor the loose women he f*cked and often shared with Charles.

In between, when Lizzy’s father died (ironically at William’s hands but it was in the war), her uncle became her guardian and forced her to marry this puritanical man who abused her physically and mentally, destroying Lizzy’s fantasies about knights in shining armor. A part of her illusion was also destroyed by what she thought was William’s neglect of her, a shared misunderstanding that was resolved much later. We don’t get to learn much about her marriage of 7 yrs. but bits and pieces from Lizzy’s musings. She finally gathered the courage and ran away with some of her old and trusty servants. After sometimes, her husband died. She never mourned, got her dower lands and with the ones she had from her father, Lizzy’s life was content. Even though she heard much about his dissolute, rakish life at Charles’s court as his famous Royal poet, Lizzy never ever hoped to see William again until one stormy night. There was war between the two sides (Cromwell and Stuart) and William was badly injured. Lizzy recognized him at once and treated him with undue familiarity, which William the rake took as an interest for a tumble. Well, life as a whole is a mockery and a playground for William, with drink and sex. And this puritanical woman seems different somehow. She must be a lonely widow and quite pretty to look at, so why not? William doesn’t recognize her but he gets this déjà vu all the same. As I didn’t know their background as a child, I was annoyed by William’s attitude. When they had sex, I was like WTF? It was furtive but William, maybe for the first time in his life, actually ‘made love’ to this woman. The next day, he was gone, without giving his name and not knowing that he just left his soulmate for another 2 yrs.

A few days later, Cromwell’s men arrive on Lizzy’s doorstep with the accusation of treason. She was beaten and was almost being raped when she was saved by their Captain Nichols, who it seems like worked under her father, General Hugh, and remembers him and Lizzy fondly. Robert is a kindhearted man, but a bit aloof for Lizzy’s liking. Yet, she likes him. When Cromwell forfeits Lizzy’s lands, Robert helps her to find a living space in London for her and her servants. Lizzy starts living on the verge of poverty; on a day to day living without her lands and money. Robert also wants to marry Lizzy but she suspects even though he holds her in affection, it’s nothing more than gratitude and respect for her father. Lizzy won’t marry, ever, if she can help it because one loveless marriage was enough for her. But it was also that one night she spent with William, which gave her a glimpse of depth of William’s passion. Together with her love for him (yes, she’s still in love with him), Lizzy knows she can’t be with anyone else, ever.

As time pass by, we also get to see that Charles is at exile and to keep up his luxury and women, William is working as a highwayman to rob people, specifically who are/were Cromwell’s supporters. One example of William ‘at work’ was enough for me. It seems like jewels and gold aren’t all he’s getting but some ‘willing victims’ would do anything to be ravished by a highwayman. William doesn’t disappoint them. Anything/anyone for a tumble; by now this is the kind of sex addict he has become, with the help of heavy drinking. On this outing, this slutty wife of an old man goes with him willingly and f*cks him. Well, the woman had a nefarious plan at working and sex was only a part of it. But, William was aware so she doesn’t get the ‘ultimate’ prize. Sadly, we get to meet this b*tch again at Charles’s court later, as one of his many mistresses. After this foul incident (trust me, it was), William remembers he’s close to that abbess’s (as he thought of Lizzy) home and goes to have a look. It kinda disgusted me that he just had sex with that woman and already was thinking of Lizzy and maybe having another one night stand with her. It baffles William that after all these women and years between, how could he remember her even now? His conquests are always a thing of the past once he’s done with them. But, when he finds her place abandoned (Lizzy already having moved to London), strangely enough, he feels bereft. William mocks himself later for this odd sentiment. Afterwards, we see another example of William and Charles sharing women (Charles’s whores) just a bit later in the story. This time, it was with this notorious madame of Charles’s harem. She was a real-life character with a French title for her ‘position’, now if only I could remember it... *barf!* She, it seems, is always after William and has had sex with him many times before (as William terms her as a habit). I hated that scene with a passion, made me sick so I kinda skipped it. Disgustingly enough, the slut doesn’t go away that easily since she was very influential being Charles’s head slut and vain and arrogant. She makes a lot of trouble later, which made me wanna kill her with my bare hands.

As Charles takes back his throne, William comes back to court with him and keeps leading his debauched life. I still wasn’t sure how the hell I’m going to feel anything for this man. The only thing I found intriguing was those childhood memories, which William, on occasion, relived and then discarded as a part of his long dead past. He got back his lands, but William never visits. He has no fond memories there. In the meantime, Lizzy is in trouble. She needs money and soon. If she doesn’t do anything about it, her elderly servants will starve. Lizzy is still thwarting Robert’s proposal politely. One day, she plans to meet Charles and state her case. But what Lizzy didn’t count on was seeing William and struck by his nearness once again. I was already anticipating the moment in which they’d finally meet again after such a long time. The scene didn’t disappoint me. Charles’s vicious court wasn’t a place for someone so open and innocent like Lizzy. She learns it the moment she steps in, with all the twittering and snorting around her because of her ‘country bumpkin’ outfit. Lizzy knew there was no way she can get past the chamberlain who was studiously ignoring her pleas and the others, the lechers and sluts alike, were almost upon her to find out her identity. She was like a helpless doe when she calls out to the chamberlain again, this time giving her name. William just came to the court after a night of drunken revelry, finding out the whore he brought in has run with his purse. As he was making his way through, some of his cronies were making bawdy remarks. Then the conversation turned to the ‘newest’ addition to the court and who she might be. A curious William looks at her direction, and recognizes her instantly as his ‘abbess’. When he was enthralled to see her, her identity took his breath away, literally. He couldn’t believe this Lizzy was his Lizzy from childhood! And William makes it his life’s mission to help her out, no matter what.

William is very tall, he could rival Charles with his height and he waves his way through all the courtiers majestically. When Lizzy hears him talking to her from behind, she’s frozen in place. It shocked her that he not only remembers her from that night but also that she’s his childhood friend. Then William makes his proposal, that he’d help her to have a meeting with Charles, for all the havoc he’d unwittingly caused throughout her life. But Lizzy doesn’t trust him so easily knowing his reputation. What if he’s just playing with her like any other jaded and bored courtier? Does he really care? But a meeting with Charles is very important and so, she gives in. They meet Charles immediately afterwards and when some drunken lord makes assumptions about Lizzy, William can’t help showing possessiveness, the same protective instinct that was always there where Lizzy was concerned. In fact, Charles later informs Lizzy that William has often talked of her (as his ‘abbess’), an anomaly for him for sure. It was decided that Lizzy has to wait and stay at court for Charles to pick up her case. William makes the arrangements. The next day, they go for her dress shopping, since she can’t wear anything but the best at court. Lizzy protests but William refuses to hear those and pays for the dresses. Lizzy doesn’t like that seeing the French modiste shamelessly flirting with William but she says nothing. Later on, when William sees her in all her finery, he’s speechless by the beauty of her authenticity. But he doesn’t go to the palace with her as originally planned but visits this brothel he frequents to take off the edge that Lizzy was creating on him. Seriously? I was kinda numb at this point by his activities. It also bugged me that even though Lizzy understood about his certain ‘engagement’, she wasn’t that jealous. Later though, I thought, they just got back together and William can’t change his ways back just like this.

Later on, William teaches her of the ways of the court, with trying to keep her essential innocence alive. He doesn’t want her to get lost in the shallowness and the debauchery that run amuck here. What he can’t help is feeling the old longing surging up within him. Don’t think I have to explain about Lizzy, she never really denied him anything for that matter. And so, after sometimes dancing around, they end up making love. William is instantly besotted, and losing his self-control fast, though he tries to deny it and keep Lizzy at bay. But to William, he was never the man Lizzy dreamed of so there’s no point in her dreaming about him or a relationship beyond the physical. Lizzy wants him to open up to her. They do have some good times together, touring the castle together, having fun. Again, for the first time in his life, William is being faithful to her in his own way. You could see how he craves her attention, and love, even though he would deny it too. Later, I was really upset by William’s litany on being unfaithful, one day when they snuck up to the queen’s bathroom and made love there. It was a blow for me, that how he can’t promise Lizzy faithfulness when she’s not around. Before that he proposes marriage. Lizzy was hurt and refuses him. I wanted her to show him her back and let him decide what he REALLY wants from her. Charles’s head slut was there in William’s room (which is nothing for her as William keeps his doors open for such occasions with various women) when they return and after that litany on being unfaithful... you can imagine how Lizzy felt. The b*tch was all over him in front of Lizzy, fondling him shamelessly and demeaning Lizzy with her venomous tongue. I was really mad at William for being so callous, didn’t matter that he kicked her out. He brought it onto himself! I wanted Lizzy to run away! Then I was equally annoyed when she tried making excuses for him the next day. I mean, after such a ‘show’?? *shakes her head*

Soon Charles summons her but William is not there to accompany her after the strain in their relationship, so Lizzy goes alone. Charles was, of course, interested in a liaison and tries to coax her into it but Lizzy tactfully refuses. After they have a talk, Charles promises to give back her dower houses, but not her father’s estate. There, the head slut barges in and breaks into a tirade. She then realizes Lizzy is there and immediately plans to make more trouble out of sheer jealousy. When Lizzy returns, she decides to talk to William about Charles’s decision and also what happened there... (c’mon Lizzy, why on earth would you wanna talk about that slut?). As she walks into his room, she finds a naked woman, who was equally startled to see her. Don’t think I have to elaborate that she avoids him after that. William comes to her room and proposes again and Lizzy refuses again, not explaining about the naked woman. They got into a heated debate and William ends up telling her about his master. I had some idea as to what might’ve happened but still it shocked me as it did Lizzy. She couldn’t stay away anymore and wanted to talk to William the next night about it. She wanted to ask for forgiveness but only to find him with the head slut, who later offers William a good f*ck to make Charles jealous (yah, right!). He refuses the slut but also, doesn’t explain Lizzy about this, hurting her again. Can you tell I wanted to kick his butt?! I knew the reminder of his past made him do things, but I wanted him to sought peace with Lizzy and not go the other way. William was also jealous of Charles, thinking Lizzy probably gave into Charles’s offer and so on. Oh it was such a mess!! Later his valet Tom explains to both about the naked woman who was his fiancée. She somehow lost her way from his room and ended up in William’s. William knew about the visits so he forgives Tom with a warning.

While Lizzy waited for the deeds, her and William’s relationship strains further. They don’t talk to each-other, but act as polite strangers. I didn’t mention before but there are many poetic verses by William throughout the story, mostly bawdy and written by Wilmot himself. I loved reading some of those. Whenever Charles asked William to recite something in verses, Lizzy knew to whom those were aimed at. She also knew she can’t live here anymore and watch this man destroy himself. She’d tried her best but he had denied her help. This disillusionment was just too much to bear. Lizzy still loves him but she just can’t do this anymore. One night, after a ball, Charles takes Lizzy outside and again tried to coax her, even though he knew it was useless. He gives the deeds to her lands and kisses her goodbye. William has been stalking Lizzy ever since they parted and he was there too, watching. This scene in the garden was the one that stole my heart completely... From his words to Lizzy, I just felt his desperation and knew that he’s been suffering too. No matter how clumsy he was about handling his relationship with Lizzy, he didn’t mean it. He never even knew a relationship like this ever in his life. I felt how lost and lonely he really was and how he craved Lizzy like the air he breathes. Oh it felt good to see a rake such as him fall so hard! Then again, there never was a rival for Lizzy. As I neared the ending, I got the whole picture of his obsession, love or adoration, whatever you call it, with Lizzy. He even preferred women with Lizzy’s coloring!

The ending has a wonderful twist. William surprises Lizzy and later takes her to his estate. Another revelation about their past was waiting and it made me sad. You might ask about Robert now. He was not happy about all these and tried to warn Lizzy about William but for Lizzy, as I already said, there was no turning back. The Captain’s book is up next, which I’m gonna pick up. 4.5 stars for Libertine's Kiss. I loved it with all its pros and cons. Loved William and Lizzy. I’m gonna miss them, really.

Favorite Quotes:
He groaned and leaned his forehead against hers, “You drive me mad, Elizabeth. I dream I am holding you every night. I wake in a sweat, aching and disappointed. Dreams of you have replaced my nightmares, but they leave me empty and restless and my body on fire. I can't even remember why we argued. I don't care how things went wrong.”
He spoke to her, though, if only through his verse. One night in the banqueting hall, just before a  ball, he responded to requests for a verse by raising his glass high. Though he spoke to them all his eyes were on her.
"Tis not that I am weary grown
Of being yours, and yours alone,
But with what face can I incline
To damn you to be only mine? "
She walked out before she heard the rest.
“You missed a fine opportunity there."
Her heart raced as she whirled around. The hoarse voice was William's. He stood behind her, somewhat worse the wear for drink. He was pale in the moonlight, his hair a dark halo, hard eyes glittering with some inner fire.
"What do you want, William?"
"I want you.”
“How long were you standing there?"
"Long enough to know you will be leaving soon. I thought I should speak to you. I didn't think you would come to tell me. Would you have?"
"No. I wouldn't have expected you to care. You followed me?"
"Like a lovesick swain. Wherever you go, there am I. Haven't you noticed these past weeks?"
"I have seen you drinking and mocking with your jaded friends and your latest paramour on your arms. Or is it still Castlemaine? Have you no self-respect?"
"No. None." He shrugged. "Love is war, and feigned disinterest my armor. You wear yours too, love. It is sad I know.”

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I love to read in my spare time and do reviews the books I read. My blog Punya Reviews just turned 6 in 2017 and still going strong. I love music and traveling. Sometimes, I wish I could live inside a book, having my own HEA. :)
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