PASSION WEARS PEARLS – Renee Bernard
Jaded Gentleman Series, Book 4
London, England – 1860
Miss Eleanor Beckett is rescued by Josiah Hastings from a man intent on purchasing more than the dresses she sews in Madame Claremont's dress shop. Eleanor has been working her fingers to the bone to keep up with the shopkeeper's increasing demands, but she soon realizes that many of the girls in the store earn a side income in less than respectable ways. Whatever she does, Madame Claremont is never happy and ridicules her ‘uppity' airs. Eleanor is shocked that Madame Claremont would sell her out and sic a stranger on her, but in this day and age people will do what is necessary to earn a living. It goes without saying that Eleanor loses her job and the rooms she's let in one fell swoop—but her tides turn when Josiah offers another way to earn an income by sitting for a painting.
Artist-turned-eccentric Josiah Hastings may lead an unconventional life and has all the money he needs, but he does not display his wealth, if one judged him by his appearance. When he saves Eleanor from assault, his colorless world explodes with her bright red hair, vivacious spirit, and polite manner. With his eyesight worsening since his return to England after captivity in India , Josiah is determined to create one great work of art. If he can put paint to canvas, and do it well, it may go a long way in restoring his faith in himself as more than an artistic hobbyist.
Eleanor and Josiah embark on the project despite her worry for her reputation. Josiah does his best to keep things at a respectable distance, but that gap narrows as his fascination with her turns more lascivious. Before long he's engrossed in Eleanor as more than his subject and introduces her to sensuality by doing the one thing he promised he wouldn't—seducing her. The work progresses even as Josiah's attachment grows and he experiences a joy he's never known before. He cannot allow Eleanor to know of his blindness for fear that she'll stay out of duty, but he can't envision a future with her either. It's a deuced problem—but first he must finish the painting.
PASSION WEARS PEARLS is the fourth book in Ms. Bernard's Jaded Gentleman series, and I'll confess that while I have the first three in my TBR pile, I haven't read them. But! I will! Threaded throughout Josiah and Eleanor's story is the mystery of the Jackal, an unknown assailant who's followed Josiah and his friends (all featured in books of their own, apparently) back to England . All of the men in the Jaded's circle returned home with a wealth in jewels, and somewhere in this vast treasure trove is something the Jackal wants, but they have no idea what it is. With this danger lurking in the background, as well as his encroaching blindness, Josiah is determined to protect Eleanor, even if that means sending her away once he's done with the painting. Eleanor has other ideas but fears that playing her hand will scare Josiah off permanently. It's this game of thrust and parry that fascinated me even as the mysterious Jackal became a less than important detail in the story. Maybe it's because I haven't read the first three books that it just didn't seem to make or break the story for me, and for that reason I believe PASSION WEARS PEARLS stands alone fairly well.
I found myself rallying for Josiah and his determination to get through a world devoid of color. Simply stated, he's one of the best heroes I've read in a long time. I also appreciated the author's way of laying the back story of the Jaded Gentlemen , which include Dr. Rowan West, Galen Hawk, and Ashe Blackwell, as well as Michael Rutherford and Darius Thorne. Apparently Darius's book comes out later this year. There are various other characters in PASSION WEARS PEARLS that stand out, not least of which is husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Escher, Josiah's ‘servants', if you will, though he considers them more as family. And I'd be remiss in not mentioning Mrs. Clay, Eleanor's new landlady recommended by Josiah and her deaf son, Tally.
One other thing I appreciated about this novel was its setting in Victorian England, which is a grimmer era than my favorite Regency. Ms. Bernard displays an insightful knack of portraying London in those days as I've always envisioned it, a bit darker, a lot grayer, with people turning to more drastic measures to earn their keep and homes.
PASSION WEARS PEARLS is, not to sound cliché, a rich, colorful tale of new beginnings and overcoming fear, and it's one I certainly recommend.