My rating: 4 of 5 stars
So, this wasn't really my favorite book of the series.....but I still enjoyed it enough. The 3.5 stars (I rounded up) are because I didn't really start to care about the characters until about halfway through the book.
The story focuses on Anthony Sokorvsky and Marguerite Lockwood. Anthony, half brother of Valentin (from book 1) and Marguerite, bastard daughter of Madame Helene (owner of the House of Pleasure).
So....Anthony. Poor thing. We see him at the beginning of the book, waking up on the 3rd (and most extreme) floor of the House of Pleasure. He is passed out/asleep - still in the punishment corner, covered in blood and several other body fluids that I won't name. His particular brand of sexual excitement involves beatings and humiliation - mostly at the hands of Lord Minshom, a sadistic asshole who is more than happy to beat the hell out of men for his own sick sexual pleasure.
Well, for whatever reason, when Anthony wakes up this time, he realizes that he has got to change. He is essentially killing himself - and he finally realizes it.
Sometime later, Madame Helene's son, Christian, invites Anthony to meet him and his twin sister for tea. At their meeting, Christian invites Anthony to escort his older sister, Marguerite around town. Marguerite, a young widow for two years, has rarely left the house.....and her family is desperate to get her out of mourning and bring some joy back into her life. Why they decide that Anthony is the person for the job....I'm not quite sure. Maybe they see who he is underneath it all.....and they want to help him out of his rut too.
Both Anthony and Marguerite are extremely damaged people - and even though they start out as just friends, they soon realize that they have stronger feelings for each other, feelings that they both try really hard to deny. Anthony is still troubled by the rape he experienced at 19 as well as his sexual need to be punished and dominated. Marguerite is still dealing with the loss of her husband as well as some secrets that she's keeping about her brief marriage.
MOST of the sex in this book was hot enough. While some of it (punishment, humiliation, master/slave, physical abuse) is not something I understand or enjoy.....I can see how that is something that Anthony would turn to as a result of his rape and his trying to come to terms with who he is sexually, versus what he is being told he his. I get all of that. And really - I can't pinpoint exactly what didn't work for me in this book except that I didn't feel much of an emotional attachment to the characters until the book was half over. Eventually, I wanted to see them reach their HEA.....but mostly, I was just meh.
Truthfully, I spent most of my time with this book hating Lord Minshom and wanting him to die a thousand horrible deaths at every possible turn.