Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Disowned, disgraced, and with nowhere to turn, Tom Drake is willing to barter anything — even himself — for a reprieve from starvation and despair. Years spent lying to protect his secrets have left him longing for someone to value him, even if it’s only for his body and the blessing of his patron goddess.
Mal Leighton’s cousin and heir is dying. Only a miracle can save him — and if a miracle doesn’t appear, Mal’s damn well going to create one. Marrying Tom for his blessing is his last desperate hope to preserve his family. And if Tom happens to be as irresistibly seductive as he is untrustworthy? Well, Mal can focus on more than one goal at a time.
Tom doesn’t fall in love, and Mal knows better than to believe he’s the exception. But when Tom’s blessing doesn’t provide the quick cure they’d hoped, it’s clear that the goddess expects them to have a marriage in more than name. To save Mal’s family and find their own happiness, they will both need to sacrifice their pride and risk their hearts.
This is the second book of the Goddess Blessed series, which is Regency with Goddess flair in a time where all marriage is the same – whether same or opposite sex – except for the goddess blessed, who bring all good luck to those they love. In the first book, The Replacement Husband, Tom is a loathsome, awful person and I came into this book fully prepared to keep hating him because how could you not?
The book begins by showing where his behavior has taken Tom – he’s been thrown out of the family, disowned, broke and friendless. His secret, that he has been Goddess marked, is one even his brother doesn’t know because their father abused Tom for it. So much was explained about his atrocious behavior in the first book here and it definitely made Tom more understandable.
Mal runs into Tom accidentally at a gaming club and Tom is desperate enough to offer himself out for money. Except Mal sees the Goddess mark and has this surge of hope that his beloved cousin, who is more a brother than anything, can be saved by Tom and his Goddess blessing. He needs Tom. Mal is the reason I didn’t rate this 5 stars because he repeatedly is so mean to Tom that he fell from my favor more than a few times.
Mirreith, the goddess who’s mark Tom bears, grants good fortune to her chosen but at a price. They are required to yield “…to another in body and soul.” Since his father had tortured him with this fact as being disgusting, (and my heart broke for an eight-year-old Tom crying over the dictionary as he looked up the word his father called him, catamite), he has tried everything to not do so, to disastrous results (book one). “If men or women with her blessing tried to marry one another, or anyone of either sex couldn’t subjugate their strength properly, their luck turned to a curse.” He tried with both Owen and Caroline, to the pain of all of them.
Mal starts off right away being insulting. “Leighton has just relegated him to a status lower than that of a servant by presenting him to Preston, rather than the other way around. It was a calculated insult. It was designed to put Tom in his place.” I was very gratified to see that however low Tom might have fallen, he does still have some sense of self. “Tom held his ground. He had nowhere to go, and nothing to lose, and if Leighton strangled him here in the street it would matter to no one, least of all to him.
William, the cousin Mal is so desperate to save, is so very ill and yet is still gracious and sweet. He is so happy for Mal and Tom when he finds out they are married, although Mal doesn’t tell him why they married. And Mal continues to hurt Tom. Calling him a whore, putting him down and generally acting just like Tom’s father did. “I’ll need to be convincing indeed when not even your own wife could keep up the pretense of loving you long enough to bear your child.” For the life of me I kept wondering why this lovely man, William, was so close with someone who could be so mean.
Tom has so much respect for Mal’s love for William. “No one in his own family would sit this kind of vigil for him, were he in William’s place. His own father had told him early and often how he wished Tom had died at birth…” Tom grows close to William as well, reading to him on the sick bed, talking and willing to do anything to make William well.
The good fortune that comes to those Tom loves doesn’t happen because they are faking the marriage. So they have to move forward and try to make a marriage out of it. Mal has the most distance to cross, as he is the most hurtful. “…(Mal) could wonder why Tom offered such a generous ration of kindness to Will when he could spare not a whit of it for Mal. But he knew damn well why. It was Mal’s own doing. He’d never given Tom the chance to be anything but the callous rake the world believed him to be, sneering at and berating him, seducing and mocking him….He had no one to blame but himself.” Because he is good at knowing himself, Mal redeemed himself somewhat for me. “The knowledge that he himself had destroyed his own changes of any kind of happiness through his own cruelty brought him anything but satisfaction now.”
That it takes an act of honor on Tom’s part to turn things around seemed very fitting to me. By the end, honestly, I was astonished that this author was able to take a character I so loathed in the first book and make me love him and care what happened to him in the second. To me, that is the sign of talent.
Cover art, showing a shirtless Mal? Tom? is a little too generic for me and didn’t do justice to the story.
Sales Links: Amazon
Expected publication: June 7th 2019 by Smoking Teacup Books
Series Goddess-Blessed #2