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Monday, December 12, 2016

Tour! A Review of Surrender to Sin by Nicola Davidson





Surrender to Sin (Fallen #1) by Nicola Davidson
Genre: Adult Fiction (Historical Fiction/Romance/Erotic)
Date Published: December 12, 2016
Publisher: Entangled Publishing LLC

To save her, he must ruin her. 

Lord Sebastian St. John, dedicated bachelor and a co-owner of Fallen, the most scandalous pleasure club in London, is known as Sin for good reason. Orphaned by a shocking accident, Sin long ago vowed a life of solitude anddecadence. Yet when Lady Grace Carrington begs for his help destroying her reputation, Sin can't turn the ton's most proper lady away.

Obedient daughter, wife, and young widow, Grace has had enough of being controlled. After her father arranges a second loveless marriage to an eminently respectable ancient, Grace plans a fortnight of defiance and self-ruination to stop the wedding. But as Grace enters the heady, risky world of an affair with Sin, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to him— and she soon realizes two weeks won't be nearly enough.

Surrender to Sin is the first book in the Fallen series by Nicola Davidson. Wow! That was a fast read in every way. EVERY way. I know it's a short story, so things have to happen fast, but there was so much that happens, and you can take fast to mean any number of things in this case, both salacious and not. In reality, I'm not sure things would have happened quite as quick as they did, because that just didn't seem to match Grace's personality, but hey.. sometimes girls go wild. She certainly did. She did contradict herself at times about her past "experience" too though. So, what's really her history? Hmm.

Some of the slang and terminology didn't match this time period, and call me weird, but that distracts me sometimes, especially when used repetitiously. The story itself was entertaining. I can't think of a better way to try to force a man to end a betrothal in this time period than to thoroughly ruin yourself. It made for a fun and humorous story, with a little suspense thrown in to keep things a more interesting. I'd be curious to read the next book.

The ARC of Surrender to Sin by Nicola Davidson was kindly provided to me by the publisher for review. The opinions are my own.


Chapter One
Gloucester, England, May 1814
“Ah, there you are, Grace. Lord Baxter and I have been waiting.”
Lady Grace Carrington somehow kept her smile in place as she curtsied. Anyone would think she had been lazing on a chaise eating sweets, not distributing food baskets to the poor within her father’s parish. This was typical from Bishop Lord Harold Lloyd-Gates, though. Even twenty-three years after her birth, he’d never forgiven her for being a daughter rather than the longed-for son.
“I apologize, Father,” she replied politely, starting to perspire. Though it was spring, he always kept his library at furnace temperature. “And to you, Lord Baxter. I wasn’t aware you were paying a call today, my goodness, I haven’t seen you since Carrington’s funeral. How are you keeping?”
Lord Baxter smiled but there was no kindness or joy in it. Was the man even capable of such emotions? Forty years her senior, the same age as her father and her late husband the Earl Carrington, yet so much colder. Infinitely stuffier. And the way his deadened, pale blue eyes stared on the few occasions they’d spoken made her skin crawl. “Well enough, Lady Carrington. I merely came here to inspect you and sign the contracts. Pleasingly, all is ready for June first.”
All the air whooshed from her lungs. Inspect? Contracts? “Excuse me?”
“One always makes a last inspection before purchase, even knowing the beauty and bloodlines. Despite your failure to give Carrington an heir, your family physician assures me there is no impediment. I must say, though, gowns revealing bare arms and collarbone like the one you wear are neither appropriate nor good for your health, and will be burned and replaced in London. Lady Baxter will not dress like a strumpet.”
Horror enveloped Grace, dark and suffocating, and her fists clenched in the folds of her lavender day dress. No. Surely her father couldn’t be so cruel again. She’d paid her blasted filial dues: five interminable, loveless and passionless years as Countess Carrington, until the earl blessedly made her a widow. His delighted nephew hadn’t even needed to chase her out the estate door once the inheritance legalities were settled. And on returning home, her father and stepmother had sworn she could either embrace widowhood or remarry as she pleased.
Oh, the wicked daydreams she’d had of finding a gentleman like the one who’d fueled a thousand secret fantasies. She’d only seen him once, six years ago in Hyde Park, but the memory had been seared forever in her mind. Young. All-conquering. Broad shoulders, muscled thighs, dark-haired and gloriously handsome, with a wicked grin that spoke of unimaginable pleasures.
She’d wager a man like that wouldn’t follow a twice-weekly routine: A quarter hour, fully clothed in a darkened, silent bedchamber, hurting his lover’s unready body because female pleasure was irrelevant and in fact, immoral. No, he would kiss and touch and stroke. Prepare his woman so thoroughly she’d beg him to take her, and he would, whenever and wherever she wanted. Rough or gentle, fast or slow, not content until she came apart in his arms several times.
Indeed, as her forced year of mourning came to a close, the chance of sexual freedom had beckoned seductively as a siren. And now it was being torn away from her.
“No, Father!” Grace burst out, too shocked, too furious to temper her voice to the quiet, decorous level he required in conversation. “You promised. You said I could remain a widow or choose my own husband!”
“What an unseemly display from your daughter, my lord bishop,” said Lord Baxter, his lips thinning further in distaste. “Surely she understands the enormous honor of my name, address, wealth, and position.”
“Yes, my lord!” her father said, gripping her arm and dragging her toward the door. “Of course she does. Grace is merely overwhelmed with delight. Perhaps you might excuse us for a moment?”
Lord Baxter nodded approvingly. “By all means. In situations such as these, correction is most appropriate. I commend your values.”
Alone in the narrow hallway, Grace wrenched from her father’s hand. “No. Not ever. He’s far worse than Carrington. Besides, I’m well past my majority, and have a widow’s jointure. You cannot force this.”
“On the contrary,” he hissed, anger reddening his face. “The new earl sent word yesterday. He visited the property set aside for your income, and it’s in a terrible state of neglect. Crumbling manor, unploughed and badly watered fields…it will take years to put right. No one was expecting the old earl to pass when he did.”
“But I still have money, don’t I? What about the inheritance from Mama?”
“You cannot touch that until you are twenty-five. And I cannot keep you until then, you know very well I have next to nothing of my own. Everything belongs to Waverly, and your uncle near-strangles me with his purse strings.”
Despair and fury threatened to choke her at the bald-faced lie. No clergyman in the world lived as well as her father did. His older brother, the Duke of Waverly, had always been fair and obliging.
“Perhaps if I spoke with His Grace—”
“I already have,” her father cut in smoothly. “Waverly agrees with me. Baxter is an excellent choice. You often lament your lack of children; his lordship is still healthy and would no doubt give you several.”
Her stomach roiled. Yes, she’d always wanted babies to lavish affection on. Yet to become pregnant, to have another soft-bellied, sour-breathed ancient regularly lift her nightgown and dispassionately force himself inside her until he climaxed, could not be tolerated. “But…”
“There is no ‘but,’ Grace. You will marry Lord Baxter on June first, which will allow your mourning period to come to an end, and a new, more fitting wardrobe to be created. My word, I cannot believe what a disobedient, disloyal daughter you’ve become. If your mother could see you now, she’d be so sad. So ashamed.”
Reeling at the words, Grace staggered backward. “Mama loved me.”
“Foolishly,” he conceded with a shrug. “But that is the past. The future is us dining with Baxter at six o’clock sharp to celebrate.”
Unable to be around him a moment longer, Grace fled the manse for the orchard, her favorite spot for privacy. Underneath a tree groaning with the weight of shiny red apples, she picked up several and hurled them at the massive trunk, unable to hit the blasted thing because her vision was too blurred by hot tears.
She’d been so close. Mere weeks away from re-entering society as a widow and enjoying the associated freedoms like embarking on a discreet but lusty affair. Her dream man would be long-married, but London was the largest of cities. She could have discovered the joys of a young, handsome, and caring lover, a man chosen by her and her alone. Now, yet again, her father had sold her to an ancient who wanted a mute, pretty doll to trot out at balls, soirees, and political dinners, while isolating her in the country for the rest of the year.
“Lady C! What happened? Why are you crying?”
Grace looked over to see the plump form of Nell, her beloved maid-companion, hurrying toward her. Carrington had permitted her employment because she was the spinster sister of a well-bred baronet, and luckily Nell always remembered to mind her naughty tongue around him.
“The worst possible news, Nell.”
The silver-haired woman shot her an alarmed look as she collapsed in a heap of starched, gray-striped cambric. “No. He wouldn’t dare.”
“I’m to marry Lord Baxter on June first.”
“Argh,” spat Nell. “A raging pox on both their hides. What are you going to do?”
“Do? I have very little money. No home of my own. I don’t have a choice in this.”
“Unless old Baxter cried off for some reason.”
“I very much doubt he would.”
“He might. If you forced his hand.”
Grace stilled, a tiny sliver of hope straightening her shoulders. “His lordship is far stuffier than Carrington ever was. What if…what if I were involved in some sort of scandal?”
“Oooh, yes. Wouldn’t take much for his uppity head to explode.”
“Baxter is a prude, and believes he is a catch beyond all,” said Grace slowly, mentally sifting and discarding ideas. “I think…I think my scandal must be with a man. No, not just a man, an utterly wicked, utterly charming rake with a head for intrigue.”
“You need Sin,” said Nell sagely.
Laughter bubbled up inside her. “Sin in general or one sin in particular?”
“Oh my poor pet,” continued Nell, her eyes gleaming. “You’ve been buried in the country far too long. The thoroughly scrumptious Lord Sebastian St. John; everyone knows him as Sin. His late mama was a retired courtesan. He keeps not one mistress but an entire harem, and has been at the heart of several jaw-dropping scandals. Yet he’s most notorious for part-owning Fallen.”
“Fallen?” she repeated in confusion. “Is that a racehorse?”
Nell giggled like a debutante. “Good heavens no, although the amount of riding that probably gets done there… Fallen is a private pleasure club that opened about four years ago, caters to everything sexual, and is so exclusive that only the richest, highest ranking people in England can apply for membership. All the stuffed shirts like my brother are forever crusading to get it shut down and the three owners banished, but another rumor has the Prince of Wales himself as a patron, so it stays.”
“Well,” said Grace, her heart lifting by the moment. “This Sin sounds like just the man I need. And I’ve got an excuse to go to London, since Lord Baxter strongly disapproves of my current strumpet wardrobe.”
Nell snorted. “Good grief. The mourning sacks you wear are practically nun’s habits. But new gown fittings take forever to do properly. Measurements, fashion plates, trims and fabrics…a fortnight at least.”
Their eyes met in perfect understanding. Two whole weeks to hopefully secure Sin’s assistance, then create enough of a scandal that Lord Baxter would run screaming in the other direction. If she could just get rid of him, surely there was some way to petition the courts for earlier access to her mother’s money.
But one thing was certain. Under no circumstances would she be a forced bride again.

London
No one ever wanted to leave Fallen.
Leaning against a cream silk-covered wall, Lord Sebastian St. John, fifth Baron St. John but known to all as Sin, smiled and nodded at the masked procession of England’s elite trudging reluctantly out the club’s oak double doors. Dawn always heralded the end of a night’s revelry, the cool, bleak light a harsh reminder that the club was only a temporary respite, but at least their members didn’t have far to go. Fallen was an enormous three-story, red brick townhouse located in fashionable Portman Square, neighbor to several dukes, and a short carriage ride from Hyde Park, Carlton House, Whitehall, and Westminster.
And they would be back, these leading aristocrats of the ton, for nowhere else in London could their specific sexual needs be met so well—and so lavishly. A quick fuck in a darkened corner with a bored lover for hire wouldn’t do. These men and women wanted the very best money could buy—a decadent sanctuary of champagne, brandy, French chef-prepared delicacies, attentive servants, palatial surroundings, no judgement, and above all, absolute discretion. If a lady wished to be plundered by two men simultaneously, she could. If a gentleman desired to be bound and whipped by his “governess,” he was welcome. If married couples decided to swap spouses for the evening, or simply watch others act out a pirate ship or harem orgy fantasy, Fallen was the place.
No request was too much trouble, and for that, membership was strictly monitored, obscenely expensive, and bound by an ironclad contract.
“I say, Sin, jolly good show tonight. Something about a woman between another woman’s thighs that stirs the juices, what? Wonder if Maria could be persuaded. I’d dearly love to watch another lady pleasure her while she took me in her mouth.”
Sin bowed, somehow managing not to strangle the Prince Regent who had yet again broken one of Fallen’s cardinal rules and taken off his club-issued black and white satin demi mask before leaving. Anonymity was critical here; not only did it allow the freedom to fully indulge, but it halted the threat of blackmail. Each mask was individually tailored and numbered; only Sin, and his co-owners Devil and Vice, knew the society leader behind it.
“Should Your Royal Highness and Mrs. Fitzherbert wish it, most anything can be arranged.”
The Prince Regent beamed like a toddler given a favorite sweet. Amazing how much their future monarch resembled one, too, with his elaborately embroidered clothing, rumpled hair, and florid, fleshy jowls. “Lovely. How marvelous this club is. No lowborn riff-raff. Can’t stand them, or the virtue brigade always hounding me. Spending! Women! Drinking! Bah. They will be sorry for scolding me when I hold a different rank. Mark my words, they will.”
Ignoring the petulant tone, Sin smiled easily. “Quite. I shall look forward to your company again soon, sir.”
“Right you are. Give my best to Devil, naughty man, staying in his office to count guineas when he could be drinking with me. Even Vice took time from his busy evening to have a brandy.”
“Poor form. I shall take him to task at once.”
Prinny trotted happily away, and Sin rolled his eyes as he strolled to the suite of offices on the second floor. It was ridiculous to feel so damned irritable and restless when life was practically perfect.
He part-owned the most exclusive pleasure club in England. Held more wealth than could be spent in ten lifetimes. Enjoyed robust good health, the friendship of the highest ranking men in the land, and an incomparable selection of stunningly beautiful, exquisitely hedonistic women who eagerly shared his bed.
Suppressing his temper, Sin unlocked the office door and kicked it shut behind him.
“Prinny has you in his sights again, Devil. Would it kill you to have a drink with the man once in a while, just to shut him up?”
Lord Grayson Deveraux sat back in his chair and ran impatient, ink-covered fingertips through his short-cropped black hair. “Yes. The punishment for poisoning a prince is death, and I wouldn’t be able to help myself once he started whining about debts and the sheer unfairness of his life. Honestly don’t know why we allow him membership. He’s three payments behind now.”
“Because he’s the future King of England,” said an amused, lilting voice. Sin glanced over his shoulder to where Iain, Viscount Vissen, nicknamed Vice, was loosening his cravat. How the red-haired Scot remained immaculate when he spent his evenings managing every aspect of the club’s activities—and often joining in—was a minor miracle.
“Wouldn’t have thought that carried much weight with you,” replied Devil.
Vice shrugged. “The secret to success is keeping friends close and enemies closer. Besides, if you want to talk missing income, ask Sin here why we have another three new parlor maids taking elocution lessons to remove their East End twang. He won’t stop until he’s rescued every unhappy lightskirt in London, you know. Either that or he’s murdered in his bed by a disgruntled abbess.”
Pouring two fingers of premium brandy, Sin then raised his glass in a salute. “Dancing with such danger adds a little excitement to my day. Besides, they are hard workers, very loyal.”
“And somewhat remind you of your mother,” said Devil quietly, stacking leather-bound ledgers into a neat pile. “Another year rolls around soon, does it not?”
“Possibly. I hadn’t thought about it,” he lied, taking a fortifying sip of the smooth brandy. As if the day his father, the fourth baron, and his mother, a high-end courtesan turned baroness, perished in a terrible carriage accident wasn’t permanently etched into his mind. “But enough chitchat, let’s get this meeting underway so we can all get some sleep.”
A soft knock sounded, and a livery-clad footman poked his head around the door. “Beg pardon, my lords, but there is a woman who wishes to speak to Sin.”
Vice laughed. “Rather early for a morning call. Our Sin’s legend is growing. I’ll take wagers: three to one he’s about to be sweet-talked into rescuing maid number thirty-two. Five to one he’s pitchforked by that disgruntled abbess.”
The footman vigorously shook his head. “Oh no, my lord. She ain’t either of those. She’s a countess. The Countess Carrington, her fancy little card said.”
Every hair lifted from the back of Sin’s neck. The title was familiar, but he couldn’t picture the lady’s face, and that was a warning in itself. “Tell me about her.”
“Beautiful blonde. Young, the old earl’s treat to himself. I know she’s been stuck in the country for years, only came to town when he permitted it and only allowed out for select occasions. Her uncle is an acquaintance of yours, though: the Duke of Waverly.”
“Ah,” he said, frowning as the connections fell into place. What the hell was Grace Lloyd-Gates, bishop’s daughter, dutiful wife, and excruciatingly virtuous widow doing at Fallen? Women like her usually refused to come within thirty feet of the building, unless of course they were waving placards. Perhaps she was here on a dare? Surely she couldn’t be seeking membership.
Could she?

Unable to sit still for a minute, Grace circled the elegantly furnished parlor. On another occasion, another address, she might have curled up on the overstuffed chaise and gazed for hours at the exquisite paintings on the walls, or perhaps ran her fingers over the keys of the polished pianoforte.
Not today.
Today, her stomach was in knots, perspiration misted her skin, and only through some sort of miracle had her feet obeyed the command to walk up to Fallen’s front door. It was one thing to ponder solutions, but being here at the entirely unfashionable hour of ten o’clock in the morning to begin the boldest, riskiest, most ill-thought out plan of her life, was something else entirely.
“Lady Carrington. My sincere apologies for keeping you waiting.”
The rich, deep voice nearly made her jump a foot in the air, but straightening her shoulders, Grace turned in a swirl of lavender-striped skirts.
And nearly swooned.
It was him. The lord they called Sin was the same man she’d fantasized over since that long ago day in Hyde Park, and if anything, he was even more divine up close. Short-cropped chocolate brown hair, exotic amber eyes, strong, square jaw, perhaps a touch under six feet in height, but so broad in the shoulders he appeared much bigger. Under that shirt, trousers, and crisp cravat she would wager he was sculpted muscle all over.
“Good morning, Lord St. John,” she replied quickly, trying to gather her scattered thoughts while ignoring her hardening nipples and an unfamiliar throbbing between her legs. “Thank you for seeing me at this hour and on such short notice. I know it is most, ah, irregular.”
One eyebrow arched, but there was an unexpected kindness in his crooked grin. “I must admit, my lady, you are not someone I ever thought to welcome through Fallen’s doors. Is there something I can assist you with?”
“Yes,” she blurted, but the rest of her carefully rehearsed speech dried up, and she wanted to scream in frustration. This devastating man would hardly be inclined to assist a stranger behaving like a gormless twit.
“And that is?” he prompted.
Feeling a blush storm across her cheeks, Grace swallowed hard. “Forgive my hesitancy. It is a most delicate matter.”
“Are you in trouble? Is your late husband’s family causing you grief?”
“No. Nothing like that. It’s my father. He…he has contracted me a second marriage to a most unsuitable man and I simply cannot do it.”
The baron tilted his head, his expression curious. “Did you come here seeking an alternative husband, Countess? Because I have no desire whatsoever to marry, despite your obvious charms.”
“No! Ah, no, my lord…” Grace broke off, and took a long, deep breath. Courage, girl. “What I would like, is for you to partially ruin me.”
“Partially ruin you?” he said, amusement returning as he settled onto the nearby chaise, one booted foot resting casually across the other. “My dear lady, while you are absolutely in the right city and the right club for ruination, I’m not sure I understand the partially part.”
“Oh dear, that did sound odd, didn’t it? What I meant was, creating a mild scandal with, no offense intended, the most notorious rake in London, believable enough for my new fiancé to be so horrified he cries off and leaves me in peace.”
“Countess—”
“Please, do call me Grace,” she said, daring to take a few steps closer.
“Very well, Grace. You realize this plan has numerous glaring flaws? If this fellow is a man with any sort of sense, he wouldn’t give you up for anything. Not even a, er, mild scandal with…come on, I’m only about fourth or fifth on London’s notorious rake list…hmmm, perhaps third. But you’re a widow, with a widow’s experience and needs, not a silly chit fresh out of the schoolroom.”
“The gentleman in question is Lord Baxter.”
Lord St. John’s lips tightened, and just for a moment something dark and dangerous swirled in his amber eyes. “Baxter?”
“You know him?”
“Indeed. A creature of the most stringent taste and morals, dedicated to cleansing society. That we could all be as purebred and without taint as him.”
For the first time in days, true hope flared. “The wedding date is set for June first. I was permitted to come to town with just my maid-companion to have a new wardrobe measured. She is completely loyal and will make excuses for me if needed. And…and I can pay you! Here, take this, it is all I saved from my allowance,” she said, striding forward to drop a drawstring purse into his lap.
“Grace,” he said with a sigh, tossing the purse back to her. “Keep your pin money. If your mild scandal idea does work, we’ll discuss terms once your situation is settled. Besides, I have a weakness for beautiful damsels in distress, and ladies forced into situations they have no desire to be in angers me. Especially when said situation involves men with…a highly inflated sense of entitlement.”
She choked on a relieved sob. “Oh th-thank you. Thank you, thank y—”
“All right, pet, enough. Now, come and sit down and tell me exactly what you consider a mild scandal for partial ruination to include.”
Lord St. John’s tone was idle, yet those fascinating eyes were fixed on her with an unsettling directness, the kind of focus that implied he learned a person’s strengths and weaknesses, truth and falsehood, in a heartbeat. If she answered with anything less than absolute honesty, he would know, and probably change his mind.
Grace sank onto the chaise next to him and stared at her clasped hands. “I’m not sure. But I know it must be public. Perhaps kissing and touching at a ball or in a carriage?”
His lips twitched. “Kissing and touching. I see.”
“Is that so unexceptional here?” she said hotly, hating her own naïveté. “Do people walk around Mayfair wearing nothing but rouge and a smile nowadays? Are there lewd displays atop horseback on Rotten Row?”
“Restricted to Thursdays,” St. John said, nodding gravely. “And not so popular a pastime in the winter months. Embarrassing for certain gentlemen, you understand.”
“But never for you,” she replied, then clapped her hand over her mouth. Where on earth had that comment come from?
He burst out laughing, a delightfully warm and hearty sound that spoke of humor regularly indulged. “Thank you, but saddle chafing and windburn are rather off-putting. I must admit to a definite preference for indoor fucking. Beds, desks, window seats, walls, chaises…”
Like this one? Grace’s cheeks heated to boiling point. “I’ve only known the marriage bed. And that taught me relations between a man and woman meant enduring pain in darkness twice a week. But I’m sure there is so much more. There must be. My maid tells me women flock to you quite willing to risk all, so I imagine you offer a far different experience.”
“Christ, Grace,” he said, all humor vanishing as he took an audible breath. “Look at me.”
“I can’t.”
“I said look at me.”
Slowly, reluctantly, she lifted her head. His gaze was sympathetic, but barely leashed heat burned as well, making her gown feel far too tight. Seconds later, a rough, slightly callused fingertip dragged a tingling path of fire across her lower lip, then darted down to caress her collarbone and the lace-edged bodice of her gown.
Grace’s nipples hardened further and she shivered. It should be embarrassing, how fast a brief, expert caress from a near-stranger aroused her, but all she could think of was offering anything he wanted to continue, mild scandal be damned. “My lord, please, I—”
“Lovers should be on a first name basis, even temporary, fake ones. Call me Sin.”
“I am very grateful for your assistance.”
He shrugged. “Well, it is a most intriguing challenge, devising a deliberate yet mild scandal for partial ruination. But in the interests of science and justice, I shall ponder some options. Regrettably I have a series of meetings today, but be here tomorrow morning at eleven, and do not be late. Tardiness results in penalties.”
Grace nodded quickly, desire and relief and uncertainty coiling tightly within her.
The betrothal-ending mission had begun.


author
NICOLA DAVIDSON worked for many years in communications and marketing as well as television and print journalism, but hasn’t looked back since she decided writing wicked historical romance was infinitely more fun. When not chained to a computer she can be found ambling along one of New Zealand’s beautiful beaches, cheering on the champion All Blacks rugby team, history geeking on the internet or daydreaming. If this includes chocolate – even better!

To learn more about Nicola Davidson and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

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