Title: A Gentleman Never Keeps Score
Author: Cat Sebastian
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Lenght: 384 pages
Genre: Romance, Historical
When I first read It Takes Two to Tumble, the first book in the Seducing the Sedgwicks series, I was immediately intrigued by the character of Hartley Sedgwick. He was prickly, sarcastic, mysterious and seemed to be hiding a large amount of hurt. He was exactly my type when it comes to fictional characters, so I was excitedly waiting for his book. You would think that after all this time, I’d finally learn that usually when I’m intrigued by a self-loathing, sarcastic character, it’s because I see myself in them. So when I got my grubby little gremlin hands on A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, I expected to like the book. I didn’t expect to be dragged on a painfully raw journey of self-reflection.
I’m going to outright say it: this book is my favorite read this year. I started crying maybe 10% in and never really stopped. I cried my way through this book with various intensity ranging from ‘gently weeping’ to ‘broken sobs dragged from my soul while keeling over’. Yes, I do enjoy my suffering, thank you.
Sam Fox, ex-boxer and current public house owner, promises his friend and future sister-in-law Kate, that he will get back a dirty painting she sat model for years ago. When he tries to track down Eastbrook, the lord who had the painting done, instead he gets Hartley Sedgwick, Eastbrook’s godson and the beneficiary of his will. Since Hartley has his own reasons for wanting to find out what happened to Eastbrook’s collection of dirty paintings, he decides to team up with Sam to find them. But what they really end up finding is sense of community, safety, and love.
Hartley is difficult and mean, sarcastic, cuts people off because caring and dealing with others is exhausting and doesn’t know how to handle interpersonal relationships. He feels broken, twisted by the abuse he went through that he’s just coming to terms with. Despite his protests, he’s a deeply caring, lonely man, who doesn’t know how to care about other people, but he wants to, so much. One of my favorite lines, paraphrased, says: “What happened to you isn’t okay, but you will be.”
It’s incredibly validating to see sex repulsed characters represented so tenderly in a romance. While I don’t share his background, seeing our shared particular brand of triggering sex repulsion was so painful, but powerful and beautiful. The way I felt reading the sex scenes, a mix of deep sadness and intense pride, is something I never felt before. I have never seen my own experiences mirrored so closely. Hartley wasn’t forced to ‘overcome’ himself so he could have ‘normal’ sex. He needed the help to reclaim his bodily autonomy, and when he does, it’s absolutely beautiful.
Sam is another lovely person. He is such a genuine, kind, beautiful and caring person. He took his fears and pain and mistreatment and turned it around to carve out a safe space for himself and his community. He would do anything for those he cares about. His absolute respect of Hartley’s boundaries and continuous assurances of his consent should not make me cry, but they did.
The sense of community and found family is absolutely wonderful. Sam’s relationship with his brother Nick and his friend Kate is soft and kind and supportive, the one that makes me think of warm evenings around the hearth. Hartley’s complicated relationship with his brother Will and his adorable friendship with his servants Alf and Sadie was so, so sweet and again, made me cry.
I’ve already said enough times that this book made me cry. But I feel like people expecting the warm, sunshine atmosphere of the first book should be aware how different this book is. It’s painful and raw, but so, so hopeful, important and healing.