Author: Ava March
Buy Link: All In with the Duke (Gambling on Love)
Genre: Historical M/M Romance
Rating: 4.5 stars
A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: A beautiful love story that carries us from country estates to London brothels and back again.
Blurb: London, 1822
Max Arrington, the Duke of Pelham, vows to never again let a handsome face blind him to a man’s true intentions. But ten months of celibacy and lonely nights drive him to a decadent brothel, where a beautiful young man arouses his illicit passions as never before.
Tristan Walsh has grown tired of being used for men’s pleasure. But his latest client is different: commanding yet generous, Max makes him feel cared for as well as wanted. Yet Tristan knows he’ll never have the choice to leave the brothel and submit only to Max.
So when Max invites him to be his guest at his country estate, Tristan eagerly agrees to his terms–days to do as he pleases while Max tends to the dukedom, and nights spent together in wicked play. But when the “business arrangement” begins to deepen into something more, Tristan must face the fact that he has no true place in Max’s life–or in Max’s guarded heart…
Review: Max is a mere twenty three years of age and yet carries the weight and weariness of a much older gentleman, Weighted down by years of guilt over the untimely death of his father and their preceding argument, Max is unable and unwilling to forgive himself. His last words, being a profession of hatred for his father and all that he stood for, echo relentlessly in Max’s memory and drive his near frantic obsession to make his Duchy the finest around. Working countless hours a day, Max has forgone any pursuits of pleasure including close friendships in trying to escape the demons that haunt him.
As the story All In With the Duke opens, we are witness to Max threatening grievous harm to his former lover who has attempted to blackmail Max as a means of striking back at him for tossing their love aside a year before. Now, distracted and angry, Max heeds his only friends’ advice and visits Rubicon, a discreet whore house that caters to all proclivities, even those of men seeking men. Before he can talk himself out of it, Max finds himself facing a beautiful young man, Tristan Walsh who shares a scant three hours with him but leaves an indelible mark behind on Max’s wounded heart.
Tristan, a poor farmer’s son, who has the uncanny ability to move in even the most elite circles, finds himself being swept up in the wave that is Max Arrington. Before he realizes it, Tristan is transported to Max’s country estate and has entered into a financial arrangement that will ensure he remains in the Duke’s bed for as long as both agree to the deal.
However, what neither man counted on was the idea that love could spring out of a business deal. Now Max must decide if he is willing to lay aside his fears and the shackles that hold him bound to his past and let Tristan into his heart. However, even though Tristan has already taken the leap and fallen in love with the Duke, he is painfully aware that they can never remain as lovers given their unequal social footing. Now two lovers stand at a crossroad with what seems like an unbreachable gulf between them and their future happiness.
I must admit I have read nearly every piece written by author Ava March. Never having been much of a fan for historical novels, Ms March and her work is like a secret treasure trove of sexy and passionate stories that I simply love to read and reread at will. All In With the Duke will now be happily added to that list.
Author Ava March writes jaded characters so very well and Max Arrington is a prime example of her expertise. For such a young man, he is weary of life and yet clings stubbornly to his sense of duty as if hanging onto the last lifeline that has been given to him. The betrayal of his former lover, someone whom he trusted implicitly has left him not only wary of opening his heart again but prone to seeing only the worst in potential lovers.
Yet beneath the gruff and bitter exterior of this noble Duke lies the wounded and tortured soul of a seventeen year old boy who in a rash moment told his father he hated him, only to see his father pass away before any apology could be extended. The tender sadness that surrounds a particular scene in the novel in which Max goes to his father’s grave site was simply stunning. The pain pouring off Max in that moment was palpable and searing. This is why novels by Ava March are so beautiful. Her ability to write those fleeting moments that reveal so much about her characters and impart with laser like clarity the depth of their pain is fine writing at its best.
Then Ms. March does one better and gives Max a new love interest. This new lover hails from a lesser station in life, and brings with him considerable baggage in the form of his own worries over being tossed aside should Max tire of him. But where Max is driven, Tristan is adrift, uncertain about what he really wants to do with his life and knowing only that with each passing moment, Max figures more and more prominently in whatever decisions he will make. I loved the fact that Tristan was pragmatic and sensible in so many ways. His ability to read Max and know when to confront him and when to keep his distance made his character smart and kept him from being just a simpering sidekick to the powerful Duke. Tristan was compelling to read and the development of his character added to the moments of passionate sex which were sprinkled liberally throughout the novel, never weighing it down or causing the story to falter but rather moving the plot along and adding to the enjoyment of the story overall.
The only time his novel stalled for me was near the end. It was, in fact, the solution that Max conceived of as a way for he and Tristan to be together forever that left me a bit befuddled and confused. The gift that he would bestow upon Tristan at the end of the novel and the way in which that gift would be used left me wondering how these two men would ever really reside in the same house again. Without giving anything away, I will leave it at this: the ending was a bit too contrived and neatly drawn for my liking.
Despite the confusion I felt at the abrupt ending, All In With the Duke was a sweetly satisfying story by a beloved author, Ava March. Those familiar with her work will delight in this novel. Those new to this author will no doubt be encouraged by this delightful tale to read more by this highly entertaining storyteller.