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At the notorious Donville Masquerade, Miles, the Marquess of Weatherfield finds an unusual participant in the revels: plainly dressed and simply accessorised, the mysterious woman didn't act like a courtesan or a lady used to such depravity, and what drew Miles to her was her curiosity and openness to such a sexual adventure.
Thinking to help her friend, Portia attends the Donville Masquerade to look for Liam, Ava's brother, but who she finds instead as an old childhood friend. Miles had always been kind to her, asking her to dance when no one else would. Noticing her when no one else did. He'd always been courteous and solicitous to her. It surprises her that, amidst the decadence of the party, Miles would single her out and approach her. If this were any other time, they would never have this kind of conversation or interaction, but, safe in the anonymity of the masquerade, they share a near-kiss during their first encounter. It shouldn't have meant anything to either of them, to Miles, especially -- but it left both of them wanting more.
And it was during their second meeting that they act on their curiosity. And get caught in a compromising position by her brother (his former friend). When Portia's identity is revealed, Miles has no choice but to offer for her, to save both their reputations. Beyond the complications that precipitated their marriage, Miles and Portia must also address Portia's mother's situation -- and, to save her from the asylum, Portia strikes a very scandalous bargain with her husband: in exchange for his help, she offers him her complete and total surrender.
One of the questions in this story is about genuine intentions: Miles's suspicion that Portia deliberately entrapped him that night at the Donville Masquerade. Despite what he knows of Portia, he can't help but think it because he also knows Portia's brother -- a man clearly capable of using and abusing his family for his own gains. There's also the question of why Portia was at the party. She was there to find another man, Liam, the Earl of Windbury. Even Portia admits that she believes she was in love with Liam when Miles asked her about him.
Still, she was so responsive, so open to sin and seduction ... he had to wonder if he was the first man to have pleasured her in some way ..."
- Chapter 12
It's not the best start to a relationship, but Miles had made his bed and he is making the most of it. He recognizes the same woundedness in Portia that he finds in himself, and, while he wasn't able to save himself (or his sister), he tries to help Portia heal and recover her identity and sense of self-worth.
Portia is a wallflower and a spinster. With her ordinary looks, lack of dowry and with her mentally ill mother, she knows she could never find what her friend Ava has found in her new marriage. Portia is an amazing friend to Ava, because, despite her desperate situation, she never begrudges her help or presence or support to her. She listen to Ava as she worries about her husband and her brother. Portia is completely selfless, which I see as both a positive and negative for her. She's so giving, which is admirable. But, she also lacks a sense of self -- believing herself to be less than anyone else. I thought it was sad that, when she needed to talk to Miles about her mother, she believed she had nothing to bargain with but her body.
The journey Miles and Portia take is very sexual, and I felt it was an essential one -- we are at our most open, most vulnerable, but also our most powerful when we acknowledge and celebrate our sensuality and sexuality and Jess Michaels does an amazing job of showing this in Miles and Portia's encounters. I loved Miles and Portia. I loved their honesty and boldness -- and they are very, very good in bed together. For the most part, it seems that the relationship is lopsided with Miles having all the money and means and control, but I think Portia also contributes equally to their marriage. She's unpretentious and very forthright with Miles -- and she really tries to understand him. It is a story of awakening for both the hero and heroine: Miles thought he was too damaged, too broken to deserve love and Portia shows him otherwise, banishing all the doubts and questions he had about her at the start. And Portia finds her confidence because of him.
"...I've spent my entire life hiding, trying to please men who didn't care about me. I said yes when I meant no, I kept quiet when I should have spoken. I hid against walls and prayed no one would look at me. ..."
- Chapter 21
When I first met Portia in Taken by the Duke, I really thought she would end up with Liam, Ava's brother -- but it seems Jess Michael's had a different man planned for Portia. A man better suited to her, I think. All the characters in Jess Michaels's Pleasure Wars series are flawed in some ways and have broken, craggy edges. Miles fits Portia better -- there's a kindness in Miles that was sorely lacking in Portia's life.
"If you spend your life counting what you are owed and what you owe, you will never be happy, Portia," he said softly. "We are in this situation now and we can make the best of it or not. It's up to you what that answer is. ..."
- Chapter 8
The one part of the story that didn't sit well with me is Portia's mother. It's never explained what she has, but it seems to be dementia. When Portia and her mother were living in their simple house, her mother had frequent episodes, but, when they moved into Miles's house, it seemed that her mother was cured (she had zero episodes after the move) -- I wish the author had taken time to clarify this, considering that the mother's condition was the whole reason for the bargain. I was happy to see her lucid, and she actually has a lot of wonderful (and incredibly sage) thoughts to impart to her daughter:
Thomasina reached for her, and Portia took her mother's hand without hesitation. "I know you give everything for me, for your friends, for everyone but yourself. I only wish there was a reward I could offer you. I only wish I could see you having fun, experiencing some joy in your life."
- Chapter 3
Pleasuring the Lady is the second book in Jess Michaels's The Pleasure Wars series. To find out more about Jess Michaels and her books, click below: