I admit I was a little nervous about starting Beguiled because Provoked was just so good, and for me, generally speaking, succeeding books in a series lack a spark that the first one had, making #2 flatter/disappointing. And there was the combination of post holiday exhaustion and a rather annoying book slump in which I was flailing about, trying to find something to read that didn't make me want to pull out my hair or sit in a corner rocking. So...nervousness set in and Beguiled sat on my Kindle taunting me. I shouldn't have worried.
Beguiled is excellent. To begin with David is not nearly as angry and filled with self-loathing as he was in Provoked. Murdo and intimacy with Murdo have helped him move past flogging himself (figuratively speaking) for his, as he believes, sinful behavior that will surely send him to hell. Except at the beginning of Beguiled, David doesn't refer to his sexual encounters with other men as "lapses."
"It had been over a year before he’d given in to his old weakness, scared that touching another man, or being touched, would stir up memories he wanted to forget.
That fear had been unfounded, as it happened. His first lapse hadn’t reminded him of Balfour at all, nor any of the few times after that. Those furtive, anonymous encounters had borne no relation to being with Balfour. David scarcely spoke to any of those men, scarcely even looked at them. He’d certainly never looked at any of them as he was looking at Balfour now, with his heart kicking a determined tattoo in his chest and his breath coming shallow and quick at the mere sight of him, down on the street below on his black steed." (Loc. 541)
Even better David is beginning to emerge as a more self-confident man who is eager to reach out and grab his moments of happiness. I love that he is able to allow himself to experience pleasure and intimacy without beating himself up. Murdo, too, has changed in the last two years since he and David parted.
David found himself walking towards the short flight of steps that led to Balfour’s open door. He moved like a man in a dream, travelling west against a river of people flowing east, and ascended the steps. When he finally halted in front of Balfour, he had not the slightest idea of what to say, only hesitated, greedily taking in the picture the other man presented. Balfour’s habitual expression of faintly mocking amusement—one lifted brow, a curl to his lip—seemed to have deserted him, and an unfamiliar tenderness warmed his dark gaze. (Loc. 805)
That new found tenderness in Murdo is woven throughout, shown exquisitely in loving caresses or worrying that David is drinking too much or not eating enough. There really is such genuine emotion and consideration between David and Murdo.
“You saw yourself as an abomination,” Murdo interrupted flatly. “I wanted you to see you as I see you.”
“And how exactly is that?
“As someone—” Murdo broke off and looked away, nostrils flaring as he breathed out his anger. “You’re not an abomination, David. You’re—beautiful."
David’s throat closed up for a moment, but he forced himself to speak, his voice thick with emotion. “I’m a man, Murdo, not a woman to be courted.”
“A man can’t be beautiful?”
“I don’t think—” David began, faltering when he remembered Murdo standing naked in the candlelight last night. Beautiful.
“You still think this is wrong,” Murdo accused, interrupting his wayward thoughts. “Even now, after what we shared last night. You think you are wrong.” He stood abruptly, his chair scraping against the floor. (Loc.1038)
Each has been changed by the other in essential ways. David is more open to a real relationship, able to begin to believe that he isn't "wrong" because he's attracted to men, able to hope, at last, that he can have affection, honesty, that he "can be known by another." While Murdo doesn't label the connection between him and David as "love", he is just as "overwhelmed" by his feelings for David as David is for Murdo. Both men are better because of the other.
“I may not think I’m beautiful,” David said at last. “But I don’t think I’m precisely wrong either. Not anymore. Not since…you.”
Murdo went very still. David felt like Murdo’s whole body was listening to him.
“If I’m honest,” David continued slowly, “I’m not sure what I think of myself now. But it’s different to how I used to feel. Better, I mean. (Loc. 1053)
The writing in Beguiled is just simply beautiful. The author has taken some tried and true elements prevalent in most historical romances and put a twist on them to make this as well as Provoked into something that feels new and different. The historical backdrop of King George IV's visit to Scotland really breathes life into this story and the time period underscores just how difficult it really was for David and Murdo to have any kind of relationship. I'm really looking forward to Enlightened and hoping for a way for these two to have an HEA.