Erotic historical romance isn't exactly rare, but in my reading experience, it's harder to execute well than contemporary erotic romance. Writers have to consider things like the social and physical repercussions of sex for women, for example, and make all of it sexy. In all historical romance, I like to put on my rosy book goggles and pretend that sexually transmitted diseases don't exist in sex clubs in a time without antibiotics. And that a pregnancy wouldn't spell the end of a woman's career, marital, and social prospects. Y'know, all the things that no one wants to think about while reading a story in which sex drives the romantic plot.
The point of this is that I think Stacy Reid managed all of this quite well in The Scandalous Diary of Lily Layton. The writing was a bit stilted at times, but the sex scenes were excellent and inventive.
The premise is that Oliver, a marquess, is looking for a wife. Because he wants one. This is rare enough in historical romances, but better still is that he specifically wants a wife who will want to have sex with him. He's trying to find that elusive balance of mistress (the one you have sex with) and wife (the one you take out in public).
Meanwhile, his mother is trying to foist her lady's companion, Lily, upon a horrible man who wants a quiet, obedient wife. Lily wants nothing to do with Mr. Crauford. She does, however, entertain inappropriate thoughts about her employer's grown son.
One day, Oliver finds Lily's diary, and sets out to discover to whom it belongs. This leads to a few scandalous encounters in the dark, with neither of them revealing their identity. Then other things happen and spoilers happen and THEN a happily-ever-after. Their sexual relationship is *flame emojis.* Instead of BDSM, Reid's characters are into everything from voyeurism to exhibitionism to anal sex.
It's not all secrets and boning, however, as Lily has been widowed twice and has some hangups due to her second marriage to a sexually repressive vicar who made her pray and repent after sex. She's become convinced that she's unable to bear children, but her brother-in-law, a doctor, tells her that a handful of "encounters" isn't enough to confirm one way or the other.
In the author's note at the beginning, Stacy Reid talks about her own experience with trying to conceive, and why she chose to give her heroine a different outcome than her own. It's very touching, but if this is something that you think you'll find upsetting, be aware that the heroine believes herself to be barren, is supported and loved by the hero regardless, and has given birth to healthy twins by the end of the epilogue.
Despite a somewhat slow and stilted beginning, I'm glad I stuck with this book. If Reid follows this up with the much-hinted story of two secondary characters, I'll gladly keep reading her books.
Content Warnings: difficulty conceiving, emotionally abusive (dead) spouse, internalized slut-shaming, some possibly non-consensual voyeurism
Suzanne received a copy of this book from the publisher for review via NetGalley.