This could have been a slam dunk, 5-star book for me. But sadly there were a few things that just didn't work for me and tainted the experience a bit.
Basic plot: James is a very wealthy commoner who married into the nobility in order to give his younger sister the entree into society she wants. Rose is the daughter of a lord who died and left her and her younger brother with no money. In order to save their home and to allow her brother to maintain his lifestyle, she becomes a courtesan.
One night James simply can't take his miserable life anymore and knocks on the intriguing red-door across the street from his office. He is directed to Rose. At first he just wants to be in the company of a woman who will be nice to him. And Rose is happy to be in the company of someone who really sees
her. The two fall in love but of course James is married and they have no hope.
What did work for me: The romance. James and Rose were wonderful together. They are two damaged souls who find a place of peace, acceptance and true love with each other. The middle portion of the book is excellent. The angst, if you like romantic angst, is perfect.
I also liked when James' sister, Rebecca, and Rose's brother, Dash, each are separately made to realize the sacrifices their older siblings have made for them. Their reactions are more mature than their siblings thought to give them credit for.
And finally, I truly enjoyed the ending.
What didn't work for me:
James's wife was a complete monster. Ok, I think the idea of the hero engaging in adultery probably needs to strong motivation for some readers to find it palatable. But honestly, this woman was so over the top I really couldn't take her evilness seriously. And when James was in her company he was a milquetoast. I hated that. I don't need my heroes to all be uber alphas, but God, don't lose your balls altogether! There was a point early in the book when we first meet her and I almost closed the book right then and there never to open it again. That whole dynamic was incredibly distasteful to me.
And I supposed in Romancelandia there is an unwritten rule that the heroines are to be admired if they suffer and sacrifice in silence. You know what? I am fine if you have to do what you need to do keep food in your mouth and a roof over your head. But Rose had been doing this for years so her brother could continue to be a man about town and gamble and run up clothing bills over and over again. It was clearly something she disliked doing, and yet her money was simply going down a black hole so her brother could continue his
lifestyle. I get that he was young when she started but when he got old enough to understand their situation, she had no more excuses. That just bothered me no end.
But even that I could have stomached if James could have just realized he actually had more power in his relationship with his wife than he thought he did.
Recommended with caveats.