When Lord Edwin Nash, of ‘The Layered Mask' by Sue Brown, leaves for the bright lights of London, he is sad and resentful. Edwin is confused; he doesn't know what he wants from life, but he does realize whatever it is, is not going to be a woman. Edwin understands that one day, he will be called to 'do his duty' and provide an heir. He just doesn't expect for it to be now, at barely twenty years of age. Edwin has little choice though. He either has to do as his father says or be disinherited. It never occurs to him that he may have another option, at least not until he meets Lord Thomas Downe and his world tilts on its axis.
Lord Downe is curious about the handsome young man he finds hiding in his study. In fact, he's interested enough to take a chance and see what kind of response he will receive by coming on to him. Downe knows it could be dangerous, but there's something about the man that he simply can't resist. When Edwin explains who he is and why he's there, Downe is immediately sympathetic. Downe knows that one day, he too will have to marry and have a child in order to carry on his family's name, but is in no rush to do so. Downe also understands the kind of pressure Edwin is under, being constantly pursued by the mothers at the party, looking for husbands for their daughters, and feeling like merchandise and not a man, so he offers Edwin an escape, at least for a while. When Downe ascertains Edwin's penchant for men as well, he's even more interested and begins a slow but deliberate courtship for Edwin, patiently waiting until Edwin is ready to take the final step with him and consummate their relationship.
Edwin is young and naive and trying to do his part, regardless of how unhappy he is about the position in which his father has put him. He has never known anyone like Downe and is definitely attracted to him, if for nothing else than as a guide into the world of loving other men; but he doesn't want to be just another notch on his bedpost either. Edwin falls in love with Downe although he knows nothing can ever come of it. They spend extraordinarily happy times together, in between Edwin's other social engagements designed to provide an opportunity to pick a wife. All goes well until his father becomes impatient and forces the issue. Edwin is distraught, but determined not to go back without having made love with Downe, who hesitates, knowing the emotional turmoil it may cause, but ultimately gives in. Their lovemaking is passionate and sensual; both are swept away by the powerful encounter. Afterward, Edwin starts thinking about what they've done and how it made him feel; he is thrown into despair. Instead of lingering with Downe to enjoy the afterglow, Edwin suddenly decides to leave and can't be persuaded otherwise.
This story brought home the tedious and desperate situation of men who love men during the Regency period. The descriptions of Edwin's frustration with the endless parties and social events, designed specifically for obtaining a mate, were painfully real. I could almost feel Edwin's distress as he considers himself little more than an animal for sale. His feelings for Downe are fraught with desire and disappointment, as Edwin realizes he can never have the life he wants, but instead, must endure a life he'd rather not live at all; devoid of the love he so desires. There seems to be no solution for him and Downe, but where there's love, there's always hope. If you like historical romance during the Regency period, beautiful costumes, lavish parties, politics, angst, and happy endings, then you may enjoy this story. Thanks, Sue, for the trip back to a time when men were less fortunate than they are today.