A duke known as Scandal itself. A vicar paying for his sinful thoughts through service to the Lord. What happens when these childhood friends meet again and band together to save a life? Well, sparks fly, ideals are challenged, and in the end, everyone might just be better for it. Join us for our thoughts on Annabelle Greene's stellar debut MM Regency, The Vicar and the Rake!
We include our synopses as a semi-transcription of the episode in our blog posts. You can learn more about how we compose these by reading this article. As a reminder though, our synopses are FULL of spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk :)
The Vicar and the Rake Synopsis:
We begin our tale at death’s door - or at least, that’s where Reverend Gabriel Winters believes he is. After a normal day of visiting and helping his parishioners, pushing himself as hard as he always did (which was quite, quite hard) and probably not stopping for adequate nourishment, Gabriel found himself fainting in the flowerbeds at Hardcote house. A fever had set through the town recently, and he had been at the sickbeds of course as was his duty, and finally it had set upon him.
Gabriel made it a habit to make his way home every day with a trip through the grounds of Hardcote, the country seat of his childhood friend Edward, the current reprobate Duke of Caddonfell. Edward had left when he had reached majority, and since then all Gabriel had heard of his friend was what the scandal sheets said, and that was quite scandalous indeed. But he loved the beautiful estate, and so he looked in on the gardens and helped the skeleton staff on occasion to keep it pristine.
As luck would have it though, on the day that fever beset him, the Duke of Caddonfell was finally back at Hardcote. With a huge scandal in his wake he had fled somewhere to hide - and his brother Maurice had suggested Hardcote, as it was somewhere he never went. It was the perfect place to lay low while Maurice figured out the right people to blackmail this time to get his brother out of trouble.
So Edward and his manservant Bryce arrive to their hideout only to find it a bit occupied by the limp Gabriel and a loud kitten. Against Bryce’s protestations, Edward finds he does not want to leave either of them out in the elements to die, and so the party of two becomes a party of four.
Edward Stanhope, the Duke of Caddonfell was known as Scandal itself. Quote
The head of a society-or so it was whispered-where only men who shared his predilections were to be admitted...The terror of every mother in the ton, not for their daughters, but for their sons. The most infamous sodomite in London. Certainly the most untouchable one, with an enormous fortune and a brother so well-connected he could blackmail a saint. The Duke of Caddonfell, for his all his depravity, enjoyed a level of protection that Gabriel found incomprehensible. Incomprehensible, and deeply irritating.
He and Gabriel had parted ways at his majority and he had gone on to the aforementioned while Gabriel thought quote
How utterly unfair - Edward living a shameless life. Upon discovering desires like his, a man was meant to banish them by marriage, if at all possible. Or by, say, living the harsh life of a country vicar in a parish teetering on the edge of complete chaos.
But now, Edward had to flee. This latest indiscretion was harder to clean up. Quote
Hide. That was the part that had him seeing nooses in every shadow.
He had never, no matter how large the indiscretion, been advised to hide by anyone. Hiding was simply not in his nature. Until now. A man could hang for what he’d done. For what he was. And looking back and the faceless, nameless, essentially pleasureless encounter with Sussex’s son, Edward realized that his neck could snap for something...worthless. Worthless. Yes, that described it. Described him. He couldn’t remember what worthy felt like.
So Edward cares for Gabriel while he’s in the throws of his fever. Gabriel is quite out of it, but realizes who his caretaker is.
Gabriel’s normally rigid mastery of his own body was impossible, racked as he was by fever. And Edward’s face, complete with sculpted cheekbones and ice-blue eyes that glittered with cynical, reckless mischief, was designed to undo the strongest of men. God, he ached for him. Ached to do things he couldn’t name, and couldn’t dare to imagine. The fever burned away years of denial as he watched Edward pace and mutter. Desire flooded him, as pleasurable as the illness was painful, working in tandem to tingle and swell and stiffen him in ways that would have been unbearable in perfect health, let alone in his current condition.
And before Gabriel loses consciousness, and after Edward pleads with him to not die, he summons up the strength to pull Edward’s face to his for a searing kiss.
The man’s tongue touched lightly against his own, once, twice; on the third time Edward moaned again, helpless as lust overtook surprise. Yes, this was kissing, a thirsty, needful exchange of something much more precious than breath.
~He does not die at this point.~ In fact, Gabriel wakes up the next morning tired and sore, but quite healthy. For it turned out to be a normal fever and not the rheumatic one that had been plaguing the village.
And though he knows he should return to his duties, he feels so drawn to Edward that he is reluctant to leave. And when he learns that the Duke of Sussex is out for revenge against him, he can’t abandon Edward to that fate without trying to help.
This puts our heroes in close proximity to get to know each other once more. There is a lot of will-they-won’t-they, as their natures are revealed slowly.
Gabriel is a stoic, steadfast, loyal character. He made a pact with God that it was ok for him to be what he was and feel what he was as long as he worked for God and never acted on it.
Edward is a cynical and showy, with a cold and often cruel exterior. OF COURSE this protects a warm, gooey interior - but we don’t see that emerge until much later. As most who exude that frost - his self confidence and self worth are in the gutter, but luckily our insightful Gabriel sees that quite quickly.
They are soon joined by Edward’s brother Maurice, who is unhappy with the entire situation as he can’t find anything to blackmail Sussex with, and Sussex is quite literally out to kill Edward, and because Gabriel in the house is a wrinkle of no one knowing where they are. And with the arrival of Gabriel’s widowed sister Lady Ploverdale, we basically have ourselves a house party.
However, both Lady Ploverdale and Gabriel have this sense of righteousness, and the desire to help their childhood friends out of this scrape. So they insist on staying, even as Lady P and Maurice both see the tension between Gabriel and Edward, and warn the pair to stay away from each other for their OWN goods. They are right...as Gabriel has slightly more of a reason to stay quote
He had known he would stay as soon as Maurice had mentioned Edward’s life being in danger. Edward living in London, Edward living in luxury, Edward living in other men’s beds-all of those were conceivable. Edward being dead was not.
Keeping them apart, of course, does not quite work, though Lady P and the fates do a pretty good job keeping them from being alone. However, the pull between the men is too strong, and we have a few stolen kisses.
Finally, a few small pieces fall into place and our merry players realize that there is something to follow from them. It appears that Sussex did not have a diamond necklace stolen, but rather had it broken down at a certain jewelers, and his accomplice seems to be one of Edward’s closest associates and one of the founders of his exclusive club The Society of Beasts. This necessitates a trip to London to search through the club’s records.
Edward and Gabriel are chosen to go, as Gabriel’s face isn’t known in London and Edward is needed bc he knows where to look. They disguise Edward and also send along Ginger, the plucky vagrant child who has stumbled into their party and has been hired on for menial tasks. But Edward would never be suspected to be in the company of a child, so he’s the perfect decoy.
The mission in London goes...awry. They are discovered at the headquarters of the society of Beasts and pursued all the way back to Hardcote….by….. Edward’s friends and co-founders! So now we’re really having a house party.
Maurice is furious, because he believes one of the founders is an accomplice for Sussex’s one indiscretion. However, now the three are here, and are told about the whole thing. They all deny any association, and agree to try to help Edward.
Meanwhile, Edward and Gabriel are still having their paux-de-deux. Drawn to each other passionately, but Edward pushing away because he fears the intensity of the connection. He knows that if things really happen with Gabriel it will not be like any relationship he’s had prior. He’ll have to share some of the childhood traumas and abuse at the hands of his father as he bears the marks of that on his body.
And throughout their dance, there are moments where they get close only to have Edward push back coldly. However, in a refreshing twist, our virginal yet assertive Gabriel doesn’t let Edward get away with that behavior. Rather, there are moments like quote
Edward shivered. God, this was dangerous. So foolish-and so tempting that he burned with the desire to touch him, tease him. Please him. “Don’t push me too far. I’m warning you.” Gabriel’s voice was a patient and unwelcome aphrodisiac. “Warning me? I see. Well, then.” A moment of silence passed. Edward stood fixed, waiting, overcome with the nearness of Gabriel’s body. Finally the silence was more than he could bear. “Well then what?” “Well then.” Gabriel sounded almost frustrated. “Stop me.”
And when the idea of commitment is floated between them, quote
“Forgive me.” Gabriel’s voice made his heart sink; there was that edge of bitterness again, the one he’d heard during their first conversation after years of estrangement. “I know a thousand inexperienced men like me will have said something similar to you, in one way or another, so I imagine the glib response you’re searching for is no more than a breath away.” Any desire to tell Gabriel anything vanished. For a priest, the man really knew how to be a bastard. How dare he assume that his silence, his reticence, was due to a lack of interest...even though, really, everything about his London reputation would suggest exactly that. No. Edward wouldn’t consider that. He would lash out, every time, rather than accept that Gabriel could have a point. He turned, looking Gabriel straight in the eye, summoning up every ounce of Stanhope cruelty. “Of course you’re free to leave. I don’t keep my fencing sabre with me after an hour spent fencing. One releases the tension, and then once behaves as one wishes.” He waited, holding his breath, for Gabriel to rear back. To storm out of the room, find the nearest carriage, and never return, to insult him, to throw something, to cry. Instead, to his immense shock, Gabriel smiled. He chuckled. “Oh the day we met again, I would have believed you. I really would. And I would have raged and stormed about, and possibly wept, and left. Perhaps I would have sent you a spiteful letter some days later, which you of course would not have read, just as you never read any of the others-and that would have been the end of the matter. He looked down, briefly examining his nails. “But this is not the day we met. And I have given up so much of who I believed I was, to share these snatched moment-and I have seen you give up more of yourself than you think. Reveal more.” Edward waited, silent, scared. Revealing anything about himself only put people in danger; couldn't Gabriel see it? The exact situation they found themselves in was due to his own greed, his need to reveal his hunger for closeness. For connection. “I have known you longer than you have known yourself, Edward, and I know you are lying. I don’t believe it-I know it. You need me here, and you like me being here, and soon you are going to tell me why you so desperately try to deny that fact.” Gabriel’s smile faded; the vulnerable look appeared, the one that made Edward want to reach out and run away at the same time. “And it does need to be soon. Not today, but soon.”
Of course, soon comes soon enough, and though Edward resists at first, he does show Gabriel his scars - both inside and out. quote
“You wanted the truth, all of it, and by God you’ll have it.” Edward’s voice shook; he paused, gritting his teeth, before continuing. “...Do you know how hard it is to be carefree, and cold, and dancing from person to person like some sort of idiot creature, laughing all the while? Oh, I could mope and glower all day like Maurice, but I know I’m nowhere near clever enough to attract people to my darkness. So I am always light, and I am exhausted. This idea you have of me, the carefree bastard-it’s true. I am a bastard, a complete bastard, but I’m certainly not care free. And if you keep caring, I…” He stopped again, sure that he would weep, trying desperately not to do so. “I will have to be more of a bastard than ever. Because no one, no one at all, deserves to be close to someone as- as grotesque as I am inside.”
And after some more words and some more heartfelt actions, the two couple again. By this time we’ve had three encounters previously, but this one is different because there are real feelings that have been expressed. Of course, it is complicated quote
I have already broken my vow. Gabriel knew this to be true; what he had done with Edward meant a breaking of the promise he had made to God. But standing entwined in Edward’s arms now, feeling the scars on his back, he finally saw that the promise he had made was empty from the beginning. One could not choose whom one loved. One could not refuse the work of love-the work of loving. And if the man he loved came to him, showed him the wounds of a past that Gabriel had never truly understood, and told him that those wounds made him unloveable...no promise, not even one made to God himself would keep him from showing Edward exactly how wrong he was.
However, our story is not yet over! There’s a dastardly plan to foil, and our lovers haven’t really had to overcome a tribulation yet. And so….
As Maurice continues to try to figure out the mole, Edward does some soul searching. Though he feels that he is unloveable, a conversation with one of the other founders helps him find his way. Quote
“Not all of us are born knowing how to love.” He looked at his friend, half afraid that the man would mock its earnestness. “If the sentiment is not nourished in childhood, it flowers with difficulty when a man is in the prime of one’s life.” He stopped, gathering himself. “But...love, as I have seen it practiced, does not require one to be an expert practitioner when one begins. One learns as one goes. It...it’s one of the only states where the broken can function as well as the whole.
But right when Edward is about to express his love to Gabriel, they are interrupted because Maurice is apprehending the culprit. He’s figured out which one of the founders has been conspiring with Sussex, or so he believes. Of course he’s actually chosen the wrong man, though we don’t know this yet, and Hartley rages back against the accusations, lashing out and telling Gabriel some of the callus things that Edward had said about him earlier, out of context. Of course Edward had been saying them for sport - and to try to mask his true feelings of love from his friend, not ready at first to be that vulnerable.
And surprisingly, Gabriel kind of sees this, but is still extremely hurt. He runs, though Edward catches him. And after some heated words, the most important words are spoken quote
“I love you, you damned fool.” He spoke slowly, Gabriel shut his eyes tightly, turning away. “I love you, and it burns. Of course I’m not going to tell Hartley about it. There is agony in it, the sweetest, most glorious agony, and I live every moment of every day drunk with it-mad with it. And my God, it doesn’t lessen. It only grows, and depends, and gives life to things I thought were dead. It makes me better, and stronger, and more grateful than anything I have ever possessed, or encountered, or begged for or stolen or made. And it will never die. This is faith. This is the only faith I’ve ever had that I could feel.” His voice altered; Gabriel could hear the tears in it. “And...and I thought it would mend me, Gabriel, and it did not.” Gabriel turned back. He forced himself to look into Edward’s eyes, gathering his thoughts, steadying himself. “I thought it would too.” He sighed. “I thought it would. I hoped it would. But…[sic] I am tired.” The words came from his very core. “Tired of fighting. Tired of...of waiting. Just...tired.” “Come back to the house. Come back to me.” Edward moved to take his arm; Gabriel shrugged him away. “We’re in danger out here.” “I know.” Gabriel turned away, forcing himself to start walking. “But I’m more in danger with you.”
And so the two part ways for now - Gabriel going home to his own house….where as luck would have it, Ginger, the vagabond child is there to help wrap up the mystery. His mother has been attacked, and with her dying breath she admits that Ginger is actually Arthur, a bastard child of the duke of Sussex. She also has the necklace and love letters between them which they uncover and use later to force the Duke to agree to stop coming after Edward.
He agrees, but reconciliation between our heroes still seems far away. However, that evening after the agreement, Hardcote house goes up in flames. For the true accomplice to Sussex is one of the other Beasts, Lambert, and he’s in cahoots to burn the house down with all of them, and the evidence in it. Lambert though is a bit bloodthirsty and wants to make sure Edward is dead by his hand before the house is consumed, so we get a bit of a villain dialogue with Reasons, though they’re a touch vague.
However, Gabriel has seen the fire and is coming to the rescue! He runs through the house trying to find everyone and bring them out, and succeeds mostly - even finding Hartley who angrily leaves without a word. There’s definitely some groveling that will need to be done to repair that friendship.
Lambert is not rescued. For all appearances he seems to be dead! But you know how these things go when there isn’t a body for sure! We’ll have to see how the series plays out.
But Gabriel does get to save his love, who was fighting back against Lambert when he arrived.
But the evidence against Sussex is gone and so Edward isn’t safe again….or is it? Because we find out from Ginger that he actually filched it previously, due to something fabulous Maurice had told him (and which Zoe will share as her favorite quote) and so Maruice sets about absolutely ruining the Duke of Sussex as soon as he is able.
And there’s nothing like the threat of the person you love dying to bring people together. Our heroes reunite after a few words together, and things seem set for a happily ever after. Quote
And the hard working vicar, Gabriel Winters, recovered from the fever that had almost killed him, would be moving into the old gamekeeper’s cottage in the depths of Hardcote woods. How nice, the villagers said to one another, remembering Gabriel as a boy-and how like old Mr. Welton, who had been so respected. How monkish it seemed, as if Hardcore had its very own hermit, as it had in the good old days. A real touch of grace for any village, and something to talk to the neighbors about. And if they wondered about the sudden appearance of the infamous Duke of Caddonfell, and his apparent intention to stay in Hardcote House, so close to Gabriel’s new living quarters...well, they remembered the times Gabriel had nursed their children through fever or brought them firewood in the winter, or buried their dead with the tender respect of a man who knew true sorrow. Somehow, none of their questions ever reached their lips.
Earlier in our story, when Edward and Gabriel had been chatting, Gabriel had mentioned that all he really wanted was a party. A party where he didn’t have to baptize or perform funeral rights, just somewhere he could enjoy himself. So of course, we have to have a party before this story can conclude.
And what a party it is - in the slightly singed library, Edward makes his proposal.
“You might even think it’s blasphemous. I don’t think it is, and I doubt you do, but who knows. I was an idiot.” Edward put his hand into his waistcoat; when he withdrew it, Gabriel saw he was holding something small. “But...tell me.” He opened his palm. Gabriel looked at the rings. They were small and thin, of well-beaten gold...and a tiny, whisper thin gap in each bright circle. “Broken.” Edward’s voice trembled. “Broken, but whole.” In Gabriel’s head, the question mark vanished. Wedding. “You have to say the words, Reverend. You’re the only one ordained, if we’re keeling to any formalities at all here.” Frakes’s boisterous voice broke through the portentous atmosphere. “I was meant to mark the page, but buggered if I could find it...’” “It’s quite alright.” Gabriel swallowed. “I know them by heart.”
And surrounded by their family and closest friends, they are married!