5 Hallelujah Stars
A man who has lost everything and a woman who wants to be valued for herself, not her beauty or her wealth or her social cachet, are irrevocably drawn to one another.
In the third book of Julie Anne Long’s Palace of Rogues series, a blunt, brave, self-made man unlocks the heart of an ice princess. Hugh Cassidy makes the best of his life. He has endured his share of the bitter and longs to savor the sweet. But first, everything must go according to plan. He is building an empire, and his latest goal is one of the final steps to ensure it becomes a reality. From the moment he finds her wreathed in cheroot smoke, she is a distraction he can ill afford. They come from different worlds, and the future her family envisions for her does not involve a brash American.
Lillias is attracted to his wide shoulders and glorious grin. She pokes and prods at him, determined to burrow beneath his calm surface. She loathes him because he is judgmental and self-righteous. She loathes him because he challenges her toe-to-toe, and always manages to have the last word. The barbed words they hurl at each other are thinly disguised as polite conversation, and they count coups and hoard the satisfaction of the ones that draw blood.
The constant sparring is a form of self-defense. The latent desire that simmers beneath their exchanges threatens to pull them under its spell. Like a match to tinder, each insult deepens the fascination and attraction and undermines the lies they tell themselves. He has a goal with a finite timeline. She and her family will move back to their glittering ballrooms when the repairs on their mansion are completed.
One parlor discussion of Persephone’s plight reveals what they truly want. Rooftop moonlight confessions make them equally vulnerable. Hugh’s soft, simmering kisses that can excavate a soul, and the touch of his calloused hand – these are the haunting moments that shape the evolution from loathing to necessity. Hugh is scarred, and raw and determined to build his life again. Lillias teeters on the edge of grasping what she wants and defying social expectations. Her beauty has confined her to a box she no longer wants to inhabit, and the love that grows between she and Hugh is the catalyst for her self-acknowledgment and self-empowerment.
This enemies to lovers story had me turning pages all night, scrawling seven pages of excerpted quotes, and weeping at its beauty and pathos. The sparkling banter, the glorious character arcs that ensure we see into the chaotic hearts of the hero and heroine, the rich, descriptive, language. The whole story is seeded with humor and perfect portrayals of the resilience and buoyancy of love. It is a reminder that falling is something you are powerless to fight – and the one who is meant to catch you may not be whom you have dreamed of, but they are exactly who you need.
My Favorite Quotes:
“He had looked into the barrel of enemy rifles, the slavering jaws of a furious bear, the lifeless faces of his father and brother. He could build a home from the stripped timbers on up, shoot to kill nearly anything, expertly hold a newborn baby. He figured he’d been tested in more ways than Hercules, and in the end he supposed he was grateful that the war had sorted the entirety of his life into two categories for him: what was worth living for, what was worth dying for.”
“The nerve of him, looming up out of the dark like a cliff, the sort ships founder on in storms. Shoulders blocking the light, the shadows clinging to the valleys created by his cheekbones and jaw sculpting him rather starkly, and when he’d come closer – she perhaps should not have allowed him to get so close, but then, he’d felt like a dare from nearly the moment he’d appeared, —”
“Broke in two’ made heartbreak sound as simple as treading on a twig – snap! She could now speak with some authority that the sensation in the actual moment – two months and two days ago, to be precise- was less a break and more of a swift harpooning – she had full access to her father’s library and read a good deal; she was good at choosing words. And there was nothing simple about it. It wasn’t just one emotion. A whole flapping Pandora’s Box full of them had been released: astonishment, wounded pride, mordant amusement about the wounded pride, mordant amusement about the astonishment, confusion, scalding grief, a flailing loss.”
“And…well he recalled hearing that Sir Galahad had been speechless when he’d first clapped eyes on the grail. It was a bit like that. Words seemed both pointless and impossible. But Galahad had allegedly been pure of heart, and that’s where the comparison ended. Hugh’s thoughts were anything but.”
“His smile was slow, and contained such a combination of genuine amusement, self-deprecation, and appreciation for her that for an instant every part of her felt illuminated, warmed, and too exposed.”
“Hugh sought the right words. “It’s just that…” He pushed his hair back. And then he sighed. “I feel that if one is properly living life…an excess of rumination and metaphor can put you at a remove from all that’s beautiful about it. If one takes advantage of all the senses – breathing, feeling, seeing… touching…tasting…” he tried not to look at Lillias “…then merely being alive is poetry.”
“He felt feral, standing naked – clearly the word of the day – and perspiring at an open window, irritable and restless, acutely aware of every inch of his skin, or, more accurately, the full contours of his being. As though it had been coiled into a cramped place and newly freed, and now was needling him as the blood flowed again. Skin was useful for more than being the thing between his viscera and bullets, for instance. It was capable of knowing glories.”
“She gazed up into his face, and he gazed down into hers as if she were a landscape he was inspecting for hidden enemies. Or perhaps hidden wonders. Lost. His voice lowered conspiratorially. “Would you like your hand back?” The right words to say were bobbing around somewhere in the syrup her brain had become; she couldn’t quite fish them out. The truth was, at the moment, her hand seemed to rightly belong to him. As though it were a trophy he’d won for snatching arrows out of air.
“How he felt (hard as a wall, safe as a house, dangerous as a wild animal), how he smelled (sweat, sawdust, smoke, musk, sex), how he tasted (like sin, if sin was a liqueur)- taken together they should have all comprised an adventure. And then a lesson. And then be rapidly consigned to history.”
“Once I have the target in my sights,” he said, close to her ear, “I think of what I love most in the world. What will happen if I miss? Will they be harmed? Will they go hungry? Will I see them again?” He paused at length. “Because I’ve learned that once you know what truly matters in life, and once you know who and what you truly love, then you know who you are…and your aim will always be true.”
“I thought love was meant to be an easy, peaceful thing, Lillias. But it’s like life itself. It’s maddening. And beautiful. And changeable and funny and passionate. It’s…like a Hudson River Valley sunset. Underneath all that fire and glory the sky is ever constant. It’s like you. For me, it is you.”