Thursday, 19 April 2018

#CBR10 Book 31: "The Governess Affair" by Courtney Milan

Page count: 152 pages
Audio book length: 3 hrs 50 mins
Rating: 5 stars

Serena Barton was a governess until she was fired without references. She wants the duke who is responsible to fork out suitable compensation and intends to sit on a park bench immediately outside his house until she is given her due. If that takes days or even weeks, she's nevertheless determined to persevere.

The duke of Clermont doesn't want to deal with Ms Barton, as he is currently trying to figure out a way to get his duchess back. Without his wealthy wife happy, the irresponsible duke has no income and she's really not going to be happy if she finds a scorned woman sitting outside their town house. So the duke sends his right hand man, former boxer Hugo Marshall, known in society as the Wolf of Clermont, to deal with the vexing female on his doorstep. She needs to be got rid of, and quickly at that.

Hugo Marshall is the son of a coal miner and intends to become very rich. Working for the duke is only a step on the way, but he does need to make sure the dissolute nobleman stays solvent, as if the duke doesn't have money, Hugo won't get any either. He therefore needs to deal with the "employment dispute" that Clermont has dropped in his lap - but quickly comes to find that Ms. Barton isn't easily intimidated. Come rain or shine, she shows up on her bench and while she initially refuses to tell Mr Marshall anything about why she wants compensation from the duke, as the days pass, he comes to understand more and more, and it becomes increasingly more difficult for him to stay loyal to his employer.

The Governess Affair is pretty much a perfect little novella that sets up Courtney Milan's series The Brothers Sinister. Serena and Hugo appear briefly in some of the later books, but only as supporting characters. This is the story of how they meet and fall in love, over a short enough period of time that in the hands of someone less skilled, it could be implausible. Yet, Ms Milan, ever a master of her genre makes it work, possibly because Serena and Hugo are both so desperately in need of someone to love, for someone who can take care of them and be taken care of in return.

For all that Serena has suffered a horrible indignity, she refuses to be crushed and beaten down by it. Her older sister Frederica has a pessimistic outlook, not only on Serena's situation and unlikely chance of a happy, satisfying future, but on everything, really. Frederica suffers from anxiety and gets worked up even at the thought of having to leave her comfortable rooms. Taking on the patriarchy in the way Serena does it, in her own quiet way, is entirely beyond her. Serena doesn't want great wealth, she just wants enough to buy herself a tiny farm, where she can grow lavender and other flowers that she can scent soaps with. Having lost her position as a governess, as well as her reputation, that dream is lost to her if she cannot get compensation from the Duke of Clermont.

Hugo Marshall ran away from home as a teenager, having decided after three days in a mine that he was having none of that. Having boxed as a prizefighter for a while, he eventually became Clermont's man of business, working very hard to turn the man's fortunes around, for a slight share in the profits. A wife and children don't fit anywhere into his plans for wealth and success, but once he meets Serena, who despite her petite size is so composed and formidable, he soon begins to question all his former plans.

This is a lovely, very romantic story - which in it's final section introduces three of the heroes for the novels to come, while they were still youths at Eton. As an added bonus, the novella is often offered for free at various e-book retailers, so if it's not available free of charge now, keep your eyes open - it probably will be again soon.

Judging a book by its cover: While Serena does wear a yellow dress for her wedding, I think the one pictured on this cover is rather more extravagant that anything she would be able to afford. I like that the cover model has her hair streaming down her shoulders, though, as there is a lovely scene involving the removal of hairpins in the story.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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