Friday 23 November 2012

CBR4 Book 97: "A Notorious Countess Confesses" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: October 30th, 2012
Date finished: October 30th, 2012

The Countess of Wareham has inherited a small estate in Pennyroyal Green upon the sudden death of her husband, and moves there in the hopes of getting away from all the gossip and scandalous stories surrounding her in London. Born Evie Duggan from Ireland, the former Covent Garden dancer and courtesan married the Count of Wareham after he won the right to court her in a card game. After his  unfortunate demise, malicious rumours call Evie "the Black Widow" and insinuate that she may have killed him.

Adam Sylvaine is the vicar of Pennyroyal Green, and he takes his office seriously. Just as handsome as his wealthy Eversea cousins, he's perfectly aware of the reason why most of the women of the village show up in church every Sunday, and he's extremely careful that he not be seen to show any one woman anything but the utmost courtesy. So when the striking young widow who just arrived falls asleep during one of his sermons, rather than hang raptly on his every word, he's surprised. Not one to listen to gossip, he doesn't realise her identity until his more notorious cousin Colin fills him in, and he realises that he should probably stay far away from her.

Evie, however, needs to enlist Adam's help, as he knows all the respectable women in the village, and she wants nothing more than to put her past behind her, be helpful and make friends. She quickly discovers that none of her flirtatious tricks that normally charm men to do her bidding helps with Adam, instead, he wants her to be herself, something she hasn't been able to for a long time. He agrees to aid her in charming the matrons and respectable young misses of Pennyroyal Green, and watches in admiration as she faces every challenge they throw at her with aplomb. Can there be any future for a notorious former courtesan and a country vicar? And what happens when a figure from Evie's past appears in Pennyroyal Green?

I've enjoyed every single Pennyroyal Green book I've read so far, but thought the most recent one before this, was less engaging than some of her earlier ones in the series. The books seem to alternate between focusing on Everseas and Redmonds, the two leading families in the little village of Pennyroyal Green. Adam Sylvaine, the handsome vicar cousin of the Everseas, has been mentioned in a few of the previous novels, and as non-rake heroes are few and far between in Regency romance these days, I was  hoping that his story would prove one of the better ones.

Adam is a good man, through and through, but just because he's a vicar, doesn't mean he doesn't experience temptation, just like everyone else. He just works all the harder not to succumb to it, and while he's very aware of the debt of gratitude he owes to his aunt and uncle for the living he's been given, his primary motivation is to take care of his parishioners. He knows that the majority of the young ladies of the town have crushes on him, and he's constantly sent donations of preserves, jams, pillows with Bible verses embroidered on them, and he's determined not to hurt or lead anyone on. Every instinct he has warns him to stay away from Evie, but once he sees how vulnerable and scared she is, deep inside, he can't help but be drawn to her.

Evie didn't love her late husband, but she was fond of him, and hates the rumours that married him for his money and killed him for the inheritance. She worries constantly about her wastrel brother, her sister with a good for nothing husband and a huge brood of kids to feed, and sends them as much money as she can possibly spare - so it's not like she's living a life of luxury. Hoping to escape the scandal surrounding her, she quickly discovers that gossip travels fast. She refuses to apologise for her past, and is very forthright about parts of her former life being very lucrative and enjoyable, but she genuinely longs for a quieter life, and true friends. She's fully aware that many women might see her as a threat, so tries to make herself as helpful to them as she can, hoping they might come to accept her in time.

One of the things I like the most about Long's books is the banter, the sparkling dialogue and clever wit of the characters. I'd also, honest to God, got halfway through the book before I realised that the couple is Adam and Eve (yeah, see what she did there - also I must be some sort of dimwit). The development of the romance is slow, and anyone hoping for lots of passionate sexy times will be disappointed. The sexual tension between two people trying to stay away from each other, but constantly being drawn towards one another is exquisite, though, and because of the careful buildup, it's all the more scorching when they finally give in to their attraction.

My main niggle with this book is that the end is rather hurried, and all the conflicts are resolved a little bit too fast and too easily. Not to say that the resolution scene didn't also make me a bit misty-eyed, even as I had to suspend my disbelief to a frankly ridiculous degree. A fun, quick read, but still not as awesome as What I Did for a Duke.

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