Saturday 7 May 2016
#CBR8 Book 49: "The Earl Takes All" by Lorraine Heath
Rating: 3 stars
Twin brothers, orphaned at seven, Albert and Edward Alcott were sent to be raised by a family friend, the Marquess of Marsden at Havisham Hall. Insane with grief after losing his wife, Marsden wasn't exactly the best person to raise his own son and three orphaned boys (the third being the Duke of Ashebury, hero of the first book in the series). As the boys grew up, roaming free, they became collectively known as the Hellions of Havisham.
Then Albert, the elder by a few minutes and therefore the Earl of Greyling, wanted to give up his wild ways and fell in love with Lady Julia Kenney. Edward resented the way this woman seemed to be stealing his brother away, and one fateful evening, pretending to be his identical twin, he kissed her the garden at a ball. Only after their passionate kiss does Edward reveal his identity, leading to Julia loathing him utterly, even after she marries his brother.
On one last adventure together on safari in Africa, Albert is mortally wounded, and his last words to Edward are: "Be me!" Julia, having miscarried multiple times, is pregnant with what they hope is the heir to the earldom and has managed to stay pregnant for nearly seven months already. Albert is worried the shock of his death will make her lose this baby too, and therefore persuades his twin with his dying breath to pretend to be him, until the baby is safely delivered. Edward is to pretend that it was in fact HE who died in Africa, while taking care of his sister in law until she gives birth. While this is an absolutely moronic plan, he agrees, because he loves his brother, and let's face it, has some pretty strong feelings about Julia too, and not just in the pants region. Initially, he tries to stay away from her as much as possible, using grief as an excuse. But when Julia starts questioning why her husband has become so distant, he needs to become more affectionate so as to not give the game away.
His friends, who always knew the twins better than anyone else, uncover his charade at the funeral but reluctantly agree to keep the secret for the sake of Julia and Albert's child. They strongly warn Edward against getting too close to Julia, though, or in any way taking advantage of her. She'd figure out that something was wrong if her husband never even kissed her, though, right? While thankfully, sex is out of the question, to protect the baby, there is definitely some pretty passionate kissing and fondling and I have to admit I was pretty uncomfortable during this section. Then of course, the baby is born, and it's not a boy, like Albert and Julia were convinced it was going to be. So Edward is in fact the Earl now and needs to tell Julia the truth. Will she hate him forever?
Of course not, this is a romance. Besides, it's not like Edward does the honourable thing and confesses right after his niece is born. Nope, it's just before Christmas, and no one should find out they're a widow at Christmas right? Just a few more weeks of lying to the woman he loves, deceiving her in word and deed, because once she realises what he's done, she's going to never want to speak to him again. Of course, Julia is devastated when she discovers the truth. Not only is her husband dead, but her brother-in-law has been lying to her for months and she betrayed her husband's memory without even realising it, because she felt more comfortable and passionate with Edward than she ever did with Albert.
It's a heck of a plot to try to carry out, but this is the same woman who basically wrote Overboard in the Victorian era a few books back, so I guess if anyone was going to do really uncomfortable plots in romance, it's Lorraine Heath. It's an absolutely preposterous premise, and I still find it unlikely that the twins were so identical that Julia never once suspected the truth until it was revealed to her. Especially as Julia and Albert didn't have a marriage of convenience where they spent most of their time apart, only spending time in bed when trying to conceive an heir. Nope, Julia and Albert were a love match and confided in each other about everything. Even if Edward looked the same, being able to fake being his brother for months should have been impossible.
I still kept reading to find out what was going to happen, though, and the plot got a lot less squicky once the truth all comes out. At that point, Edward also confesses to Julia that the reason he couldn't tell her the truth as soon as the baby was born was because he's in love with her, and has been for years, and crushed and betrayed as she feels, Julia is starting to wonder if she doesn't feel something similar for her brother-in-law. Once she knows, she can see how blithely she brushed away all the things that didn't make sense, because she actually enjoyed spending time with Edward even more than she had with Albert before he left.
As an added complication, there's the laws that a widow was forbidden to marry her husband's brother (or a widower forbidden to marry his wife's sister). If Edward tells the world the truth about his identity, he can never marry Julia. Having spent more than two months with him, seeing how responsible and capable he is at running the estate, how good he is with the servants and tenants and how affectionate and caring he's been with her, Julia has realised that the drunken shambles that Edward made out to be in the eyes of his family and the world is in fact a clever ruse, to make sure that Julia kept him in contempt and neither she nor Albert ever realise the truth about his shameful feelings about his sister-in-law. She hates that the entire world thinks that Edward was a frivolous adventurer and drunkard who never really amounted to anything, and wants the achievements he's working towards as the Earl of Greyling to be in HIS actual name, not that of his dead brother.
While Julia and Edward eventually get their happy ending (there were ways around the inconvenient legal issues, if you had enough money and knew where to travel), I do hope that Edward sorted out his drinking problem. Certainly in the first half of the book, he's throwing down glasses of alcohol every chance he gets. I think Julia should have serious issues about trusting him, considering how skilled he proved himself to be at lying, but if she chooses to spend her life with him, who am I to argue. I much preferred the first book in this series, but then I always find Lorraine Heath to be very variable in quality (not that it stops me from coming back to her books again and again). Hoping the last Hellion's book (he's the one with the mad dad) is less uncomfortable.
Judging a book by its cover: See, cover designer of Cold-Hearted Rake. THIS is how you portray a woman in mourning. Not in a pink giant-skirted monstrosity when your heroine never takes off her widow's weeds a single time over the course of the book! In The Earl Takes All, Julia actually does wear other colours occasionally, yet she's also a grieving widow for much of the book, consequently frequently clad in unrelieved black, and the dress described on the cover actually matches the description of one she wears in the book. That's good! Not sure about gazing soulfully at the white rose she's holding. Still, I should complain. This is a surprisingly decent romance cover, even though I suspect the low-cut back is less than entirely appropriate for Victorian times.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.