I found the appeal of a new to me author, first in a new series and the inclusion of a favorite story trope impossible to pass up. I’ve always enjoyed the governess-lord of the manor plot. I had a fairly good time with this one, but it wasn’t a complete win. There was a Jane Eyre feel to it at first which tickled me since I love discovering classical stories peeking out of newer ones.
The story opens with Anna Black, the seamstress for a school for young ladies accompanying one of the students to her guardian after the young lady got herself removed from the school. Anna is more than she seems as the daughter of a respected doctor and naturalist, but she must hide because an unscrupulous artist took advantage of his stay in her father’s home and drew a serious of nudes with her the model. He compiled a book and sold it to a nobleman who shared his new prize so many men have seen and heard of The Beautiful One. She just needs to scrape up the funds necessary to get to the north where she can live in obscurity with her aunt. Unfortunately, the journey is only the beginning and she couldn’t possibly leave her young charge in the hands of the cold, rude man who doesn’t want his guardian at his estate nor her either.
Will Hallifax, Viscount Granville, is still deeply grieving the death of his wife a year from her death. He isolates himself on his main estate finishing projects that his wife set in motion so that he might continue to honor her wishes and keep just a bit of her alive. He has no desire to be invaded by his wife’s niece of whom he is guardian or the outspoken, frumpy looking, companion who challenges him as no one ever does. Anna’s brow-beating and attitude wake Will up like nothing has in a while. Anna and Lizzie are just the first invaders that he has to deal with. He wants to take care of Anna and he knows that she is carrying a secret, but she insists on independence and refuses to let him help. His feelings are engaged and he searches for any reason including using Lizzie if he has to for keeping her there.
Alright, I have impressions of enjoyable scenes, scenes that bugged me, and lots of skimming. The story is mostly divided into Will and Anna narrating, but occasionally Lizzie took over. I liked the switch in narrators. I never quite became an Anna fan. I loved Will, Lizzie, and Tommy. Judith was another that didn’t do it for me. My thing with Judith was though she meant well, she was pushy and assumed she knew best. Anna was very guilty of this, too.
The progression that the author established in her detailing the setting and tone that changed from dismal to happy for the life at the estate was done very well. I enjoyed seeing that progression from stark and bare with little going on beyond work to a house made into a home and laughter and fun returning with tea on the veranda, boat rides, and preparations for a party.
I also loved the inclusion of Lizzie. She’s willful and wayward, but so lonely and just wanting to find love and a home in her uncle. She works so hard to get Will to love her and I was cheering her on. Her skirmishes with Tommy cracked me up. And the loss of temper that made her break Will’s statuary and then hide the evidence was a hoot.
Will’s grief was the key issue that set me off when it came to Judith and Anna pushing him so hard. Maybe I’m looking at this wrong, but I seriously didn’t see the problem with the man living quietly on his estate, puttering around doing physical labor as a release, and mourning his wife. He wasn’t a drunk or a lech and he wasn’t out hurting people or himself. He has a younger brother if he never chooses to remarry and get an heir though its not like he’s on the shelf if he wants to wait a few years to try for another wife. I really couldn’t see the need to force his hand. With those two women, it was like ‘the years up so cut off your feelings, buck up, and get on with my plan for your life’. The only exception was that I was on board with Anna convincing him to take his guardianship responsibilities more personally because Lizzie needed him since she was essentially an orphan. This is a romance so of course I expected that he would move on and love the heroine which he does, but a part of me felt like he should have the right not to love someone else if he wanted, too.
Anna was a character for whom I had little patience. She plays the role of the mouse, but only as long as it suits her which isn’t too long. She’s got opinions about everyone else and butts in, but doesn’t think this should be a reciprocal thing. She hemmed and hawed, holding onto her secret for way to long naively assuming that she knew best and nobody else could help. For all her sass to Will, she is naive at best considering what she is up against. Her hot and cold thing with Will drove me nuts. She would participate in trysts with Will which back then did make one a loose woman, but she couldn’t admit that a guy did a Peeping Tom and drew nudies of her because she was worried about what Will would think. Didn’t make sense to me. I was tired of her in the beginning and stayed that way. I didn’t hate her and I’m glad she was there to make Will happy, but I didn’t exactly take to her either.
Possibly its a mood thing and it very well could be. I didn’t hate this story, but just felt irritated at times. Still, there were a few high points, too. The promised sharp witty dialogue between the sassy governess and the forbidding Lord of the Manor was an element I liked as was the tension and attraction. I thought the humor was deftly done and sprinkled through out.
All in all, I liked the story enough that I would recommend it to fans of passionate Historical Romance lovers.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.