My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
Amazon Rating: 4.00 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 3.74 / 5.00
Martha Russell had no delusions about her marriage, but her husband’s sudden death means that the estate will be inherited by his brother, a man renowned for his use, and misuse, of female servants. Determined to protect the estate and the people that she has grown to know, she needs to act promptly: a pregnancy would provide an alternative heir and allow her to maintain control over her future. All she needs is a suitable donor . . .
Theophilus Mirkwood has a terrible reputation as a rake and has been banished from London so that he can learn how to run his father’s estate, which just happens to adjoin that of Martha’s recently departed husband. He agrees to a fulfill the necessary role, for an appropriate fee, but soon finds that he is the one who finds it difficult not to confuse business with pleasure.
As I have mentioned in several reviews, I am not normally a Romance reader, but my friend Jan is slowly winning me over to a few select authors. She introduced me to Mary Balogh with A Summer To Remember, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so when she said that Ms Balogh had recommended this title I was inclined to give it a go. I am really glad that I did, because it was marvelously entertaining and kept me giggling for quite some time.
I believe that the trope is one that is seen fairly regularly in the Romance genre. A proper Lady decides to take a rakish lover in order to become pregnant and save the estate from the evil heir, but despite her best efforts she falls for his rakish charms and they all live happily ever after. In essence that is precisely what happens in this title, but Ms Grant’s voice is so authentic and snarky that the journey to the happy ending is delightful enough for even a jaded non-romantic like myself.
I think this enjoyment comes in part from the very strong characterization that Ms Grant employs and her decision to take her hero and heroine in slightly unconventional directions. In many ways, they display a degree of role reversal that counteracts the stereotypes of Virgin and Rake. She also provides our heroine with some very real and understandable reasons for her illegal actions and an ability to seize the initiative and take action herself rather than wafting about with no agency of her own. Finally, she chooses to have Martha maintain her moral integrity right up to the very end of the book rather than taking the easier, and yet less logical, path that we usually see. This was a brave choice and unexpected, which made me appreciate it so much more.
Our blushing Virgin is actually a very practical person, which endeared her to me a great deal. She is not very distressed by the death of her husband, but quickly comes to realize that she alone can save the female estate workers from a very unpleasant future. This pragmatism continues into her dealings with Theo, who is quite dismissive of her at first. He expects to sweep her off her feet with his amazing love making, but she remains steadfastly uninterested and unmoved despite his best efforts. I cannot express how totally hilarious it is to follow their sexual exploits whilst listening to her running commentary of such romantic phrases as “Are you finished yet?” and “Was that it?” The poor man starts to suffer from severe performance anxiety as he becomes increasingly determined to make her enjoy the experience.
This neat switch in the emotional roles of the two protagonists was very entertaining as it slowly developed. Poor Theo becomes the needy one who wants to cuddle and discuss his daily exploits while Martha is more concerned with getting the deed over and done with. His growing disappointment with her emotional distance was entertaining and nicely done, showing that it is not necessary for men and women to allows behave as stereotypes. As a woman married to a fairly emotional man, it was nice to see a hero who was insecure enough to worry about what his woman was thinking. It was also terrific to see a couple who have more in common than just sex: Martha teaches Theo a great deal about how to manage his estate and deal with people, encouraging him to fund a school for girls and stimulate the local economy. For once, I could picture this couple living a long and productive life together.
The setting is neatly drawn and presents a slightly downbeat version of the typical Regency period piece. We are not dealing with the titled aristocracy but with their cousins the landed gentry. This means that we can truly believe that Martha is aware of more than just the names of her servants and the people of the estate. She is not a Lady with no duties other than to breed and look attractive, and so she has much more freedom to act than a woman of higher status. We see this when she begins to befriend the other local people of her rank and rallies them to her side when she needs support. However, the period details rang true and nothing stood out as jarringly anachronistic, which was a pleasant surprise.
I guess that the only warning I should make is that this title contains a lot of sex, including lots of different types and some light bondage. This might not be to some people’s taste but is an integral part of the plot in this case, so you have been warned!