A Countess by Chance (By Invitation Only #2) by Kate McKinley

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A gambler’s daughter, Sophia Weatherby knows her way around a deck of cards. So when her family estate becomes threatened, she has no choice but to use her skills at the gaming tables to save herself from ruin. A lavish house party affords her the perfect opportunity-until the newly minted Earl of Huntington arrives. Adam Greyson has never forgotten the day Sophia rejected his proposal. Now to even the score, he challenges her to a shocking wager-his two thousand pounds against the one valuable commodity she has left: her virtue

At the time I read this, the names of the characters in the book are different from those given in the synopsis – Huntington is Adam Rycroft and the heroine is Olivia Dewhurst in the ARC I have received, so those are the name I’m going to use here.

Rating: C-

This fifty page novella wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. The writing shows that the author is more than technically competent, but to produce a well-plotted and emotionally satisfying novella is very difficult, and I don’t think Ms McKinley has pulled it off in this story.

It revolves around two characters – Olivia Dewhurst and Adam Rycroft – who fell in love when they were younger, but who couldn’t marry because of the desperate need of money on the part of Olivia’s family. In order to help shore up the family finances, Olivia had to jilt Adam in favor of a man with money and a title. Unfortunately, however, in the way of the best laid plans, all came to naught when Lord Moneybags got stung by a bee and died, presumably of anaphylactic shock. (Any long-time reader of historical romance will immediately think of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books at the mention of that – it’s rare enough to stick in the memory.)
Not surprisingly, Adam was none too happy at being abandoned by the woman he loved for such mercenary reasons, and now, two years later, and also in possession of money and a title himself, he’s back and wants to exact revenge.

Revenge which consists of getting into the heroine’s knickers.

Adam is devilishly gorgeous, naturally, and he’s never got over Olivia, even though he’s still pissed at her for dumping him for someone with better prospects. Olivia is still gagging for it at Adam’s hands (and other parts of him!), but continues to deny the attraction, even though by the end of chapter two, she’s let him snog her, fondle her lady-parts and hike up her skirts and swat her arse with his riding crop.

Which might possibly be why he doesn’t believe her denial of her feelings for him any more than I did.

Most of the page count is taken up with a cat-and-mouse game between Adam and Olivia that you just know he’s going to win, although towards the end, there’s an attempt to heighten the dramatic tension with a couple of quickly inserted plot elements which felt rushed and unnecessary.

I’m beginning to think I should just steer clear of novellas unless they’re written by Courtney Milan, Meredith Duran, Tessa Dare, or other writers I know can do justice to a story within a shorter format. So many of the novellas I’ve read lack depth in terms of story and characterization, and I’m afraid this was one of them.

On the positive side, Ms McKinley has clearly tried to give her characters some back story, and had she had the opportunity to put some more flesh on the bare bones of this second-chance romance, then I think the result could have been quite enjoyable. Her writing flows well; there were signs that she is able to write more-than-decent dialogue and I thought the friendship between Adam and his friend, Wood, showed promise when it came to writing characters and relationships other than those between the hero and heroine of the story.

The book is billed as an “erotic romance”, but other than that bit of bum-slapping I mentioned, there was nothing here that you wouldn’t find in a “standard” historical romance.

Overall, I found A Countess by Chance to be rather disappointing. The writing was good on the whole, but the characterization lacked depth and the pacing felt off, due to the developments near the end which made the whole thing seem unbalanced.

That said, I would consider reading a full-length novel by Ms McKinley, as I think she has the potential to succeed within the confines of a longer format.

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