Rose, the Countess Malmstoke, is trapped in a marriage from hell. Escape seems impossible—until her horse groom Will Fenmore offers to help her find a way out.
Will has loved Rose since she was brought to Creed Hall as a new bride, but their relationship has only ever been that of mistress and servant. Born worlds apart, Will knows he could never be her husband, but maybe he can be her salvation.
As they plan her escape to the American colonies, Rose learns to trust Will with her life and her heart, but trusting him with her body is another matter. Can she conquer her fear of the marriage bed? Is the future she dreams of—being Will’s wife—possible?
The Countess’ Groom is a companion novella to Ms Larkin’s novel, The Spinster’s Secret, which I reviewed here and awarded 4 stars.
The basic premise of the novel is that the heroine, Matilda Chapple is living miserably at her cousin’s colourless and dour residence, Creed Hall, and longs to escape. She has no money of her own, and in order to earn some, is writing erotic stories for publication. Being a respectable virgin, she of course, has no real idea about what happens between a man and a woman in bed, so is drawing her inspiration from a contraband copy of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, and the diary of a former inhabitant of Creed, Rose, the fifth Countess of Malmstoke. The unhappy countess committed suicide, but not before she had written of her love for a young servant on the estate in a diary which Mattie discovers hidden in a concealed panel in her bedchamber.
The Countess’ Groom is the story of the romance between the countess and her groom, Will Fenmore. Married to a much older man, Rose Quayle lives in fear of the earl who shows her no consideration in bed and beats her regularly. When her husband travels to the West Indies for a period of several months, Rose can heave a sigh of relief to be free of his unwanted attentions and blows, but she is still little more than a prisoner at the hall.
Her daily rides are the only freedom she is allowed, and gradually, she begins to open up to her groom, and they become friends. Will and the other servants are well aware that their mistress is not treated well, but are helpless to do anything to help her – until one day, when Rose, in a fit of despair, contemplates drowning herself in the lake. Realising the extent of her misery, Will proposes that Rose leaves her husband and they hatch a plan.
The events in the novella take place over around six months, although the reader is only privy to the meetings between Rose and Will and one or two scenes which feature a minor character. Once Will and Rose have decided on their plan of escape, it leaves time for Ms Larkin to develop the relationship between them, which consists mostly of Rose overcoming her fear of being touched and of the sexual act. The writing is very good and the love scenes are tender and romantic, even though the limited word-count means that things feel somewhat rushed.
The Countess’ Groom is a quick and enjoyable read, which is well-paced and in which the characterisation is more than decent. I don’t think one needs to have read The Spinster’s Secret in order to enjoy this, but I would definitely hope that anyone picking up this novella will want to read the novel, which is engaging, entertaining and well-worth a few hours of anyone’s time.