Impoverished, alone and on the run, Isabelle Thomas needs help. So when William Stanton, Earl of Lennox, offers her a job as governess to his ward, she can’t refuse.
But Isabelle soon discovers that working for tall, broad-shouldered William, with his disheveled hair and intense green eyes, is more of a challenge than she expected!
When the attraction between them culminates in a bone-melting kiss, Isabelle knows she must leave. Only, the earl has other plans for his innocent governess…
This is a Mills & Boon / Harlequin Historical from 2009 that has been sitting on the PPB (Pile of Paperbacks by the Bed) for a while, and which seemed a good choice for this month’s TBR Challenge, which is to read a short story, novella or category romance.
I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for that whole Cinderella thing, and with a title like that, I knew exactly what I’d be getting! But in spite of the predictability of the story, the book is lifted into the “above average” range by writing, the way the relationship develops between the eponymous characters and the fact that Ms Elliott puts a slightly different spin on the heroine’s story.
Travelling home from … somewhere… William Stanton, Earl of Lennox is annoyed when his carriage is held up by an overturned vegetable cart somewhere in a less salubrious area of London. Annoyance turns to irritation and disbelief when he sees a shabbily dressed, passably pretty young woman walking unaccompanied through the streets, and knowing how vulnerable she must be, he immediately offers her his assistance. On her way to visit a pawnbroker’s, Isabelle Thomas is mortified at the prospect of such a handsome and obviously wealthy gentleman finding out where she’s going, but he’s persistent and insists on carrying her bag. She’s not too happy about that, either, but he offers a trade – he gives her his gold watch and tells her she can carry that while he carries her bag, as that way she’ll know he’s not going to make off with her possessions.
When Will returns briefly to his still-stuck carriage, Isabelle spies the shady character she believes has been following her all day – and runs off, only realising later that she still has the watch.
Isabelle’s recently deceased father had been a well-known scholar and collector of antiquities. He was one of those absent-minded selfishly obssesed types who rarely remembered the existence of his offspring and failed to ensure that she’s given the education befitting a gentleman’s daughter. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as instead of learning needlework and deportment, she learned useful things like languages and history, but the lack of the more ladylike accomplishments are going to make it difficult for Isabelle to make her living as a governess or companion. And she has to make her own living now, especially considering that his activities, buying and selling antiquities, have turned out to have been fraudulent, and he has left her unprovided for and prey to anyone who has discovered that many of the artefacts he has sold in the past have been fakes.
But one of those buyers has already discovered the truth and he’s determined to get his pound of flesh. Isabelle has already sold her home in order to reimburse him, but that only provided half the sum he’s pressurising her for. Isabelle knows she has no hope of paying back the total – and if more of the men her father duped find out about the deception, she’ll be sent to debtor’s prison or be forced into making amends on her back.
William is, naturally, displeased when he discovers the theft of his watch, which belonged to his grandfather. But he has more pressing concerns. His best friend has recently died and left his twelve-year-old daughter, Mary to Will’s guardianship. Mary is away at school, but has been sent away because of her behaviour, so now Will is faced with providing a home for her until he can find another school willing to take her.
The watch weighs on Isabelle’s conscience and she wants to return it, but while she knows Will’s name, she doesn’t know where he lives. It takes her a couple of weeks to find out – and then she turns up on the very day he is interviewing governesses for Mary.
She explains why she’s there, returns the watch, and then Will offers her the post of governess. She’s sceptical – after all, the only thing she really has of value is her reputation – but she doesn’t have any other options, so she accepts, agreeing to remain until Mary returns to school. Yet while Will genuinely wants to help Isabelle, his motives are not completely altruistic. He wants to bed her – but realises he’s rather stymied himself on that front because his gentlemanly scruples won’t allow him to sleep with a woman in his employ, and certainly not with his ward under the same roof.
Despite his slightly nefarious manoeuvring, however, Will is a very likeable hero. He’s titled and rich, but doesn’t stand on ceremony or treat those of lower standing as though they’re something the cat dragged in. He even puts up with his nagging cousin Henrietta – whose efforts to fix him up with a blandly suitable bride are dedidedly unwelcome – with fairly good grace, although he’ll only let her push so far before he tells her where to get off!
Isabelle starts to work with Mary, who is rather withdrawn but obviously far from stupid, and soon the three of them have settled into something like a routine. There’s a pleasant domesticity to the interactions between Will and Isabelle, and then between the couple and Mary, as he finds he actually cares about the girl and wants to help her.
The central relationship is well developed and there’s a strong chemistry between the leads. Isabelle is not always the most deferential of employees, but Will so likes her impertinence that he can’t always bring himself to correct her, which leads to some enjoyable banter between them. Will and Isabelle are engaging characters and their relationship evolves in a natural, unhurried way, which makes it all the more convincing.
All in all, The Earl and the Governess is a quick, enjoyable and entertaining read. It might not win any prizes for the originality of its storyline, but it treads a well-worn path confidently and with a lot of charm.