A Lady Becomes a Governess (Governess Swap #1) by Diane Gaston

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lady Rebecca Pierce escapes her forced betrothal when the ship she’s on is wrecked. Assuming the identity of a governess she believes has drowned, she enters the employ of brooding Lord Brookmore, who’s selflessly caring for his orphaned nieces. Inconveniently, she’s extremely attracted to the Viscount…but her only chance of happiness is tied to the biggest risk: revealing the truth about who she really is…

Rating: C-

In this latest offering from Diane Gaston, two women from very different stations in life swap roles and, as promised by the book’s title, The Lady Becomes a Governess . The premise intrigued me, but misgivings set in early on when the two ladies, Lady Rebecca Pierce and Miss Claire Tilson, who meet while on a voyage from Ireland to England, discover their uncanny (and hugely convenient) resemblance to one another. As I read on, I was confronted by a series of contrivances, unlikely circumstances and clichés; the characters were dull as ditchwater, the romance non-existent, and the only spark of life in the whole novel was provided by the hero’s horrid fiancée, a stereotypical evil-other-woman type whose machinations, while predictable and ridiculously hackneyed, did at least provoke a reaction other than boredom.

Lady Rebecca is being forced by her half-brother, the Earl of Keneagle, to marry the elderly Lord Stonecroft and is en route to England for her wedding. Needless to say, she’s not looking forward to her life as the wife of an elderly baron who only wants a young brood-mare, but the earl wants his half-sister off his hands and marrying her off is the easiest way to do it. As a caper to take their minds off the fates awaiting them, she and Clare – who is travelling to England in order to take up a post as a governess – swap clothes and pretend to be each other, even going so far as to fool Rebecca’s starchy maid (who is laid low by mal de mer) into believing that Claire is Rebecca. What larks!

Until, that is, the ship is hit by a terrible storm. Around three-quarters of the passengers are lost, and Claire is one of them. Rebecca remembers getting into a small rowing boat and then falling into the sea, but nothing more when she awakens in a soft bed in an unfamiliar room to find an equally unfamiliar gentleman sitting at her bedside. Assailed by guilt that she survived where others did not, Rebecca is at first not at all sure what to do, and then realises she has been presented with an opportunity to escape her unwanted marriage. Learning that the gentleman at her side is Garret, Viscount Brookmore, who had engaged Claire as governess to his two recently orphaned nieces, Rebecca decides to continue the deception she and Claire had practiced aboard ship. After all, she’s doing the poor little girls a kindness by not being yet another person supposed to look after them who has abandoned them by dying.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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Fatal Mistake (White Knights #1) by Susan Sleeman (audiobook) – Narrated by Rachel Dulude

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

An FBI agent must protect the woman who can identify a terrorist bomber in best-selling author Susan Sleeman’s riveting romantic suspense novel.

Each day could be her last…but not if he can help it.

Tara Parrish is the only person ever to survive an attack by the Lone Wolf bomber. Scared and emotionally scarred by her near death, she goes into hiding with only one plan – to stay alive for another day. She knows he’s coming after her, and if he finds her, he will finish what he started.

Agent Cal Riggins has had only one goal for the past six months – to save lives by ending the Lone Wolf’s bombing spree. To succeed, he needs the help of Tara Parrish, the one person who can lead them to the bomber. Cal puts his all into finding Tara, but once he locates her, he realizes if he can find her, the Lone Wolf can, too. He must protect Tara at all costs, and they’ll both need to resist the mutual attraction growing between them to focus on hunting down the bomber, because one wrong move could be fatal.

Rating: Narration – C : Content – D-

I wasn’t even fifteen minutes into Susan Sleeman’s romantic suspense novel, Fatal Mistake, when I realised I’d made a catastrophic mistake in deciding to listen to it. I’m a fan of the sub-genre and am always on the look-out for authors to add to my “must read/listen” list, but instead, I’ve found one to add to my “must avoid” list. The storyline is trite, predictable and filled with stereotypical characters, info dumps, hackneyed dialogue and more introspection and internal monologuing than one can shake a stick at. The principals seem to have aced “Jumping to Unfounded Conclusions 101”; there’s way too much telling and not enough showing, which means that characters make huge leaps of logic and arrive at conclusions for no reason that is made clear to the listener, and the author completely fails to create even the vaguest sense of sexual attraction between the principals. Reviews the novel are overwhelmingly positive, and the blurb promised a “riveting” read… but all I was riveted to was my watch as I kept checking to see how far I was from the end.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Waking Up Married by Mira Lynn Kelly

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Her first thought: “Who are you?”

It’s the morning after her cousin’s bachelorette party in Vegas and Megan Scott wakes up with the mother of all hangovers. Even worse, she’s in a stranger’s penthouse having woken up with something else as well – a funny, arrogant, sexy…husband!

Up until now, finding even a boyfriend had seemed impossible – been there, got the broken heart, sworn off men for good. Then a few martinis with Carter…no, Connor Reed and she’s gone from first meet to marriage in one night!

Megan wants a lawyer. But Connor’s shocking bombshell?

“I don’t want a divorce.”

Rating: C+

Scrolling through my Kindle to find a contemporary romance to read for this month’s prompt, I stumbled upon Mira Lyn Kelly’s Waking Up Married, one of the titles in Harlequin’s short-lived Kiss line (which is published as Mills & Boon Modern Tempted in the UK).  I’ve read a couple of the author’s more recent titles and enjoyed them – funny, sexy and sweet, they’re written with a secure but deft hand and boast attractive principals and a strong supporting cast.  I went into this one hoping for more of the same and found it, for the most part, but the story as a whole is rather let down by the hero who spends most of the novel trying to persuade the heroine into doing something she isn’t sure she wants to do.

Megan Scott is in Vegas with a group of (very bitchy) girlfriends, and they’re out partying before being bridesmaids at the wedding of one of their number the next day.  Megan has decided that she doesn’t want or need a man – she has never fallen in love with one and doesn’t think she is capable of it – instead, she intends to fulfil her desire for motherhood by a visit to the local sperm bank.

Connor Reed is surprised – in a good way – when the gorgeous woman he’d noticed earlier as he’d walked by her table approaches him and asks him if he’ll walk her out of the bar.  Her friends have been egging her on all night, and she won’t hear the end of it if she leaves the bar alone.  It’s an odd request, but he agrees, and he and Megan end up spending the next few hours together, during which they really do ‘click’; Megan tells Connor a bit about her seeming inability to fall in love, which she puts down to the fact that her mother has been married seven times (and had boyfriends in between) and having no desire to follow the path of falling in love and being repeatedly left.  As the night progresses,  Connor becomes more and more convinced that Megan wants the same things from life that he does.  Of course, they take in more than a few more drinks along the way, which is how Megan ends up with her head stuck down the great white telephone the next morning with the hangover from hell – and discovers she’s now Mrs. Reed.

In the spirit of ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’, she tells her new husband they made a horrendous mistake and that they should start divorce proceedings immediately – and is stunned when Connor tells her he wants their marriage to stand.  Megan can’t believe what she’s hearing, but Connor persuades her to hear him out over breakfast.  From what Megan told him the previous night, it seems she wants the same things from a relationship that he does:

“All the vital components that make a relationship successful, without any of the emotional messiness to drag it down. It’s about respect, caring and commitment. Shared goals and compatible priorities. It’s about treating a marriage like a partnership instead of some romantic fantasy. It’s about two people liking each other.”

– and he’s one hundred percent there for that sort of marriage.

Even though Megan has decided she’s probably never going to find ‘the one’, a marriage like the one Connor is suggesting sounds terribly calculating, and she’s not sure it’s what she wants for the rest of her life.  But she agrees to a three month trial – although with no sex allowed – and moves into Connor’s house.

One of the things I liked straight away about Waking Up Married is that the ‘Oh no – we got drunk, got married and must get a divorce as quickly as possible’ trope doesn’t quite pan out that way, because while Megan and Connor did get married while drunk, Connor knew exactly what they were doing when they walked down the aisle.  The trouble is though, that I wasn’t wild about the idea that he was aware of what they were doing while Megan wasn’t; she can’t even remember saying her vows, or much of what Connor told her the previous night.  And while Connor is devastatingly handsome and extremely charming, he’s also incredibly manipulative; for the majority of the book, he’s doing his damnedest to convince Megan that what he wants is what she wants, too, which he does by being Mr. Reasonable and Mr. Unflappable, even when Megan tries everything she can think of to rile him or get him to give up – which seemed a bit mean considering she had actually agreed to give him and their marriage a chance to work out. Neither of them covers themselves in glory here, but fortunately, this stalemate isn’t allowed to continue and things start to look up – until Connor turns into an idiot not far from the end and only manages to turn things around in the last page or two.

Waking Up Married was enjoyable-  but ultimately forgettable – fluff.  I liked both protagonists, and the way Connor was so clueless as to the real state of his feelings about Megan was oddly sweet; he’s a nice blend of alpha and beta hero, a man who wants to protect and support his woman while also applauding her desire for independence.  On the downside, her being independent means less aggro for him and none of those nasty romantic luuurve cooties, so it’s not an entirely altruistic trait.  Ms. Kelly opts to give both characters a backstory that explains their reluctance to pursue love, but it’s very sketchy and could perhaps have been a little more developed; and I also have to admit that I wasn’t always comfortable with Connor’s more manipulative side.

I can’t recommend Waking Up Married without reservations, but if you enjoy rom-coms and are looking for an afternoon quickie (!), it might hit the spot.

Her Last Word by Mary Burton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Fourteen years ago, Kaitlin Roe was the lone witness to the abduction of her cousin Gina. She still remembers that lonely Virginia road. She can still see the masked stranger and hear Gina’s screams. And she still suffers the guilt of running away in fear and resents being interrogated as a suspect in the immediate aftermath. Now Kaitlin has only one way to assuage the pain and nightmares—by interviewing everyone associated with the unsolved crime for a podcast that could finally bring closure to a case gone cold.

But when a woman Kaitlin questions is later found stabbed to death, she fears that she’s drawn a killer out of hiding. It’s Detective John Adler’s fear that the murders have only just begun. Now his job is to keep Kaitlin safe.

As a bond between Kaitlin and Adler builds, the past closes in just as fast—and it’s darker than Kaitlin remembers. Soon, her wish will come true. She’s going to find out exactly what happened to Gina. Someone has been dying to tell her.

Rating: C+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Mary Burton’s romantic suspense novels and have generally found them to contain complex, intriguing mysteries with a reasonably-sized helping of romance that is enough to satisfy my shippy little heart.  Unfortunately however, Ms. Burton’s latest standalone title, Her Last Word is a bit of a mixed bag.  The mystery element is once again based on a cold-case, this time the disappearance of a teenaged girl some fourteen years earlier, and there are plenty of red herrings and wrong turns – but the way the story is constructed proved something of a barrier to my becoming fully engaged and the romance, such as it is, is perfunctory; the overall story would have made perfect sense without it and the book’s single sex scene feels as though it has been inserted for the sake of it.

Kaitlin Roe has spent much of the last fourteen years feeling guilty over what happened the night her cousin, Gina Mason, was abducted.  Kaitlin, Gina and two of their friends, Jennifer and Erika had snuck away with a bottle of spiked lemonade and proceeded to get very drunk; Jennifer called her sister, Ashley, to come and get her and Erika, leaving Kaitlin and Gina to make their way home on their own.  Not long after the other two girls were picked up, a man wearing a clown mask grabbed Gina and yelled at Kaitlin to run.  Even though she was drunk and, as it was later revealed, drugged, Kaitlin refused to leave until her cousin’s assailant pulled a knife, put it to her throat and then, when Kaitlin still didn’t leave, cut off Gina’s ear while threatening to do worse if Kaitlin didn’t do as she was told.  So she ran. And Gina was never seen again.

Fourteen years later, Kaitlin – after some years studying and working in Dallas – has returned to Richmond and is now a professor of communications at Virginia University.  She had a reputation for being something of a ‘wild child’  – hanging out with the wrong boys, regularly getting drunk – but now older and wiser, she’s cleaned up her act and is determined to find out what happened to Gina.  She decides to tap into the recent trend for making ‘true-crime’ podcasts, hoping that talking to people who knew Gina and were involved with the investigation may jog memories – either those of her contributors, or people who listen to the finished product.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

A Devil of a Duke (Decadent Dukes Society #2) by Madeline Hunter


This title may be purchased from Amazon

HE MAY BE A DEVIL
He’s infamous, debaucherous, and known all over town for his complete disregard for scandal, and positively irresistible seductions. Gabriel St. James, Duke of Langford, is obscenely wealthy, jaw-droppingly handsome, and used to getting exactly what he wants. Until his attention is utterly captured by a woman who refuses to tell him her name, but can’t help surrendering to his touch . . .

BUT SHE’S NO ANGEL EITHER . . .
Amanda Waverly is living two lives—one respectable existence as secretary to an upstanding lady, and one far more dangerous battle of wits—and willpower—with the devilish Duke. Langford may be the most tempting man she’s ever met, but Amanda’s got her hands full trying to escape the world of high-society crime into which she was born. And if he figures out who she really is, their sizzling passion will suddenly boil over into a much higher stakes affair . . .

Rating: C

In A Devil of a Duke, the second book in Madeline Hunter’s Decadent Dukes Society series, attention turns to the roguish, devilishly handsome ladies’ man Gabriel St. James, Duke of Langdon, who is inadvertently entangled in the hunt for a thief and blackmailer when he becomes intent on the seduction of a young woman he encounters at a masked ball. The premise is intriguing and while cross-class romances can be difficult to pull off, Ms. Hunter has done so before and I had confidence she would do so here – but while I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, this one just didn’t work for me. For one thing, I’m suffering slightly from ‘duke fatigue’ – it seems that nine out of ten historical romance heroes these days are dukes and it’s something of an understatement when I say that I’m getting just a little bit tired of them – and for another, the story simply failed to draw me in and hold my attention. The pacing, especially in the first half, is very slow, there is hardly any chemistry or emotional connection between the principals and their relationship is based entirely on physical attraction, and never goes beyond that.

Amanda Waverly is something of an oddity – a female secretary. Employed by the eccentric Lady Farnsworth at a time when even ladies were supposed to have male secretaries, Amanda has worked for the lady for five months and has proved herself to be extremely competent and able to handle whatever task she is assigned. But Amanda is living a lie. The daughter of jewel thieves, Amanda’s father abandoned her and her mother some years ago after a job-gone-wrong, and not long after that, her mother left after enrolling Amanda in a good school. Now, Mrs. Waverly has fallen into the hands of a man who is blackmailing Amanda into pulling jobs for him in order to guarantee her mother’s safety. His latest demand is that Amanda must steal an item of great value from the home of Sir Malcolm Nutley, which is located not too far from the British Museum. The house is very securely closed up and gaining entry is going to be difficult – but Amanda cannot bear the thought of letting her mother come to harm, so over the next couple of days, she conceives a daring plan. Learning that the house next door to Sir Malcolm’s is owned by the younger brother of the Duke of Langdon, she determines to seduce the young man and then to break in to the house next door by means of a second-floor window at the side while he lies sated and asleep in bed. The trouble is, that when Amanda tries to get close to Lord Harry St. James at a masked ball, he is unresponsive and obviously uncomfortable with her interest and attempts at flirtation – and it’s the other St. James brother with whom she finds herself on the darkened terrace.

Gabriel St. James is a somewhat stereotypical hero; rich, handsome and charming, he’s cut a dash through the beds of half the females in London, and is starting to find his rather carefree lifestyle a bit on the dull side. But he is immediately intrigued by the masked shepherdess who had so clearly been trying to ingratiate herself with his brother, and determines to find out more.  Her speech and quick wit indicate she is well-educated and while not of the ton, is unlikely to be a member of the demimonde; and her obvious spirit and lack of reverence for his station pique his pride, his interest, and his lust.  Stealing a kiss from the woman does nothing to quench his desire, and he suggests an assignation the following evening… at his brother’s house.

That is, of course, exactly what Amanda had been angling for, but she is unprepared for the intensity of the desire Langdon stirs deep inside her, and can’t help regretting that her scheme requires her to forego the sensual pleasure she has no doubt she would find in his arms.

The first part of the story is, as I said before, rather slow to unfold as Amanda practices her deception on Langdon while at the same time being unable to resist him.  However, when his brother – a studious young man – informs him of a theft of an extremely valuable ancient artefact from the British Museum and the even more recent theft of something similar from the house next door to his, Langdon begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together and is, of course, furious when he realises he has been duped. While I would normally be praising an author for taking the time to develop the romance in her story, here, I just wanted things to get moving in terms of the plot.  In spite of Amanda’s unusual upbringing, she’s not a particularly interesting character, and I wasn’t impressed by the way she so often ignores her own good advice and instincts.  She decides to meet Langton against her better judgement; she decides to go to bed with him against her better judgement but hey, his reputation means he must know how to show a girl a good time, so why not?  Langdon is your typical man-whore who is felled by love – or so we’re told, but I never felt it.  For sure, he wants to help Amanda when he discovers the truth and really goes out on a limb for her – but even so, I never believed he was doing it all out of love.  In fact, even the insta-lust is barely felt and there is no element of sexual tension present at all.  Quite honestly, I didn’t care for either protagonist, and not connecting with the hero and heroine is the death-knell to any romance. The lack of chemistry between them just compounds the book’s flaws and made it extremely easy to walk away from.

The second half of the story, in which Amanda and Langdon work together to discover who is behind the blackmail and to rescue Amanda’s mother, proceeds at a much livelier pace and is far more engaging, but it comes too late to save the book from the middling grade I’ve awarded it.  The best part of the novel is the friendship Ms. Hunter has created between the three dukes, which is full of bonhomie and manly teasing, but which, when push comes to shove, is the sort of bond which would see each man do absolutely anything for the other two.

As one would expect of such an experienced author, the writing flows easily, although I could have done without lines like “… she screamed into the night while her moisture flowed.”  Just – no.

Uneven pacing, unmemorable characters and a romance that lacked even the smallest of sparks meant A Devil of a Duke proved to be a devil of a struggle to get through – and I can’t recommend it.

Devil in Tartan (Highland Grooms #4) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lottie Livingstone bears the weight of an island on her shoulders. Under threat of losing their home, she and her clan take to the seas to sell a shipload of illegal whiskey. When an attack leaves them vulnerable, she transforms from a maiden daughter to a clever warrior. For survival, she orchestrates the siege of a rival’s ship and now holds the devilish Scottish captain Aulay Mackenzie under her command.

Tied, captive, and forced to watch a stunning siren commandeer the Mackenzie ship, Aulay burns with the desire to seize control – of the ship and Lottie. He has resigned himself to a life of solitude on the open seas, but her beauty tantalizes him like nothing has before. As authorities and enemies close in, he is torn between surrendering her to justice and defending her from assailants. He’ll lose her forever, unless he’s willing to sacrifice the unimaginable…

Rating: Narration – A : Content – C

The estimable Derek Perkins returns to Julia London’s Highland Grooms series to narrate book four, Devil in Tartan, which features Aulay, the middle son of the Mackenzie brood, and the one least often to be found at the family estate of Balhaire. With his elder brother Cailean living mostly in England with his wife and stepson, and his younger brother, Robbie, aiding their father in the management of the Balhaire estate and lands, Aulay has increasingly come to feel something of an outsider, and has more or less resigned himself to a life alone. He has made his life at sea, captaining the Mackenzie ship and contributing to the family coffers by his various profitable trading enterprises, but his latest voyage, designed to bring in some much needed funds, is destined to end in disaster.

A few days after they have set sail on their latest commission, Aulay and his crew sight a smaller vessel which is clearly in distress and go to its aid. Unfortunately, however, Aulay’s generous intentions prove to be his – and his crew’s – undoing, because despite his caution, the ethereally lovely young woman aboard proves so distracting that a momentary lapse of attention on Aulay’s part enables her crew to incapacitate him and the rest of his crew and to take over his ship.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Counting on a Countess (London Underground #2) by Eva Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

For a shameless libertine and a wily smuggler in the London Underground, marriage is more than convenience–it’s strategy . . .

Christopher “Kit” Ellingsworth, war veteran and newly minted Earl of Blakemere, buries his demons under every sort of pleasure and vice. His scandalous ways have all but emptied his coffers . . . until a wealthy mentor leaves him a sizeable fortune. The only stipulation? He must marry within one month to inherit the money. Kit needs a bride and the bold, mysterious Miss Tamsyn Pearce seems perfect.

Husband hunting isn’t Tamsyn’s top priority–she’s in London to sell her new shipment of illicit goods–but she’s desperate for funds to keep her smuggling operation afloat. When a handsome earl offers to wed her and send her back to Cornwall with a hefty allowance, Tamsyn agrees. After all, her secrets could land her in prison and an attentive, love-struck spouse could destroy everything.

But when an unexpected proviso in the will grants Tamsyn control of the inheritance, their arrangement becomes anything but convenient. Now, Kit’s counting on his countess to make his wildest dreams a reality and he plans to convince her, one pleasurable seduction at a time.

Rating: C+

I’ve been looking forward to Counting on a Countess, the second book in Eva Leigh’s London Underground series, which features a set of clever, independent heroines in unusual circumstances who have to make their livings in a somewhat unorthodox manner.  I’m a fan of Ms. Leigh’s; she’s a great storyteller and she creates memorable, strong heroes and heroines – and the promise of the story of a marriage-of-convenience between an earl and a smuggler captured my imagination straight away.  I began reading with high expectations, which were met up until around the seventy percent mark when things suddenly fell apart and the heroine went from one I liked to one I disliked intensely.  She never really redeems herself and as a result, what I’d confidently expected to be a high-grade read turned into a disappointing one.

Kit Ellingsworth, Earl of Blakemoor, has been drifting since the end of his military service. The only thing that keeps his nightmares at bay are his long-held dreams of building a pleasure garden, somewhere that will make people happy and will also provide employment for veterans and their families. But he knows it’ll have to remain a dream as he’ll never have the funds to make it a reality.

Until, that is, Kit is informed that his former commanding officer Lord Somerby has bequeathed him a large sum of money in his will – but there is one stipulation.  Kit must marry within thirty days of being advised of the bequest.  Surprised, but determined to fulfil the terms, Kit thinks it won’t be difficult to find a bride.  After all, he’s young, handsome, charming and titled – but the weeks fly by and he’s almost down to the wire without having found a single young lady he wants to wed.  Until, that is, he nearly bumps into a lovely red-headed woman at a ball – and feels an almost unprecedented pull of attraction that makes him think she might just be the one.

Tamsyn Pearce has come to London in desperation.  After the deaths of her parents years earlier,  she took it upon herself to provide for the local village of Newcome which, owing to high taxation and fishing restrictions, was suffering serious privation. For the past eight years, she has run a successful smuggling operation, but her uncle’s plans to sell the family home, Chei Owr, mean the operation is under threat.  Tamsyn’s purpose in London is therefore twofold – to find a fence to sell the brandy and lace from the last run, and to find a husband with enough money to purchase Chei Owr.  Her ideal husband will be content to live in town while she goes back to Cornwall; even better, he’ll be unobservant and maybe even a bit dim.

So… Kit needs a wife and Tamsyn needs a husband. Both are set on a marriage of convenience, but the awareness and desire that thrums between them right from their first meeting bodes ill for both of them, and especially for Tamsyn, who worries that she might fall for Kit’s charm and good-nature – something she can’t afford to do if she is to keep her smuggling a secret.

The day after their wedding, Kit receives another shock. The money will indeed be his, but Lord Somerby was worried about his spendthrift ways and, in a codicil, decreed that all the money will be in his wife’s control and that Kit will have to apply to her for funds and account for every penny. Kit agrees to this, believing he will be able to talk Tamsyn into giving him the money he needs to finance the pleasure garden. (And here’s a big plot-hole; suppose Kit had married one of the simpering debutantes that populate the ton in most historical romances? That would have been no safeguard against his frittering the money away, as she’d probably have given it all to him the first time he’d smiled at her or paid her a pretty compliment!)

In order to get what he wants, however, Kit recognises he needs to get to know his bride better. She was skittish on their wedding night, asking for more time to become accustomed to their marriage, and he realises she needs time to get to know him, too. So he sets about courting her, making thoughtful gestures, taking her to the theatre, on outings and spending time with her at their new home, amazed at the fact he actually enjoys spending evenings in with just Tamsyn for company.

The sexual chemistry between Kit and Tamsyn is electric, and apart from an oddly jarring scene that seems to have been thrown in for the sake of a bit of extra titillation (and as sequel-bait), Ms. Leigh develops their relationship very well. What begins – for Kit – as a means towards getting his new wife into bed and into persuading her to sign over the money, very quickly turns into a real courtship born of genuine, deepening affection for his bride and a desire to make her happy. For the first three quarters of the book, I enjoyed the storyline, I liked Kit and I liked Tamsyn. Kit is one of those heroes who seems to have drifted into his libertine’s ways for want of something better to do; he’s handsome and charming, as so many romantic heroes are, but he’s also good-natured, funny, kind and thoughtful. Tamsyn is intelligent and spirited, but the little she’s told Kit about her life after her parents’ deaths reveals that life hasn’t been kind since, which just adds to his desire to make her feel wanted and to make her smile.

It’s difficult to be specific about what goes wrong with the book without giving too much away, but when Kit finally opens up to Tamsyn about his hopes and dreams, she dashes them all with one word, and then high-tails it back to Cornwall without a word of explanation. Regardless of the viability – or otherwise – of Kit’s scheme, or the altruism of hers, Tamsyn is prepared, without a word of discussion to use the money with which she has been entrusted, but which is rightfully Kit’s, for her own purposes without even consulting him – AND she jumps to a nasty conclusion about his attentions to her since their marriage. That’s when my opinion of her took a nose-dive – and after that, when I thought I couldn’t dislike her more, Ms. Leigh proved me wrong. Worse, when Kit discovers the truth about what Tamsyn has been up to – in spite of his own strong feelings about the fact that she’s breaking the law – he agrees it must continue and says he’ll help! I almost threw my kindle down in disgust at this point; the fact that Kit is prepared to disregard his long-held principles – no matter that Tamsyn’s motives are good – stuck in my craw and, together with her continued deception and ridiculous justification to herself that he’d deceived her first (which I’d dispute) pretty much ruined the book. After that, there was no way the author was going to be able to save it – I was pleased that it was Kit’s quick-thinking that saved the day, but was relieved to reach the end.

My thorough dislike of the way things turn out makes this a difficult book to grade, because I fully accept that other readers may not have the same issues I had with Tamsyn’s deception and the way she treats Kit. I’m a hero-centric reader, so I tend to see things from the hero’s PoV more readily, and if you prize a gutsy, take-no-prisoners heroine above all, then you may enjoy the book more than I did. In the end, I’m going with a C+; I can’t quite bring myself to recommend Counting on a Countess because of my heroine-issues and the plot-holes, but I want to acknowledge its strengths. It’s a very well written book – the prose flows beautifully, the dialogue sparkles – and Kit and Tamsyn are perfect for one another. Their relationship is well-done, and they’re both strongly drawn and engaging (mostly) – but I can’t deny that the way Tamsyn continued to deceive Kit, the way she was so willing to believe the worst of him and how he was prepared to abandon his principles, left a nasty taste in my mouth that even now, hasn’t quite disappeared.