The Reluctant Countess by Wendy Vella


Regal, poised, and elegant, Sophie, Countess of Monmouth, is everything that a highborn lady should be. But Sophie is hiding a past that is far from royal. When Patrick, Earl of Coulter, realizes that her story doesn’t add up, he resolves to find out the truth of what Sophie and her sister-in-law are concealing. Although Sophie has every reason to avoid him, the handsome and charismatic Patrick awakens something wicked deep within her soul . . . a powerful need that Sophie must stifle in order to protect her place in society.

Despite Sophie’s humble background, the raven-haired beauty has won Patrick’s heart. But what Sophie needs now is an ally. Viscount Myles Dumbly, the disgruntled former heir of Monmouth, is determined to expose Sophie as a fraud to recapture his lost inheritance. Soon Patrick is drawn into a fight for both their lives. Somehow he must find a way not only to rescue Sophie from poverty once and for all, but to keep her in his arms forever.

Rating: C

This début novel from Wendy Vella was an enjoyable story and has much to recommend it.  Her prose is competent, she has created some engaging characters and in the later part of the novel, she has begun to chart the progression of the deepening relationship between her two protagonists as well as the development of a secondary romance.  The mystery surrounding Sophie’s true identity holds the attention but is not strung out for too long.

On the negative side however, there are times when the overall feel is rather too ‘modern’ and there is some anachronistic language which really could have been avoided quite easily.  And while I liked Vella’s portrayal of the relationship between Sophie and Patrick in the later stages, I thought it felt forced and progressed too quickly in the earlier part of the novel.  For example, at the very beginning, Patrick is vowing to expose Sophie as a charlatan – although what business it is of his I’m not sure; but not long after that he is lusting after her like a randy goat and before we’ve passed the 25% mark, is having his way with her in a carriage.  (And no, it’s not the fact that they’re having sex in the carriage that bothers me,  it’s that they’re having sex at all !) .  I’m not saying that physical attraction isn’t a very powerful thing – just that at the time the book is set young women, especially, were brought up almost in ignorance of sex and had to give great consideration to propriety and to maintaining an unblemished reputation.  (And given the situation Sophie is in, she has to be doubly careful of her position in society).  I find it hard to believe that, no matter how attractive the man in question (and of course, in these books they’re always devastating)  a young woman would throw caution to the wind in that way. Even if he’d offered her marriage, which he hadn’t.

Sophie begins the book being quite shy and insecure and although those qualities never leave her entirely, by the end she has grown up a bit and developed more confidence in herself.  Patrick is often rather overbearing and dictatorial, but he softens up as the story progresses; his childhood wasn’t pleasant, but rather than being one of those men who therefore decides he must be unlovable, or is unable to love, he has decided that he wants someone in his life and that he wants to show his own family the love he never had – which was a refreshing change.

All in all then, a promising début.  I wouldn’t mind reading more from this author, although I would like to see a little more relationship development in future books.

With thanks to Random House/Loveswept and NetGalley for the review copy.