His heart is a fortress.
And she’s trespassing!
After losing all he holds dear in a horrific fire, Max Aldersley, Earl of Rivenhall, shuns the world – until he catches Effie Nithercott digging holes on his estate! He banishes the intrepid archaeologist and the unsettled feelings she rouses within him. But she returns even more determined and infuriatingly desirable than before! He wonders just how deep she is prepared to dig – so far she’ll reach the man beneath his scars…?
Another winner from Virginia Heath in the form of this lovely, funny, warm and sexy grumpy-reclusive-hero-meets-breath-of-fresh-air-heroine story that is easily one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a while.
Badly injured in a ship-board fire he barely survived, and then unceremoniously dumped by his beautiful but shallow fiancée, Max Aldersley, Earl of Rivenhall, has holed up on his Cambridgeshire estate, and intends to remain there, licking his wounds (metaphorically) for… well, ever, if he has his own way. The last thing he wants is to find himself distracted from his wallowing by a breeches-wearing, challenging and rather lovely female who insists on digging up bits of his land in the name of archaeology – and he tells his irritating trespasser so in no uncertain terms.
Miss Effie Nithercott has dedicated her life to the study of antiquities, and is dismayed at the prospect of having to discontinue her work. She’s nearly thirty and unmarried – the man she had planned to marry was killed in the war – and she has resigned herself to spinsterhood and a life spent in academic pursuits. Her dream is to have one of her papers published by the Society of Antiquities, but they will not even look at her work because she’s a woman; even so, she continues to write and send them… and to receive them back unopened.
She refuses to give up her dig without a fight, and in the face of yet another refusal, starts digging alone in the dark – and Max eventually gives in, citing the threat to her personal safety as the reason, and allows her to continue with her excavations in the daylight. Not long afterwards, she finds herself entertaining a lordly guest who just happens to come by “accidentally” every day to share her lunch, listen to her talk about her discoveries and whom she manages to persuade to wield a pick-axe on occasion.
Virginia Heath has penned a lovely, slow-burn romance full of chemistry, affection, tenderness and teasing between two people who have found themselves on the outside through no fault of their own. Effie is neuroatypical; her mind is always on the go, she has a huge thirst and capacity for knowledge and she’s possessed of an eidetic memory. She’s known she was ‘odd’ all her life; men have been attracted to her, but have been intimidated by the intelligence she’s unable to hide. She can’t simper and flirt as other women do, she’s too much herself to try to be anything she is not and she speaks her mind, often without thinking first; none of these qualities men look for in a wife.
Max, however, is fascinated by Effie’s mind and the way it works. He’s physically attracted to her, too, but her inquisitiveness and amazing capacity for joy in her work delight him. He’s reluctant to let her in, to tell her about and let her see all the ways the fire he survived damaged him inside and out; but as he begins to see and understand the obstacles she has faced – and continues to face – he slowly starts to let her in. I cheered at the moment when Effie calls Max on his wallowing, and reminds him that he has far more choices in life than she does – and again later, when he finally understands what she’s been telling him:
The world was made for men and brutally unfair to a woman as brilliant as her.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is the way the author imbues it with a feminist message without hitting readers over the head with it. Effie is unusual and rather eccentric, but her quirkiness is a properly established character trait, and not just a way for her to go around telling everyone how unconventional she is. Another is that Effie absolutely refuses to pity Max for his scars or for what caused them and what happened after. She understands a terrible thing happened to him, and helps him to see that:
“We all have a choice, Max. We can either fact it fighting or let it beat us and win.”
I was also pleased at the way Max’s sister, Eleanor is portrayed. Often, a character such as she is interfering and annoying, but here, it’s very clear that Eleanor (and okay, so she is one for interfering!) loves her brother very much – she leaves her own family for weeks at a time because she’s worried about him – and wants him to be happy. I liked her kindness and sense of humour, and the friendship that developed between her and Effie.
Redeeming the Reclusive Earl is a gorgeously romantic, sensual love story featuring two lonely souls who are perfect one another.