The Princess and the Pea by Victoria Alexander
When Cecily White learns that her dear friend has been thrown over by a British lord after his mother deemed her unsuitable she decides to teach the British a lesson by going to England, ensnaring this Earl of Graystone, and throwing him over. Jarred, the Earl of Graystone, needs to marry a wealthy heiress and is not too particular about a bride except where a purse is concerned. The same cannot be said for his mother, Olivia, who has continually set up "tests" for his prospective fiances; tests that all of them have failed. Jarred has forbidden his mother to meddle in his affairs anymore and heads up North to visit his business partner Quentin. Quentin and Jarred work together building horseless carriages, or automobiles, and Jarred knows that he must keep his involvement a secret or risk causing a scandal among the ton. When Quentin's aunt has friends visit, Jarred is drawn to the oldest daughter of the family, Cece, and the two spend the most fun times together, from riding the automobile through the countryside to unchaperoned nights in Paris. Not knowing that Cece is an heiress, he breaks up with her by note, knowing that he needs money for his title, even if it breaks his heart to let her go.
Cece is devastated when her penniless inventor leaves her waiting, but it only bolsters her plan to go to London and get back at the British. She is shocked when the first member of the peerage she is introduced to is none other than her inventor the Earl of Graystone. A quick discussion reveals that both of them have intense feelings for each other, but Cece is horrified to find that Jarred needs her money. Nonetheless she agrees, at least to herself, if not to Jarred, that she must marry this man she is in love with and hope that she can get him to reverse his ideas about keeping his involvement with the automobile secret. Before any marriage though Cece must prove herself to Jarred's mother who, despite his warnings, continues to create challenges. First there is placing Cece in a hallway with a lecherous old man, then placing her in charge of a dinner party with no chef and no entertainment, to finally revealing her son's involvement with automobiles to test Cece's loyalty. Everyone is ecstatic when Cece passes all her tests but the final test comes when Cece is forced to risk losing Jared in order to spare him from some very harsh truths.
I had very mixed emotions about Olivia. While all of her tests were undoubtedly reasonable in that they were all circumstances that any countess would encounter and need to deal with in the least scandal raising way possible, it still seemed a little... awful... that she continued to test Cece even after realizing the depths of her son's feelings for her. For her loyalty test she even admitted that it could end up breaking her son's heart, but it would be worth it. A little strange, but I was very glad that she didn't actually put a pea under Cece's mattress- that would have been way too much for me. However the problem with this plot was the fact that she hadn't put the other heiresses through these types of tests- her problems with the other girls include that one is going to become fat and another is too "flighty" with no mentions of actually seeing how they will do as a duchess like she does with Cece. Another aspect of the book that was a tad confusing; a character named Robin is introduced as a past love of Cece's mother, but after 50 pages he suddenly becomes Robert. Didn't detract from the story but I would have appreciated better editing.
There was brilliantly told little side story about Cece's mom is forced to confront a past lover whom she believed had abandoned her years before. It was amazing to read about a mature woman who is dealing with some incredibly confusing and hard aspects of her past and making a decision on how she wants her future to be. The story was told from many different POV's from Jared and Cece's to Jared and Cece's mother, Aunt Millicent and even some from Cece's sister Emily. Alexander does all of them excellently as usual. One of the things I liked most about their relationship was the sacrifices each of them was willing to make for the other, from Cece protecting Jared from some crushing news to Jared being willing to give up his title. Their love for each other was based on mutual passion and respect for each other and sharing a common dream. It was quite romantic and sweet really. My biggest problem was the epilogue that was more than a little disappointing because it imparted news about Emily's future that was more than a little depressing, even if I was supposed to be impressed or intrigued instead. Also- the type was too small.
Rating: I enjoyed the book even if I felt like it went on for just a tad too long and was more than a little annoyed at Olivia. The characters relationship was sweet and romantic.