The Accidental Countess by Michelle Willingham 418
Stephen Chesterfield, the Earl of Whitmore, wakes up to find his childhood sweetheart, whom he hasn't seen in 10 years, standing over him and claiming to be his wife. Unfortunately he has no recollection of actually marrying her, or of the previous three months. He is wary of her claims as he doesn't think he would have married, but looking at her he certainly knows that there would be one benefit to being married to Emily. Emily Barrow is furious at Stephen. Four months ago he had promised to look after her brother, who had enormous debts and terrible investment intuition, and her niece and nephew if she married him. In exchange he would finally get out from under his domineering father's thumb. But Emily also believed there were feelings between them and so when Stephen left her a week after their wedding she was devastated. She became even angrier with him when her brother died and she was told that Stephen had been spending time with his mistress. Neither is sure what they want to happen with this marriage, but Stephen is determined to get to the bottom of what happened to him, and her brother.
The more Stephen investigates the more confusing the whole debacle becomes. He believes it is his duty to protect Emily and her niece and nephew, whom she is responsible for now that her brother is dead. He thinks the best way to accomplish this is to lead that killers to believe that he does not care for them. This plays right into the hands of the ton, and Stephen's family, who already dislike Emily and believe he should seek an annulment. Unfortunately Emily is not too keen on this idea and it only plays into her insecurities, as she was not raised to be a lady because of her family's financial difficulties. She knows she should protect her heart from Stephen, but she cannot help but give into her attraction for him. When her brother's will resurfaces and names her great-uncle as legal guardian of the children, Stephen believes they should go along with it until legal action can be taken and Emily feels like he has betrayed her. Meanwhile the assassins are hot on their trail and have already made attempts on Stephen's life. Emily refuses to let Stephen risk his life on his own and insists on accompanying them: this places them both in danger but also forces both of them to confront their feelings for each other.
I like Emily and reading about how she was feeling and what she was going through was incredibly interesting. She has real thoughts and emotions that make sense in the situations she is put in. Her devotion to the children was completely well done as she was not the simpering and too nice guardian of some romance novels where the heroine is just far too sweet and childlike for my taste. She tries so valiantly to guard her heart and I absolutely loved how she wanted so desperately to give in to this man she had loved since she was a girl, but at the same time she was terrified he would crush her again. Stephen was a great character as well, especially how he admitted to himself so quickly that he needed Emily in his life and not just to make his father mad at him. I did find the necessity of making everyone believe he didn't need Emily to be a little cruel and it definitely made her a target for all the other members of the ton, without really accomplishing anything. The sex between them was plenty hot enough, but it didn't last very long and there wasn't enough of it.
A huge theme of this book is Stephen's amnesia and the author handled this in the most realistic manner possible. There was no waking up with a "who am I," on his lips, and I really appreciated her research into the topic. While not my favorite romance novel plot, at least it wasn't completely blown out into crazytown. Obviously a large part of this book revolved around attempting to find out what had happened during the three months that Stephen could not remember. It was quite convoluted with betrayal and assassins and lots of worrying. It was interesting and I did want to discover what had happened but I would have liked to have had more time where the characters weren't worrying about getting killed or talking about what had happened. Basically more romantic development. The secondary characters here were perfectly written, from the age appropriate behavior of both of the children, to the cold snubbing of the ton, to his heartily disapproving father who, despite his disapproval, obviously does want to do what's best for his heir.
Rating: A satisfying read with nothing particularly awful about it, but the most special part of it was that the author actually did research on amnesia beforehand.