Thursday, October 6, 2011
Secrets of a Proper Countess
Isobel Maitland, the widowed Countess of Ashdown, is entirely proper and respectable because of a clause in her late husband's will that will leave her penniless, and without any access to their son, if she remarries or causes any sort of scandal in the opinion of his mother, the very controlling Honoria. Love for her son has kept Isobel on the straight and narrow until the anonymity that a masked ball offers, and the pull of the darkly handsome and mysterious rake, Phineas Archer, Marquess of Blackwood, becomes too much to resist. A very heated tryst in the garden becomes both of their obsession and while Isobel is determined to forget it ever happened because of what she risked for a moments pleasure, Phineas is equally determined to find the woman he cannot get out of his mind. Even though he presents himself as a carefree rogue, his reputation is actually carefully cultivated to disguise his true identity as an agent of the crown and the more difficult it becomes to find his mysterious woman, the more he wonders if she could possibly be a spy or a traitor; someone he will have to turn over to the police.
Meanwhile Phineas' sister, Marianne, who happens to be married to his friend and government contact, meets Isobel and her son, Robin, in the park and Robin befriends Marianne's own son and she decides to take Isobel under her wing. Phineas immediately dismisses the far too uptight Countess as his mystery lady and Isobel is torn between outrage and relief that her indiscretion will not have the consequences she feared. Phineas does need to find this woman, who might be a spy, because the government has learned that someone plans to kidnap the French king and send him to Napoleon. With the two of them spending so much time together it is inevitable that he does eventually discover that the judgmental countess he has been avoiding is the masked woman he has been hungering for. He realizes he misjudged her and is determined to prove that she can let loose with him, but she still fears what will happen with her son. Phineas will have to bring down a spy ring and Isobel's in-laws before she can be free and they can love each other without fears.
I liked Isobel because she was so genuinely torn between her desire to live her life and enjoy herself and be a woman and her love for her son and her need to be there for him and ensure that he wasn't left to her in-laws. I did, at times, become irritated with the situation because I felt like all the power was taken away from her and that made it rather difficult to read because of the element of darkness. However, Isobel handled it the only way she could and it felt very real when she did let loose and the guilty emotions that accompanied it. I really enjoyed the parts of the story that were told from her point of view because she obviously very intelligent and very capable and when I wanted her to stand up for herself, her inner musings made it clear why she did the things that she did. Phineas was likable, but I felt like I had read the good guy pretending to be a rake because he's really a spy storyline, before and he did not bring anything new to the story. My favorite part of his storyline was when it involved Isobel and his determination to find her and later, his determination to make her life better and make her happy.
I really liked their relationship, but felt like there was not enough time where Phineas knew who Isobel was. Most of their time spent together as their real selves, was spent with them not really liking each other for various reasons, and while they certainly enjoyed each other masked, I wanted some more Isobel and Phineas time. The sex between them was HOT, and I was really glad that it didn't all take place masked, but because there was such an emotional connection between them I would have liked to see more of that in the physical aspect of their relationship. As I said I was really frustrated by the circumstances that controlled her life, but I could see how for the time period it was fairly normal. The secondary characters were excellently done, their motives explained, they were well developed and I really enjoyed getting brief parts of the story told from their point of view. There was a mystery/ spy/ kidnapping plot involving lots of higher ups that did not really hold my attention and wasn't very interesting, but it did not take over the book or overwhelm.
Rating: An interesting, if not precisely fun read, featuring a very admirable heroine and a romance that could have been more developed, with a writing style that dragged at times.