by Ashley March, historical (2011)
Signet, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23451-3
Leah George knows that her husband Ian was having an affair with his best friend's wife, but by that time, she had long become jaded with her marriage. For Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Worthlessly, oops, I mean, Wriothesly, he only learns of his wife's infidelity when Angela and Ian went out on a carriage ride and died together as a result of an accident. It doesn't take much for him to put two and two together and learn that his beloved wife had been faking various illnesses just to avoid him and indulge in trysts with Ian. Oh god, is his son even his? All Worthlessly knows is that he needs to ensure that word of his wife's affair must never become public knowledge. Alas, Leah feels that it is time for her to, for the first time in her life, enjoy everything her newfound independence can offer. Worthlessly feels that her too-happy behavior may cause people to speculate about Ian and Amelia, so he has better quickly push a burqa over her head right away.
If there is one good thing about this story, it's the author's success in portraying Leah as someone I can sympathize with. Mind you, her actions in this book can be... impulsive, let's put it mildly, but I can understand why she is driven to do those things. This is why I don't really think she's a one-dimensional dingbat despite some of her more questionable actions. Ms March allowed me to get a good glimpse of what makes Leah tick.
Unfortunately, I cannot believe in the romance. A big reason for this is the lack of good insight into Worthlessly's head. He's a classic control freak - in this story, he actually dictates what Leah can and cannot do, right down to what she should wear, under the pretense that he wants to protect his son's reputation. I don't understand how Leah can be attracted to this man, because there is no shred of tenderness in him at all. There is no romantic charms here, just a patronizing daddy figure ordering the heroine about. Even the supposedly tender moments, like kisses and what not, see our hero pretty much charging at the heroine like a randy bull with no finesse. The heroine spends more time being exasperated by the hero's high-handed ways. So how does the love come about? I'm still not sure.
More troubling is how this book leaves me wondering just how long it will be before Worthlessly crushes Leah's spirit completely. It is not good when I can actually understand why Angela would want to run away with another man. Worthlessly spends a long time raging about how much he had loved Angela in vain, only to fall in love with Leah overnight and dismiss Angela as an unworthy tart without much difficulty. Indeed, he seems to spend more time and effort demonstrating his Madonna/Whore issues. This guy has issues about women, he is a control freak, and I can only wonder how long it will be before he becomes paranoid about Leah cheating on him and starts becoming even more controlling.
Romancing The Countess demonstrates that the author can and will go some lengths to portray her heroine with a good degree of depths, so it's really too bad that I can't believe in the happily ever after even if I try very hard to.
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