by Bonnie Dee, historical (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-270-1
Cecile Lambeaux, our heroine, is a lady's maid who decides that she should experience, if at least once, the pleasure of the sex act. After all, becoming a maid can't be the most exciting job in the wotld, I'd suppose. However, Cecile isn't just going to settle for a handsome footman - no, she wants Nathaniel Covington, the second son of the Earl of Hillshire.
Oh, it's not as if Cecile is aspiring to climb up the social ladder, because that would brand her as a gold-digging harlot and we can't have that, instead she has fallen in love with that man who has never spoken a single word to her. Never mind, she's sure that they understand each other, they have a bond, et cetera, the same way that a fourteen-year old girl is confident that she is the destined child bride of Zac Efron. It's not a matter of how, it's a matter of when Zac Efron will see her and realize that, wham, she's the one he has been waiting for all this while.
Fortunately for Cecile, she works for Meredith, our heroine in The Countess Takes A Lover, and Meredith is more than happy to pass off Cecile as a genteel woman of her acquaintance so that Cecile can demonstrate her ardent affections for Nathaniel. Fortunately for Cecile, Nate is currently doing the sad face dance because he's the one managing the estates while his elder brother is having a carefree life of pleasure. Poor Nate is now thinking that his usual distractions - wine and women - aren't as entertaining as they used to be. A previous relationship also has him seeking solace in the bottle. He also wonders whether he will ever find a woman he can love. In other words, he's a classic case of a romance hero needing some TLC that only an inexperienced virgin can provide. Attending the Countess' house party and meeting the "widowed Madame Cecile" may be the best thing that has ever happened to him.
You know what, I absolutely love the romanticism in the relationship between Cecile and Nate. My initial reaction to the whole story is one of cynicism. In a way, I still feel that this story is a little too much like a typical Mary Sue fanfiction, one with a heroine who is already in love with the hero for the flimsiest of reasons and it is up to him to learn that she's the one for him as the story progresses. However, Ms Dee has these two characters interacting - talking, sharing, and listening - in a way that has me convinced that these two are right for each other. Oh, and Nate doesn't overreact to the revelation, so don't worry about silly squabbles. Some external conflict involving Nate's previous broken relationship makes up the drama at the penultimate moment. Nate's pretty smart to realize in the end that his feelings for Cecile are real even if the circumstances of their meeting are not.
I also love how the author makes their relationship as erotic as it is romantic. The love scenes are really, er, readable, let's just say.
Another plus is the glimpses provided into Meredith and her paramour's post-honeymoon life. These scenes aren't solely gratuitous love scenes - they are actually scenes that provide me with intriguing glimpses into the continuously evolving relationship between those two. There is nothing too deep or dramatic to overshadow the main couple, but I like the fact that the secondary characters have their own story to tell instead of merely reinforcing the main couple's storyline.
The thing that I have problem with is the basic storyline of this story. The initial understanding between Meredith and Cecile is that Meredith will help Cecile into Nate's bed. Yet, Nate is not exactly a virtuous person, so I find it hard to believe that we need to go through all that lengths in making Cecile a passable genteel lady (new wardrobe, lessons in manners, et cetera) in order to get them together. It's not as if a genteel person having an affair, long term or no, with the hired help is unheard of, surely, especially when Nate expects a decadent good time when he attends the party of someone with a reputation as colorful as Meredith's. There is nothing here that showing up naked in his room can't fix, surely. Of course, the lengths Cecile and Meredith go to will make sense if the plan is to ensure that Nate finds Cecile acceptable to fall in love with, which we know is the author's intention when she sets things in motion, but this is not what Cecile initially has in mind. So the whole premise is off to me.
Also, I find it hard to believe that an experienced woman like Meredith will not advise Cecile about birth control. If she did, it is not mentioned here, so I have to suspend considerable disbelief when Nate begins happily whooping away at Cecile. The whole affair is supposed to be a temporary one, and Cecile should know that having a baby will be disastrous for her continuous post-affair employment, especially when Cecile also lets me know that she doesn't have many other career alternatives to choose from. Yes, Nate uses condoms here, but that's his decision. She's content to let him do what he wants with her. If Cecile has taken a more pro-active measure when it comes to birth control, I may find the whole premise less unbelievable.
The Countess Lends A Hand is this close to becoming another great story by this author, but there are some fundamental aspects of the story that leave me scratching my head. This is a good story, but it could have been a fabulous one were not for those problems I have with the plot, sigh.
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