Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29813-6
Historical Romance, 2014
On paper, Ann Lethbridge’s Captured Countess sounds good. Nicoletta Rideau, the Countess Vilandry, is actually a spy. She plays the exotic newcomer to the Ton, soaking up attention from her admirers while casting her eyes at her target: Gabriel D’Arcy, the Marquess of Mooreshead. He’s also a spy, but there has been suspicions that his loyalty is now towards the other side – you know, the French – and she’s supposed to seduce him into revealing his true allegiance. Gabe, however, knows that his loyalty has come under scrutiny as of late, and he has been warned by his BFF that someone – either the French or the Crown, he’s not sure – is going to come after him, so the timing of Nicky’s entrance and her attention on him seem suspicious, to say the least. The game is on.
Both characters are competent and capable types, and for the most part, these two do behave with a measure of intelligence. They get along fine, and there are no screaming matches about who betrayed whom or who is the bigger whore of them all. As I’ve said, on paper, this book is pretty solid.
Unfortunately, the story turns out to be another stock road trip adventure. The tropes come out in full force, and the author’s treatment of them is neither interesting nor new. The author has a promising couple here: both Nicky and Gabe seem like smart and savvy creatures, so their cat-and-mouse game may just be great to read, but Ms Lethbridge chooses instead to focus on the standard plot revolving around the hero helping the heroine out from the mess she’s in while having various secondary characters explain the unnecessarily tortuous plot to the main characters. The actual story in Captured Countess is pretty mundane and even forgettable.
Also, as spies, these two are yet again somehow creatures without any interest or allegiances – she’s naturally doing this for the sake of a family member, in this case her sister – as if being spies are akin to being forcibly conscripted into some kind of unpalatable service. I wonder why this is almost always the case when it comes to spies in romance novels. If being a spy is such a filthy thing that weighs down one’s conscience, why even write about them? Maybe there is a conspiracy among romance authors to ensure that these books will find their ways into the hands of female undercover, CIA, or FBI agents, and drive them to repent their sins, marry billionaires, and become full time housewives and mothers like God place women on this Earth to be.
At the end of the day, Captured Countess turns out to be pretty ordinary despite its many possibilities.