Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-59998-937-9
Historical Romance, 2008
Ooh, now this is a story to stoke your inner cougar, if you ever have such a thing inside you. Okay, the heroine is not that old and the age difference isn’t that big, but the hero is completely chaste until he meets the heroine, so this story plays right into any naughty fantasies about the older woman being the predator who is in charge.
Twenty-five year old Christopher Whitby is, according to his father Lord Richard, “a booby”. A studious botanist that shows none of the, er, earthly passions that Richard associates with behaviors appropriate for a healthy heir of his, Christopher has the poor man tearing his hair out in frustration.
However, there may be a solution at hand. Countess Meredith du Chevalier, a widow with a very scandalous reputation, is back in town after a long stay in Africa. Richard decides that she is the best person to take his son at hand and make him a better man, to put it in polite terms. Meredith is willing to take Christopher under her wing if Richard will agree to support a particular bill in Parliament that she feels is most worthy. For Meredith, who has done things that most typical romance heroines will blush at even knowing, taking a younger man as a lover, especially one as comely as Christopher, will be no hardship at all, especially when it’s for a good cause. His future lovers will be so grateful when she’s done teaching him the wonderful things he can do to a woman, because when it comes to these things, she’ll have you know that she is an expert!
As for Christopher, he’s playing the role normally reserved for romance heroines. Never having experienced such unstoppable hot flashes of desire until he meets his mother’s “new friend”, he’s suddenly filled with Uncomfortable Yearnings and Oh So Sinful Thoughts. I have a feeling that “come see to my garden” – which is what she tells him to lure him into her house so that she can pounce on him – will never be the same again for the poor dear. Like any bluestocking heroine, he’s all about greater meanings of existence and intellectual discourses, so when Meredith pretends to be sympathetic to his interests (she can’t care less about botany, in all honesty), the poor dear is completely at loss when it comes to what he should do. Fortunately, Meredith is a capable tutor in such things. Pucker up now, Christopher.
And like all those bluestocking heroines, Christopher realizes that he’s actually keen on having an affair with Meredith. Just like those romance heroes, Meredith is determined to see that their affair is merely an affair because love is, after all, for fools. Plus, will Christopher cry when he discovers that his father has pimped him out to Meredith? Stay tuned!
The role-reversal does some most amusing wonders for this story, I must say, because I find myself tickled at times as to how these characters can play so beautifully into the roles normally reserved for the opposite sex. That’s not to say that Christopher is a shrieking milquetoast, though – once he gets out of his shell (snicker), he becomes this beta hero with his share of his take-charge moments.
Like many of this author’s previous efforts, this one has a very nice balanced development of emotional as well as sexual aspects of the relationship. The characters, especially Meredith, are well-drawn and likable. But like too many of the author’s previous efforts, this one unfortunately offers a too-tidy resolution that stubbornly ignores many of the conflicts that arose previously in the story. Because of this, I’m not really sure if I can believe that these two are going to have a happily ever after.
The Countess Takes a Lover is a cute and most entertaining read. I always have a weakness for stories with experienced heroines who aren’t afraid to live life to the fullest, after all. Due to the too-convenient ending, you may have to suspend some disbelief in order to believe the best about the characters, but I think this book will be fine, especially if you’re in a mood for stories featuring older women paired up with younger and more inexperienced heroes.