Courtney Milan, $0.99
Historical Romance, 2012
Courtney Milan is back with another story featuring people that are not dukes, earls, bluestockings, and other historical British romance archetypes. This time around, we have Hugo Marshall, a man of affairs of sorts to the Duke of Clermont, who is asked by the Duke to get rid of an inconvenient problem.
You see, the Duke married a wealthy bride pretty recently, but the infusion of money comes with some strings: the bride’s father will release the funds in stages, conditional upon the bride being happy in the marriage. The Duke, however, hooked up with an opera singer shortly after the honeymoon, and the wife stormed out of the house in response. The Duke is now attempting a reconciliation with the wife, so the last thing he needs is an ex-governess, Serena Barrows, at his doorstep refusing to move unless her idea of justice has been served. And she wants this justice from the Duke.
As Hugo probes – ahem, get your mind out of the gutter, please – Serena deeper, he will learn that the matter is far more complicated than Serena looking for some kind of compensation for losing her job. Hugo really wants the money owed to him by Clermont, however, as he has big dreams of becoming the 1800s England equivalent of everyone’s favorite Greek billionaire tycoon.
The Governess Affair is a short story. That sentence alone sums up my problem with this story: it’s too short, and therefore, the author’s usual formula doesn’t quite work here. At the surface, things should work – and to a degree, they do. The prose is engaging, the pace is just right, and Hugo is a pretty decent woobie.
However, this story follows a route typical of the author’s formula when it comes to the romance. And this is where the character of Serena doesn’t quite work. You see, Serena has some issues when it comes to sex, but because Ms Milan likes to have the heroine heal the woobie with her love, later in the story, Serena rather abruptly goes from someone who gets jittery when a man looms over her to a woman determined to give Hugo plenty of sexual healing in the name of love. Love can be amazing, but I doubt it can lead to this overly romanticized “I give him my body and he helps me overcome my issues regarding sex – and oh, here comes the big one, WEEEEE!” culmination of romance and what not.
I also wish that Serena isn’t so much like a heroine by Mary Balogh here. I like that she is trying to get something done instead of idly standing by and letting things happen to her, but it’s pretty clear that she is no match for Hugo. Not only that, she has no job, nowhere to go, and she also drags her sister into her mess. In other words, she’s a sitting duck should Hugo chooses to be very ruthless and crush her beneath his heel. And yet, for a long time, she refuses to open up to Hugo, allowing him to harbor wrong conclusions about her. Yes, I understand why she doesn’t trust Hugo – at least, before her abrupt transformation into the Magical Love Sheath of Healing Succor for Woobie Heroes – but she is at the same time very vulnerable. It quite frustrates me that she lets herself remain in such a position for a long time. But this is actually quite in line with the author’s typical motive: the hero rescues the heroine from her predicament, and she heals his woobie soul with her amazing and selfless love.
Normally, the author’s mode of operation works. Here, however, due to the length of the story, it doesn’t work too well. The Governess Affair, therefore, makes a great hook for the author’s upcoming series, but as a standalone story, it doesn’t resonate with me.