Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-241295-9
Historical Romance, 2016
I had a good feeling when I read Charis Michaels’s debut title for Avon Impulse, and the second book in the The Bachelor Lords of London series, The Virgin and the Viscount only cements my belief that it’s time I sign up for the author’s fan club. The author’s narrative has a lovely, descriptive kind of grace to it, somewhat akin to the works by Loretta Chase and Julie Anne Long. The author also makes the extra effort to give the characters a bit more depth, all the better for believable emotional drama to add some fireworks into the story.
This one is part of a series, but it is linked to the first book only in that both books take place in the same neighborhood and they feature the same secondary characters here and there. On the whole, though, this one stands alone just fine.
Bryson Courtland, the new Viscount Rainsleigh, has both daddy and mommy issues up to the wazoo. You see, both his parents were major skanks, and the day his father died is one of the happiest days of his life. He had been slowly dirtying his hands in trade, working from scratch until he finally has his own shipping company, and when he inherits the title, he has his own source of wealth. A good thing too, as his father certainly did his best to waste what little they had in the family coffers on whores and wine. So he did what every kid with his issues would do: he booted his mother off to Spain so that he didn’t have to deal with her anymore, sold off or razed down all that he could of his father’s rundown and neglected holdings, and set in motion his plans to rebuild the reputation of the title using his own hard-earned money.
A new home, a new start… but of course he needs a wife by his side. Someone has to manage the household, be a graceful hostess to the parties and soirees he will have to throw, and of course pop out his brats. He’d need a sensible woman of impeccable virtue for that role, so he sets his man of affairs to go look for one. Who has time to do that boring and time-wasting traipsing around ballrooms and rolling eyes at insipid debutantes thing, after all? He has a business to run.
Meanwhile, our heroine Lady Elisabeth Hamilton-Baythes is a lady on a mission. When she was fifteen, she became an orphan and all alone in the world, she soon fell prey to villains and found herself in a brothel, her youth and virtue auctioned off to the highest bidder. A fellow lady of the night took pity on her and switched places with her, and she ended up in the same room with a young lad who took pity on her and helped her escape. Today, a ward of her aunt, she seeks to rescue prostitutes who wanted out with the help of allies as well as hired muscles. She bumps into Bryson, or rather, he stumbles upon her when he attends a party held by her aunt.
As you can probably guess, Bryson was the guy who helped Elisabeth all those years ago. He was in the brothel only because he was dragged there by his father and uncle as part of those two men’s efforts to make a man out of him, and he doesn’t recognize her at all. But he finds her poise and sensible air appealing, and he also can’t take his eyes off her and he likes being in her company. He doesn’t hesitate in deciding that she’d make the perfect wife for him, and sets out to court her with all the determination he can muster.
On Elisabeth’s part, she of course knows who he is all along. Who can forget the hero who saved her all those years ago? She even keeps a collection of news articles on him. He seems to be this upright, respectable guy who also looks like an angel, so it is very easy for her to build him up as this ideal of a knight in shining armor in her head. But she knows better than to think that she could ever have a chance at being happy with him. Nonetheless, he makes it very easy for her to believe that maybe they do have a chance after all. Maybe… if the past doesn’t come up and tear them apart, that is.
No, Elisabeth doesn’t play the supreme martyr here, and she doesn’t throw herself off the cliff because she’s not worthy of being loved. Trust me, if she’s like that, I wouldn’t like this story that much. While she does have concerns and some degree of guilt about her past and how this past also affected the people she cares about, she nonetheless doesn’t let anyone, much less Bryson walk all over her. The last is pretty impressive considering that he is so much a hero in her eyes that she usually finds it hard to disagree with him or disappoint him. Yet, as the story progresses, she becomes more and more of a equal to Bryson, and I love how she manages to hold her own and even drive some sense into Bryson during his more mulish moments.
Bryson has issues, of course, but he’s also a guy who does things rather than just mope and blame the world for his parents not hugging him more in the past. His issues drive him to do and say some pretty childish and silly things in this story, but the author builds up and develops this fellow so well that his moments of silliness feel natural and in character. He has some growing up to do, and the author approaches this very well in that she is not afraid to let the hero realize and admit that he’s in the wrong when he goofs up. When Bryson grows up and realizes that he needs to get his act together, his epiphany feels genuine to me. He’s a very adorable take on the standard “stiff-lipped proper noble bloke who falls for a more emotional heroine” archetype.
I also like how, even when he and Elisabeth are at the rockiest in their relationship, they still remain honest about their feelings to one another. Hence, Elisabeth knows that Bryson wants to keep life into neat and tidy compartments, and how he struggles to reconcile how much he feels for her with his exasperation at how she keeps threatening the sense of order in his life. But this doesn’t mean that she has to completely change her ways for him. The author builds the happy ending around meeting a middle ground and getting over inner demons, and hence it feels real indeed.
I have to deduct one oogie, though, because the author just has to introduce one extra conflict very late in the story. The timing is such as the conflict feels rushed, and I get even more annoyed when it becomes apparent that this last minute insertion is plonked in in order to set up the story of Bryson’s brother. I understand the need for sequel-baiting, but can’t this one be integrated more smoothly into the story? I don’t think this conflict is even necessary, as it has little bearing to the main conflict. Can’t it be shunted to the epilogue instead, to be introduced as some kind of cliffhanger?
At any rate, I had a very good time reading The Virgin and the Viscount. Sure, the title is terribly childish, but the hero and the heroine come off as believable adults who fall in love in a sincere, heartfelt manner. And, of course, the author’s lovely way with words and characterization only adds to the sublime reading experience.