Avon Impulse, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-06-238030-2
Historical Romance, 2015
I think I have it. After reading one and a half story by Megan Frampton – well, When Good Earls Go Bad sort of counts as a half, since it is a short story, although it’s a complete story in itself – I think I know how she works. Ms Frampton writes cute. Her heroines are practically ditsy Disney cartoon ladies, tripping along in life short of a song bursting from their lips. They have a cute nickname for everything. They talk to imaginary animals – cute animals, like rats, naturally. Now, all this is good, but then these heroines also want to bring out the condoms and have wild sex, which gives me a whiplash.
Annabelle is one of the three co-owners of the Quality Employment Agency, in which while the owners may not be loaded and hence often go hungry, profit isn’t their thing, hence these ladies devoting their lives to helping ladies of ill repute find gainful employment. When the story opens, fallen ladies who wish to spend their lives scrubbing floors and emptying chamber pots are in short supply (I can’t imagine why, I tell you), so the business is just like that – the agency is open, but they have no one to offer up as maids and what-not for hire. The Earl of Selkirk needs a housekeeper, however, and the agent lets Annabelle know that the Earl may withdraw his patronage if his needs are not met. Annabelle immediately decides to dash off to become the Earl’s housekeeper. She leaves a note behind, because when you co-own a business, it makes perfect sense to run out and become a housekeeper without doing anything to make sure that the business doesn’t fall apart in one’s absence. And they call me sexist when I say that romance heroines should stop trying so hard to be clever and just go back to doing what they are good at: being baby machines and cleaning up after their men.
Anyway. Annabelle dutifully cleans up a few rooms – at this point, I stop wondering whether Annabelle has “housekeeper” and “maid” confused, because I’m sure steam is coming out from my ears – until she is too tired to go on. She sleeps on a bed… and later, when Matthew comes in, he sleeps in the first bedroom he finds. Well, hello there, naked man.
When Good Earls Go Bad is a sweet story. It is! Annabelle gives Matthew lip , because it’s always cute when a housekeeper scolds an Earl for his unkempt appearance and when an Earl asks his housekeeper to join him at a restaurant down the street for a date. It occurs to me that this one would have been a better read if it had been a contemporary romance, as there would be nothing then stopping a billionaire from shagging and marrying the household staff, but hey, I guess the author knows what she is doing. Annabelle has nicknames for everything, talks to rats that may or may not be imaginary, and thinks of things using Phrases with Capitalized First Letters because she is so hee-hee-hee like that. Even the revelation that she has loved, been lied to, and her maidenhead lost makes little dent to her personality. In fact, the lack of a maidenhead actually emboldens her to want to sleep with Matthew even if he’d leave her soon, because she’s in love. All that is missing in this story are singing teapots and candlesticks to complete the magical romanticism of this story. And it is romantic, as long as folks don’t remember that this is a historical romance set in 19th century England.
While the whole thing is so much like a Disney cartoon, Annabelle looking for condoms and wanting Matthew to beast up her beauty can create a dissonant kind of unease. I can’t help it: as a I read this story, I start imagining everything as a cartoon, and soon Annabelle and Belle start to come together in one fuzzy blur, and while Belle and the Beast may be a cute couple, the very notion of those two doing… things… can be quite icky. The problem here is that the author doesn’t let Annabelle gradually transition from manic pixie on cute overload to a more realistic woman with believable desires. Here, it’s just the manic pixie on cute overload going from being mouthy and sassy to wanting every orifice of hers to be violated by big pee-pees in the same sassy way. When Good Earls Go Bad isn’t meant to be like that, but it ends up being creepy for all the wrong reasons.