Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Romancing the Countess by Ashley March

Book Description:
Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Wriothesly, thought he'd married the perfect woman-until a fatal accident revealed her betrayal with his best friend. After their deaths, Sebastian is determined to avoid a scandal for the sake of his son. But his best friend's widow is just as determined to cast her mourning veil aside by hosting a party that will surely destroy both their reputations and expose all of his carefully kept secrets...

Leah George has carried the painful knowledge of her husband's affair for almost a year. All she wants now is to enjoy her independence and make a new life for herself-even if that means being ostracized by the Society whose rules she was raised to obey. Now that the rumors are flying, there's only one thing left for Sebastian to do: silence the scandal by enticing the improper widow into becoming a proper wife. But when it comes to matters of the heart, neither Sebastian nor Leah is prepared for the passion they discover in each other's arms....

There are SPOILERS in this review.

I adored this romance.  I'm afraid this review isn't going to come close to doing it justice, I was bowled over by how good this was.  This is the first book I've read by this author, but it won't be the last!

It's the story of how a husband and a wife who are married to two different people, deal with the aftermath of the deaths of their respective spouses. The catch is, the spouses were having an affair with each other.  Leah, the wife in this tragic scenario, had known about the affair already.  Sebastian, the wronged husband and the Earl of Wriothesly, adored his wife.  He was clueless about her unfaithfulness.  The shock and pain over her death not only left him numb, but then to learn of her deception?  He could have gone over the deep end, but instead, he held it together for the sake of his young son, whom he adored (an adorably written child, btw).  Nothing was more important to Sebastian than to keep his son safe from gossip and innuendo.  Fearing the story of his wife's affair would get out, he didn't want any doubts or rumors to crop up about his son's parentage.  He'd have no trouble containing the truth of the affair on his side, but what about the "grieving" widow, Mrs. Leah George?  As far as Wriothesly was concerned - she was a loose cannon!

Leah George is an interesting and different heroine.  I felt terrible for her due to the fact she had been aware of her husband's unfaithfulness many months before he died.  What irony - it was with his best friend's wife.  As a starry eyed newlywed, Leah was crushed when she unexpectedly walked in on her husband and his mistress, the perfect wife of the Earl of Wriothesly.  The thought of catching her husband in the act - how devastating!  When he died (with his lover) months later, Leah was already a changed person, no longer that dewy ingenue from the previous year.  She had grown up overnight upon learning of her husband's secret life and by the time she became a widow, she had already mourned the end of her marriage.  She was ready for new things and a new life, but Society required she dress in mourning for an extended length of time.  Victorian times, Victorian rules.  But Leah flouted the rules and cut her mourning period short.  Bad move, in retrospect.

I really liked Leah.  Many readers will probably think she was incredibly stupid based on her actions.  She wasn't perfect and she made some pretty bad decisions, but she was strong and courageous.  Resourceful too.  But yes, she could have done things differently and saved herself a lot of headaches.  She should have re-thought her decision to commit a major social no-no which basically banned her from society.   What did she do?  She donned a new dress at her own party.  It wasn't black.  Instead it was a dark, dark blue with a deep v in the back.  Scandalous!  She was shunned, cut dead, ostracized by polite society.  The world as she knew it - ended.

Meanwhile, Wriothesly is on the sidelines looking and waiting for this debacle to happen.  He'd warned her, asked her not to do anything untoward that would make people suspect she wasn't the perfect grieving widow. But, he already had an inkling of what Leah was capable of.  Unlike Leah, he was devastated by his wife's death, but his main concern now was for his young son.  He feared that if Leah discarded her mourning too early, society would wonder why, put two and two together of why their spouses were traveling (alone) together and wonder who the real father was.  An intolerable situation, as far as he was concerned.  Just as Wriothesly predicted, everything came tumbling down for Leah after the party.  She lost her income and her home and eventually she had no choice but to become a hired ladies' companion in order to support herself.  Quite a come down.  But she took it with grace.  She knew what she had been doing and she was happy because she had her independence, even if she had no money.

The love/hate relationship that builds between Sebastian and Leah is the best part of this romance.  It gets to a point where neither one can stand the other, yet he's drawn to her.  At first he despises her and the risk she poses to his son's reputation, but then things change.  Sebastian comes across as somewhat of a prig at first, but definitely he grows on you as he begins to think of her mouth... kissing her... what she would be like in bed.  But this is the woman he can't stand!  Soon he begins to obsesses about her.  Leah too is having thoughts of Sebastian.  But she's carrying a different sort of burden.  Sex with her husband had become nearly unbearable.  Knowing he had just come from his mistress with her scent of lavender, the idea of sex became abhorrent to her.  It was something she put up with, hoping for a child.  Now, long after her husband's death, the feelings she's developing towards Sebastian have her all tied up and confused.  How can she feel passion for the man that was married to her husband's mistress?  Another man that worshiped the woman that wrecked her marriage? Unthinkable!  Yet, there is it, inconceivably the two of them do form a passion for one another.

Once Wriothesly finds out that Leah has become a ladies' companion he asks her to marry him. He can't live without her.  But, she has her conditions.  She wants to keep her independence and does not want to be at his mercy in the marriage bed until she's ready.  He agrees to her wishes, for he's primarily concerned in squelching the rumors that are cropping up about the affair.  Plus, he wants a mother for his son.  I really loved Wriothesly.  He had to deal with such an intolerable situation and he handled it with grace.  I loved the way he cared for and loved his son.  I loved his vulnerablilty, despite his tough upper lip.  He's a wonderful, noble man who deserves happiness.

Leah is all too ready to be a mother and they marry shortly after Wriothesly's proposal.  (Of course, the fact that she's been fantasizing about him has nothing to do with it!)  Little do they know what it will be like for them!  Both are under no delusions about why they're marrying - but so much changes once they marry and I loved the way they learned to live and love one another.  Leah's soon learns to regret her conditions.  I'm leaving tons out, but this was such a great story.  Their love for one another is one that needs to be carefully tended and nurtured.  Gradually it strengthens and before long it's all consuming and wonderful!

I'm leaving much out, but you can get the gist of the story.  Take my word for it, this is a different and worthwhile romance.  It starts out on a disarming note with the death and betrayal of the spouses, but turns into this bittersweet love story of two people who find love in the least likely place.  I simply love, love, loved this book!  It was so well written, poignant and memorable - and different!  I don't really know why exactly I was so crazy about this book - but I was!  Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for this time period.   All I can say is I was swept away by the characters and the drama - I couldn't get enough of it and the ending and epilogue were so fulfilling and satisfying - I was thrilled at the how these two people were able to find their way out of such a troubled time and get their happily ever after ending.   To say the least, I'm grateful to have discovered Ashley March and I'll definitely be reading more by her! Brava!


P.S.: On another note, what a gorgeous cover, which actually is a key part of the book too!


The_Book_Queen said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this book--I look forward to reading it, as well as March's other books, soon. I love the cover; very pretty and eye catching. :D


Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

TBQ - yes, I've already got her book before this one, Seducing the Duchess, I hope it's as good!

mo said...

Ahhhh, this review is going to totally blow my 'no buying books' policy for this month. It sounds wonderful. Great review.

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