Romancing the Countess
Penguin, September 6, 2011, $7.99
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....
I love to see two people who’ve never known each other fall head over heels in love. However, I also love the stories where the hero and heroine share a history, since I enjoy watching them come to terms with issues of trust in a way brand-new couples aren’t required to face.
So how about a romance where the hero and heroine are a brand-new couple AND they share a history?
The hero and heroine of Ashley March’s Romancing the Countess have an unusual connection which complicates their ability to trust in love: their spouses were killed in a carriage accident while running away together.
The heroine, Leah, knew of her husband’s affair with the hero’s wife, because she walked in on them during an intimate moment. She’s kept this unbearable secret for close to a year, but she has had a chance to move on emotionally, distancing her heart from the pain. But the hero, Sebastian, Lord Wriothesly, only finds out about the situation after his wife’s death. It takes him a little while longer to deal with the shock, and to fall out of love with the woman he thought loved him and their child, Henry.
As you can imagine, this is not a couple that will fall in love instantly, or even easily. They have to come to grips with the knowledge that their late spouses were not just having an affair, but were deeply in love, willing to risk everything. Leah and Sebastian are at different stages of the grief process, so their steps toward love are even more tentative, as well as emotionally risky.
They also want radically different things from the future—Leah wants to be free for the first time in her life, and is willing to court scandal to attain it, while Sebastian is desperate to keep the spouses’ affair a secret, avoiding any whispers that he might not have fathered his own son.
Yet it’s their shared history of happier times that helps them learn to trust, and eventually to fall in love. At a country house party that Leah stages, as a supposed memorial to her dead husband, she watches Sebastian:
He stood at the bottom of the stairs, one hand clutching the newel post, his mouth formed in a narrow, demanding line. Recently it had been easy enough to relegate him to a masculine version of her mother: autocratic, impatient, unwilling to swerve from the strictures of society. But she possessed memories of Wriothesly before the carriage accident. The sound of his and Ian’s laughter drifting through the town house. The way he used to watch his wife with such love and tenderness, oblivious to the looks passed between Angela and Ian. The delight on his face when he paraded Henry in front of guests, and his pride when Henry first gave Leah a short, distracted imitation of a bow in exchange for her curtsy.
They’d both been changed by the betrayal. Leah liked to think she’d learned her lesson and though the pain was still great, had become the better for it. Perhaps she could exercise her independence without making him suffer; perhaps, in her defiance, she could somehow help him.
Sebastian also realizes how different Leah has become, as well as the reasons for her new persona:
All the times in the past when he and Angela had visited the George residence for a party or dance, Leah had stayed in the background, only speaking when someone addressed her. But now she purposefully engaged others, and the quiet wallflower he’d once known shone like a rare diamond, newly polished and cleaned.
Why would a recent widow who’d never before violated any rule of etiquette suddenly invite all manner of rumors by defying society’s unspoken rules? Instead of the expected flirtations and outrageous behavior, why would she invite respectable men and women to her country house party and try to justify it as a celebration of her dead husband’s life?
The answer was obvious; Sebastian had simply needed to wait for her to reveal herself.
Leah George was lonely.
This is a wonderful love story, a beautiful blend of new lovers and old friends, people who have been given a loving future by a heartbreaking event in their past.