Julie Anne Long
A Notorious Countess Confesses
Avon / Oct. 30, 2012 / $5.99 print & digital
She rose to spectacular heights . . .
From Covent Garden to courtesan to countess, beautiful, fearless, shamelessly ambitious Evie Duggan has riveted London in every role she plays. But the ton never could forgive her scandalous—if shockingly short—marriage, and when her star plummets amid gleefully vicious gossip, the countess escapes to the only legacy left to her: a manor house in Pennyroyal Green.
He never expected to fall so hard . . .
He has the face of a fallen angel and a smolder the devil would envy, but Vicar Adam Sylvaine walks a precarious line: resisting temptation . . . and the wild Eversea blood in his veins. Adam's strength is tested when scandal, aka the countess, moves to Sussex. But when a woman who fiercely guards her heart and a man entrusted with the souls of an entire town surrender to a forbidden desire, will the sweetest sin lead them to heaven . . . or make outcasts of them forever?
A Notorious Countess Confesses is the seventh book in Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. Fans of the series who have been awaiting Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea’s story will have to wait a bit longer. This story belongs to Eversea cousin Adam Sylvaine and Evie, Countess of Wareham. I usually love Julie Anne Long’s heroes and heroines, and these two are no exception. What is exceptional is that Adam is a vicar, a believable one who not only quotes Biblical passages, but also struggles to write sermons, prays privately, and feels privileged to serve his parishioners. Yet there is nothing sanctimonious about him. He is a man, with a man’s passions and flaws and vanities. He is as aware of the political element of his work as he is of the spiritual.
Adam first appears as the perfect vicar: “Bent over his notes as he was now, he looked as if he were supporting the weight of invisible wings.” This is a deceptive sentence. It’s tempting to read it as a suggestion that the vicar is angelic and dismiss it. But notice Long’s use of “bent” and “weight.” Adam knows that his every move is watched and commented on. He knows that his Eversea connection makes his parishioners especially eager to see if he has any of the roguish tendencies common in Eversea males. Later we are told that “he knew he’d need to be faultless beneath their scrutiny. So he was.” That’s burden enough to weigh a man down.
But the reader learns that Adam loves his profession and is committed to giving his best. There are generations of ministers in my family. It’s a profession I know with some degree of intimacy. I was so impressed by Adam’s thoughts about his job that I copied them to send to a minister cousin.
He hadn’t anticipated that his duties—immersion in the joys, griefs, deaths, births, weddings, secrets, poverty, and petty concerns of his parishioners—would tumble him like a gem, knock the corners from him, humble him, distill him to his very essence. Thus uncluttered with expectation, somehow he could now see more clearly into the heart of their concerns. He worked ceaselessly. He scarcely had time to even daydream about ravishing anyone. Somewhere along the way he’d stopped wanting to be the best vicar and simply prayed to do as much good as possible. He’d begun to feel equal to the job, but privately, he didn’t know if he would ever feel truly worthy of it. He just knew he would never stop trying to be.
This is the man who meets Evie Duggan, Countess of Wareham, the Black Widow. His awareness of her is instant, and every encounter increases his desire for her. Perhaps even more dangerous than desire are the liking and understanding he develops as he comes to know Evie Duggan, the Irish lass who loves her family fiercely, who knows how to talk to a child terrified of a drunken father and to an uncertain young woman who longs to know the secret of inspiring love in a man. Yet she is all wrong for him. Even a hint that he’s involved with a woman who was an actress, a courtesan, a countess by virtue—or rather the lack of virtue—of being won in a card game will ruin him. What would be just another scandal in the history of Colin Eversea would destroy Adam Sylvaine. He gets a taste of the cost when the rumor that he’s kissed the notorious countess brings a nearly empty church at Sunday services and a pleasantly voiced command to “put it to rights” from his Uncle Jacob, who has the power to dismiss Adam.
There is much I love about this book. Evie made me laugh and cry. The cast of secondary characters from Henny, Evie’s maid/companion, to the young urchin Paulie are delights. But when I think of this book, I will think of Adam. When I reread it, it will be Adam who pulls me back to the story. Doubtless, some will think Adam’s choices are disappointing ones for a man of God. Others will find the ending over the top. I found both Adam’s choices and the ending eminently satisfying. I rank Adam Sylvaine in the same category as Christy Morrell, the hero of Patricia Gaffney’s classic romance To Love and To Cherish. The books are very different, but Long, like Gaffney, has created a hero who is fully, credibly a man of faith and fully, passionately human.
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.