The Earl's Mistress
Avon / August 26, 2014 / $7.99 print, $6.99 digital
Women rarely refuse the wicked Earl of Hepplewood, whose daring exploits are only whispered about. But when his new governess answers his proposition with a slap, then stalks out, references in hand, Hepplewood finds more than his face is burning.
Isabella Aldridge has brains, bravado, and beauty— but the latter is no use to a servant. Her circumstances are desperate, and with Hepplewood's words ringing in her ears, Isabella realizes she must barter her most marketable asset . . . her body.
But when fate sends Isabella back into Hepplewood's arms, the earl must make an impossible choice—draw Isabella down into his sensual darkness, or behave with honor for the first time in his life.
Liz Carlyle's The Earl's Mistress is a bit of a departure for her. Both Hepplewood and Isabella are damaged people who have control issues. Their efforts to work them out through their sexual relationship is a riveting—and at times, disturbing—read.
Hepplewood has felt he's had no control over his life (the reasons for which are spoiler territory) and so has compensated by being in control in his sexual dealings. Absolute control.
“You're very domineering,” she remarked, watching the dregs of her brandy go.
He set her glass on the sideboard with a hard thunk.
“Quite domineering,” he said, turning to cut her a dark look. “Are you going to have a problem with that? If so, I'll fetch that lamp now, Mrs. Aldridge, and you may head on back to Virtue-upon-Boredom, or whatever little village you came from.”
Her breath caught at the unholy glint in his eyes. “No, it. . . it is your house,” she managed, “and, as you've so clearly stated, your rules.”
“Yes, I've found matters run more smoothly when a man is unwavering in his expectations.”
“More smoothly for whom?”
“For the man giving the orders,” he replied without rancor.
Isabella is widowed and has fled the vile man who inherited her father's title and who still takes delight in threatening her, taking her two half-sisters with her for their own safety. She has worked as a governess but is now without employment and things are getting a bit desperate financially. Isabella has lived most of her life learning how to manage, how to get by, how to survive by staying strong and in absolute control. She is surprised that she doesn't resent Hepplewood's domination in the bedroom and that it is, in fact, a relief to be submissive, to not be in control.
She closed her eyes. “I want to be yours,” she said. “To feel, for a little while, as if I belong beneath you. I. . . I don't want to make choices,”
“You want to submit to me?” he suggested, his voice edged now with something dangerous.
She shrugged feebly. “I want to feel safe,” she whispered.
“Ah,” he said, as if the secret to the universe had just been unveiled.
It is an interesting relationship, even if it is one that occasionally made me squirm. Dominate/submissive, bondage, spanking, etc. is not my usual fare. It helped that Isabella is not at all submissive out of the bedroom, that Hepplewood doesn't even begin to call the shots with her when they are clothed. He more than has his work cut out for him in trying to convince her to stay with him, and that can only be Good For Him. It is an intriguing, unusual relationship that has stayed with me long after I finished the book.
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Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.