My Brown Eyed Earl
I didn’t enjoy My Brown-Eyed Earl as much as I had hoped to. The story has the right components to make it a pleasant read; a simple love story with little conflict and a plotline that moves along at a quick pace. Unfortunately those were also its weakest areas and I struggled to engage with the story at all.
The Lacey sisters haven’t quite caught on in London society. Without the funds to purchase the latest gowns or a prominent woman to sponsor their débuts, the three of them have been dubbed the atrocious label “The Wilting Wallflowers” by the gossips. After their parents’ deaths seven years ago they have lived under the care of their uncle, and his eccentricities have made their acceptance into the ton even harder.
Miss Margaret Lacey is a realist who understands that caring for three women on a very limited income is slowly draining whatever money their Uncle Allister still possesses. With no marriage prospects on the horizon Meg decides to seek employment as a governess to supplement the household funds and perhaps provide enough money so that her younger sisters might have a chance next season. Meg asks a governess friend for a job reference and within a short period she is ready for her first interview. Already nervous about taking on a job for which she has little experience, Meg is stunned when she learns that the man seeking a governess is Lord Castleton, her former neighbor in the country and the man to whom she was very briefly betrothed before she broke it off.
Waking up with a terrible hangover leaves William Ryder poorly equipped to hide his shock when his former betrothed walks into his study looking for work. It was an arrangement between their parents that put him and Meg together but he can never forget the dramatic way Meg rejected the match and managed to insult him as well. It would be quite easy to deny her the governess job but Will is in desperate need to fill the position quickly. The twin girls he’s caring for aren’t his own children but are the illegitimate daughters of his late cousin. The man had been as close as a brother to Will so when the girls were unceremoniously dropped on his doorstep by their mother, it was his family duty to care for them. Unfortunately a bachelor’s household is no place for two six-year olds and Will hasn’t a clue how to care for small children.
Meg and Will’s reunion doesn’t go any more smoothly than their parting did seven years earlier. Meg is quick to hide her embarrassment at the whole situation by striking out at Will and judging him by their shared past and his reputation. Will doesn’t make things easier by using their history as leverage to take a few shots at Meg. The entire interview seems a failure except that Will can see there is something more behind Meg’s bluster and her shabby gown. She needs this position as much as he needs a governess for the girls. When the twins take to Meg right away Will makes her an offer of temporary employment to see if they can get past their supposed dislike for each other for the benefit of the children.
My Brown-Eyed Earl is almost too light and airy for its own good. Will and Meg have a shared past and both have demons that have to be exorcised before they can be with each other, but all of that conflict is resolved without much drama. What truly drives their relationship from almost the beginning is pure lust. Will is attracted to Meg immediately despite her prickly attitude, so he lets his second brain do a lot of the thinking and he pursues her. Meg is drawn to Will, too, so much so that within a few minutes of their reintroduction she’s questioning why she ever threw the guy over when she was young. Too quickly to my mind they change the nature of Meg’s position in the household from just the governess to Will’s mistress and neither one seems all that upset about it. Oh, Meg tries to push him away and feels quite a bit of guilt about starting a relationship with a man she’d rejected and what that cost her family; however, her internal conflicts don’t come across as soul-wrenching or a real impediment to their being together.
Because the main character conflict is almost a non-starter, Ms. Bennett adds complications to Will’s life through a mysterious gentleman who is harassing Will’s ex-mistress in order to get information from her. The mistress has already moved on to a new patron but she and Will are friendly enough for him to take exception to someone using her to get to him, so he meets secretly with her on a few occasions. Unfortunately Meg discovers that Will is meeting with the woman and it reignites all of her insecurities, her guilt and other negative emotions. It also introduces the dreaded Big Misunderstanding to muddle the relationship, which by now has moved well past being just a physical one. Will is already thinking about making a future with Meg so he’s got to fight for his relationship on two fronts, the attack from without by the mysterious gentleman and from within by calming all of Meg’s fears about his sincerity. The addition of this outside villain never quite fits well into the story and his threats to Will’s or Meg’s reputations seem empty.
If this story element had been removed and the inner conflicts for Meg and Will had been fleshed out better I might have been more forgiving in my rating. My Brown-Eyed Earl isn’t necessarily bad but it’s very simplistic. This is billed as Anna Bennett’s début work, but she has also written as Anne Barton and as a previously published author, I expected a little more polish in her writing. Everything here is too superficial to make it a recommended read.