As An Earl Desires
This is a book that didn’t start out very well, but got better and better as it went along. I found the opening chapters slow, and the heroine isn’t a type of character that I care for. But as I say, the book just kept getting better. I’m quite happy that Heath is still writing – even if she’s no longer writing Westerns – she knows how to create a very romantic story.
As the book opens, we meet Archibald Warner, the new Earl of Sachse. The previous earl was Arch’s distant cousin, who, dying without living male issue, passed his title on to the unwilling Arch, a provincial schoolteacher. Camilla Warner is the Countess of Sachse, the former earl’s widow. She has been teaching Arch the ins and outs of the Duke of Marlborough Set, as they call the world of the nobility. It is immediately obvious that Arch is in love with Camilla. However, Camilla rejects his advances with obvious snobbery; she intends to marry a duke, preferably an old one who will leave her a fortune. And besides, she’s barren, and Arch must have a wife who will give him an heir. She plans to help Arch find that wife, and hopes that Arch will help her land a rich duke.
Arch is a lovely character. He’s an ordinary man who is uncomfortable with his new rank and privileges; he preferred his old life, and knows he can never return to it. I preferred Camilla when I thought she was a snob. But we learn that Camilla is actually an angel. She has spent years devoting her life to poor children, sometimes at risk to herself, and in such a way that she gains no credit for it. She is a selfless, heroic, gallant … I could go on. Generally speaking, saintliness in a heroine is a hard quality for me to warm up to. Camilla also has a Very Big Secret, one which she cannot tell anyone, ever, even though only a complete ninny wouldn’t realize that Arch is the perfect person to tell.
So at first I was not very pleased; I felt thought Camilla was too good to be true, and that the conflict between her and Arch (the secret) felt artificial. There’s also a really exasperating chapter in which Arch teaches Camilla to roller-skate. This becomes a clunky and heavy-handed metaphor for their relationship – an apt example of what a literature professor of mine used to call “The Louisville Slugger approach to symbolism.”
But Heath managed to reel me in. The two go to the country together. First they visit his family, where Camilla sees Arch’s worthy but humble beginnings. Then they go to his estate, a massive country house, where Camilla hosts an elaborate house party. There is no suspense plot to get in the way of the relationship between Camilla and Arch, and the shows how well these two compliment each other, and how very much they have to learn from each other. I liked the way Camilla’s Big Secret is discovered. I loved the way, after this happened and the two acknowledged their attraction, the conflict didn’t just go away, but continued to became more and more painful for the couple. The emotional intensity grows to an aching pitch – surprising, to me, since at first I felt quite uninvolved.
And especially, I adored the way the conflicts between Arch and Camilla are resolved. This book is one of the very, very few romances I’ve read with a real surprise ending. I did not see it coming, and I love that feeling.
As An Earl Desires isn’t perfect, but it is pretty good, with a sweet hero, a heroine who probably won’t bother you as much as she did me, and a wonderful ending. Lorraine Heath has always been an author with a talent for presenting deeply romantic, engrossing, and unconventional romances. It sort of feels as though Heath’s originality has been trimmed back a little. Perhaps this is something she had to do to keep publishing, I don’t know. What I do know is that she’s an author who deserves to be read.