Cat and the Countess
Cat and the Countess starts out on a winning note but soon becomes yet another victim of the “too much plot/way too little romance” school of writing.
The first scene is really an attention grabber:
“As a rule, Niankwe “Wildcat” MacInnes never posed much objection to a woman putting her hand down his pants. In fact, he generally tried to encourage that sort of activity. However, at this particular moment, on this particular day, the sensation of dainty fingers creeping across his upper buttocks just plain got him mad.”
How’s that for a hook?
Those dainty fingers happen to belong to Elizabeth Langham, a young widowed countess who is overcome by an irresistible urge to steal whenever she gets anxious. Wildcat just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and falls prey to her itchy fingers while waiting in line at a busy stationer’s shop. When he turns to confront the thief he’s dismayed to see a well-dressed Elizabeth and her child and dismisses the incident. It’s only after she’s gone that he realizes his prized bandolier bag – made by his Indian mother and the symbol of his manhood – is missing. Like any handsome virile male, he arrogantly assumes that Elizabeth must have taken it to get his attention. Intrigued, and more than a little pissed off, Wildcat sets out to retrieve his bag and lands himself in a world of trouble.
The setup was both sizzling and funny and I eagerly began to turn the pages to see what was in store for this mismatched pair. Sadly, the book began to fizzle soon after this first encounter. Instead of concentrating on the forbidden relationship between a countess and a half Scot/half Lenape brave, several bland or irritating secondary characters enter the picture and take the heat out of this romance.
Elizabeth has a secretive past and has spent the latter part of her life making a place for herself in society, a place that she intends to keep, even if she has to marry a respectable man (Peter) for whom she feels no passion. Elizabeth spends the majority of the book stringing Peter along and making nice with Peter’s insufferable mother, all of which is exceedingly boring.
At the same time, Elizabeth’s bird-brained best-friend, Valerie (Peter’s sister), loses her bitchy mother’s priceless family brooch and enlists Wildcat in the mad search for it. He foolishly goes along with Valerie’s plans even though she treats him like dirt and I found myself wondering, all too often, if Wildcat had any brain matter at all. I also wondered, after nearly 100 pages, when the romance was going to develop.
It didn’t – at least not to my satisfaction. Elizabeth and Wildcat barely communicate or even see each other during the course of their “love story.” He follows her around, snoops into her personal life, and every now and then slips into her room in an attempt to retrieve his bag (which she has lost) where they share a few forbidden, heated moments. They lust after each other when they are apart, feel regret and lots of confusion, but do you think they’d take a few minutes to sit down and talk about their feelings (or anything for that matter)? Nah, they’re too busy for that nonsense!
Because there is so much going on plot-wise, characterization suffers and neither character was fully developed. Wildcat remains an enigma throughout the book and although we get to know Elizabeth better, she is difficult to empathize with. Her character is often inconsistent, extremely dependent on men, and leaves the overall impression of being emotionally needy. Her humanizing qualities – the kleptomania and her propensity to overeat – may appeal to some readers looking for an imperfect heroine, but her uneven personality was all a bit too much for me. The tidy (and totally unbelievable) ending only reinforced my negative feelings towards Elizabeth.
Despite its promising beginning and occasional bright glimpses of humor, this story failed to work for this reviewer. But then again, I’m not a fan of stories where the relationship is more one of lust than one of love. I look forward to a better effort from Ms. Claybourne the next time around – she’s certainly capable of it.