Marrying His Cinderella Countess
Louise Allen is an author I can rely on to deliver a well-developed, strongly characterised romance within the restraints imposed by the Category format, and true to form, she’s done just that. In Marrying his Cinderella Countess, she uses the well-worn trope of an impoverished young woman marrying an attractive, wealthy and titled man, but puts a slightly different spin on it by creating a refreshingly different heroine who possesses the sort of honesty and forthright manner that aren’t often found in the genre. Ellie isn’t a termagant and she isn’t a feisty curl-tosser; instead she’s someone who faces problems head on and works through them, no matter how difficult.
Since the deaths of her mother and step-father, Eleanor Lytton has lived with and kept house for her step-brother, Sir Francis. Aged twenty-five, she is on the shelf, and in any case, has been told so often that she is plain, gawky and ‘difficult’, that she never expected to marry, and instead lives quietly, making a little money from her work as an author of children’s’ books. She longs to write a sensational novel of the sort published by the Minerva Press and has already begun to write it, often finding her attention wandering to her desert lord hero, dark, handsome and grey-eyed, astride his trusty steed, when she should be writing her educational tale for young people.
She is trying to refocus after her last mental excursion into the desert when the arrival of an unexpected visitor interrupts her train of thought, much more seriously this time. On her doorstep is her desert lord made flesh – William Blakeford Pencarrow, Earl Hainford – asking to speak to her urgently. Ellie is surprised to see him, and is even more so when she realises he is injured, and insists on tending him before he can tell her his purpose in coming to see her. But soon enough, he explains that Francis is dead, killed in an accident at his club the previous evening. Hainford explains that he had been engaged in a heated altercation with another card player when Francis tried to interrupt and unfortunately got in the way of a bullet, which wounded Hainford before killing her brother.
Eleanor wasn’t particularly fond of Francis, but it is nonetheless a shock to hear this and she can’t help but worry about what will happen to her now her step-brother is dead. A few days later she discovers he has left her destitute; her earnings will not be enough to enable her to keep a roof over her head, let alone buy food and other essentials – but the family solicitor informs her that she has actually inherited a small property in Lancashire which had been part of her mother’s dowry, and Ellie immediately determines that she must remove there and make it her home. She arranges to move north as quickly as possible, but as she has very little money she asks Hainford to convey her and her maid to Lancashire. It’s the least he can do, she tells him, considering he played a part in her brother’s death and, to his astonishment, the earl finds himself acquiescing to her request.
After a journey of several days, during which Blake is surprised to discover that not only does he like Eleanor’s gumption, intelligence and sometimes painful honesty, but he’s more than a little attracted to her – they arrive at Carndale Farm which, though not completely uninhabitable, is in a bit of a shambles. Horrified at the thought of Eleanor living in such a ramshackle place, Blake tries to get her to return to London with him – but is so high-handed in his manner that he puts her back up and makes her even more determined to go her own way.
Blake can’t account for the fact he feels so responsible for the prickly but intriguing Miss Lytton. He knows her brother’s death wasn’t his fauIt – but when he learns of problems at Carndale which are likely to result in Eleanor becoming homeless, he instructs his man of business to secretly purchase the farm. But it’s not long before Miss Lytton is beating down his door like an avenging angel refusing to accept his charity – and Blake, without any clear idea of what he is doing or why blurts out a proposal of marriage.
Shocked though she is, Ellie is a woman of practicality and sound good sense, and knows it would be extremely foolhardy to reject such an offer. So she accepts, deciding there and then that in return for all the things she will gain by marrying him, she will be the best wife she can possibly be; she will run Blake’s household, be a creditable countess, warm his bed and bear his children, and provided she does nothing idiotic – like fall in love with him – all will be well.
As I said at the beginning of this review, Ellie is a breath of fresh air among romance heroines; she’s honest with herself and with others, and doesn’t shy away from difficult situations, even when she knows there is most likely heartbreak awaiting her. And she needs all her fortitude later in the book when the shadows of Blake’s past rise up to threaten her – their – future. Blake is more along the lines of your standard, tall, dark and handsome romantic hero, but he’s also witty, intelligent, perceptive and self-aware enough to realise when he is going about things the wrong way and to know he needs to learn from his mistakes. The romantic and sexual tension between Ellie and Blake simmers from their first meeting and Ms. Allen builds it steadily and convincingly. Their eventual lovemaking is imbued with tenderness and affection as well as attraction and sensuality.
I do have a couple of niggles that caused me to lower my final grade a bit, however. Firstly, Blake’s insistence on clinging to his memories and guilt over his previous fiancée’s death for so long stretched my credulity somewhat and seemed too obvious a way of stringing out his inability to recognise what he feels for Ellie. And secondly, Ellie’s wariness of men, borne of her lecherous step-father’s unwelcome (and unsuccessful) attentions seems to be dealt with a little quickly. That said though, it’s not glossed over and there’s no question that Blake’s understanding is a big part of what helps Ellie to overcome her fears.
Overall, and even bearing in mind the reservations I’ve expressed, Marrying His Cinderella Countess is a well-written, well put-together and enjoyable story. It’s a short read, but one that kept me engrossed from start to finish and I’m happy to recommend it.