Secrets of a Proper Countess
Secrets of a Proper Countess is one of those books that has a remarkably accurate title. It is, indeed, about a proper countess with secrets. Those secrets, though, almost prevented me from enjoying an otherwise very good book – you see, they didn’t need to be secrets at all.
Isobel Maitland, the widowed Countess of Ashdown, cannot escape her late husband’s family. His will stipulates that in order to have a role in her son’s life, she must be totally free of scandal, in atonement for her mother’s sins: no remarriages, no flirtations, no colorful gowns. For the sake of her son, Isobel suffers the life of a dowdy, uptight matron under the watchful eye of her mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Until one night under the spell of anonymity at a masquerade she sleeps with a notorious rake, Phineas Archer, Marquess of Blackwood.
Phin is certainly a rake, but not quite as bad as his reputation would suggest; he’s secretly an agent of the Crown, investigating a smuggling ring that may be involved in an assassination attempt against Louis XVIII, and with which Isobel’s in-laws may be involved. Phin isn’t thrilled with the prospect of using Isobel to get information; He finds her excessively stuffy and is preoccupied with his search for the mysterious ‘Yasmina’ he met at the masquerade. Meanwhile she isn’t thrilled with his total disregard for her, after their passionate encounter. It becomes evident to him, though, that she isn’t what she seems, and the Maitlands may be far more sinister than either could have imagined.
As enjoyable as this novel was, there were some questions of plausibility– why doesn’t Isobel just tell Phin the terms of the will? It just complicates things unnecessarily, and prevents them from forming a true trusting connection. While I didn’t doubt their HEA, per se, their relationship is far more physical than emotional. Even Isobel says, “We’ve never been very good at talking.”
Even with this complaint, though, I had a very hard time putting the book down. Isobel and Phin are both compelling characters, sympathetic yet imperfect, and I was captivated by the dynamics of their relationship. They certainly had chemistry. While the villains seemed a bit excessively evil, they did pose a credible threat to Isobel.
While it may appear that some of the side characters (a delightfully interfering sister of Phin’s and her husband, Phin’s War Office contact) were the protagonists of a previous novel, this is in fact Lecia Cornwall’s debut novel. And an impressive one it is; while the story may have slipped a few times, overall it was delightful. I expect good things to come from this author in the future.