The Barbarian Earl
The plot involving a bastard of a nobleman marrying a pristine noblewoman who eventually succumbs to his charms is not a new one, but when done well, as in The Barbarian Earl, you end up with engaging characters and a book that leaves a smile on your face.
Years ago, the Earl of Stratham pursued a haughty young woman who would have absolutely nothing to do with him. Decades later, the old, dying Earl has neither a legitimate heir nor a way to gain revenge on that woman; in Liam Campbell he finds both.
The only reason Liam finds himself at his father’s bedside is the promise of money to any of the old man’s bastards who comes to see him in his deathbed. Liam despises the Earl, but the offer presented to him is far too tempting: Marry Lady Alexandra Hennings – the daughter of the woman who spurned the Earl – and inherit not only the title and homestead of the Strathams, but also the immense fortune the Earl has amassed. Liam, tired of living hand to mouth, figures he has nothing to lose and while he feels for the young woman forced to marry the bastard son of her mother’s despised suitor, he knows that Alexandra must marry according to her father’s wishes, so it might as well be he.
Alexandra is set on marrying a frail, sensitive poet who, nonetheless, is a far better prospect that the revolting old Marquess who wants to get his hands on her. When she first sees Liam, he is watching her like a hawk across a crowded ballroom. Initially annoyed by his boldness, she hears her mother’s tale of that long ago suitor she refused, and understands that Liam is in London merely to stalk his prey. When he befriends her little brother James, Alexandra wonders just how much of what she feels is annoyance and not attraction.
Their wedding day is a complete disaster, but the next few days, as Liam vows not to go to his wife’s bed unless she invites him, serve for the couple to get to know each other a bit better. By the time Alexandra decides she wants to claim her marital rights, Liam’s past intrudes and he must leave her to help an old friend. Not only that, but Liam, despite his growing attraction and respect for Alexandra, has never told her how their marriage really came to be. When she finds out – after they’ve made love – that Liam married her to claim the Stratham inheritance, she is devastated.
Both Liam and Alexandra are likable, three-dimensional characters. Alex may have started out as seemingly shrewish and snotty, but that’s all she knows, and given the constraints of Regency society, her reactions to Liam’s strange notions, such as wanting them to dine with the servants, are completely understandable. She proves sturdier than the “delicate” aristocrat she’s been brought up to be, and in the end, she is, indeed, Liam’s match.
Liam starts off like many a rogue who despises everything to do with the nobility. He doesn’t care for its rules, and if he can shock a nobleman or two, all the better. Alexandra, who is only a useful bridge to an easier life in the beginning, ends up stealing his heart. When faced with losing her, Liam honestly tries to correct the situation. Not only that, but he welcomes the family he’s never had, and the responsibility of caring for his wife’s little brother.
The subplot involving one of Liam’s half-siblings fits well with the rest of the book, it doesn’t feel tacked-on or like it was there merely to add pages, even though the identity of the real villain is clear from the moment he appears. Fiona and Adam, the hero and heroine from A Touch of Magic, also make an appearance.
After spending several enjoyable hours in Liam and Alexandra’s company, I will definitely be searching for Ms. Miller’s previous books.