The Earl Next Door
The Earl Next Door by Charis Michaels has everything I love and expect in a well-written regency romance but feels fresh and original. Immediately after finishing the book, I searched for other works by Ms. Michaels and was surprised and impressed to discover that this is her début novel. It is a stand-alone read and the first book in her The Bachelor Lords of London series.
Piety Grey is a twenty-five-year-old American who was extremely close to her wealthy, banker father before he passed away a year ago. He fostered a strong sense of independence in Piety and willed the bulk of his substantial estate to her and not to his estranged wife, Piety’s mother, who has always resented her. Piety’s mother remarries and now seeks to gain control of the fortune by marrying her daughter to one of her five new, odious stepsons, but Piety plans to escape her mother’s machinations by moving to London and purchasing a townhouse, which will render her money and herself inaccessible. Piety’s solicitors find her the perfect house to achieve her goals, but it requires extensive renovations. Luckily, the home next door to Piety’s is owned by the Earl of Falcondale and is empty; therefore, her representatives negotiate a contract for Piety to live there during her construction. Her escape plan is set and she is ready to sail for England.
Piety arrives in London only to realize that her meticulous plans face a large unforeseen obstacle – the Earl of Falcondale. The Earl is disgruntled, unfriendly, occupying the house and has no knowledge of Piety’s rental agreement. He is not the man with whom her solicitors negotiated the lease, because that man is dead and this foul tempered man is his nephew and the new earl, Trevor Rheese.
Trevor recently inherited the earldom, its property and its debt, and he is not pleased with this added complication. He wants to sell the house and leave England; he has no interest in the title or its associated obligations. He moved to Greece fifteen years earlier, when doctors advised him that the Mediterranean climate would be better for his mother’s health. He was solely responsible for his only parent during her extended illness and until her recent death, and the fifteen years of placing someone else’s needs before his own has left Trevor emotionally depleted and yearning for the freedom of choices without entanglements. He doesn’t even want the commitment of friendships and intends to sail for Syria as soon as he can unload his uncle’s house. Piety is disrupting his plans just as much as he is stalling hers.
Trevor refuses to honor his uncle’s contract, but Piety is determined and needs Trevor’s house or at least access to her house through their common wall. She’s also personally intrigued by Trevor even though he’s grumpy, and she has charisma and the ability to endear the most cantankerous personalities. She is a pleasant force to be reckoned with and begins to logically and relentlessly persuade Trevor to assist her while also getting to know him and developing feelings for him. Trevor tries to deny Piety and attempts to resist her, at first refusing at to hear her reasons for needing the house, because he figures that if he gets to know her, he might start to care and want to get involved with her problems. He uses his inhospitable persona as a shield against her and she sarcastically thinks of him as “a crusher of dreams,” but Piety can see Trevor is not as uncaring as he pretends to be. It is fun to watch Trevor attempt to resist Piety as she continually challenges him and chips away at his resolve.
When Trevor witnesses the way Piety’s family treats her, he instinctually wants to protect the woman who has invaded his life and begun to crack his heart. He suggests a marriage in name only, because he still plans to leave the country by himself. He’s closer but not ready to admit his feelings and still fears the responsibility of a wife. He also carries crushing guilt over the resentment he felt towards his mother and her illness, and, to complicate matters still further, there is an unexpected threat stemming from his life in Greece that now endangers him and Piety.
I found it heartbreaking – in the way only a good story can evoke emotions kind of way – to watch Trevor negotiate his feelings, because most anyone can empathize, relate and fear the need to care for a dying parent and its resulting effects. Trevor spent a substantial period of his youth caring for his mother when most men his age were carefree with few adult responsibilities. He’s tortured that he has feelings for Piety but cannot quite believe that life their relationship might not feel like a burden. Although Piety quickly falls in love with Trevor and wants a true marriage with him, she worries that he might one day resent her if he chooses to stay. The two care for each other deeply and it’s romantic to see them process their feelings and watch their relationship evolve. They are true compliments to each other, like pieces of a puzzle that lock into place once you adjust them.
I am surprised how often I laughed during The Earl Next Door when the story was covering such angst-inducing territory, but the humor would sneak into the story unexpectedly and delightfully creating a perfect emotional balance. Is there anything better than a book that makes you laugh and cry while promising a happy ending? The Earl Next Door feels refreshing and a little different than the typical historical romance and is simply a good book. Charis Michaels’ debut novel offers a welcome new perspective to the genre that will hopefully find its way to our pages for years to come.