The Earl She Should Never Desire
Grade : B-

I have a hit/miss relationship with Lara Temple’s books and much to my dismay, The Earl She Should Never Desire is a miss.  Is it bad?  No.  Is it good?  Also, no.  Friends, it’s fine - but I can only recommend it with reservations.  The forbidden love trope - falling in love with your sister's fiancé/falling in love with your fiancée’s sister - is tricky.  Fortunately, Temple is an adroit navigator and capably steers this story towards a believable deus ex machina that allows our lovers to live happily ever after.  Unfortunately, the author sabotages the whole effort by overstuffing it with poorly drawn, caricature-like characters - cue the distracted father, horrible mother, and friend/brother from another mother rake with a heart of gold - and a loved up couple who, despite their practical, no-nonsense characterizations, fall instantly headlong into lust/love hard on the heels of their first introduction.  I wanted to fall for these two, but I needed more time to get to know them before I was convinced they were meant to be together.

A young Lily Walsh fell in love, eloped, and spent the first few years of her marriage following the drum and her soldier husband.  Her marriage was an escape from a bitter, petty mother and a father who seemingly didn’t care, and at first, it was a great adventure.  But by the time her husband was killed in battle, Lily isn’t sure she ever loved him, and the great adventure had become a lesson in heartbreak.  When he died, she returned home.  She quickly realized the relationship with her parents hadn't improved with time apart, and despite her sadness at leaving behind a beloved brother and sister, she moved to Birmingham with another war widow and found work as a teacher at Hope House (Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies).  When The Earl She Should Never Desire begins, Lily is reluctantly planning another trip home.  Her sister is engaged to be married and wants Lily to meet her intended before they are wed.

Lord Marcus Sherbourne is a catch.  Wealthy, charming, and urbane, Marcus is more than the aristocratic - but nearly bankrupt - Walsh family could have hoped for as a son-in-law.  And Marcus knows it.  He also knows that time is ticking on a pledge he made to his dying mother to marry and raise a family.  So, after deciding it was time to marry, he set about finding a beautiful wife who was kind and sweet, didn’t annoy him or make demands on his time, and who, in time, would make a good mother to his children.  Anne Walsh, the diamond of her season, meets his needs perfectly.  Although her parents - especially the mother - are something of a disappointment, Marcus hopes to have as little contact with them as possible.  He’ll marry, get his wife pregnant, and then send her away to raise their family in the country.  Marcus isn’t looking for love; he needs a wife and Anne fits the bill.  When TESSND begins, Marcus is smugly pleased with his marriage machinations, and curious about this sister that Anne has told him so much about.

Lily isn’t sure what to think of Marcus Sherbourne.  He’s handsome - more handsome than she wants to admit - but doesn’t seem particularly enamored with Anne.  Oh, he’s kindness personified whenever they’re together, but Lily worries about his lack of romantic attachment to her sister.  When she finds herself alone in conversation with him, she’s unable to avoid rising to the bait each time he teases her, and if she finds his intelligence and quick wit attractive, she’ll never admit it.  He’s marrying her sister!  She just wishes she could keep him out of her thoughts and convince herself he’ll make Anne happy.

Marcus isn’t sure what he expected when Anne told him about Lily, but it isn’t the smart, prickly - and beautiful - woman Anne introduces him to.  Lily keeps him on his toes, and she’s fiercely protective of her younger sister.  He likes that about her.  Well, he likes everything about her!  It’s clear there’s no love lost between Lily and her mother, but since Marcus doesn’t care for Mrs. Walsh either, he’s happy to defend Lily in the face of her mother’s barbs.  After all, Marcus is providing a financial lifeline to the family - it’s not as if they can afford to end the engagement.  Marcus isn’t sure why he can’t stop thinking about Lily - even when he’s with Anne - but he’s committed to his plans.  So what if he spends every waking moment thinking about Lily… Anne is his fiancée, and their marriage will be happy enough.

I’m not going to spoil the novel by revealing what happens that allows Marcus and Lily to finally explore their feelings for each other, but suffice it to say the plotline is well executed, and works well in the context of this story.  Unfortunately, after a nice little tête-à-tête wherein Marcus realizes he’s free from his commitment to Anne and able to pursue his heart's desire, the novel founders.  Lily is consumed with doubts about herself and her suitability as a partner for Marcus, and he… well, he’s suddenly more awesome?  Not the same person we met at the beginning of the book?  He’s all in - for marriage, a partnership of equals, for the LOVE folks.  He LOVES THE LOVING.  Meanwhile, Lily’s plagued with insecurities about herself, their relationship, and her ability to provide him with children, and she just wants to have lots of hot sex with Marcus already.

Oh hey, hold on there, Em.  That sex comment seems kind of random.  Well, it’s just as random as the deep dive into sexy times that ensues shortly after Lily tells Marcus to hurry up, get naked and get inside her.  FFS.  Stop dilly-dallying Marcus.  Okay, I’m paraphrasing.  But it’s jarring right?  Look, I love a sexy romance.  But this is a case of too much sex, not enough emotional intimacy, and wham, bam! we’re supposed to believe that Lily moving into a secret love nest and making friends with the staff is a totally normal and nothing-to-see-here plot development.

It isn’t.

Friends, Marcus is a good guy.  Lily is a great lady.  Anne is nice.  Mrs. Walsh is a bitch, and daddy is mostly useless in this story.  Dominic, Lord Wrexham (Marcus’s bestie), is a kindhearted rake who knows Lily and Marcus are meant to be before they do!  And Marcus does the teasing!  And the flirting!  But none of this substitutes for a great ‘falling in love’ storyline, and frankly, it’s all kinda boring, and too good to be true.  And then, somewhat alarmingly, super sexual.  In this case, sex is not a subtitute for romance, and after that promising (and sexy)  tête-à-tête wherein Marcus deviously lures Lily into a kiss moments after recognizing his engagement to Anne is probably at an end,  TESSND just recycles the same tired plot - she’s doubtful, he’s desperate, they have sex.  We barely see or hear from Anne again, and mom sulks.  That’s about it.

The Earl She Should Never Desire isn’t bad.  But it isn’t great either.  It’s just fine.

Buy it at: Amazon or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Em Wittmann
Grade : B-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : May 1, 2022

Publication Date: 04/2022

Review Tags: Harlequin Historical

Recent Comments …

  1. This sounds great. I’ve been reading a lot of historical mysteries lately and loving them, though less Victorian and more…

Em Wittmann

I love romance novels - all kinds. I love music - some kinds. I have strong opinions about both and I like to share them.
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