The Earl Takes a Fancy
The Earl Takes a Fancy is book five in Lorraine Heath’s Sins For All Seasons series, which features the six Trewlove siblings, all but one of them by-blows of members of the nobility who were handed over to baby farmer Ettie Trewlove who, instead of neglecting them (as was, sadly, the most common result of this practice), cared for them, loved them and brought them up as her own. The four preceding books have seen Mick, Gillie, Aiden and Finn fall in love and marry well, and in this book, it’s the turn of Ettie’s daughter Fancy – the only Trewlove to whom Ettie actually gave birth – to meet her match.
Fancy is the baby of the family – she’s just nineteen in this story – and as is natural, Ettie wants nothing but the best for her daughter. Even before the family’s fortunes begin to rise, she is determined Fancy will marry a fancy man, live in a fancy house and enjoy a fancy life. Now, it looks as though Ettie’s dreams for Fancy will come true; her sister Gillie, Duchess of Thornley, is soon to hold a ball to launch Fancy into society, which will surely lead to her finding the lord Ettie and her family are so keen for her to marry.
Matthew Sommersby, Earl of Rosemont lost his wife a year earlier, so to say he’s surprised to see a letter from her published in the newspaper one morning is an understatement. In the missive, she talks about Matthew’s husbandly devotion, how much they’d loved each other and how much she wants him to find love again – and Matthew is furious. He knows his late wife is mocking him from beyond the grave because their marriage was a sham; he’d been a besotted fool, tricked into marriage by a woman who wanted only his title and status and he’s determined never to be so gullible again. This letter, however, has brought scores of match-making mamas and their similarly minded daughters to his door – and he wants none of it. Less than a week after the letter first appears, Matthew closes up his London house and disappears.
Fancy is facing the prospect of her society début with some trepidation. She knows that her illegitimacy will count against her as she tries to secure a position within high society, but her family is still set on seeing her married into the aristocracy – nothing less than an earl will do. Fancy, though, would much prefer to marry a man she loves and who loves her; her sister and three of her brothers have married for love and Fancy wants what they have… but is unwilling to disappoint her mum, whom she adores. Fancy has a tender regard for stories brimming with romance , and along with most of the women in London, thought the late Countess of Rosemont’s letter was incredibly romantic, and keeps a copy of it in her pocket, believing it offers the hope that she might one day discover the same sort of passion. The jingle of the bell of her bookshop interrupts her musings, and she finds herself facing a strikingly handsome man and falling into easy conversation about books with him. Very shortly after she has closed the shop for the evening, she runs into the man again at the pub she goes to for her supper; the stranger introduces himself as Mr. Matthew Sommersby, and explains he’s new to the area, and they end up sharing a table and continuing their conversation over their meal. Matthew finds his companion’s lack of guile completely refreshing, until, that is, Fancy dislodges the copy of his late wife’s letter from her pocket and he immediately assumes Fancy is just the same as any of the other women who have besieged him seeking wealth and title. *eyeroll*
Fortunately, he does realise his mistake quickly, and apart from this, the relationship between Matthew and Fancy is very well developed, with a palpable pull of attraction between the pair from the moment they meet. Ms. Heath takes the time to show readers the couple getting to know each other, bonding over a mutual love of books and reading , and most importantly, she shows us – and Fancy – exactly who Matthew is as a person; a kind, thoughtful man who wants someone who loves him for himself and not for his money or title. I will say, however, that if you’re someone for whom deception of any kind in a romance is a dealbreaker, then this may not be the book for you.
For the first half of the book I was pulled in by the romance and the characters, both of whom are well-drawn and attractive, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t see the two huge plot-holes. 1. If Fancy’s family are so concerned for her happiness, why do none of them actually ask her what she wants? And 2. Why are the Trewloves so intent on introducing her to a society that they know will judge her for her illegitimacy and humble origins? Her brothers even point out that Gillie is the only one of them who is even vaguely accepted, and that’s because Thornley is a duke and can do whatever the hell he wants. They love Fancy so much, yet are prepared to subject her to humiliation and the potential misery of marrying a man she doesn’t love.
As the story wore on, however, it became repetitive – Fancy doesn’t want to disappoint her family so doesn’t tell them she doesn’t want what they want for her, and Matthew realises he needs to tell her the truth about who he is, but wants just a little bit more time to make sure she’s properly interested in him. Of course, he puts off telling her for too long, which leads to an eye-rolling eleventh-hour conflict that then rushes headlong into a hasty and credulity-snapping conclusion.
I’ve continued to read (and listen) to the books in this series in the hopes of a return to form by Lorraine Heath, but have so far been unable to rate any of them higher than a B (the last three have all been B-/C+ reads for me). As I read the first half, I was thinking things were looking up, and I’d be able to award The Earl Takes a Fancy a solid B grade, but in the end, the likeable characters couldn’t make up for the sagging middle, the holes in the premise and the ridiculous ending.