The Earl's Inconvenient Houseguest
Virginia Heath remains a reliable delight, and she opens a brand-new series, A Very Village Scandal – which centers around the lives and loves of the citizens of the English town Whittleston-on-the-Water during the Regency period – with The Earl’s Inconvenient Houseguest. The romance here takes a while to percolate, plus, the book pulls a stronger focus on the heroine, and the hero is a mite bit prickly for a good chunk of the story, but it’s still a lovely, well-written romance.
Spinster Sophie Gilbert knows all about the new Lord Hockley, Captain Rafe Peel – or so she thinks. Thanks to the never-ending local gossip about his family, she understands that he’s a distant relative of the previous Earl (his second cousin) and that Rafe isn’t the country living type. When Sophie and her Aunt Jemima hear that Rafe doesn’t want to live adjacent to the tiny, close-knit and lively Whittleston-on-the-Water and may in fact be interested in selling his country estate and the entire town, everyone goes into a tizzy of fear. The previous earl was not a good landlord, they’ve seen a neighboring village go belly-up after a bad sale, and they’re worried they’re in for more of the same with Rafe. After being cast out by her father following a series of tragedies ten years earlier, Sophie has found a refuge in the town and with her aunt and she’ll do anything to keep Rafe from selling. With her aunt’s age and cardiac troubles catching up with her, Sophie needs to figure out what the future holds for her, but saving Willow Cottage is of the utmost importance.
Sophie is right about Rafe wanting nothing to do with Whittleston-on-the-Water, and his plan to sell it. Much of his reluctance to stay stems from the overweening behavior of his tenants and his lifelong dislike of busybody behavior. He’s got dreams of an isolated life supporting his almost-twenty-one year old brother Archie – who has a developmental delay and remains dependent on Rafe – in order to avoid the nasty gossip which has plagued his family since Archie’s birth. Rafe immediately turns his nose up at the sight of the village and endears himself to no one. Unfortunately for him, the unctuous folks of Whittleston have no plans to let him get away from his duty that easily, fearing they, too, will be turned out of their homes. A protest is quickly launched by Sophie which builds and builds, ending with a blockade, until he’s forced to meet her demands. But a housefire destroys Willow Cottage and injures Aunt Jemima. Rafe, who hurts his shoulder saving Sophie’s life and rescuing Aunt Jemima, feels bad enough for Sophie and her aunt to let them stay in his home while they rebuild and recuperate. And thus begins their attraction. Can a shopkeeper’s daughter ever find true love with an earl, especially when he finds out about a horror which took place in her past?
Heath pulls off a solid combination of a funny comedy of human behavior and manners and a dramatic, touching romance here, and that’s quite a difficult combination to convey to an audience. Rafe is a little harder to love than Sophie – standoffish, bad with people – but the reader will come to enjoy him with time. Sophie is sympathetic from the start and easy to like, with her practicality and well-protected secrets and vulnerability. The romance is very sweet and understated, and they’re both good for each other, for the mending and healing of their wounds.
This is a very slow-burn romance. It takes about a hundred pages for the attraction between Sophie and Rafe to go beyond occasional appreciation of one’s enemy’s attractiveness and/or cunning, and even longer for them to acknowledge their attraction to one another. Some people may not enjoy this sort of wait, but Heath tries to make it worthwhile, explaining Sophie’s very long-term previous loyalty to another party. The banter is solid – perhaps too solid to be credible, as their love confession takes a very long time to occur.
There’s also a plot weakness here. Sophie has tried her hardest to avoid any sort of romantic scandal, and Rafe wants a quiet life. Yet he moves her and her aunt into his home without worrying what the villagers will say. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, though it’s arguable that he’s trying to make the villagers like him – which definitely doesn’t work.
The Earl’s Inconvenient Houseguest is slow-going, but still entirely readable and a fun time.
Buy it at: Amazon or your local independent retailer
Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier