Desert Isle Keeper
I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading The Footman, and truthfully, I had my doubts after the first chapter. A young and handsome footman, on his first day of work, is unable to curb his tongue after the daughter of the house, Lady Elinor Yarmouth, accidentally barrels into him and then insults him. Later that evening, at her engagement ball, Lady Elinor impulsively kisses the footman because she’s frustrated with her life and upcoming arranged marriage… Friends, I struggled with this premise right out of the gate. (Honestly, it’s ridiculous). Fortunately, LaViolette (aka Minerva Spencer) somehow transforms this opening chapter into a story I couldn’t put down and didn’t want to end. Vengeance, redemption, and a second chance romance combine in this addictive and entertaining romance.
Iain Vale, the bastard son of a Scottish laird and a whore, was a young, poor, inexperienced footman in a wealthy London household. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time when Lady Elinor Yarmouth spots him yawning at her engagement ball, and before he realizes what she’s about, she’s kissing him. When her fiancé spots them, he nearly beats Iain to death before having him arrested and charged with rape. He barely survives his time in jail (a stranger defends him from an attack by fellow inmates), before his uncle helps him escape by bribing a pair of guards. Filthy and starving, with a bounty on his head, he boards a ship bound for America. Fifteen years later, he’s returned to England as Stephen Worth, a wealthy banker from Boston, and he wants revenge on the people who casually ruined his life. His first stop is Blackfriars, home to Lady Elinor Trentham.
After that impulsive kiss, Lady Elinor watched helplessly as her fiancé, Edward Atwood, Earl of Trentham, nearly beat the innocent man to death and then coldly renegotiated his marriage contract with her father. Alternately referring to her as a whore and a slut, he informs her he’s cancelled the wedding at St. George’s Church, and instead arranged for a special license.
“We shall spend one night in Trentham House before you are removed to Blackfriars, where I will return every month until you are breeding.” His eyes flickered over her and he made no effort to hide his distaste.
The marriage, an agony marked by vicious abuse, rape, and multiple miscarriages, cured her of any romantic notions. Now a widow living in the Dower House, Elinor is mostly free to live as she chooses with little interference from Charles Atwood, the loathsome, venal Fifth Earl of Trentham. And despite her meagre jointure and reduced circumstances, she’s determined never to marry again. Instead, after treating her own injuries for so many years, she’s studying to become a physician under the tutelage of the local doctor.
When Charles introduces Elinor to Stephen Worth, explaining that the handsome stranger is interested in purchasing the estate, Elinor tries to quell her panic:
… the land was in bad enough condition, but the house itself would require a monstrous amount of money to repair and operate.
But it soon becomes clear that Mr. Worth is interested in Blackfriars – and her; he keeps showing up wherever she is. Elinor doesn’t have time for his games or his flirting or her own attraction to him (which she valiantly tries to suppress), and she avoids him whenever possible. His attentions confuse her – why would such a handsome, wealthy, eligible bachelor pursue a poor, lame widow? And despite her best intentions to ignore him, she’s flattered by his attentions. But Elinor rebuffs him, anyway. She senses there’s more to Stephen than meets the eye, and she’ll never let another man control her ever again.
Although Stephen pursues Elinor and his revenge with a vengeance, he can’t help his growing affection for her. The widow is nothing like the impulsive, reckless girl he remembers, and he craves opportunities to spend time with her. Despite her denials, he senses the attraction is mutual, and redoubles his efforts even though she pushes him away. Beloved by the locals, sharp, and lovely, Elinor is a siren he can’t resist, even as he has his employee (John Fielding – the boy who saved his life in prison) proceed with her ruination. (Ahem). When Elinor refuses Stephen’s impulsive offer of marriage, he vows to stay away and returns to London. But then she turns up in London a few days later and asks for his help, and Stephen is powerless to refuse.
LaViolette makes it extremely difficult to dislike Stephen – he’s charming and generous and gentle and besotted and bewildered by his feelings for Elinor, but we know he’s up to no good! Revenge has been his close friend for so long, Stephen can’t conceive of his future without it. He pursues Elinor to eventually ruin her, and behind the scenes he schemes – with John Fielding doing much of his dirty work – to financially destroy her father, Viscount Yarmouth, and his heir (Elinor’s brother). Friends, he’s ruthless and relentless. He’s also totally unmoored by his feelings for Elinor, and too scared by those feelings to change course. Honestly, I have to admire LaViolette’s commitment to this morally questionable character; it takes confidence to believe you can redeem a character whose moral compass is so far out of whack. Fortunately, although I won’t spoil the second half of this story, I can promise you his is a satisfying (groveling, oh so much groveling) redemption story.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Elinor hasn’t let the circumstances of her past define her future, and she’s turned adversities into opportunities. Rather than wallow in self-pity over her physical impairment (a crippled foot which causes her to limp) or regrets over the painful injuries she sustained while married, she uses them as motivation to become a physician in order to care for others. She’s unfailingly generous and kind and good – even to her husband’s bastard son whom she discovered living on the estate whilst she was still married. Elinor deserves love and kindness and respect – and instead, she gets Stephen. He threatens her home, her livelihood, and her heart, and she still struggles to resist his relentless charm offensive. Reader, she suspects he’s up to something and falls for him anyway. Even after he proves her right, she…. ha! I’m not going to tell you. But it’s lovely and swoony and everything good that Elinor so richly deserves.
Told in dual PoVs, The Footman unfolds amid flashbacks to that ill-fated kiss, and the events that shape the current story. The pacing is excellent, and I was glued to it from start to finish. LaViolette saves a major plot revelation and surprise twist for late in the second half, and both are perfectly timed for maximum impact as the story winds its way to a lovely, swoony epilogue. Two secondary characters, Beth, Elinor’s long-suffering, matchmaking maid, and the enigmatic John Fielding (who I hope features in a future story), make memorable appearances, and also add a nice bit of levity.
The Footman is a sexy, steamy ode to the redemptive power of love. I enjoyed almost every bit of it, and I can’t wait for the next Masqueraders novel. Highly recommended.
Buy it at: Amazon
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