The Reluctant Countess
Good lord, was this charming! I fell fairly quickly for The Reluctant Countess, with its likable characters and high angst quotient. However, I was a little disappointed by the way the conflict balances itself on misunderstandings and outside interference.
Lady Yasmin Régnier was coaxed into a false marriage at the age of sixteen by a fortune hunter who hoped that despoiling Yasmin would land him the family’s estate, which was a gift from Napoléon to Yasmin’s mother, a former courtesan who was once his mistress. A heartbroken Yasmin very fortunately has no ‘consequences’ to deal with, and her father gets rid of the man by calling his bluff, but she is understandably scarred and changed by this manipulation. Her parents blame her for being foolish and soon ship her off to relatives in England to avoid the scandal.
But Yasmin does not let the incident dim her inner light. Ten years later, she’s become a flirtatious and lighthearted member of the ton. She wears daring, clinging dresses, but in private does not give herself over to temptation.
Giles Renwick, Earl of Lilford, is a man of great dignity. He is stuffy, fussy and concerned with his reputation as a way of distancing himself from his father’s poor decisions and the general self-interest both his parents. He has no intention of succumbing to the urges his fellow members of the ton so wantonly display. And yet he’s highly attracted to Yasmin, who is light and gossipy and silly. They get on like oil and water; he’s recalcitrant, she talks too much. He’s only here because he needs to keep an eye on his teenage sister, Lady Lydia, while she goes through her Season. And yet… Giles reliably queues up at every single ball to spend time with Yasmin.
Life is not easy for Yasmin. People gossip about her and her family constantly, though they are unable to cast her out of polite society thanks to the influence of her grandfather. Giles needs a woman who is countess material, and Yasmin does not appear to be this – an opinion Lydia holds and uses to help drive a wedge between them. Will love conquer all?
The Reluctant Countess rings with James’ ear for warmth and romantic connections. Yasmin is the only person alive who can charm Giles into smiling; Giles is protective of Yasmin and her reputation. Their chemistry is electric. And yet James trips across the old miscommunication trope – and miscommunication due to an interfering relative to boot.
I did also have my qualms about Giles, who is very possessive and sometimes controlling, but, fortunately, Yasmin is not dragged under by his iffy behavior and refuses to be anything other than herself. He gets with the program eventually and learns the difference between possessing and protecting someone. But the romance is good and boils up slowly, transforming them from enemies to lovers. Everything crackles with tension and sensuality. Giles throws away his inhibitions for Yasmin and she learns how to compromise with him.
And then there is Lydia, who at least is not a cardboard cut-out. But the evil interfering relative who hates the heroine trope is so disappointingly overdone, and I’d rather have had less cliché there, even though James makes Lydia a fully-rounded character with an understandable (if cruel) motive. Other supporting characters stand out well; I could not love Yasmin’s grandfather more – there’s a guy who would willingly ride into battle for her.
But all of this doesn’t stop me from recommending you give this one a read. If you can stomach waiting for Giles to transform and deal with Lydia’s attitude, The Reluctant Countess is a dashing treat worth swooning over.
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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