The Tempting of the Governess
I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for master/governess romances – probably a result of my long-time love for Jane Eyre – so the synopsis of Julia Justiss’ The Temptation of the Governess caught my eye. It proved to be a charming, character-driven romance featuring two likeable characters forced by circumstances to make big changes in their lives.
The first Cinderella Spinsters book, The Awakening of Miss Henley, introduced the three heroines of the series, young ladies who had decided never to marry and instead to set up house together and pursue charitable endeavours and the political causes close to their hearts. This story opens as Miss Olivia Overton’s plans for her life are turned upside down when she learns that the inheritance she had planned to use to support herself has been lost in a series of unsuccessful speculations made by those who were supposed to have been looking out for her best interests. Unwilling to live as a dependent relative upon her cousin, Olivia instead decides she can follow only one of two paths in order to earn a living; she can become a lady’s companion or – her preferred option – a governess.
Widower Colonel Hugh Glendenning returned from India eighteen months earlier, following the death of his elder brother, to find the family estate of Somers Abbey in Yorkshire had been run almost into the ground. He has spent his every waking moment ever since working hard to repair the damage, and at last is starting to see the fruits of his labours. Money is still tight and the Abbey boasts only a skeleton staff, but Hugh believes that the next few months should see things easing up a bit. When a couple of travellers arrive at the Abbey with two young girls in tow and explain that the girls, Elizabeth (eight) and Sophie (six) are his wards, the daughters of his recently deceased cousin, Hugh is taken aback. He had agreed to stand as guardian, yes, but had thought he would be responsible at a distance, expecting them to remain at their home on St. Kitts in the Caribbean while he managed their affairs from England. There’s nothing to be done but to ask his female relatives if one of them is able to take the girls, and in the meantime he must find a governess for them.
The romance between Olivia and Hugh is of the slow-burn variety and is mercifully absent of all the overdone mental lusting that is so prevalent in romances right now. There’s a definite pull of attraction between them, but the author keeps it fairly low-key as befits the time period and the situation and builds the romantic tension gradually. Both characters are immensely likeable; they don’t always see eye to eye but their disagreements are civil and not of the I’m-disagreeing-with-you-for-the-sake-of-it variety – and each time they clash, they reflect upon the arguments put forward by the other, apologies are made where appropriate and compromises are arrived at. Olivia may have been forced to give up the future she’d mapped out for herself, but she adapts to the changes in her life without moping over what might have been. She’s refreshingly straightforward; neither a downtrodden doormat nor one of those curl-tossing feisty types I can’t stand, she’s cognizant of her subordinate position but also not afraid to speak her mind in an appropriate manner when necessary. And Hugh comes quickly to appreciate that about her and to rather like her self-proclaimed managing ways. He finds it hard to be around children following the death, in India, of his young son, and initially wants to spend as little time with his wards as possible. Olivia believes that if the Colonel, who has clearly shut out all emotion from his life, can be brought to see that his grieving wards are desperately in need of kindness and affection, perhaps it will be good for him to be able to provide those things, and sets out to bring them together.
I only ask that you do what you can, as much as you feel you can bear, to help them adjust to their loss of home and father.
More difficult for Hugh to accept is his belief that the failure of his marriage was his fault and that marrying again would be to condemn any woman to misery. This is an oft-used trope in romance and one I’m quite tired of; I really dislike the way the hero (it’s usually the hero in this situation) takes her agency away from the heroine, so I was really pleased when Ms. Justiss has Olivia step up and tell Hugh that he needs to stop thinking of women as delicate beings who can’t think for themselves and that she’s perfectly capable of making her own decisions, because that’s what I’m usually thinking whenever this happens in a romance!
The two girls are sympathetic and well-written, and I enjoyed watching Olivia building a relationship with them, and the way that Hugh comes to admit that she’s right about the girls needing stability and affection and making an effort to spend time with them. The one false note in the book is the sub-plot concerning the nasty housekeeper, which is flimsy and feels almost as though it should be in a different book. It seems to be there to give Hugh the opportunity to show his trust in Olivia and introduce a bit of conflict for Olivia to deal with, but it feels a tad out of place and not quite integral to the story.
Hugh and Olivia are a well-matched couple, two strong-willed but lonely people who communicate well and act and talk like adults. The chemistry between them is more of a constant hum than fizz-bang fireworks, but it works, making their romance feel very grounded and convincing me that here was a couple who would be together long after the book ended. The Temptation of the Governess is an enjoyable read and one fans of historical romance should definitely consider checking out.