The Vampire Viscount
The Vampire Viscount manages to be a number of interesting things in a brief 224-page space. This is a book that may sneak its way onto a number of AAR’s Special Title Listings. It’s a vampire story, which is unique enough for a Regency. It’s also a redemption story, an arranged marriage romance, and it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.
Leonore Farleigh’s father is, for all his noble blood, a gambler and a drunk. One night he loses too much at the tables to the Viscount St. Vire. Since he has no way to pay his debts, he offers his daughter as payment. St. Vire informs him that he’s interested in marriage, not prostitution, but if his daughter is a virgin, he would like to make her acquaintance. Leonore is left with a decision to make: which is worse, living with an abusive parent in worsening poverty or marrying a man who is willing to buy a wife?
Nicholas, the Viscount St. Vire, is interested in Leonore for one reason. He’s tired of being a vampire, and he’s found a spell that might counteract his condition. He needs to marry a virgin at the summer solstice and she must be entirely willing on their wedding night. He’s researched possible candidates and has identified Leonore as the most promising. When she consents to marry him, he is quite relieved. His plan is proceeding. But will it be a success? Will the next summer solstice find him human or beyond earthly cares?
The set-up of this book is similar to Diana Brown’s The Emerald Necklace or Sheri Cobb South’s The Weaver Takes a Wife. But very soon into the story, differences appear. First, Leonore is not spoiled and, after an initially bad reaction, she doesn’t resent Nicholas for the maneuvering he’s done. Second, the marriage doesn’t occur immediately, so Leonore and Nicholas have some time to get acquainted. Nicholas needs a willing bride, so he sets about the task of seducing his fiancée. He buys her gifts. He’s kind to her family. He arranges her entrée into society. And he makes free with her body. This is one of the few romances I’ve seen where major fooling around occurred, but no one was really shocked by it. Nicholas and Leonore are engaged; his intentions are honorable; he does not mean to deprive her of her virginity before the wedding. Society looks the other way, and the dowagers smile into their hands. Ah, young love. Usually, I am not a fan of the Naturally Sensuous Regency Miss, but the progression of Leonore and Nicholas’s relationship seemed extremely natural to me.
Harbaugh deftly draws out the emotional and sexual intensity between the pair. The wedding night scene is both touching and arousing, and thankfully free of loss-of-virginity jitters. By that time they are both in love, though neither will admit it. For St. Vire, the idea of caring for another person is too strange to be acknowledged, and for Leonore, it’s too frightening. Her husband has too many secrets. How can she love a man she knows so little about?
The Vampire Viscount would likely have been a Desert Isle Keeper for me had the focus of the book not changed in the final third. In the last part of the book Harbaugh introduced an external conflict that increased the suspense, but added nothing to the romance. The book was still very good, and my attention as a reader was held, but I wished that she had kept the focus on Leonore and Nicholas’s relationship.
The Vampire Viscount is somewhat collectible online, but this is one instance in which I did not regret paying more for an out-of-print book. The story was entertaining, romantic, and quite different from the usual Regency fare. I’ve got a few more of Harbaugh’s book in the TBR pile. I think I’ll go dig them out now.