The Viscount's Unconventional Lady
Looking for a romance novel that’s low on angst and high on sexual tension? One you’ll finish with a sigh of contented satisfaction? Then look no further. The Viscount’s Unconventional Lady is, ironically, a somewhat conventional love story featuring a buttoned up, emotionally scarred hero who’s been burned by love who falls for his opposite – a bold, vibrant artist who was once unlucky in love, too. Opposites attract in this lovely second chance romance, and I enjoyed it very much.
Oldest of three sisters born to a famed opera singer and a much in demand portrait artist, Faith Brooke is a talented artist in her own right. After training under her father, Faith now works as his assistant, accompanying him to sittings and helping to complete the final, finished works of art. She enjoys the work, but longs to establish her own name and identity in the art community. Her bohemian family is no stranger to the gossip columns, and while much of what’s written about them is untrue, they enjoy reading the latest society gossip and rumors, too. Lately, the gossip columns are full of speculation about the scandalous divorce of Viscount Piers Eastwood, the eldest son of the Earl of Writtle. Faith is convinced he’s a villain – he divorced his wife while she was pregnant! – and since her own youthful, secret affair with a nobleman ended in disaster, she’s quick to believe the worst of him. As does her upset mother, who, when The Viscount’s Unconventional Lady begins, tries – and fails – to convince her husband not to allow Faith to assist him on his most recent commission – painting a family portrait of the Writtles.
Piers Eastwood is a seasoned diplomat who’s spent years working to bring about the end of the Napoleonic wars. After several years abroad and a scandalous divorce from his young, beautiful, Portuguese wife, he’s finally returned to England. Painted as a craven villain who left his pregnant wife because she wasn’t good enough for him, Piers tries (and fails) to ignore the hurtful, spiteful gossip, and buries himself in his work. Calm in a crisis, and a gentleman who always keeps his less charitable thoughts to himself, Piers refuses to discuss the cause of the divorce or his former wife. He has no plans to remarry, and doesn’t trust himself not to make a hash of it all over again. On this afternoon – pressed by his mother – he’s made himself available to meet with Augustus Brooke, an artist his mother has commissioned to paint a family portrait. Mr. Brooke is younger than expected, but Piers is completely unprepared for Brooke’s daughter and assistant. Beautiful and vibrant, Faith is exactly the kind of woman Piers can’t resist. Fortunately for Piers, she makes it abundantly clear she doesn’t feel the same.
Faith spends this first meeting getting to know the Writtles, secretly cursing the contemptible, handsome Lord Eastwood. She tries (and fails) to ignore him, and focuses her attention on the rest of the Writtle family. She charms, she teases, and she almost distracts herself from sneaking glances at the handsome, quiet stranger lurking in the periphery of her view… until his mother suggests Piers shows her the room where the portrait is meant to be hung. Once there, Faith is unable to hold her tongue, and flustered by her attraction to a man she doesn’t like, she lashes out. Piers, unflappable as usual, refuses to be baited by the lovely painter, calmly rebukes her and leaves. Later on, they both find reasons to regret this acrimonious first meeting. And fortunately for readers, rather than belabor this less than auspicious beginning, Ms. Heath does the unexpected: she sends Faith to apologize!
Piers is shocked when Faith knocks on his office door, and completely flustered by her presence. His precocious niece – who enjoys hiding away beneath his desk – offers up suggestions on what to say to her, but Piers eventually offers his own apology. The two enjoy a brief, enjoyable conversation and afterwards, they both can’t help but marvel at their easy companionship. And Faith is quick to acknowledge the unlikelihood of Piers abandoning his pregnant wife. What begins as a casual friendship quickly segues into a mutual attraction they’re both powerless to resist.
The Viscount’s Unconventional Lady features two damaged principal characters who, after being badly burned by love (or lust) once before, struggle to overcome their fears and doubts about falling in love again. Piers remains fodder for the gossip columns – ridiculed by the press at every turn – and Faith is forced to confront her hurtful past and former lover after rumors swirl about a possible relationship with Piers. They skittishly dance around their attraction until events conspire to force them to confess how they feel.
Ms. Heath writes believable plots about characters you can’t help but root for. She rarely goes for the gimmick when she can instead pull at your heartstrings, and if I rolled my eyes at a ten-year old giving relationship advice to an adult? Well, I got over it! It’s impossible not to like Piers and Faith, and the author does a lovely job bringing them together in a way that feels consistent with their mutual relationship history. Even before Piers reveals the truth behind his divorce, he’s already proved what Faith’s heart already knows – that he’s a good man who made a mistake – and that the rumors about the demise of his marriage can’t possibly be true. Likewise, when he learns about Faith’s youthful affair with another nobleman, he doesn’t offer platitudes or censure – he gives her a shoulder to cry on, and ensures the creep doesn’t plague her in the future. They support and care for each other, and the slower moving pace of their courtship melds perfectly with their cautiously optimistic hopes for a future together. Their romance is a treat, and I loved this pairing from start to finish.
Virginia Heath writes comfort food romance and while The Viscount’s Unconventional Lady doesn’t break any new ground, it’s an enjoyable and entertaining read anyway. I liked him, I liked her, and I liked their love story. I’m curious about Faith’s sisters – a singer and novelist, respectively – and I’ll be looking forward to reading their stories, too. Recommended.