Her Perfect Earl
By Beth Pattillo
Published: August 16, 2013
Note: This book was originally published in 2005 and written under the pseudonym Bethany Brooks
One priceless manuscript. Five untamed children. A widowed earl in search of an heiress. And a scholar-disguised-as-a-governess with designs on his library. Has a happy ending ever been more unlikely?
Plain Esmerelda Fortune must make her own way in the world, which is difficult for a lady when the men of her class seem to want beauties with no brains. She plans to take employment with the Earl of Ashforth for as long as it takes to gain access to the Life of Corinna-a rare manuscript rumored to belong to the earl and the key to her paper for a scholarship prize. That prize will allow her to open a school for young ladies who want more from education than painting and embroidery skills.
Julian, Earl of Ashforth, needs an heiress or the Ashforth name and estates are forfeit. Julian is no stranger to sacrifice and duty in the name of maintaining the Ashforth facade of perfection. He's resigned to marry for money, but first he must tame his unruly children. Miss Fortune seems the perfect candidate for the job-that is until the gray-eyed governess arrives at Ashforth Abbey and proceeds to turn his life head over ears.
I have previously read the author's Christian fiction novels (Jane Austen Ruined My Life, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, etc.) so when I saw that she had a new book, I wanted to give it a try. This book is a straightforward Regency romance as opposed to Christian historical fiction. I also found out that this is a reprint of a book first published by Signet in 2005. It is also the companion novel to Princess Charming, a retelling of Cinderella featuring Esmie's stepsister.
I like when the heroines of historical romance novels are intelligent and scholarly. I also appreciated the fact that Esmie is plain (as opposed to thinking she is plain while everyone else in the book sees her as drop dead gorgeous). When the Earl first meets her, he isn't even attracted to her. His attraction grows as he gets to know her and he falls in love with her mind and heart as well as her body. I did wish that Esmie didn't have the low self-esteem issues but it is what makes her an authentic character. The development of their romance is truly enjoyable. So is the relationship that Esmie has with Julian's children. I was expecting there to be a lot of animosity and friction between the kids and Esmie but she quickly wins them over.
The secondary characters are not fully developed. Miss Lambton as the wealthy would-be fiancee is vile but her father Mr. Lambton did take me by surprise in the end at least. They serve as the stumbling block for the romance. Julian owes Mr. Lambton quite a bit of money and the marriage is how he hopes to save the Estate for his family.
The other issue is Esmie's plans to start a girls' school and instruct students in the Classics. In order to see her dream come true, she has to win a scholarly competition and for that she needs the rare manuscript that Julian possesses. The problem is that he is also writing about the manuscript to win the competition and then the manuscript goes missing while in Esmie's care. The story line involving the manuscript is an important plot device to bring Julian and Esmie together but it didn't quite work for me. It didn't seem believable that he would keep what is supposed to be a Medieval manuscript in such an unprotected location and that they'd handle it the way they did. The pages should have been very brittle even at that time. That small issue might not bother everyone but it did bother me a little.
While there are some minor flaws, I still liked the romance and the way that both Julian and Esmie grow during the book. Julian is dealing with some painful issues surrounding his marriage as well as his fears about being a father and failing his children by losing their property. Esmie has to deal with insecurity both because of the way her mother treated her and because of the scorn she has received in academic circles because she is a woman.
Overall I thought this was a nice romance. I liked Esmie and Julian and even the kids were not very annoying. It was a quick read and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I will note that this is not a Christian romance and there are some mildly steamy scenes but nothing out of the ordinary for this genre. There are some flaws but the romance is well developed and the main characters are likable enough that the flaws did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher