Despite having read many great things about Courtney Milan’s work this is my first time reading her work. I don’t read as many historical romances as I used to and it’s hard for me to find a novel in that genre that really catches my attention and actually manages to keep it until the end of the book. That’s why I decided to read this novella first, even though technically is book two in the series, this way if I didn’t like it at least it was just a sort story. I’m glad to say that I liked it so much that I got the other two books in the series.
Lady Elaine Warren and Evan Carlton, the Earl of Westfield, share a painful past, and by this I mean that Evan, a popular, handsome and wealthy man, mocked and ridiculed Elaine so much that even after ten years she is still known and mocked by the same insults. Evan left town after that first season for reasons that are explained later in the story, one of them being guilt. But Elaine remained to pick up the pieces of her life while dealing with the ton’s mockery towards her and her mother, a very intelligent woman who is clueless in the matters of society.
Ten years later Elaine has somewhat accepted her spinsterhood and does her best to protect her mother and appear invisible, and Evan is back in town. He has changed a lot and is surprised to see that everything remains the same and that what he did has affected Elaine’s life so deeply. But he’s determined to make up for his mistakes and to win Elaine’s forgiveness, friendship, and maybe even her heart.
I’m a sucker for stories in which the hero is a jerk to the heroine and has to do a lot of groveling, and the heroine rises above all and makes the hero grovel some more. So that’s why this story was so appealing to me. The problem with plots like this one is that they can go terribly wrong because you don’t want the heroine to come across as abused and weak, and you don’t want to make the hero so unlikable that’s hard to redeem. This book works because all the abuse happens off camera, so by the time we meet the hero he is already repentant and very aware of how cruel he was, and the heroine isn’t weak even though she doesn’t do much to protect and defend herself until almost the end of the book.
Elaine was an interesting character because after years of being constantly humiliated and mocked she’s at the point where all she wants is to fade into the background and go by unnoticed. Her mother, a very peculiar character (I had a feeling that she had Asperger’s syndrome), was mocked as well but never noticed it, so Elaine had to protect her as well, the thing is -and this was one of my favorite parts of the story- that Elaine resents her mother, she loves her, but at one point she acknowledges how hard it is for her to deal with the members of the ton while trying to shield her mother. I was glad to see that she wasn’t the perfect martyr that takes everything in stride and never feels anger, because she was angry at the world, at her mother, at the circumstances, and most of all at Evan.
We don’t get the opportunity to hate Evan because as I said before he is already repentant once the book starts. He isn’t aware of the extent of the damage, but he does his best to make it better. I admit that the origin of the actual mocking was a bit ridiculous, he makes fun of her laughter and that sets everything in motion, but I have seen how much damage a bully can do just by picking on the most inconsequential thing, so I can understand how something like that could escalate to the point of making someone’s life a living hell.
Another thing I loved about this story was the fact that there’s an actual courtship, Evan has to win Elaine’s trust, friendship and love, and he has to do it in that order which takes time, in this case almost a year. I found this to be refreshing and real.
This was a great story, if you are a fan of historical romance I’m sure you’ll love this and even though it’s a short novella it packs a lot of punch.
Review by Brie
A perpetual wallflower destined for spinsterhood, Lady Elaine Warren is resigned to her position in society. So when Evan Carlton, the powerful, popular Earl of Westfeld, singles her out upon his return to England, she knows what it means. Her former tormenter is up to his old tricks, and she's his intended victim. This time, though, the earl is going to discover that wallflowers can fight back.
Evan has come to regret his cruel, callow past. At first, he only wants to make up for past wrongs. But when Elaine throws his initial apology in his face, he finds himself wanting more. And this time, what torments him might be love...
Courtney Milan; May 26, 2011.