AN UNLIKELY COUNTESS - Jo Beverley
England - 1765
Catesby Burgoyne has left the Army and, because he misses his home but is not welcomed there by his brother, the Earl of Malzard, he has taken to drowning his sorrows. As he stumbles out of a pub one night, he comes upon a group of thugs attacking a woman. Welcoming a fight, Catesby charges in and dispatches the ruffians. Taking the shaken woman back to her small house, he is struck by her bravery. Little does he know how his life will be affected by her.
Although Prudence Youlgrave is not from a poor family, the deaths of both of her parents and her brother's neglect of her have left Pru in dire financial straits. She lives in a hovel and must scrape by each day with the pittance her brother, Aaron, sends her, despite his marrying a wealthy heiress. Her evening stroll to get away from the tiny house changes her entire future when Catesby rescues her. Intrigued by the stranger, she allows him to stay in her mother's room that night. In the morning, he's gone, but he leaves her memories of his embrace. Pru vows to better her life and travels to her brother's home where she asks his wife for help in finding a wealthy husband. Unfortunately, Mr. Draydale, while possessing a fortune, also has a foul temper and isn't averse to using force with women. He's already buried two of them.
To Catesby's horror, his brother dies, leaving him as the surviving son, and therefore, the new earl. With his mother insisting on his marrying soon, and with the image of Pru in his mind since that fateful night, he sets off to find her, his intention just to make sure she is all right. When he arrives and discovers it's her wedding day, he gets to the church in time to see how pale and obviously distraught Pru is at her choice of a husband. His disruption of the ceremony results in Draydale backhanding Prudence, and Catesby soundly thrashes the man in return. There is nothing else to be done, Catesby must marry Pru and put an end to the gossip that would surely follow the church scene.
AN UNLIKELY COUNTESS is a poignant, yet very heartwarming story of two people who, despite their different stations in life, are quite obviously meant for each other. Catesby has paid dearly in the Army for his concern for his men and had to face a family that never understood his needs or personality. Prudence, the daughter of a librarian, is well educated, thoughtful, and inordinately brave in a world where women had little say over their lives. Her arrival at Catesby's home is met with a chilly reception by his mother and his brother's widow, but Pru makes the best of it, for she has the love of a man who will have her back no matter what the circumstance.
A thoroughly entertaining book, AN UNLIKELY COUNTESS has great primary and secondary characters and a view into the real world of eighteenth century lives. Beautifully written, I highly recommend this terrific novel.