THE EARL'S MISTRESS – Liz Carlyle
England, mid Nineteenth Century
How to begin . . . This story is about two very different people and how they come together and what happens to them. But isn't that true of every romance novel? However, THE EARL'S MISTRESS is simply not that simple. The characters, major and minor, are complex and the hero's and heroine's early lives—the events that made them what they are—are only gradually revealed. Plus, the plot takes many turns. I can only try to make sense of it in few words.
Isabella Aldridge began life as the daughter of a minor country baron. She had no brothers or sisters until her mother died when she was twelve, and her father eventually remarried. But now, after a very brief marriage, she is a young widow herself; the only family she has left are her stepsister and her half sister. Well, that's not exactly true. She has an aunt and a cousin—the cousin her father's heir—who do nothing for Isabella or the children while they occupy what was once her home. Isabella has earned their keep as a governess to Lady's Petershaw's two sons. But they are now grown, and Isabella must find another position. Lady P. recommends her to the Earl of Hepplewood in Northumberia, known as Tony to his intimates.
The earl takes one look at the applicant for the post of governess for his motherless daughter and knows she won't do. She's much too beautiful, and though he loves women, this young lady would be just too tempting around his home. He would hire her, however, as a mistress. Apprised of that fact, she slaps him a good one.
Back in London, Isabella runs into her aunt and cousin who have taken an odd interest in her sisters. Fearing they might take them from her, she decides the earl was right. She then asks Lady Petershaw—who is a very sophisticated lady indeed—to help her find a rich and discreet protector so she might keep the girls in her cottage with the faithful Mrs. Barbour. Isabella travels out of town to meet a Mr. Mowbrey, a prospective protector, to ostensibly catalogue his library . And who should Mr. Mowbrey turn out to be, but the same Tony, Earl of Hepplewood.
So that is the bare bones of the plot. There was an undercurrent of attraction between the two at their first meeting; now will it blossom? Oh, yes, but not without much travail. Both parties have old wounds, especially Tony. Isabella's are more recent, but her deepest concern is for her sisters. Many others play important parts in the story and add charming elements (the children, especially, those of Isabella and Tony, along with Tony's cousin and her children). And some players threaten harm.
Liz Carlyle has long been a favorite of mine, and I've often been moved by her romantic and tender love scenes. In this book, however, they take a new twist in which Tony plays the part of a stern teacher to train the inexperienced Isabella how to please a master.
There really is so much more to THE EARL'S MISTRESS than what's barely touched on above. The characterization and evolution run deep for the protagonists and the lesser individuals are well done also. The mood runs from serious to light and even to fun.