Sometimes you meet a person who is so utterly warm and charming that they make you want to give them a huge double-arm hug and dub them your new best friend. The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane is the book equivalent of that person. It’s officially going on my “read it again” shelf, the one where I keep the books I reach for on a rainy Sunday afternoon and read with a cup of tea while lazing under a cozy blanket. I know when I open books like this one that I’m going to fall in love, laugh, and be completely smitten every time I read it.
Make no mistake, though: The hero of this novel is anything but a charmer. Wounded in the Napoleonic Wars, Viscount Pierson Wakefield lives the life of a curmudgeonly hermit, with only his loyal butler to ensure he doesn’t sink into drunken oblivion. On a day like any other, his life is turned upside down when the aptly named Louisa Tempest barrels into his house chasing after her hellion of a cat, Hannibal. What ensues is a beauty-and-the-beast style romance that pits Louisa’s take-no-prisoners kindness against Pierson’s closed-off heart.
There was something wonderfully offbeat about this romance. I am not sure if it was Louisa’s earnestness or humor that laced even the darkest of Pierson’s moods that won me over. I do know that the interplay between the hero and heroine was some of the best I’ve read in historical romance–sexy, funny, and with just the right amount of school-yard-style teasing to keep their relationship endearing rather than intense. Yes, Louisa is trying to “fix” Pierson, but somehow he doesn’t quite fit the Tortured Hero trope. There’s still enough spark and wit left in Pierson for Louisa to hold on to and draw out. The Pierson she loves isn’t terribly improved by her efforts. He’s just improved enough to love and be loved in return.
The cast of secondary characters are excellent foils to Louisa and Pierson, particularly Tuck, the rakish heir to Pierson’s uncle’s title. In Tuck we see the shadow of the carefree young man Pierson once was and are left desperately waiting to read his very own happily ever after. Louisa’s twin sister Lavinia is a bit too much like wallpaper for my liking, but she did provide the necessary motivation for bringing Louisa to London. There’s a secondary romance between two older characters that will warm your heart, and as usual, the troublesome shit-stirring villains always eat it in the end.
The Viscount is a charming read and completely satisfying. It’s a keeper, for sure.
London, Hanover Square
“What is it, Haley?” Lord Charleton asked, sparing a glance at the door of the breakfast room where his secretary stood, hovering about like a nervous sparrow. “Is it Rowland? Tell me he hasn’t landed in the suds yet again.”
“No, my lord.”
The man’s brow furrowed a bit. “Couldn’t be Wakefield.”
“Certainly not, my lord.”
The baron glanced up. “Wouldn’t mind if it was. Demmed waste having him mope about, locked up in that house of his.”
“Indeed,” the secretary replied, and if Charleton wasn’t mistaken, there was a note of irony to the man’s declaration—one he chose to ignore, instead pinning a glance on the impudent fellow.
Under the scrutiny, Haley’s jaw worked back and forth as if the words were stuck there in his craw.
“Well?” Lord Charleton prodded. “Out with it. Before my kippers grow cold.” As it was, the baron shoved his plate forward and set down the paper he’d been reading.
Mr. Haley cleared his throat and held out a letter. “I’ve come across a small debt your wife owed—”
There it was. That cold stillness that came every time someone had the nerve to mention Isobel’s name. How Lord Charleton wished he could forget her passing so this wrenching pain would fade from his heart. Yet, still, even a year after her loss, it was a sharp ache he woke up with, one that haunted him even after he closed his eyes at night.
Now here was his secretary bringing her up when he’d quite forbidden the matter.
“Pay it,” he ordered in a tone that said he wanted nothing further to do with any reminders of her.
“But, my lord—” Haley shuffled about.
Lord Charleton removed his glasses and slowly cleaned them. Then once they were perched back up on his nose he stared coldly at the fellow. He was a good man, Haley. An excellent secretary, but why the man continued to bring up Lady Charleton, the baron could not understand. Speaking slowly and deliberately, so there was no mistaking the matter, he said, “You know what to do. Take care of the matter and leave me be.”
“If you insist, my lord . . .” Haley’s voice trailed off tentatively. It wasn’t so much a reply as one last prod.
Truly? He was going to ask yet again? If he wasn’t the most thorough and honest fellow the baron had ever hired—well, actually Lady Charleton had found him and insisted he be hired, but that wasn’t the point. Haley had become rather cheeky of late and Charleton wanted nothing more than to fire him on the spot.
But Isobel wouldn’t have approved, and so Charlton inclined his head, reined back his ire and said with a final note, “Just see to it as Her Lady- ship would have wanted.” Then he went back to his paper and ignored Haley, who stood for a few more moments in the doorway.
And if the baron had looked up, he might have seen the wry, wily smile that had led Lady Char- leton to hire Mr. Haley in the first place.
Six months later
Areowwwwww! The unholy complaint filled the carriage.
“You should have left that foul creature back in Kempton, Miss Tempest,” Mrs. Bagley-Butterton complained for about the hundredth time.
Which equaled the number of times Hannibal had let out that ear-piercing yowl from the basket in which he was trapped.
“He doesn’t like being penned up so,” Miss Louisa Tempest said in defense of her cat. “And I couldn’t leave him behind.”
There was a sigh of resignation from beside Louisa. Miss Lavinia Tempest, Louisa’s twin, made a very deliberate show of looking out the window. She wasn’t about to rise to Hannibal’s defense.
Louisa suspected her sister shared Mrs. Bagley-Butterton’s exasperation and wished poor Hannibal back in Kempton as well.
“I only hope your godmother is an understanding sort,” the matron continued, shifting in her seat in the carriage and eyeing the large basket on Louisa’s lap with an air of disdain and suspicion. She had protested vehemently against the cat being brought along, but she could hardly prevent the matter when the carriage conveying them to London belonged to the girls’ father, Sir Ambrose Tempest. “I know I wouldn’t have that cat in my house.” She sniffed loudly.
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