Dear Ms. Hoyt:
At first blush, this isn’t a book I would buy. The back cover blurb reads as follows:
Widowed Anna Wren is having a wretched day. After an arrogant male on horseback nearly squashes her, she arrives home to learn that she is in dire financial straits. What is a gently bred lady to do?
The Earl of Swartingham is in a quandary. Having frightened off two secretaries, Edward de Raaf needs someone who can withstand his bad temper and boorish behavior. Dammit! How hard can it be to find a decent secretary?
When Anna becomes the earl's secretary, both their problems are solved. Then she discovers he plans to visit the most notorious brothel in London for his “manly” needs. Well! Anna sees red, and decides to assuage her “womanly” desires . . . with the earl as her unknowing lover.
Frankly the blurb reads like some idiotic erotic romance book that publishers seem to think are so popular. Virginal heroine turns skanky ass prostitute like in order to sate her newly discovered passions. What it turns out to be is a believable love story between two lonely people who experience some smoking hot, but totally integrated, sex. I wondered if Julie Ann Long and Elizabeth Hoyt shared the same editor because it had a similar feel to it and I may start buying into SB Sarah’s theory
Anna Wren is widowed and she lives in a small cottage with her mother in law (called Mother Wren) and a young and incompetent maid, Fanny. The investments that Peter Wren left to his wife and by extension, his mother, are not doing very well and Anna is forced to go out into her village to seek employment. She even has to seek to offer her services to the Squire’s wife who suggests that because Anna isn’t well trained in musical deportment that Anna may best suited as a scullery maid. It’s pretty humiliating for Anna.
One thing I have always found a bit clever is when an author gives a name to a character that has meaning for the story. Maybe it’s a silly thing to find clever, but alas, what can I say? In this book, Anna Wren is very wrenlike in the beginning. She has tart thoughts but isn’t one to give them voice. Being at the end of her rope, gives her the courage to start speaking out. After all, what does she have to lose? Circumstances make it difficult for Anna to be just a widow gentry woman. She takes advantage of the Earl’s absence to become the Earl’s secretary without him realizing she is a woman. Once she starts giving voice to “her” opinions, she finds it very exhilarating. It was a pleasure to read her character and watch her unfurl her wings.
The Earl, Edward, suffered a terrible loss when small pox swept through the village. His entire family succumbed and he fell ill. Everyone else died. He’s marked by this incidence with small pox scars and the emptiness that his life has become. He wants to have a family more than anything and contracts a marriage with the daughter of a respectable Baron whose wife has a record of being a good breeder. Given time spent with Anna as his secretary who listens to him, who talks back to him, who isn’t afraid of him, he begins to have untoward thoughts of her. He spends virtually no time thinking about the Baron’s daughter because she is merely a means to an end for him. This sounds callous but you tend to believe that family means everything to Edward and that he would be honorable to his wife, whomever she was.
There is a deception involved and that is Anna sees a receipt on Edward’s desk for Aphrodite’s Grotto. She asks a fallen woman about it and learns that it is a place where masked society ladies go to mingle with the prostitutes and that the men go there not sure of whether they are getting a lady or a whore (thus more titillating). Anna believes that there is an attraction between her and Edward but that it wouldn’t be right to act on it. A number of believable circumstances occur which gives Anna the chance to go to the Grotto. This gives rise (pun not really intended) to some torrid love scenes. There is a sense of total anonymity in these sexual encounters and not a little illictness. The anonymity and the fear of discovery add to the heightened sensuality of the scenes. Torrid would be a good word to describe the Grotto encounters. Anna discovers that in sex, she can have power over this man — this domineering, overbearing man. It’s a real awakening for her.
Of course, as all deceptions are wont to do, this turns badly. The ending is a bit of a farce but I still enjoyed the book and look forward to the next one, The Leopard Prince.
One thing that I need to give some thought to is that each chapter starts out with a small portion of the fairy tale of The Raven Prince. I am not sure what the corollary was between the story and the fairytale. It just wasn’t immediately clear to me but I did enjoy that part too. I know that historical sales are down, but I hope that you hang in there. Yours is a voice I want to keep reading. B.