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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating and infuriating
on April 28, 2004
It's a romance, and you expect a happy ending, but the journey Mary Balogh creates to get there is so satisfying. Her characters are plausible, the dialog is clever and apt, and the situations play out without awkward deus ex machina. You may want to smack the earl upside the head occasionally, but it's because Balogh writes so well. You like the characters, so when they behave irrationally, they disappoint you. That's good writing.
Jessica is a governess, more of a companion now, to a vain and complacent debutante. Rutherford is a houseguest, misled by his hosts into thinking it would be a much larger house party. He is as annoyed by the presumption that he'll offer for the young lady of the house, as he is intrigued to see if the little grey governess is really a pretty dove under her servant's clothing. She could relieve the tedium of his stay.
Or not! Jessica is offended by the Earl's overtures and repels them, but, caught by her employer alone with the Earl, she is dismissed. The Earl, not knowing his own behavior has ended life as Jessica knows it, decides to leave before his host's complacent assumption that his daughter is about to receive an offer of marriage becomes an unavoidable reality. Encountering Jessica on the road, Rutherford offers her carte blanche.
Okay, now you have to read the book. Believe me, it's very well worth it.
The balance of the book explores the presumptions of the age toward women "servants" and men of quality. It is outrageous that anybody belowstairs is open to an invitation that would send a lady into hysterical offense. Rutherford can't get it through his head that Jessica is still a virtuous woman even though she was tempted by his offer. Where can she go? She is a woman without means, now turned off without a character. Who is going to hire her as a governess or companion without a reference? Does that automatically make her no better than a lightskirt just because her prospects are grim? Well, duh! Only a man would think like that.
Indeed, the ladies in the book are quite interestingly open-minded. Rutherford is often infuriating at the same time he is appealing, a credit to the author. Jessica is never coy, and has some great lines. She doesn't suffer her insults in silence.
Highly recommended. Indeed, Mary Balogh at her worst is better than anybody else except Jane Austin or Georgette Heyer.