Lady Annabelle Marchant was a belle of the ball in London until she used her psychical senses to save a man’s life. She failed miserably, leaving him dead and her disgraced. All she wants now is a chance to comfort his widow by cleansing the woman’s home of her husband’s restless spirit. But the widow’s son, the beastly Lord of the Manor, accuses her of coming to the wilds of Cheshire to snag him as a husband. Thoroughly disgusted, she is bent on proving him wrong. Lord Rufus Marlesbury, the Earl of Terrance, is suspected of murdering his father. He has come home to clear his name by finding the real killer before the new year or the king has promised that Rufus will be called in front of the House of Lords to answer for the crime. He does not have time to waste fending off a marriage-minded miss who has inveigled an invitation to his home by playing on his grief-stricken mother’s worst fears. With an unruly manor ghost terrorizing the occupants and corpses piling up in the village, Belle must find a way to see the man beneath the beast and Rufus must learn to believe in the love of a woman who has no reason to trust him. Only by working together can they stop a vengeful ghost before it torments the guests or before the killer strikes again.
Publisher and Release Date: ImaJinn Books, 15 April 2013
Time and Setting: England, 1812
Genre: Regency Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars
Review by Neha Patel
Belle Marchant is not your typical, run-of-the-mill heroine. She has been summoned to Clearview Manor by Lady Terrance to rid its hallowed halls of a residing ghost. Whilst on her journey, she collides with the dashing, yet handsome Lord Terrance, otherwise known as Rufus Marlesbury, son of the late earl and his wife, in an unfortunate accident that fells him off his horse and knocks him unconscious. Not only has she almost killed the man, but she somehow manages to stumble upon the one current presiding owner of Clearview Manor, and, unfortunately, one who blatantly mocks her penchant for ghost hunting and any mention of otherworldly spirits in general.
As fate would have it, Lord Terrance was in search of his dog, Earnest, who had apparently abandoned him in the middle of the night. Belle had actually found the dog wandering outside earlier, during her ride to Clearview Manor, and she had taken him inside her carriage thinking he was a stray.
Once Lord Terrance recovers consciousness, he sees Belle leaning over him, trying to rouse him whilst holding his now bleeding head, and he immediately feels the urge to kiss her. She too feels an instant pull of attraction, and she almost kisses him until her maid snaps her out of her reverie. Lord Terrance asks her for her name, and when she gives it, he is immediately taken aback.
He recognizes her from an unfortunate incident that happened in London during her Season, where she seemed to be in a compromising situation with another man. Although he misinterpreted what really happened, Belle’s folly was publicly spread like wildfire throughout the Ton, and Rufus also began to think poorly of her.
To add fuel to the fire, he finally notices his dog, Earnest, cowering near Belle, and realizes that his dog is no longer loyal to him, but to Belle, the traitor, instead.
He questions her on her purpose for being there in the middle of the night, and when she tells him that Lady Terrance needs her to dispel a ghost, angry and heated words are exchanged between the two of them, where Rufus blames Belle for steering his mother in the direction of foolishness with all this talk of spirits and absolutely forbids Belle from coming anywhere near his mother. Rufus then mounts his horse and leaves, while Belle enters her carriage with Earnest and tries to figure out what she should do next.
This novel kept me intrigued in many ways. I felt the budding romance between Rufus Marlesbury and Belle Marchant was handled genuinely and honorably. I never once questioned their mutual attraction, because although there was an initial spark between them that arose out of their appreciation for each other’s good looks, I could sense the change and growth in their relationship once they began to understand one another. Belle Marchant is my ideal heroine because she is strong-willed, caring, and fights for what she believes in. She embodied these traits so well that my opinion of her remained high throughout the book. Rufus Marlesbury, on the other hand, had his weak moments that made me grumble at times, but I still felt that his character had purpose and I could understand his behavior. Everyone needs to have faith in the unseen, and the author did a brilliant job of showcasing that core message.
Coined as an adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” this novel’s allusion to that acclaimed classic seems a little out of place, however. Although the heroine’s name is Belle, she is by no means forced to stay against her will, nor is she here at the manor to break any spells. Rufus Marlesbury cannot really be labeled a “Beast” because he has no scars or injuries that would permit the use of this term. However, to give the author due credit, she has utilized enough fantasy and folklore to adequately make this novel appear as though picked from a collection of fairy tales.
The dialogue is full of emotion and wit, while the entire novel reads like steadily flowing water. Once I began the book, I couldn’t seem to put it down. The characters are not only identifiable, but many scenes involving them are enacted with such care and delicate, light humor as to make particular situations quite funny indeed. The use of language also matched the setting and time period of the novel. Even subtle descriptions of clothing that is or isn’t up to the latest fashions are mentioned, impressing upon readers the many ideals existing amongst Society and titled men and women during that time and the amount of emphasis given to fleeting things like looks and keeping up appearances.
Overall, this book would be a great addition to any reader’s collection. It has all the necessary elements to make it an absorbing read and just enough romance to stir up anyone’s passions. I recommend it highly to readers between the ages of 13 and older because it was quite clean in its romantic interludes and use of imagery, and I never once felt scandalized. It also has a little something for everyone: mystery, murder, supernatural elements, romance, and fantasy. I give this romance a rating of 5 stars, simply for keeping me glued to its pages, and for providing several afternoons of entertainment and enjoyment.