Despite the old saw about third sons being destined for the church, no one ever expected the rakish, irresponsible Walter Langston to take up the collar, least of all himself. After an accident renders him unfit for military service, however, he has few other options. When he’s given the post of vicar at a parish church in a sleepy, coastal village, he’s convinced he’ll molder in obscurity. Instead, his arrival brings a sudden resurgence in church attendance…or at least, the attendance of female parishioners. As word of the eligible young vicar spreads, every well-heeled family for miles with a marriageable daughter fills his pews, aiming to catch his eye. Unfortunately for these hopeful members of his flock, Walter’s eye has already been caught—by the one woman who doesn’t come to church on Sundays.Artemisia Finch left a lucrative career as a celebrated member of London’s demimondaine to care for her ailing father. Returning home hasn’t been easy, though, as her past isn’t even a well-kept secret in the village. When the new vicar arrives on her doorstep, Artemisia is determined to send him on his merry, pious way. But Walter Langston is nothing like any man of the cloth she’s ever known—he’s funny, irreverent, handsome, and tempting as sin. Falling in love with a vicar would be a very bad idea for a former courtesan. Why does this one have to be so hot under the collar? HOT UNDER THE COLLAR is a 37,500 word novella (approximately 110 printed pages).
Regency Romance Novella
Heat Level 3
Reviewer rating: 3.5 Stars
REVIEW BY EMERY
The good Lord had a devilish sense of humor. That was the only possible explanation for the series of events that had led inexorably toward Walter Langston’s current predicament. To be fair, there was nothing amusing in the accident that had brought an abrupt end to his nascent-albeit not very promising militray career. If he had been shot in the arse or even the foot, the story would at least have made good fodder for post-prandial gatherings, but when the errant bullet struck one’s collarbone and left one with less than the full use of and adjoining arm, there wasn’t a great deal to laugh about.
The author then explains that his accident left him with only one remotely acceptable option:
The one to which he as third son of an aristocrat had purported been born, but which he had misspent the majority of his youth proving himself unfit for: Walter Langston, who had never in his life been a model of either piety or propriety, was now a vicar.
This could easily have been a four star (or higher)book for me if only for the huge risk the author took with the male protagonist! I never could have imagined a clergyman as a hero of an non-inspirational romance but Walter Langston, even as a vicar is no model of propriety, yet this is so very typical for the time period in which the church was largely based on politics and patronage with relatively few entering the clergy as their “calling.” It was for many, as with Walter, one of few acceptable vocations for a gentlemen.
The interesting thing is that Walter is neither devout nor pious, but actually proves himself both a capable and compassionate leader of his small parish, which happens to include a beautiful former courtesan named Artemisia Finch— a woman for whom he quickly develops a most ungodly passion.
Artemisia, a gentlewoman by birth, was ruined ten years earlier when she was seduced by an earl’s son and then accused of being a strumpet. Shunned by the villagers, she left for London to spend the several years as a high level mistress, only returning to care for her ailing father. Walter recognizes her as a woman he once coveted in his youth and can’t help desiring her once more, especially since she is no longer unattainable.
A clergyman and a courtesan. This combination should have been wrong in innumerable ways, but somehow the author made it work. Walter is portrayed very sympathetically as a man with flaws, as one who is conflicted between doing what is right and his own carnal nature. He can not help asking questions about Artemisia. When he learns how shabbily she was treated, it only increases his interest in her. Given that Walter was a self-professed skirt chaser in his former life, and being brand new to his profession, he does not shrug off his old nature like an overcoat. He ultimately gives in to his fierce attraction to her and the attraction turns out to be more than mutual. They almost immediately engage in an illicit affair.
The affair itself really isn’t all that sexually explicit, nor is it very romantic. It actually left me wanting in both respects—and not only because I had qualms about the immoral nature of the relationship, given Walters vocation. Although I did struggled a bit with this, it was not as much as I would have thought. Part of me wished he had acted with more circumspection and actually courted her, but that’s not how the story goes. Yet, I still found that I forgave Walter for his misconduct because their relationship was a mutual decision, not a seduction, and he does fall in love with her in the end, and acts honorably at that point.
What I found most heartwarming in this story is Walter’s evolution, his discovering a sense of purpose to his life that was previously lacking, and how well he actually performs his role as a shepherd to his flock. More pragmatic than pious, he seeks to help everyone with their problems and does a wonderful job of it.
Ms. Barbosa’s writing is excellent in every way and had there been more romantic development before the sex, this book may well have been five stars for me .
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