To Charm a Naughty Countess by Theresa Romain

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Can a reclusive duke…

Brilliant but rumored mad, Michael Layward, the impoverished Duke of Wyverne, has no success courting heiresses until widowed Lady Stratton takes up his cause—after first refusing his suit.

Win London’s most powerful countess?

Caroline Graves, the popular Countess of Statton, sits alone at the pinnacle of London society and has vowed never to remarry. When Michael—her counterpart in an old scandal—returns to town after a long absence, she finds herself as enthralled with him as ever. As she guides the anxiety-ridden duke through the trials of London society, Caroline realizes that she’s lost her heart. But if she gives herself to the only man she’s ever loved, she’ll lose the hard won independence she prizes above all.

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, May 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

I have a weakness for heroes who are a little bit mad, and Michael Layward, the Duke of Wyverne certainly fits the bill. He fled London as a young man eleven years ago, unknowingly leaving behind a scandal, and almost ruining Caroline in the process. His first taste of passion shook him to the core, and determined not to be like his father, he retired to his country estate in Lancashire. Caroline had to live down the ridicule of having her suitor flee after they were caught in a passionate kiss. When Michael doesn’t return, Caroline accepts the proposal of an earl forty years her senior in order to save face.

As the years pass, Caroline has been a dutiful wife, working on restoring her reputation. Michael has inherited the title of Duke upon his father’s death, and has stayed in Lancashire, pouring money into his estate, and working on inventions and improvements. The winter of 1816, though, is about to do him in. Spring doesn’t come, there are no crops, there is no more money, and no more credit is extended to him. His man of business convinces him that he must find an heiress to marry, so he reluctantly returns to London. Caroline has since been widowed and was left a large fortune by her late husband. She has become a wealthy, powerful woman, who has both suitors and lovers.

While Caroline shows one face to the world, she has never loved a man other than Michael. Over the years, she has kept track of all his experiments, inventions, and investments. For his part, Michael has not allowed himself to think of Caroline, as she represented to him a lack of control. He was determined not to be the libertine his father was. People of the ton have long memories, though. As Michael returns to town, some comments start to be made about the decade old scandal, and Michael’s supposed madness. Caroline decides that she will help Michael find his heiress bride and help him ease into society, killing two birds with one stone. Her helping him should bring a halt to the old scandal talk, and he needs polishing to move into society. It isn’t long before Michael proposes to Caroline, telling her that he “likes her best.” That’s not good enough for Caroline, so she refuses the proposal. She still plans to find him a wife, though.

Michael is very ill at ease in society, and is constantly saying nothing, or the wrong things, or doing unacceptable things. Caroline does a stellar job of turning each and every incident around, she is a master of spin. Still, one by one, the bridal candidates fall by the wayside. Michael only feels truly at ease with Caroline, and her love for him is burning again. Yet, his mind doesn’t recognize love, and Caroline won’t accept less. They become closer, and Michael finally gives in to the passion that he’s been fighting for eleven years, and they become lovers. Now Michael is certain that Caroline will marry him, but he doesn’t speak of love, and Caroline says no again.

I was so wrapped up in Michael, wondering exactly what his mental condition was, and hoping that Theresa Romain would provide the answer for me with an afterward at the end of the book. (She did.) He broke my heart, with all his missteps, and errors. He was so brilliant, yet couldn’t see what Caroline needed from him. I also found myself willing Caroline to take what he had to offer, that it was all he was capable of giving. But happily, I was wrong. These two complemented each other so well, one’s strength filling the void where the other was weak. This book will take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions, but it comes to a very satisfying end. I highly recommend it.

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