Katherine Gardiner, a young English widow, has only one dream: to protect her son—a future duke—from her merciless father-in-law. Determined and desperate, she has no option but to take the guise of a housekeeper and escape to Yorkshire where the only hope is the enigmatic Earl of Kenrick.
In all his years spent roaming the world, Jeremy Chilton never braced himself for the burden of a much-damaged inheritance. Now, the new Earl of Kenrick must save his family legacy and raise his motherless young daughter as a proper English lady. His only salvation is his beautiful housekeeper, Kate. But as her secrets unravel, much that is puzzling about her falls into place. No wonder the Earl has caught himself imagining her more wife than employee. Clearly she belongs at Kenrick—safe in his arms. Now, if only he can convince her to agree…
One of my favorite tropes in the historical romance genre is “Woman with a Secret Masquerades as a Servant in Nobleman’s House.” It adds extra layers to the drama, because first the lovers have to overcome the servant/master attraction, and then they have to deal with the secret. This novel is one of the better examples, I’m pleased to say!
Kate was not born a Lady, but she fell in love with the younger son of a duke and they eloped, causing both of their families to disown them. Then her husband went to fight in the Peninsular War, and she followed him. I didn’t know that any women did that, so there’s my historical lesson of the day. Kate had a son, and then her husband was killed. She returned to her father-in-law, the duke, who took her in because Kate’s son was now the heir. Unfortunately, the duke was physically and emotionally abusive, so Kate took her son and ran away.
Jeremy Chilton was the younger son of an earl. He went to America to find his fortune because he didn’t want to join the military or the church, the two main options for spare sons. He married a half-native woman who then died while birthing his daughter. Now, his father and older brothers have died, making him the Earl of Kenrick. The estate has no money but Jeremy decides to return and save it. He just needs a housekeeper.
I liked that the author revealed Kate’s secret in the beginning. Oftentimes the secret isn’t told until the hero learns it late in the novel, and too frequently I’ve been underwhelmed by the truth and annoyed by the heroine’s angst. In this case, Kate’s dilemma is believable and her need to hide is strong. She makes an excellent housekeeper, plus her son and the earl’s daughter become friends.
I also enjoyed all of the problems that Jeremy faced, especially his neighbor Mortimer. Mortimer was rich enough to be knighted, and then he bought up all of the debts against Jeremy’s property. If Jeremy will only marry Mortimer’s daughter and make her a countess, the debt will be forgiven. Oh, he’s a sly and slimy guy, and his daughter is amusing in her numerous attempts to snag Jeremy. Jeremy’s efforts to evade entrapment while still being polite show how smart he is.
All of the distractions, plus Kate’s desperate need to keep her job, keep the lovers apart for a decent amount of time. They progress from polite to friendly to secretly crazy about each other in a sweet way. And their affection is based on more than just “I wonder what she looks like without that cap on” or “His breeches are certainly tight.” I mean, there is that, but the characters are good at brushing those thoughts aside, too. All in all, this novel had entertaining characters, a fair share of dramatic events, and a happy ending, and I was thoroughly delighted with it.
Janell lives north of Seattle with her husband, two smallish sons, and an aging cat. She works very hard at not having a real job by reading romance novels, reviewing them, and occasionally writing snippets of one. You can find her reviews at Red Hot Books (redhotbooks.com), follow her on Twitter (Janell_Suth), and follow her writing progress on her poorly updated blog (janellsutherland.com).