Willed to Wed

My Lady Governess by Wilma Counts
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6483-7
I gave Wilma Counts debut book, Willed to Wed five hearts and it now resides on my keeper shelf. Her second book will join it there. When a story has me so engrossed that I read it during the Super Bowl, it must be good. Of course, if the Steelers had been playing, not even one of the best Regencies Iíve read in quite a while could have kept my interest.

My Lady Governess breaks no new ground when it comes to its plot. But it is so well written, the characters are so well drawn, and the setting is so nicely done, that it suggests that Counts may well become one of our best Regency authors.

Lady Elinor Richards is facing a terrible fate. Her nasty uncle and guardian, Lord Brompton, is conspiring with the grossly unpleasant Lord Pennington to force her into marriage. Her young brother, the new Earl of Ostwick, overhears their plot, but can do nothing to aid his sister. And Elinor will not gain control of her fortune until she is twenty-five, a year hence. Elinor must save herself.

Fleeing to her old governess, Elinor hatches a scheme. She will use the references of the now retired Miss Harriet E. Palmer and seek a position as a governess. The stellar references, plus her own accomplishments, lead to her being hired as governess by the Marquis of Trenville. She will be in charge of his six-year old twins, Susan and Geoffrey, and their ten-year old cousin Anne. Thus Elinor finds herself on her way to Whitsun Abbey in Devon and to a new and very different life.

Miss Palmer proves to be a success as a governess; she has just the right combination of firmness and kindness for the job. In the informal setting of Devon, she also mixes regularly with the family and gets to know and admire her employer.

Adrian had not expected to become his fatherís heir. As the second son of a duke, he had sought honorable service in the navy. His brotherís death had forced him to return to civilian life. Now, he has become an important personage in the Foreign Office. A brief marriage to a lovely, if shallow, debutante had left him with no desire to wed again. Certainly his childrenís governess is no proper candidate to become the Marchioness of Trenville and later the Duchess of Wallenford. Then why is he so attracted to her? Why does he so enjoy their conversations? Why has she become so important to him?

When it is discovered that someone in the Trenville household is betraying state secrets to the French envoys in Vienna, suspicion falls on Miss Palmer. Her arrival had coincided with the stealing of the secrets and it becomes obvious that she is not what she seems. Is this woman who has come to mean so much to him a traitor whom Adrian must unmask?

What I most enjoyed about My Lady Governess was watching the hero and heroine fall in love. This was no sudden coup de foudre, but rather a slow discovery of common interests, common intelligence, common ideas. First Elinor and Adrian become friends. Then, their friendship becomes mutual admiration. Finally, admiration and friendship become love. This seems to happen so rarely in romance novels today, except perhaps in marriage of convenience/forced marriage stories. Counts does a marvelous job of showing us how and why Elinor and Adrian fall in love with each other.

Counts also provides a telling description of the ambivalent position of the governess in Regency society. Adrian recognizes that Elinor is far superior to most of the young women who have pursued him, but he also knows how unsuitable she is to become his wife. And Elinor suffers the snubs and unwelcome attentions that were too frequently the lot of women who had to earn their living.

There is an element of the ďbig misunderstandingĒ in the story. I did ask myself why Elinor didnít just confess her identity and ask for Adrianís protection from her avaricious and evil uncle. But Counts did manage to provide a believable reason for her reticence, so this didnít bother me enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story.

When I really like an authorís first book, I always wonder whether the second will live up to the first. Counts didnít disappoint. I can hardly wait until next November and book number three.

--Jean Mason

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