I’ve often said that the short story Harlequin Historical Undone line is like a gateway drug. I read them because they’re quick, sexy reads, and often times I find myself getting sucked into a series or trying full-length novels by new-to-me authors. This latest from Michelle Willingham is a prequel to her February Harlequin Historical release, An Accidental Countess, and introduces us to the romantic couple.
Emily Barrow is the daughter of a Baron, but thanks to family scandal her situation is rather dire. Firmly on the shelf, she’s living a hand to mouth existence at the family country estate. It’s so bad that she’s let all the servants go, and most of the furniture is gone, either having been sold off, or used as fire wood. In fact, that’s what Emily is doing at the start of this story. She’s out trying to split wood so she’ll have heat for the night. That’s where childhood friend, and unrequited love, Stephen Chesterfield, the Earl of Whitmore finds her.
Emily tries to snow the man, but she doesn’t fool him. Emily is too thin, wearing little more than rags, and while she maybe holding her head high, things have gotten very bad indeed. Stephen is determined to protect her.
What follows is a story in the vein of Cinderella. Nice, smart, resourceful girl, who has been cast aside by her useless relations gets rescued by handsome prince. It’s straight-up rescue fantasy all the way. Normally the sort of story that gets on my last good nerve, but Emily carries the day by not being one of those Victorian misses who meekly sits in the corner waiting for Prince Charming to arrive on the scene. Of course she’s living hand to mouth, and things are anything but rosy, but bless her heart – she’s trying and doing the best she can.
Since this is a prequel, the author has to hold some of her cards back for the full-length novel that features the same romantic couple. At that end, as a stand-alone story, this one isn’t perfect. The happily-ever-after is extremely reserved, and one is left with the impression that Stephen and Emily are together, not so much because of true love, but because she needs a knight in shining armor, and he needs a wife who doesn’t annoy the crap out of him to get his matchmaking mama off his back. But the story does end in a nice spot that sets the reader up with the hope that these two crazy kids are eventually going to realize how hopelessly in love with each other they are. It’s not the best stand-alone tale, but as a prequel, it’s top-notch. Now I’m really looking forward to reading An Accidental Countess.
Emily Barrow once dreamed that she could marry Stephen Chesterfield, the Earl of Whitmore, and be saved from her dreary life. Then Stephen’s father sent him away, leaving Emily broken-hearted…
Now Stephen has returned to find Emily destitute and alone. He has vowed to help her without compromising her honor…but Emily has other ideas. She doesn’t want his charity, but she does long to know what it would be like to take him as a lover, even if marriage is out of the question. Confined to close quarters with their passion burning as brightly as ever, will Stephen be able to resist the temptation and rescue her, or give in to his desire and completely ruin her?
Other books in this series: