Harriet Anderson has convinced herself that she is lacking in the looks department so she dresses the part. While funny and outgoing with her knitting club friends at St Ives, she is painfully shy, especially with members of the opposite sex. Mostly ignored by her parents whose attention is focused on marrying off her beautiful sister to a member of The Ton, she is enticed into accepting a lucrative position as “interior decorator”. Her photographic memory is a Godsend for Augustus Lawton, Earl of Berkley whose home (a castle) was vindictively reconstructed into a floral Victorian style by his late wife while he was spending time in America (to avoid her anger at their arranged marriage). Upon his arrival home after two years abroad, he is flabbergasted to see his beloved Costille House transformed into a feminine abode. Despite the numerous guests at her celebratory last night of freedom before his expected return, the two have a vicious argument and by morning she is found dead. After discovering a diary which laments her plight in life, her demise is considered a suicide and the Earl is off the hook.
Now, two years later, Berkley is ready to move on and wants his Castle returned to the way it’s been for the past 300 years. Enter Harriet who had previously toured the location and remembers exactly where to place each of the original items found strewn about the barn. The workers learn to respect her role as she directs the construction which must be completed in time for the Christmas Ball where the Earl can show off to his invited guests including numerous perspective brides.
As the two work closely together on the project, “Gus” (the Earl’s moniker from the American West) finds himself attracted to Harriet whose plain attire can’t hide her beautiful eyes and charming smile and he finds himself wondering if there’s an attractive body under her ill fitting clothes. Unfortunately, the difference in their stations is a deal breaker as far as marriage is concerned, since the Andersons, despite their wealth from a tin mine purchase, are Cornish commoners with the course manners to match their background. While Harriet refuses to be his mistress, it is impossible to ignore their growing attraction, so a compromise is reached. Once her task is complete, the ten thousand pounds can be used to purchase her dream house and guarantee her independence, even providing a place for her sister to live if she, too, wants to escape the constant harping of their parents.
Of course, not everything goes as planned in The Earl Most Likely by Jane Goodger, Book Two in The Brides of St Ives series. Besides the repercussions of their romance, there is also some questions about the first wife’s supposed suicide. The outrageous behavior of Mrs Anderson provides some entertaining moments, especially when the “lady” imbibes her favorite beverage. When Mr Anderson follows suit, there is sure to be bedlam. It is hard not to love the gentle, obedient sister Clara who, despite her mother’s ministrations, refuses to marry any of the potential suitors.
Some of the characters from The Bad Luck Bride (Book 1) make an appearance, but the Victorian Romance would have been stronger if they played a more central role and their characters were further developed. The Earl tended to be a little fickle, flitting about and at times indecisive and we never did get a good grasp about his grandmother who made a couple of appearances. Goodger also lost an opportunity with the murder mystery subplot which was anticlimactic after an interesting build up. However, it was a quick read and despite its flaws held my interest especially regarding the passionate relationship between the two main characters.
Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.