The Countess Takes a Lover, by Bonnie Dee

>> Friday, November 06, 2009

TITLE: The Countess Takes a Lover
AUTHOR: Bonnie Dee

COPYRIGHT: 2008
PAGES: 150
PUBLISHER: Samhain

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Erotic romance
SERIES: Related to The Countess Lends a Hand

REASON FOR READING: The plot!

Who is learning more, the novice or the master? Countess Meredith du Chevalier, a widow with a reputation for being sexually adventurous, is intrigued when she is approached by a gentleman who wishes her to "make a man" of his son. Sensing a passionate man beneath Christopher Whitby's reserved exterior, Meredith takes on the challenge, inviting the botanist to her country home to revitalize her abandoned greenhouse. Chris finds people to be a chaotic, animalistic species, and has chosen to devote his life to the study of plants. One kiss from the vivacious countess, however, and his inner animal is aroused. But lust is only a fraction of what he feels for the vulnerable woman hiding behind a brittle fa├žade. He resolves to coax her to grow until her petals unfurl in a glorious bloom. To her surprise, Meredith finds Chris brings much more to life than just fallow soil. But just as their love begins to thrive, he learns about the secret arrangement. Meredith must risk her heart for the most dangerous lesson of all-love.
The jaded rake taught to love by the innocent virgin heroine has been done to death, and it's not a plot that will tempt me to buy the book. Stories with the same plot but with a role reversal, however, will, but I seem to be only one of very few, because such plots are really rare. I make a point of buying any I become aware of, and if, like this one, the author is one I've liked in the past, so much the better!

The jaded rake (rakess?) in this story is Countess Meredith du Chevalier. A widow, she takes full advantage of the freedom given to her by her status, especially after what a very unhappy marriage, where the sex was something to be endured, rather than enjoyed.

When one of her acquaintances proposes an exchange of favours, with her part being to take his botany-obsessed son in hand and teach him "how to be a man", Meredith isn't amused. She might enjoy her sexuality, but she's not a courtesan. However, the young man intrigues her, and she decides to go for it (not to mention that the favour she will receive in return is something she really wants).

Christopher Whitby can barely believe it when the beautiful countess, the first woman he's ever felt really attracted with, indicates she shares his feelings. He can't but accept her invitation to help her with her greenhouse, an invitation she mades clear can include other things, if he feels so inclined.

I really enjoyed the dynamics of their relationship. Meredith starts out as the one in control, the instructor, but soon finds that she's starting to feel way too much to be coolly and impersonally controlling. Before long, the relationship is one of equality (fortunately, the roles don't flip, which would have annoyed me). Meredith is quite a vulnerable character, but I liked that this wasn't done by making her weak and needy, but by showing that even though she didn't know it, falling in love with Chris makes her a happier person.

Chris was a lovely nerdy hero, and I loved how completely into Meredith he was. He feels no need to replace Meredith in the dominant role and doesn't come across as at all weak for it. The only thing about him that I was doubtful about was that he was possibly a bit too much of a fast learner for someone who'd previously had absolutely no experience. Oh, well, I suppose that's just in the best tradition of all those sex-kitten virginal heroines who instinctively know all those sophisticated techniques that bring the heroes to their knees :)

This is an extremely character-driven story, the best sort of erotic romance, where the sex is not there to titillate, but to develop the characters and their relationship. This is a subject that's been on my mind lately with the whole to-do going on about erotic romance, and this book is a perfect example of why I don't think sex that pushes the envelope is a necessary feature of it. There's nothing too kinky or even too unusual happening in the bedroom here, and yet it's all very, very steamy, for the simple reason that those scenes are as much about the feelings involved as about the body parts.

The result is that it's a surprisingly effective romance. I believed that these two people were truly in love. I think I was a bit worried about Chris' feelings leaning towards hero(ine)-worship of Meredith (it was something mentioned in the AAR review, which I read before reading this, IIRC), and while I thought things could go that way for a while (and that the AAR reviewer had a point), I was soon convinced that this wasn't the case.

The book loses a bit of steam near the conclusion, when the necessary conflict emerges and Chris finds out just why Meredith approached him initially, but still, it ends on a high note.

MY GRADE: A B.

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