Enticing the Earl

Nicole Byrd
2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Berkley, $6.99, 304 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425220974
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

Enticing the Earl opens with maidservants gossiping about the rakish Earl of Sutton, and I was somewhat hopeful, as I have not come across an engaging rake for some time. Shortly thereafter, Lauryn, the widowed heroine, learns that her father-in-law has lost everything in a card game, and I thought, "great, a variation on the gambled daughter plot, one of my favorites." I settled in with the book with hopes of an enjoyable read and, for the most part, was not disappointed.

After overhearing from servant’s gossip that the Earl of Sutton had dismissed his current mistress and that he now owns her father-in-law’s estate, Lauryn takes it upon herself to remedy both situations. She seeks out the Earl and applies to fill the vacated position of mistress, in return for “a small estate in the north.”

Marcus, the earl, is no fool and easily figures out that she is somehow connected to his latest winnings. After interviewing Lauryn as if she was applying for the post of governess or housekeeper, he decides to take her up on her offer. The first thing he does is send her on a Bond Street shopping spree, which needed only Pretty Woman playing in the background. (Wouldn’t it be great if books came with a recommended playlist?) Next, they take off for Marcus’s country house, in hopes of a little privacy to get their affair started. Those hopes are dashed - a party hosted by his younger brother, Carter, is in progress. One of the party, the Contessa, is an old lover who wants to resume their relationship. Carter is celebrating the return of cargo from a family owned ship that had previously gone down in a storm.

Marcus and Lauryn soon depart to his hunting lodge, which is located near the port where the cargo is being held in a warehouse. There is a mystery surrounding the ship and its cargo - the Captain’s skeleton was found below deck with the skull cracked and someone has killed to get into the warehouse, yet nothing appears to be missing. Lauryn and Marcus work together to solve the mystery and become closer in the process.

When Lauryn applied for her new position, she was bored and lonely and missing the intimacy she once knew. Since she is immediately attracted to Marcus, it makes the sexual part of her deal easy to live with; she has no qualms about going to bed with him, nor does she feel guilty about doing so. What she does feel guilty about is enjoying sex with Marcus more that she enjoyed it with her late husband. Lauryn receives advice from an unlikely source, the Contessa, who helps her deal with her conflicting emotions.

Marcus has issues with women, starting with his mother, who left with a lover when he was a young boy. He prefers to keep his relationships with women on a professional and distant level. Lauryn is able to break through his defenses, but he feels that he is in competition with her late husband. For the first time, he is unsure of himself in a relationship, which also causes him to question other relationships in his life. I did wish he had a greater sense of the ridiculous - the initial interview with Lauryn would have been funnier had he asked for references, for example.

I particularly enjoyed the novel's tone. Many historicals I've read in the past year or so seem to drag, becoming more serious in tone than I want to read, but Byrd was able to keep the story from bogging down in melodrama. But there were some problems with the story; the villain too easily sussed out, despite the author's attempts to throw out a red herring. I also wish that a date for the setting had been provided (my best guess is post-Waterloo Regency). But because the mystery plot had a too-modern feel, I was left to wonder if history was being fudged.

Despite the problems listed above, for the most part I was not disappointed in the story. I would recommend the book as a good beach or poolside read. The lighter tone mixes well with sun, sand, water and umbrella-topped drinks. I will have to look for other Nicole Byrd books when I head out for vacation.

-- Carolyn Esau

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