SECRETS OF A PROPER COUNTESS by Lecia Cornwall: My Favorite Read of the Week!

In Lecia Cornwall’s charming debut, the elegant ballroom setting of Regency England may be familiar, but Cornwall’s unusually poignant heroine is anything but.  Widowed countess Isobel Maitland is a virtual prisoner in her London townhouse, trapped by the terms of her husband’s will that transferred to her odious mother-in-law both Isobel’s fortune and the guardianship of her beloved son.  Consequently, the Dowager Countess Honoria queens it over the Maitland household.  If Isobel dares to emerge from mourning, remarry or even form a friendship that isn’t blessed by Honoria, Isobel will lose all remaining access to her boy and be branded a public disgrace—just like her notorious mother, “Charlotte the Harlot,” who allegedly abandoned Isobel for a foreign lover. 

Enter Phineas Archer, the Marquess of Blackwood, an infamous rake secretly working to unmask a traitor for the Crown.  The last thing Phineas can afford is a distraction, but he can’t seem to stop hunting the masked courtesan he encountered at a masquerade in an hour of unforgettable passion.  Phineas has never dreamed dowdy widow Isobel Maitland is his mysterious lover, who hides the allure of a temptress behind her drab mourning gowns.  Nor does Phineas realize it’s Isobel’s mother-in-law who is behind a traitorous plot to snatch the exiled French king from his English sanctuary and return him to France for the guillotine’s cruel judgment. 

When Isobel is unmasked at last, all evidence points to her as the villain Phineas is seeking.  Then Isobel’s passionate rebellion against the family tyranny plunges both her and her son into mortal danger—unless Phineas can unmask the true villain in time.

It is Isobel’s very real Purgatory of isolation and despair, coupled with her determination to protect her son as her own mother failed to do for her, that give this story its powerful, poignant punch.  Phineas is a smart, capable hero who rises to the occasion when danger threatens Isobel, and the sexual chemistry between the pair is undeniable.  Honoria and her weak-willed brute of a son get what they deserve, and a set of delightful secondary characters in the Archer family lends further appeal and sparkle to this sometimes somber tale.  But it’s Isobel’s quiet search for the truth behind her mother’s seeming abandonment, her selfless resolve to protect her child, and her gradual embrace of her own sensuality that lend this story its unique and memorable flair. 

Combining the tender sentiment of Mary Balogh with the menace and suspense of Amanda Quick, Lecia Cornwall’s sensual Regency-set romance is a rare treat.  


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