passion rating: hot
Ms. Grant’s excellent debut should really be titled A Lady and a Gentleman Awakened. Both the heroine, repressed Martha, and the hero, feckless Theo, are, by this novel’s end, alert to possibilities unimaginable to both prior to their relationship. In A Lady Awakened, opposites don’t merely attract; two strongly disparate people are transformed into a singular pair.
Martha Russell is twenty-one, childless, and recently freed by a riding accident from an unhappy marriage to a drunkard. She is prepared to leave the home in which she’s lived for the past year, her husband’s family seat, Seaton Park, and dutifully move in with one of her married siblings when she discovers her husband's heir is a selfish lech who, in the past, molested the female staff at Seaton Park. When the family solicitor points out the inheritance isn’t settled until it’s clear Martha’s not pregnant, Martha, a woman so virtuous it’s wearing, begins to think of defrauding her seedy brother-in-law out of the estate.
Martha decides to approach Theophilus (Theo) Mirkwood, a young man recently moved into the estate next door. Theo has been sent to rusticate in the country by his father who is justifiably concerned at Theo’s careless, irresponsible life in London. As Theo explains, the crowning blow was Theo’s “expenditure of two months’ allowance to buy a single snuffbox from Sèvres" which, he acknowledges, was “Wasteful, in fact, and foolish in the extreme. Particularly given that I don’t use snuff.” Martha offers to pay Theo to bed her; the two will have sex every afternoon until it’s clear she has or hasn’t conceived.
Theo, after a bit of thought and a peek or two down Martha’s bodice, says yes. He sees the offer as a way to have safe sex with a pretty young widow and, though he’s the heir to a fortune, his funds are currently low. He’s unconcerned about his part in the fraud — this, like most things, Theo sees as not his problem. Martha suggests the two begin immediately — time is of the essence literally here — and their relationship begins.
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