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Guarding the Countess by Lily Reynard was definitely a breath of fresh air. I love me a good medieval romance so I picked this up totally randomly cause I was bored. Then I began reading, and found a gem that hooked me pretty much right from the beginning. I loved the flow of the story, as well as the historical aspects as went so well with it. The book wasn’t a short read by any means but I wasn’t bored once. Needless to say but I’m a new fan!
Guarding the Countess is set around the time of King Charles II (in 1666) with nicely done descriptions of that era. Bonus was the incorporation of historical figures such as Charles II himself and his famous mistress Barbara Palmer. If done well, I really enjoy it in a historical novel because it lends the story a different kind of richness. I’d recommend Morgan O’Neill’s Elizabethan Time Travel series if you’re interested in checking out a few more novels that takes this direction. But, for me, Guarding the Countess—though oftimes pretty dark and intense—romance-wise came off very sweet. Kit and Antonia were simply adorable together. Their journey to HEA was by no means a smooth sailing but they belonged to one another pretty much the moment they met. I give the author a round of applause for her knack for storytelling, her character-building and the way she incorporated those historical characters into this novel.
Antonia, a widowed Countess, have been trying to fend off suitors most of the past year and a half since her husband passed away from small pox. It seemed like though they had a big difference in age, the marriage was a success, in the sense that they had affection for one another and the sex life wasn’t dull either though it didn’t result in any offspring. Antonia is still grieving her husband’s passing but the majority of those suitors didn’t care. It’s mainly because now she’s an extremely wealthy widow and greedy, fortune hunters had no time to wait despite the rumors that Antonia’s beauty was marred by the pox which she contracted while taking care of her husband. Unfortunately, it was no rumor because it did happen. Poor lady’s face was marred, still red from the wounds, though they’re healing and may fade quite a bit in the coming years. But there was no doubt she’s scarred for life.
Antonia was thought to be a beauty in her younger years and looks mattered in marriage. Her illness had dealt Antonia a hard blow. She knew she won’t have the chance to know a marriage for love only anymore. Though she cared for her husband theirs wasn’t a love-match. Young Antonia was in love with an unsuitable man and her merchant father and greedy mother, two social climbers, couldn’t wait a moment to marry her off to the first titled man in need of a wife. Money wasn’t an issue as her husband and her father, both were wealthy but they sacrificed their daughter for social standing. Despite the happiness in her marriage Antonia always wanted to be in love. And now all hope was lost. She knows the men hounding her with poetry and flowers have only eyes on her wealth, a fact that grated her to the point that Antonia refuses to marry again. Now all she can do is to hide away in her country house in the hopes that she isn’t summoned in Court, which may prove to be disastrous. For if the King wants her to be married, then marry she must.
Kit Fitzgeorge is a man in dire straits. The bastard of a titled peer who never acknowledged him, hence forcing him to abandon any hope of living a respectable and comfortable life (which the bastards of peers could live back then once acknowledged, even with a title and quite a bit of power), Kit had to leave his country in search of glory in other places. Namely work as a mercenary all over the world thinking he’d return rich, bearing the glory of his conquests so he can take care of his mother and never have to visit his father or his half-siblings ever again. Kit had no doubt who his father was as the man was never known to keep his d!ck in his pants. The sole reason he refused to acknowledge Kit was because he had no interest of taking care of so many of his bastards, and a man with so little discretion must’ve had many indeed. Needless to say, Kit looked more like the Earl with his tall built, dark blonde hair and striking blue eyes than his other brothers, so no one had any doubts about his parentage. Not even his brothers did.
It seemed like Kit had good relationship with his brothers in their younger years. The older, George, the heir wasn’t very close to him but never bore him any ill will. But the youngest, Julian, worshipped him and they had played together in their childhood. However things changed as they grew up and their status in life eventually severed any bonds they may have shared when they were young and innocent. Kit wasn’t very close to Mary, his half-sister youngest to George and Julian. But why I wrote that he was in dire straits is because Kit has recently returned to England, though with none of the glory or riches he’d hoped to have earned. He had practically nothing but a little girl, whose mother, his wife, perished in a fire a few years back. Right now, his daughter looks ill after taking such a long journey back to England and Kit is scared as hell of losing her too. He needed shelter and food to take care of his little Margaret until she’s healed. Plus he needs some time to think about his future, what to do to earn money so he can have a better life for them both.
Kit had thought to see his mother the first thing so she could meet her granddaughter. Sadly, he only finds one bad news after another as they reach the home he hadn’t seen in well over 10yrs. A woman living within recognizes him, but also informs him the death of his mother in the pox that had taken many others with it a few yrs ago. The news left Kit absolutely devastated because he was so looking forward to seeing her again. :( Now he had not even a place to live. What will he do now?! But he had to think of Margaret’s sickly condition and man up and there was only place left for him to try. Swallowing his pride, Kit walks towards his father’s estate not knowing what type of welcome he’d find there.
Of course, there wasn’t any more good news in Edmonton estate either. It seemed George had perished a few yrs ago, so had the old Earl. It left Julian with the title and all that came with it. But the worse thing was the estate didn’t look to be thriving in any way so Kit instantly felt in his guts that there were financial issues. Unsurprising to anyone, George and the old Earl drank, whored and gambled away whatever fortune they had leaving Julian to pick up the pieces.
Julian, as we read from the moment he’s introduced in the story, wasn’t very happy about it. He despised the fact that now he’s saddled with all the debt not even of his own making. In his desperation he was planning to abduct a certain widow who had been avoiding his charm and any kind of lures he may cast (Julian was pretty goodlooking himself). Seemed like he wanted an easy of out of his current mess of a financial status, and Antonia, the Countess of Cranbourne, was the answer to his prayers. Now all Julian needed was someone to abduct the query in question and bring her to him. He could overlook the ugly face that’s rumored the Countess now had after suffering from smallpox. But Julian wasn’t that particular since she was still young enough and he’d seen her and knows that the rest of her is attractive. Julian also didn’t care cause the money he’d get from the marriage is worth it all. As he was contemplating his next step, he finds Kit at his doorstep. A brother he’d adored once upon a time, but now he was glad that Kit was his subservient. And he was in need of some help for his brat. Julian could care less as long as he could use Kit for his gain. Would his brother be amenable to his scheme? Julian had to find out ASAP.
Of course, Kit had no other option but to agree to Julian’s scheme, for it meant Margaret would have food and a place to live until he finishes his ‘mission’ however disgusting he found the notion of abducting a woman. Plus Julian had promised to reward him heavily and acknowledge Margaret as his niece if all is successful, thereby granting Margaret a dowry and a respectable marriage when she comes of age. Kit could do worse. All he cared that his daughter would have a better life than he ever had. He’d would kidnap a Countess if that’s what it took him. Unfortunately, though Kit had his suspicions, he still didn’t know or even guessed the level of Julian’s depravation. The kind of a monster he had become in Kit’s absence. All would unfold in the story soon enough...
Around the same time, as we find out in the next chapters, that despite all of Antonia’s prayers, summons finally came from the Court for her to attend as one of Queen Catherine’s consort. Antonia knew what it meant but she had no other options left but to obey her King and head towards London.
Kit went after his query soon thereafter. While in pursuit of the Countess, he knew he could pull off the abduction with his skills, even though he was injured in a battle and the wound never healed properly, leaving him pretty vulnerable. But what he didn’t know was fate lending him a hand as a form of introduction; a feat previously he was wondering how to achieve. When another abduction attempt on the Countess on her way to the Court goes wrong he saves her, hence earning her earnest gratitude. Yes, even Kit could see the irony and it made him edgy. He’d had heard that Antonia’s face was badly scarred from the pox. Later Kit has the opportunity to see her without her multiple layers of make-up and the veil she preferred while going out these days and finds that he’s not at all bothered by the scars. Yes they were a sad sight but Kit could see that she had a pretty face… and, uh, other attributes that any man would want. She was much younger than he’d imagine too! Then he’s totally taken aback to find that now he’s also got a job with a very generous salary that comes with lodgings for him and his daughter!! The Countess wants him to guard her. It was apparent she needed one badly. Who else but Kit would know it better?
I’ll tell you that after the first meeting, Kit and Antonia’s friendship was slowly but surely building. They connected on a level neither thought they ever would. Kit was disgusted that in a few weeks—as long as it takes for him to earn her trust—he’d have to break it too. He was totally unhappy, most especially as he gradually begins knowing Antonia better. Antonia also found herself being very comfortable in Kit’s presence. She knew within a few days that Kit would never judge her like the rest of the world. Plus her looks didn’t really matter to him since he isn’t one of her so-called suitors. Or was he? The attraction was very palpable though they both knew it would go nowhere. Kit was torn inside, not knowing what to do about this new debacle he finds himself in, while Antonia knew the King wanted her to marry where he wishes to. Kit could never petition for her hand. If he had been acknowledged by his father, then maybe he had a chance but for now, there was none.
I felt sad for the lovelorn duo knowing it’ll be very difficult for them to cross all the hurdles if they’re ever to be together. However in the middle of all these, we also get Julian’s side of things and I don’t care to repeat the majority of what I read. After a month or so, when Kit was quite established within Antonia’s household and they both at least knew they had affection for one another, he finally went to bring Margaret to live with him. At that time Julian wasn’t in residence as he was also attending Court as one of King’s Men of something or the other, his goal to try and coax the King to petition that Antonia marries him and no one else. He’d seen her and made a joke out of her behind her back. He’d also tried his best to snare her attentions in the past few weeks with his dubious charm. But he was seriously fed up that she won’t be lured so easily. How dare she?!
Julian already knew that Kit was working from the ‘inside’ but was too impatient at that point to wait any longer. He needed cash ASAP but it became sadly apparent that Julian had no respect or affection for women. He liked treating them like the dirt and couldn’t think of one reason why this ugly b!tch won’t simply fall down at his feet to marry him! The gall of the woman!! But as Kit finally comes to term with his feelings for Antonia, he decides he can never break her trust, and her heart. By then Kit inherently knew that Julian was up to no good and I’m sure he’d heard of his brother’s ‘reputations’. He would never make Antonia go through any of that if he could help it. So Kit resigns from his duties, namely the abduction scheme, returning the money Julian gave him. By now Kit was earning pretty well from his new job; one he much preferred.
And THIS made Julian not only furious but also murderous. How dare now his bastard brother, who has nothing to recommend him, ‘betray’ him this way, choosing that ugly woman over him? That too, one he desperately needed to marry? By that time I’d already seen the visuals of a cruel man and knew that Julian was not someone I’d ever like. But if he ever had any redeeming qualities, that went out the window when I found him raping then brutally murdering a girl in his desperation to get to Antonia. The author doesn’t describe the rape if you were wondering but the scene made me gag nonetheless guessing what wasn’t said. And I won’t even go to the other scene. I was shell-shocked and utterly horrified, shuddering at just how cold and callous this SOB was!!
Among all that the one thing I never understood is this- Julian with his goodlooks could’ve snared any number of girls from any rich family. Yet he was totally fixated on marrying Antonia which seemed quite unbelievable at times. But I believe that later it became more about showing her (and Kit) who’s the boss; about his superiority complex. I also never understood WHY he turned his nose up at the idea of marrying anyone who is not a peer. If it was about his extremely pure blue blood (/s) being spoilt (as he mentions in one scene, scoffing at the notion) then what about Antonia? Did I miss anything cause she wasn’t from a noble family. Her father was a merchant ffs! I never understood his motives cause he wasn’t in love with her even in a twisted sort of way. All he wanted was her money and maybe an heir or two as required. He could’ve had the money from any other rich family by marrying one of their daughters. In the end he had no intentions of becoming a devoted husband. Last but not the least, when he was that desperate for money, how could he turn down other possibilities? Like I can’t even.......SMH! Guess I’ll never know the complete workings of his evil, twisted mind where he always found a way to justify his own misdeeds. And I find I’m totally okay with that.
The story holds quite a bit of twists and turns for our lovebirds who really, truly wanted to be together at that point. Yet there were issues arising one after another (a few thanks to Julian himself) that kept Antonia and Kit apart. The author had me guessing at every turn which I absolutely loved about this book. Later she also found a solution for Kit and Antonia that fit rather perfectly. Alas but Julian wasn’t about to give up so easily. As a desperate attempt to kidnap Antonia goes awry (at that point I knew that a$$hole had lost his mind), things again begin falling apart for her and Kit.
I thoroughly enjoyed the last few chapters of Guarding the Countess for I was completely hooked in it. But I don’t know... the ending, to me, seemed left open-ended. Another thing I also don’t know is what the author tried to achieve through that last scene. Was she trying to garner a bit of pity for that POS? Um, nope. Never gonna happen! Even when the story finished, the horrifying death of that servant girl haunted me, also the fact that she was never mentioned in the story ever again. So did anyone ever found out what happened to her? I don’t think so. Good God! :(
But all that aside, I’d totally recommend Guarding the Countess to anyone looking for a well-written medieval romance. The lovestory was sweet despite everything with a pair of adorable H and h. I hope the author would continue to write more historical romances in future. There were a few secondary characters in this novel that I thought should get their story. One can only dream... 4.5 stars.