My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The third and final installment in The Countess Trilogy, The Birthday Present by Alison Richardson was almost good... I was enjoying it a lot, until I reached the end. I would’ve rated it higher because I enjoyed the dialogue and everything else. But, I felt a bit cheated of the HEA I was so hoping for.
Before I get into the review of book 3, a little recap of what went on earlier. Keep in mind that this is not a standalone novella. My recommendation is to read this series back to back, or at the least, to read book 1 and 2 before this one.
Anna, a Prussian countess, is wild and adventurous. She’s promiscuous and loves it. Anna is of highborn and thus, quite snobbish. She has been widowed young but nothing deterred Anna’s sexual adventures. She’s pretty open to anything regarding sex, doesn’t shy away and is very apt at conducting her affairs discretely so that her reputation on the outside stays pristine.
In book 1, The Countess's Client, Anna goes to Paris to visit a cousin. Through that cousin, Robert, she visits a brothel because she was bored and was looking for fun. And this is where she meets a lowborn Scot, James McKirnan, a regular client of the brothel. James works for the king, which Anna learns later. She had a plan to have some ‘fun’, which she does, until James makes the mistake of proposing her to become his mistress because he was quite mad for her after their sexy times. Things go wrong between the two as Anna couldn’t tell him her real identity. Nonetheless, they see each-other again in a raunchy ball given by some Earl or the other. James learns of Anna’s identity, a rivalry ensues as she keeps spurning James’s proposals. James plans a revenge of sort but overall, nothing is solved between them.
In book 2, An Impolite Seduction, Anna sees James again 3 years later in England where she was attending the marriage of a cousin. While working on her cousin’s bad marriage, which was doomed from the start, Anna finds herself hiding from James’s sexy advances. The thing is that, her body still sings whenever he touches her, and yet, because of her snootiness, Anna won’t give in. She keeps claiming she despises his ‘vulgar ways’ (note: if you’re thinking kinky sex, you’re wrong. Anna would love kinky sex. But it’s about James’s talk of money, of which he has plenty by now and of course, his low birth!). Even though James finally finds a way to make love to her, he still fails to gain Anna’s acceptance of him in any way other than the secretive hot sex. His proposal of marriage is spurned again. Anna would NEVER marry him and lose her title! Later, so that James can never get his hands on her again, or make her consent to unwanted marriage proposals, Anna spreads horrible rumors about James’s sexual perversion and flees.
I liked Anna’s personality in the first book. I thought she was smart with a wicked sense of humor. Her jaded POVs entertained me a lot. But by the second book, seeing how James was suffering because of her, I begin to get annoyed at her. TBH, that man was seriously hot and insane for Anna, I had no doubt about that. And apart from his so-called ‘low birth’, James was a good man. But I thought he’s the perfect foil for Anna’s stubborn personality. I was hoping that Anna would finally see reason, lose a little of her arrogance. At the least, accept James’s affection for real. But I was disappointed on that regard in book 3.
In this one, we find that it’s been some times, possibly 6/7 years since Anna fled England. She’s now living in Munich. Her 34th birthday is coming up. Anna’s house is now a hub of all sorts of intellectual and philosophical discussion. However, she manages to find young lovers among the poets who come to her house.
And then she makes the most surprising statement of them all, that she hasn’t slept with anyone in the last two years or more!
Anna claims maturity and being bored of the men who keep her company nowadays. Moreover, her rival, James has been living in Munich for a little over a year now. Anna also blames James for interfering, as in, shooing away her prospective lovers from her. She is irritated but still doesn’t see a way to destroy the man so that she can be in peace.
A fat load of eye-rolls from me Anna, especially because I never did understand your hatred of James as I always found him very, very sexy.
When she was ‘wasting away’ from boredom, one day Cousin Robert comes to her rescue yet again. On the eve of her birthday, Anna finds herself blindfolded and naked under a big, strong stranger and enjoying every moment of it! She loves the f*cking so much that she’s dying of curiosity to know her lover’s identity. But the man whispers to her in perfect French that this he can’t reveal himself.
That one encounter went so well, Anna begins craving for more and in the process, starts badgering Robert for making arrangements. She tries to glean some info from him, but Robert is close-lipped where the mysterious stranger is concerned. Yet, he makes arrangements because the next week, Anna finds a carriage waiting for her to take her to where that stranger lives.
Try as she might, Anna can’t find any clue to this man’s identity. The more she keeps meeting him and having sex, the more she’s caught in the snare. She denies everything vehemently but she craves the man like crack. She doesn’t believe in love and yet, she’s horribly jealous of the maid who helps her undressing for her assignations, thinking if he has had sex with this girl or not etc. etc. Later, after finding a false clue, Anna comes to the conclusion that her lover is someone from the Bavarian Royalty.
In between, she meets James again and plans on his downfall, yet again. For this, she uses one of her menservants. With the information gained from that servant, she does something very idiotic, not thinking clearly at all. As I said, I never did get her hatred of James in the first place, so I wanted to kill her. Even though she never quite got who her mysterious lover was, I knew it was James because he was the only one loco enough go at such lengths to have her. It couldn’t have been clearer how much he loved her, wanted her.
When James is arrested, Robert says as much to Anna, shaking her quite a bit. She keeps saying that her lover can’t be James, that his French is very bad but of course, the more she thought back to their encounters and her mystery lover’s physical attributes, the more she saw what she should’ve guessed much earlier. Convinced at last, Anna decides to get James out of the muck she herself threw him in.
I SO enjoyed that scene at the prison, so funny and so very sexy at the same time that I had high hopes of a big HEA. Alas, that was not to be! Even though Anna does finally give into James’s persistent to be with him, she wouldn’t marry him, if the final paragraph was any indication. They settled in together, she as his mistress. SHE STILL WON’T LOSE HER TITLE FOR A LOW-BORN MAN. Geez!!
I may have expected a bit too much from our snooty countess after all. 4 stars.