The Spare (Sexy Regency Historical Romance) - Carolyn Jewel My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

This book was really different. I loved the story and the atmosphere, the gothic feel all over it with the paranormal. I had to think a lot because the narrative of the story is as such; it takes time to get into it. I liked Carolyn Jewel’s writing style in the most part; there were lines and scenes I found beautiful. The POV change felt too sudden most of the times though. As I said, you have to get used to with it. It’s one of those books at first read might not feel like anything worth and its worse if you’re not in the mood. Fortunately, I was in the mood and I wasn’t bored at all. It took me a while to warm up to Sebastian, but I liked Olivia from the start. And, oh yes, The Black Earl; I so wanted to know more about him. He gave me shivers with his haunting; nothing malicious mind you but just so ... mysterious and fascinating. It’s just how I felt. I love good ghost stories, real ones or fictional. It’s been a while where I read a novel with a haunting. But, even when you read on, sometimes you can’t but ask yourself, was that real? Did Sebastian and Olivia saw The Black Earl or was it just their imagination? I can only say, you have to make your own decisions regarding this and many other matters in the book because at times, things aren’t explained to the point. This fact made the book special IMO.

Sebastian, the Earl of Tiern-Cope (ok the title was weird!) is recuperating from a war wound. He’s a Navy captain and never thought to be the earl oneday. He was the spare; third son and the Alexander third sons always go for the Navy. Sebastian wanted Army but on his father’s insistent, he went to Navy instead. His eldest brother Crispin died about 13 yrs ago in a carriage accident, so the next Andrew was the heir. Sebastian was very happy about his life in the sea ... Or, he thought so until now. He’s a weather hardened man, very successful in his career and not a womanizer. He’s also very stubborn, even grown men have to bow down to his wishes. Of course, he’s a captain so that’s how he keeps his men in line. About a year ago, two tragedies struck at the same time; his father died and a few months later Andrew and his wife were murdered. Sebastian had to come back and see the situation for himself. Now at Pennhyll, their ancestral home, Sebastian is waiting to meet a few people but what he wants is to find out the killer. His friend, a younger man, James, Viscount Fitzalan is with him, so is his valet McNaught, who I get that, really cares for him, even though Sebastian is sometimes annoyed by his fussing. You know manly ego and all that! James has invited a few guests from the small village that’s adjacent to Pennhyll, Far Caister; some gentry and so on. There’s also James half-sister, Diana and her companion and a teacher of Far Caister, Olivia. I’m not sure how they met though. Looking through the window, Sebastian is instantly attracted to Olivia, though it’s Diana he’s supposed to marry. I didn’t really like either Diana or James, and for valid reasons. I thought both were a bit air-headed. James is a rake and has his eyes full of Olivia, to make her his mistress. He’s obsessed about her but sometimes later in the book tells Sebastian that he’d do anything to bed her. I didn’t like it at all. First of all, Olivia was a nice and witty; an innocent girl from a good family. Yah, she’s not rich and not from a titled one, maybe even bordering on poverty but she didn’t deserve this. Not after what she went through a year ago. And James knew about it. I was pissed at him. Diana is just a vapid, spoiled miss and nothing else. Anyway, when James tells Sebastian that Olivia is ‘the spare’ from the murder, he takes an instant dislike to her, thinking all sorts of negative things that includes: her as Andrew’s mistress, soon to be James’, also that she might be the murderer herself. But sadly, Olivia it seems doesn’t remember those 3 precious days of her life, when the disaster took place. Sebastian is very adamant, he’ll find out what happened no matter what.

I’ve already mentioned that Olivia is quite poor. When about 13 yrs ago her father and brother died in a carriage accident, her life changed drastically. Her mother who was also sharing the carriage was left crippled and now bordering on decline as each day passes by. Olivia taught the children in Far Caister, before moving back here from the Land’s End, a small sea side town of Cumbria. I’m not sure why she moved but guessed it was due to the living cost. Her guardian, a cousin, never really cared about them, did nothing so far. She had an excellent relationship with Andrew, the then Earl, who helped her in many ways, as the book goes on revealing. There was nothing physical about it, whatever Sebastian might think. Then last year, the incident which almost took her life and left her badly wounded, occurred. Olivia wishes to remember those 3 days but memory eludes her. She has nightmares, a face and a feeling of helplessness takes over but that’s all. Though Olivia liked Andrew, it was Sebastian she always pined for. He was an elusive character to her, who was never there but only as a portrait and a few letters send from various ports to his brother. Andrew adored Sebastian, was very proud of him and would always read his letters with relish. Olivia, thus, learned the information she needed about Sebastian and treasured them. He’s always been her hero. Now, he’s back and being not very nice to her. Olivia isn’t offended by his coldness and rude words. I liked it immensely that she’s a very smart girl. Sebastian, in so many words, tells her what he thinks of her, showing some of her things that Andrew obviously was keeping. She is offended with such accusations but she knows he has valid reasons. She likes James, not knowing his intensions for her. She also learns that soon Sebastian would marry Diana because his next commission might be coming anytime. Sebastian is nothing but responsible and would do his duty.

The story took place in about 2 weeks or so, from the 1st week to 22nd of January but somehow, I didn’t think things were done hastily. I liked the way Sebastian and Olivia’s relationship developed, even when he very instinctively (it seemed to me) started calling her “My Heart” or “My Own”. Later on, I think I understood why I felt this way. So, everybody in a around Pennhyll think the 4th Earl Tiern-Cope, called as The Black Earl (TBE), haunts the castle; been haunting it for around 500 yrs. Some would always say they saw him pacing the rampart of the castle. 21st of January is the St. Agnes’s Eve and TBE’s death anniversary aligns with it. This is when he basically haunts the castle. It is said that he was a cruel man, who spread lies about his wife, imprisoned her in the dungeon and then married. He was murdered in his mid-thirties. Now he wants to make amends by either leading his descendants to their other halves or warn them off some imminent danger. The legend of St. Agnes’s Eve says that the women, who fast, will see their husbands in their dream. Sebastian doesn’t believe any of this but soon, he’s forced to rectify his beliefs about his ancestor. On the first scene of the book, he sees TBE materializing in a shadowed corner of the room, with his cobalt blue tunic decorated with Alexander coat of arms, a jeweled waistband and a sword in a scabbard at this back. Later on it was revealed he’s been seeing TBE just after he’s arrived. He mostly tried to ignore him, sometimes thinking he’s going mad or just his imagination. But he was as real as it can be. Now he wants to know more about Olivia and what her relationship with his brother was. At his inquiry, Olivia said that she goes to Carlisle to a pawnbroker. He confirmed the news from the local innkeeper and his son, whose Olivia’s student and besotted with her. It seems like everyone holds her in respect. But, Sebastian still didn’t trust her so when the new school committee wrote to him about her and asked for recommendation, thinking about James’s intension and his own suspicions, he replies negatively. Then he and his valet McNaught, goes to Carlisle. A lot of information regarding Olivia comes out in this outing. The pawnbroker obviously respects her but a few shillings gave Sebastian some infos like she sells some lady like trinkets, to meet her expenses no doubt. Also, that Andrew would always buy the things she sold and asked the man to send them to the castle with the bill. Sebastian finds out that she sold the latest item, a beaded necklace he saw her wearing at their first meeting. Somehow, Sebastian is compelled to hold his brother’s agreement with the pawnbroker. Then he pays a visit to the local solicitor, from whom her very sad financial status comes out. Sebastian’s suspicions about Olivia were already weakening but his visit to the old Alexander doctor blew it off totally. The man was there after the incident happened. He confirms that Olivia wasn’t Andrew’s mistress but she’s suffered something more devastating and it’s not her mortal wounds. The doctor was summoned to the castle a day or two before the murder to attend Olivia because she was raped and beaten. He doesn’t know who did this. Then there was the murder, with Olivia ending up with a bullet herself. Sebastian is shocked, stunned and immediately thinks its Andrew who raped her. Now he understood why Olivia’s so-called fiancé, the Vicar, ended their engagement. Olivia also told him that Andrew’s marriage to Guenevere wasn’t a happy one and that he was considering a divorce. The doctor also tells Sebastian that his elder brother was the reason behind the carriage accident that killed Olivia’s brother and father and crippled her mother. His father did everything to cover this up. It seems they have a tangled family history after all. This ‘family history thing’ actually comes back, with more evidence from the past, later in the story.

After those revelations, Sebastian’s treatment of Olivia changed significantly. I loved one scene, when Olivia was going to her home in Far Caister from Pennhyll, where she was staying now as an invitee. They talk and it was for the first time, not exchanges of cold, biting words. Olivia lets him know that she’s besotted with him, discreetly of course. I loved that she kept on thinking Sebastian should smile, because that’d be a glorious thing to see. Then he actually does, even if a little:

The tide will turn, Miss Willow." A smile lurked around his mouth, but no, that was not possible, that the earl of Tiern-Cope should smile, and at her.

"It hasn't yet."

"You may find the sea casts you onto the shores of paradise." His voice was low and soft, and Olivia felt her heart stir at the sound. "Or through the very gates of hell."

"So it might." She gave herself a mental shake. Lord Tiern-Cope could not possibly be flirting with her. Impossible. "But that won't stop me from embracing this moment in all its beautiful perfection."

"With but one flaw, Miss Willow."

"Whatever could that be?"

"Don't even try to tell me I don't spoil the present perfection of your moment." The corner of his lip twitched and then gave up. He smiled, and she, perverse creature that she was, felt like she'd been tossed off a cliff with him standing at the bottom to catch her.

Later, he escorts her to her small rooms in Far Caister, where her mother lives. Their amiable conversation flowed here as well. Sebastian was feeling pain from his wound still, Olivia takes care of him. I loved the conversation here and how Sebastian was already fantasizing about her. He might’ve thought about her as the mistress-type, along with James but now that he knows better, he’s thinking of her as his wife and the mother of his children. But, how can he do that when he’s not really free to choose and already spoken to James about Diana? He knows he feels nothing for her and vice versa so for the first time in his life, Sebastian feels lost. On their way to Pennhyll, they meet Olivia’s cousin, Hew, who it seems after long last decided to pay a visit to her and from the looks of it, has more than a visit in mind. Sebastian doesn’t like him on-spot. Olivia’s not fond of him as well. The next day, Hew pays a visit to Olivia in Pennhyll and begins the rivalry of suitors with James. In the parlour, TBE again shows himself, behind the shadowed place where Olivia sat, even coming close to her. Sebastian tries to ignore him and introduces Hew to the others. But, everytime Hew is near, Olivia grows paler.

In between, some odd things keep happening. Diana and the rest decided that they’d call upon TBE’s spirit on the St. Agnes’s Eve, to have some meaningless fun. James was vying for Olivia’s attention, now along with Hew. And, Olivia kept feeling someone in her room. There was this hauntingly beautiful scene where she goes to sleep, then the windows keep opening up. There were rainstorms outside. Then she keeps hearing footsteps close to her bed but even in the dark, she sees no one. Then a breath on her cheek along with whispers “My Heart”, “My Love”, “My Own” ... WOW, I loved it. There was also this maid named Edith appeared twice, kept calling Olivia ‘my lady’ and ‘mistress’, which gave me the feeling that she’s a part of the past too. Olivia experienced the whispers again, when Hew was chasing her a bit later in the story. Afterwards, she really sees TBE who very much resembled Sebastian, except for the long hair and tunic. Later TBE, of course, led her to Sebastian’s room. Not only that, there were more dream sequences, with her and Sebastian and at least two vague love scenes. It showed that they, somehow, are supposed to be together. Sebastian was experiencing the same things as well as his own dreams. And always, TBE is hovering nearby. Sometimes these scenes would definitely make you confused but it was done intentionally IMO. As I’ve mentioned, both of them were being haunted and led to a path where they can come together as a couple and marry. No doubt TBE who wanted them to be together and initiated all these. So sometimes, they’d both feel things like embracing and kissing each-other, once Olivia even confessed her love to Sebastian but the next moment, it seems like nothing happened. It scared them, with Sebastian at first thinking that he’s going mad, maybe from his wound or something. And both of them ended up having thoughts like, is it really happening or just another dream?

Hew is now a regular guest at Pennhyll, since Diana invited him too. Though Sebastian wants Olivia now, he’s still up about marrying Diana and insists that Olivia marries someone else, maybe her cousin or even James, who apparently had a change of mind and now wants to marry her. I didn’t like the talks of marriage. It was clear that Olivia didn’t like her cousin so why push her in that direction? We also meet other characters such as the Vicar and his wife, one Miss Page and her father. Then there was a fire at Olivia’s home. Sebastian was just there to save both her mother and her knowing that she was visiting. This leaves Olivia without a penny to her name. I’m still not sure if this incident was an accident as it was ruled out. Then, St. Agnes’s Eve arrives and all of them take a tour of the castle. Price, the butler, narrates the history. In the library, Olivia sees the old banner, with the coat of arms as she’d seen on TBE. She’d also seen a portrait of a man on a horse, with the Alexander looks- dark hair and cold blue eyes, in Sebastian’s room. He was escorted by a bannerman with red hair. Now, I didn’t mention it but Olivia’s hair is coppery red, which is why she believes she’s misunderstood as a woman with wild passion so she hates it. Now, did this scene signify that the Willow ancestry went so far back in time with the Alexanders? I thought it did.

Price kept on talking about the Alexander ancestors. The first Earl came from Ireland and married a lady with red hair, because it reminded him of his country (so, are Sebastian and Olivia re-born and meant to be together once more? Not sure). Hence, the Alexander motto is in Gaelic. Then came the topic of TBE. Price shows them the room where he was murdered. Here Olivia finds a cufflink, which Sebastian takes from her. This gave them both an insight, that even though they’d only kissed in real life, they’ve already made love in their dreams. I don’t know how to explain it because there was a dream sequence with cufflink, and it was Sebastian’s. WOW but it was confusing which is why I said, you have to make your own conclusions. This time, while touring a ruin nearby, Sebastian and Olivia sees TBE together. Then they all visit the dungeon. It was scary, with the history and all. Price just finished showing them the room where TBE’s countess was locked when they all went out locking Olivia inside. This part was weird and got me pissed. I mean how many people were there(I was never sure about the number) that they didn’t realize Olivia was locked in? The whole thing seemed clumsy to me. What about Sebastian? I know he was escorting Diana but how could he forget about her? Back in his room, Sebastian sees TBE again, who was weeping and kept telling him ‘help her’. Sebastian immediately thought of Olivia (finally!) and saves her from another certain death.

Anyway, the ending was a bit disappointing to me. By now, Sebastian knew that Olivia has had the same erotic dreams as he had and they talk. Sometimes before, James proposed to Olivia, which she declined because she already knew from Sebastian what James’s earlier intention was. I don’t know how devoted he was to his proposal (I already didn’t care about him much) but as Olivia was always in love with Sebastian, it wasn’t surprising that she declined. So when she and Sebastian talk, they talk about the dreams and TBE, with Sebastian proposing to her. He tells her he’s done something to save her financial situation so that she doesn’t accept him out of gratitude and that he really wants her as it was meant to be. Remember, Sebastian still thought it was Andrew who raped Olivia? I was very glad that even knowing this he fell for her. They marry the same night. After the consummation (the only ‘real’ love scene), Olivia remembers it all. To tell you the truth, from a review I already knew who it was so must say, it was a bummer that I felt nothing about it, except hatred for the man. He escaped his sentence very easily if I might add. When Sebastian confronted him, truth poured out of him- he was having an affair with Guenevere which Andrew found out and threatened his to ruin him, how it led to Olivia’s rape and then the murders. TBE makes his final appearance and the man commits suicide. Then it just ends, without any epilogue or anything else. I mean I wanted to know more, it was quite frustrating. So you might ask, why then I’ve given it a 4star? Simply because it held my attentions, it really did and I enjoyed the whole paranormal, mystery thing surrounding the book and liked the H/h. But most of all, I loved The Black Earl. Think I’ve already whined in the 1st paragraph about him, so ... *sigh*

More on The Spare and it’s characters (something I found quite interesting) can be found in Carolyn Jewel’s website.