My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Set in the medieval England, Courting His Countess is the first C.J. Archer book I’ve read. When I picked it up because I was looking for something short and quick, I didn’t know about a very important aspect of this story. After reading an author note on her website, I had to read the book to find out if she was able to handle this issue well... or not. My verdict on this will be at the end of the review.
Rose, our heroine has been living in the Lockhart castle since her marriage 6 years ago. Her husband was sent to Ireland on behalf of the Queen, with a job, right after her marriage. Rose has made a life here without any hope of any deep emotional attachment with her erstwhile husband, the newly minted Earl of Avondale. But her father-in-law just passed away and Rose has been made aware that Thomas is returning because as the only heir, it’s his duty produce an heir and keep the line going.
When the story starts, we find Thomas has already arrived, only to find himself on the receiving end of a glacial welcome from Rose. Thomas seems happy to have returned, yet Rose seems... not that much. It’s revealed that Thomas was her neighbor before their marriage, a man she’d loved from afar, yet he never showed any interest in her. Rose was merely a girl in her mid-teens when the marriage took place, while Thomas was in his early 20s. Not only that, the whole thing was a scheme of Rose’s power hungry, greedy father who ensnared the old Earl in a way that Thomas was rather forced to marry Rose. There was also a huge financial trouble from whatever crap Rose’s father cooked up for the Avondales. Enraged, Thomas did the unthinkable. He left his bride on the night of their wedding and slept with his the then mistress. And right afterwards, because he felt guilty, and because he needed to make some money, he requested the Queen for a post in Ireland.
The middling years after Thomas’s abandonment of her, Rose’s life hasn’t been any better. Though she has come to love her life in Lockhart, the Queen’s court has never been for her. She’s a reserved girl and never did well in the debauchery that runs amok in the so-called ‘courtly life’. Yet, whenever she went there on occasion, she was made to be the butt of numerous jokes because of what Thomas did, thanks to his mistress who took cruel fun in taunting her with the tales of their escapades. She also made it known that Thomas has been in touch with her from Ireland. Rose was hurt, heartsick and super angry. She never communicated with Thomas and burned all his letters without even opening them. She thought she can live like this as Thomas apparently doesn’t care whatever happens to her... until he tells her that he returned just for her. Worse still, he’s staying this time! Rose can’t even imagine kind of hurt she’ll suffer when he inevitably leaves to attend the court and then, starts seeing his mistress again! Rose is sure he will at some point. Can’t say I blamed her for thinking this way.
When he planned to return, Thomas knew his reception would be cold. But Thomas never imagined the kind of hurt and humiliation he has piled on Rose all these years. The ramifications begin hitting its mark with a vengeance when it became apparent that Rose is not easy in his company, neither does she open up. Oh she’d ‘receive’ him and let him do his duty but that’s all. Thomas begins to ask for her forgiveness, trying to explain his side of the story. He has matured while in Ireland and deems his past transgressions as youthful follies. But it seems no excuses work for Rose; even when they start having sex. Rose is giving when they doing it but when it ends, so ends her warmth and acceptance of him. Thomas begins to feel a little desperate.
In the midst of it all, the Queen’s summon is here to attend the court for some upcoming festivities. This can’t be ignored, so even though she hates it, Rose agrees to escort Thomas.
In court, of course, we meet the evil ex-mistress who tries her best to entice Thomas back in her bed. Apparently Thomas thought he was in love with this woman but now that he’s had his young wife, his interest in that certain Lady has waned. And so we found him trying to extricate himself off her claws whenever she tried to sink those in him. Nevertheless, it does some bad things to his already fragile relationship with his wife. Rose sees them together on one or two occasions and the old vulnerabilities come rushing back. She begins feeling insignificant once again, even though Thomas has already, countless times, told her that he finds her beautiful and wouldn’t ever stray from her again. Rose can’t seem to trust him, yet she gives into him just as easily when he says sweet words and seduces her in his bed.
Rose’s father, yet once again, tries his best to cook up trouble for Thomas but he’s thwarted very easily by the lure of money. The promise of a monthly settlement from Thomas was all it took.
Now here’s my take. I liked this story, even was intrigued since the first page. But it fell flat somewhere in the middle. Let me tell you that the author handled the infidelity part rather well cause I didn’t hate Thomas as much as I thought I would. I hate cheating and very few authors IMO can handle it as well. The whole thing was spoken in terms of past tense, so there was no explicit scene or anything (thank God for small favors!). Yet, I was hoping that Rose would be more resolute about giving Thomas hell. She definitely should’ve cause what Thomas did, and what Rose suffered because of his said youthful transgressions couldn’t have been so easily forgiven. I was especially bummed when Rose lets him seduce her in just a few days after his return. She made herself believe it was for a baby, when all the while, it was anything but that. I never really warmed up to Thomas anyway, though I got why he did what he did, even if it was horrid. He was made to feel bad for what he did until the last chapter, which he deserved IMO. Still I didn’t like Rose falling into his bed so easily. Funny thing is, I ended up feeling rather bad for the ex-mistress. She was probably hoping to marry Thomas, yet she never had the chance. Then she had to settle for some old goat. She was definitely jealous of Rose’s luck, no doubt about it, and lashed out in her way. I’m not supporting it but think I could also see why she’d be so contemptuous.
All in all, a mediocre storyline but definitely could’ve been better. I liked the author’s writing style though and will be checking out some of her full-length novels later. 3.5 stars.