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Title: A Lady Awakened
Author: Cecilia Grant
Publisher: Bantam Books
May Contain Spoilers
In Cecilia Grant’s emotionally rich and deeply passionate Regency romance debut, a deal with a rumored rogue turns a proper young woman into . . . A Lady Awakened.
Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.
Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all . . . love?
I first heard about A Lady Awakened on Dear Author. Because I dislike spoilers, I avoided reading anything about the plot, but it was talked up enough that I was intrigued. Plus, the gorgeous cover didn’t hurt this very unique Regency. I hesitate to label it a romance, because it is so much more than that. This is a thoughtful, provocative character study that explores the emotional growth of two very different, and at first, seemingly incompatible, people. Seeing the development of the protagonists is what made this such a wonderful read. Both Martha and Theo undergo amazing changes. They become better people because of their association. They learn to trust and be caring individuals, and I totally bought into these changes.
Martha has an unpleasant discovery after the unexpected death of her husband; only her son will inherit the property and the fortune that she has married into. Her husband has left her nothing. If there is no male heir, than her husband’s brother will take possession of the estate. When Martha learns that her brother-in-law is a heartless cad who is responsible for ruining two of the servants in the employ of the family, she is determined to protect the women she has come to feel so responsible for. She cooks up a scheme to get herself pregnant, so that the estate will stay under her control.
When Theo is sent down from London to his family’s small country estate to cool his heels, he is eager to find a way back into his father’s favor. He is bored in the country, and he wants to be free to resume his frivolous life in the pursuit of personal pleasures. When Mrs. Russell approaches him with a scandalous proposal, he doesn’t hesitate to accept. He will perform the task that her husband could not and get her with child. In return, she will pay him and offer a pleasant distraction while he is exiled in the country.
What set this book apart for me was the gradual regard that Martha and Theo develop for each other. Despite the intimacy of their deal, Martha is ever careful to keep herself discretely detached from Theo. To her, he is nothing but a sperm donor. The bedroom scenes are almost painful as Martha considers the male form repulsive and never allows herself to experience any pleasure whatsoever. She is afraid of losing control, and of losing part of herself. There is nothing more grating for Martha than the knowledge that she has no real command over her own life. If she doesn’t produce a male heir, she will be forced to move in with her brother. She is desperately trying to avoid being dependent on anybody other than herself. She has little regard for men, even her own deceased husband, and it is this lack of respect that has pushed her into a shell of her own making. How can she possibly enjoy herself when she is with someone she just can’t respect?
For his part, Theo begins to find his new daily duty more of a chore than he had ever imagined. Martha manages to remove any possibility of enjoyment from these encounters by remaining detached and aloof. Theo is left struggling to find ways to keep himself motivated during an act that has suddenly become unpleasant. The thoughts rolling around in his head had me in stitches a few times. I actually started feeling sorry for him, and started desperately wished that Martha would lighten up a bit.
As they spend time together discussing the care and management of their estates, however, something wonderful begins to happen. They both become very likeable people who are striving to provide for their tenants and to improve their land. Theo gradually changes from a selfish young lord to a man worthy of admiration. Martha’s icy demeanor begins to thaw. They have common goals to strive for, and they slowly form a strange sort of friendship. As Theo’s outgoing personality rubs off on Martha, she begins to take emotional risks with other people. And as Martha’s concerns for the people under her care begin to influence Theo, he becomes a caring landowner who wants to improve the lot of those living on his property.
This book worked for me because I totally bought into the changes both Martha and Theo undergo. I’ll take it one step further – without knowing each other, it wouldn’t have been possible for either of them to grow and develop into kind people worthy of – yes – respect. They both become better than themselves because of their association with each other. This is an emotionally satisfying read because of the changes the characters undergo.
If you want to read a very unique book, look no further than A Lady Awakened. The emotional depth and maturity of the book will have you hooked. You, too, will find estate management captivating, and you, too, will come away from the read believing in the transformative power of true, selfless love.
Review copy provided by author (Thank you very much, Cecilia!!)