A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant is a romance that flies in the face of convention, just like its main characters do. In fact, this debut romance is so unconventional that reviewers have found it impossible to merely “like” the book. It’s either been really loved, or practically a “wallbanger” (as in “throw against the wall in disgust”) book. I’m glad I followed my curiosity and read it, the differences made it well worth the time.
Martha Russell is a widow after a mere 10 months of marriage. Her late husband was a drunken fool, but his pride kept him from countermanding her orders for improvements on the estate and nearby village. He was unwilling to admit that he couldn’t remember whether he had given the orders for the school, and the new roofs for the tenants’ cottages, and the other things she thought were necessary. Drunken blackouts, you see.
But driving himself and his carriage into a crash had not been in her late husband’s plans. Nor had it been in Martha’s. Russell had expected Martha to provide him with an heir to his estate, it was why he married her. Russell hadn’t wanted his brother to inherit. Thomas Russell was still remembered around the neighborhood for his abuse of the female servants.
But Martha hadn’t had time to give her husband an heir, in spite of his assiduous efforts in that area, distasteful to Martha as they were. Martha had nevertheless done her duty by him, and dreamed of all the improvements she could make to the estate.
When the lawyer reads her late husband’s will, Martha knows she isn’t pregnant. She’s three days past certain. However, she feigns uncertainty in order to buy time. She’s desperate, and knows there must be a way to keep the demon brother at bay.
In Church on Sunday, the Lord does provide in the form of a handsome and feckless neighbor. Theophilus Mirkwood has been forced by his father to rusticate at their family’s country estate until he learns responsibility. Martha Russell offers to pay him 500 pounds for his stud services, for one month.
Yes, that’s right. She wants him to get her pregnant. He thinks she’s also paying for pleasure. She is absolute dead set against enjoying the act. Martha refuses to surrender any part of her essential self, and that includes her pleasure, to a man she sees as a wastrel.
And yet, this is a love story. It really is. It’s amazing how they get there.
Escape Rating B: This is the first romance I’ve ever read where the sex is not any good for either partner for the first half of the book. It’s an amazing place to start the story. Really, truly. There are a lot of stories where sex turns into love, and stories where the heroine’s first time isn’t so great, but this one is a first. The sex isn’t good for either of them, and it isn’t supposed to be.
This courtship is about a lot of other parts of their relationship. When all of the other issues (and are there ever a LOT of other issues) are resolved, then the issues in the bedroom work out. But this is a romance and not erotica. Love is more important than sex, in spite of where (and how) they start.