A Lady Awakened

Cecilia Grant
A Lady Awakened
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Release Date
December 2011
Book 1 of The Blackshear Family series
Historical Romance

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?

Book Review by Bridget (reviewer)
Feb 06, 2012   [ OFFICIAL REVIEW ]
221 people found the following review helpful
Have you ever read a book so original, so captivating and so all around well done that you can't decide whether to read the whole thing in one sitting or try and make the experience last as long as possible? It's perhaps the best kind of dilemma one can encounter while reading, though rare. This book, however, is hands down one of those reads. To simplify, this is easily my favorite debut novel of 2011 and has earned a place on my all-time-favorites list.

Martha Russell is far too sensible and far too self-controlled to show, or indeed to feel, any real sadness over her husband's sudden death. All her concern is for the school she has been helping the local curate establish and for the well-being of her household. But her husband's will reveals that all his earthly wealth will pass to his brother James, should he die without an heir—the same brother whose name still conjures dark memories around Seton Park.

Determined to protect her household and her tenants, Martha accepts that the only thing she can do is to produce an heir—or at least a pregnancy, as soon as possible. And the only man for the job is obviously her new neighbor, one Theophilus Mirkwood, who has been sent into country exile, to learn some responsibility—or, at the very least, to cause as little trouble and expenditure as possible to his family in London. His reputation is such that Martha is sure he will not turn down the offer of a month of liaisons (for the proper remuneration), and she need have no worries about his indiscretion or her heart—for she could never possibly become attached in any way to a man she cannot admire.

Though he is a bit put out by the idea of being the lady's whore for a month, Theo cannot help but imagine the possibilities of helping the young widow with her predicament. Until he realizes that Mrs. Russell takes pleasure in nothing, save for scolding him, and delights in no activity except her good works to her tenants and neighbors. And when she seems perfectly content to lay still and accept what she's paid for, even chastising him for attempting to engage her attention in the slightest, Theo is confounded. He has never felt so unwanted by a woman, but rather than give up or give in, he determines to use his allotted month to arouse the unflappable Mrs. Russell, and to fulfill her in all possible ways. What he never expected, though, was that earning her good opinion would ever mean so much; that, as their time together draws to a close, how one month could so fundamentally change two people in so many ways.

The marvel of this story is its ability to take a fairly common trope of the romance genre and tilt it on its ear. Rather than a steamy month spent in each other's arms, Martha genuinely wants nothing to do with Theo as a lover, nor does she have any desire for a man to show her ‘what she's been missing'. Yes, her standards may be rather high, but Martha has spent a lifetime settling for what she is handed and is thoroughly fed up with her limited role, both in society and in her marriage.

The Theo that she meets at first does nothing to show her he can be any different. But Theophilus Mirkwood (my new favorite name, by the way) is, in his own wonderful way, quite remarkable. The qualities that Martha originally took for flaws—his easy-going nature, his refusal to sit still or straight, his carnal enthusiasm—are indeed some of his finest traits. He has the ability to make conversation and charm his tenants, the energy and the skill to help where it is needed, and the brain to make a genuine change for the better in the lives of those dependent on him, once he is encouraged to apply himself. And it is in fostering his transformation that Martha begins a transformation of her own.

She is not cold, nor is she lacking in desires. But Martha has been raised in a world where duty comes before desire and good sense comes before passion. And, though she never specifically says it, one gets the sense that she has been stifled by most of the people in her life and disappointed by all of them. If she is going to sink low enough to scam her brother-in-law out of his inheritance in this way, then she is going to do so on her own terms. Which means not ‘giving' herself to anyone—partially out of fear that she might not get away intact once the month is over, though I doubt anyone could have guessed just how thoroughly a month could change two people so deeply. I admit I found Martha a bit sanctimonious at first, but as she gradually came to know and trust Theo (and herself, as well), I realized that she is a wonderful heroine—considerate, loving and yes, quite passionate.

The story unfolds so naturally, and with such patience, that the merest touch of a hand is devastatingly powerful, and a kiss on the forehead can leave you breathless. It was really impressive that the sex in this story is not the fundamental part of the romance, even if it is the bare foundation of the plot. Every kind of intimacy is explored, and by the time Martha and Theo actually do come together for pleasure's sake, it because they have already broken down all the other barriers between them. While some of those barriers are painful, others humiliating for one or both parties (and the reader, included), the triumph that comes from seeing the two extraordinary characters finally at peace together is worth all the effort it took to get there.

And while it might not seem so from the above, this story is told with such a wicked sense of humor that I was giggling out loud with nearly every chapter. Both Theo and Martha have unique outlook and their observations of each other, of their tenants or their tenant's livestock are pure brilliance (the Weaver's pig might be the best supporting character in the book, in my humble opinion). Thus, from start to finish, this was a book I not only savored, but treasured. From its unique outlook on a somewhat familiar premise to its two astonishing characters, I can't recommend this book more highly, and cannot wait for the next installment in the series, starring Martha's elder brother, to arrive this summer!
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