REVIEW of Courting the Countess by Donna Hatch

Courting the CountessRichard, the Earl of Averston, is used to getting his brother Tristan out of scrapes. But when Tristan trifles with the daughter of a duke, Richard finds the duke’s demands to be a higher price than he’s ever been forced to pay. Rather than Tristan marrying the socially compromised Lady Elizabeth, Richard must do the honors.  Although he has an understanding with Leticia, a childhood friend, Richard must wed a woman in love with his brother. Will she prove to be faithful to him, or will she abandon him as his mother did to follow her heart? As he seeks to unlock the mystery of his beautiful new wife, Richard must protect his heart against the inevitable betrayal he knows will occur…

Elizabeth had only known Tristan a week before he swept her off her feet. One kiss in the garden turns into a disaster as her father reacts by betrothing her to Tristan’s older–and titled–brother Richard. While the earl is always a perfect gentleman, he vacillates between wooing her and holding her at arm’s length. Even if Elizabeth can put the rakish Tristan out of her head, will she ever be able to capture the heart of the man she has sworn to love and obey?

I had previously read the second book in this series, Courting the Country Miss, in which (spoiler!) Tristan and Letitia get their own happily ever after. This book was a great setup for the second book and an intriguing novel in its own right. At first, Richard is goaded by a sense of competition; he must make Elizabeth forget Tristan and fall in love with him instead. But the closer he gets to her, the more it triggers past memories about his own mother’s unfaithfulness. His fear of being wounded makes him adopt a hard exterior that Elizabeth assumes to be disgust for her past failings or love for another woman.

Elizabeth’s own young life has been no bed of roses. Secrets abound about her birth and upbringing, and while she slowly learns to trust Richard, she doesn’t know if she can trust him with the most terrible secret of all. Her sister Mary proves an excellent confidante, sagely exhorting Elizabeth to put duty over infatuation, to forget Tristan and focus on making herself into a good wife and countess. But when Elizabeth witnesses a tender moment between Richard and Leticia, her anger gets the better of her–will she ever be able to secure the love of her husband? Should she even try?

Some of the misunderstandings in this book began to get on my nerves by the end, but all in all, this was a well-done Regency romance rife with interesting characters and high on the melodrama.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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