The Reluctant Countess is such a perfect name for this story! Sophie became the Countess of Monmouth under a bit of a scandalous way. . . just before the death of the Earl, so when she suddenly shows up in society, with a child, people are suspicious and no one more so than Patrick, Earl of Coutler (and naturally, Myles, the man who thought he would inherit the earldom). He is determined to find out the truth behind the ice beauty and how she came to be so high up in station. Little does he know how he will fall hard for Sophie and need to have her in his life permanently.
I really enjoyed watching Sophie and Patrick fall for each other. Her secret is revealed at a time that I really appreciated (not dragged out for the whole story) and it helps move their relationship forward with no pretenses and that was such a nice change of pace! Patrick is determined and bold, looking for the love and laughter he was denied as the only child of his parents, molded to be the earl only. Sophie projects herself as cold and aloof when underneath she is strong, caring and willing to do whatever it takes to protect what is hers. There is a strong sense of family, honor and protection and it adds some wonderful secondary characters that you grow to love as well. I also liked how the story really just focused on their growing romance but the action came at a time when it was needed to move the story along without overshadowing a wonderful romance. Patrick is a bit heavy with his pet names, 'my sweet' 'sweetheart' etc, which is just a pet peeve of mine and Sophie also could have been a bit more expressive beyond 'oooh' but it did not detract from the story much for me. There is also a secondary romance between Sophie's best friend and Patrick's best friend that I wished was almost its own story because I felt like their was so much more to tell about that couple. Hopefully it will be. Overall, a grand debut filled with a lovely romance that has the right balance of heat and heart with just a dash of action to keep it interesting. 4 stars
eARC provided by LoveSwept (Random House) via netgalley