REVIEW: The Actress and the Rake: Regency Romance by Carola Dunn
Sir Barnabas’s Will requires granddaughter Nerissa Wingate and godson Miles Courtenay to live together chastely in his house for six months in order to inherit his estate. He assumed they’ll fail. Fuming but penniless, they accept the challenge, but a host of hopeful relatives is determined to throw them into each other’s arms, and Sir Barnabas’s cantankerous ghost lends a hand!
Regency Romance by Carola Dunn: originally published by Zebra as “The Lady and the Rake”
Dear Ms. Dunn,
This plot just sounded fun so I dove in to see what would happen. There are parts I really liked and one aspect that didn’t work for me. In fact there were times when I actively disliked that subplot. The hero and heroine, though, are darlings.
Nerissa and Miles meet on the way to the reading of a will. They must be there on time but due to circumstances, each is racing to arrive by the set date and both end up in a curricle together. It was at this point that I began to like them immensely as they both realized that the other might stand to inherit something yet this didn’t make them turn nasty to each other.
I kind of needed this kindness from Miles as he begins the story showing that the title of “rake” hasn’t been given to him for nothing. Nerissa isn’t actually an actress, though her parents are and she grew up in the theater world. As the godson and estranged granddaughter of a deceased Baronet who railed at Miles and disinherited his daughter when she married an actor, neither is expecting to get much of anything from the grumpy gus but hope springs eternal so here they are.
To their astonishment, the (frankly bizarre) Will stipulates that if each stays at the estate for six months and refrains from the kind of wild behavior that Sir Barnabas expects of them, they will split the estate. If either leaves, or if Miles gambles or engages in rakish behavior (read has sex with any female), or if Nerissa fails to win the approbation of the neighboring gentry (read acts like a whorish actress), then they will inherit nothing. Meanwhile the barnacles who have battened onto Sir Barnabas for years and who thought they stood to inherit, are determined to trip up our duo thinking they will then inherit instead. Can Miles restrain himself and can Nerissa retrain herself to pass this judgement?
From the start, there are some grasping relations set on tripping Miles and Nerissa up while others are willing to go along with that but not quite as dead set. One is Cousin Sophie who is a love. Sophie is the downtrodden woman so beloved of Regencies who has been browbeaten all her life by her sister. It’s a joy to watch Sophie begin to stand up for herself and begin to stick spokes in the wheels of her sister Effie’s increasingly outlandish plots to get rid of Nerissa and Miles. The way that Nerissa and Miles begin to look after and take care of this older lady shows how good they are. In addition, Miles takes to estate management while Nerissa starts to learn how to be responsible for the estate dependents, tenants, and staff of the house.
That is another nice thing about this book. The servants aren’t just faceless people in the background but became flesh and blood characters who matter to Nerissa and Miles. Sir Barnabas was strict but fair, believing that servants who were treated well gave better service. The household staff is united in dread that certain of the greedy relatives may end up staying. Watching them quietly helping Miles and Nerissa is delicious fun.
The romance is a quiet one. At first, Nerissa and Miles are just working to help each other out (which as I said, says something about them) but as time goes on and they spend the six months with each other, they begin to have feelings for each other. Unfortunately as the Will stipulates no hanky panky, they have to shove these feelings down and act more like friends. This of course leads to them each thinking the other is uninterested. I enjoyed seeing them get to know each other and truly fall in love with the real person and not stay stuck in initial impressions.
So now onto what I didn’t care for as much. The increasingly outlandish efforts of one of the relatives to oust Nerissa and Miles finally got to the point where I had to laugh at how silly her ideas were as I waited to see how each plan would be thwarted. What really annoyed me was Sir Barnabas’s efforts to do this same thing. Yes, crabby Sir Barnabas is present as a ghost with decidedly sour intentions. I can understand being a cranky old man, who has been saddled with relations for years, wanting to stick it to them in his Will. But he thinks and does harmful things that made me dislike him intensely.
If the ghost element hadn’t been here, I would have almost totally enjoyed this quieter trad regency (which, remember, usually means no sex). I felt having mean spirited Sir Barnabas there didn’t add anything that the grasping relatives didn’t already do. On the other hand, I did like Miles who matures as a person and comes into himself and Nerissa who discovers her self worth and proves her inner strength. It is great that by the end, Miles and Nerissa not only love each other but they also respect each other. There is enough that I liked to give this a B-/C+