The First Earl I See Tonight by Anna Bennett was a delight and I was honored to read an advanced copy. I adored the author’s writing style as she managed to ensnare me with her descriptive, emotional, and witty prose.
Fiona Hartley needs to wed and she needs to wed quickly because that is the only way she can access her dowry money. Her family is being blackmailed, her sister, more specifically, and Fiona would do anything to protect her – even marry someone she barely knows in order to access the funds she needs to pay off the awful person who seeks to do harm to anyone she loves. But no one knows about it. The blackmail letter was sent to Fiona giving her a fortnight to pay the blackmail or her sister’s ruination will be printed in the papers.
So, what does Fiona do? She sends a letter - a proposal of marriage - to David Gray, Earl of Ravenport. He was kind to her once, and he was recently jilted, so he is most likely seeking a bride, maybe? And he needs money. And Fiona is desperate.
But when Gray receives her letter, his first reaction is to think the woman insane. And rightly so. I mean, no woman in that era proposed marriage, let alone, in a letter. However, he was curious why a woman—why this woman wrote to him. So, arranging to meet in Hyde Park, he decided to give her the opportunity to explain herself.
And thus the story begins.
I adored Gray. Having been jilted by his former fiancé, he assumes Fiona is playing some sort of game with him. He is not at all trusting—of her—or himself. He’d been wrong about a woman once before. But Fiona seems different the more time he spends with her, having invited her and her family to his home, his Fortress, for a house party. This, he did with the intentions of scaring her off for his “Fortress” was in ruins and certainly was in no condition for hosting a house party. Peeling wallpaper, furniture not fit to sit on, roof in desperate need of repair. Simply put, it needed a complete renovation. But it was his family home and his beloved grandmother’s greatest hope to see it restored before she lost her sight as she was going blind. Gray was irritated that Fiona was taking him away from the work he could be doing to his home. Instead, he was playing host, hoping to end Fiona’s pursuit of him and he could get back to his life and spend his time with his ailing grandmother.
But as I said, Fiona surprised him. She was not put off by the condition of his home. She saw past its crusty exterior—and Gray’s for that matter.
As for his grandmother, she was wonderful. I loved her. She was so observant, even if she was going blind, she saw a lot more than most people.
“My dear boy,” she said softly. “Some young ladies have lived such sheltered lives that any bit of unpleasantness sends them fleeing for the hills.”
“Like Helena.” It was more a statement than a question.
His grandmother made a face as though her tea were bitter. “Precisely.”
“And you think Fiona’s different?”
“I know she is.” And you know it, too. (…) But do you want to know the real reason I adore her?”
He nodded mutely.
“Because there’s a softness in your eyes when you look at her.”
I won’t give any more details. I’d rather you read it and discover how Gray and Fiona find their way. Of course, there is still the matter of the blackmailer to unravel. That, in and of itself, is a little heartbreaking once that little detail is revealed. I wasn't expecting it.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Very much so. I'd like to thank the author and the publisher for granting me the opportunity to read an advanced copy.