Seasoned romance author Jane Ashford’s stellar writing is on full display in Brave New Earl. This first book in her new series, The Way to a Lord’s Heart, introduces the delightful premise of a British earl who is determined to nudge, scheme and settle his four younger male acquaintances into happy domestic bliss. Not that the four would have agreed, had they known about the older gentleman’s plans. Nevertheless, the matchmaker moves calmly forward with his objective.
The Earl’s first target is his nephew Benjamin Romilly. After losing his wife in childbirth five years earlier, Benjamin’s broken heart has refused to heal and his son is growing up with scant supervision or attention from his grieving father. When Miss Jean Saunders, a distant cousin of Benjamin’s late wife, learns of the little boy’s lack of parental care, she vows to intercede. A survivor of a cruel and abusive childhood herself, Jean cannot bear to abandon the child to an uncaring parent.
Arriving uninvited at Benjamin’s estate, Jean is surprised to discover that the Earl is handsome and charming, but plagued by reclusive habits and stubborn grief. Five-year-old Geoffrey is even more of a shock as he’s wildly undisciplined, but imaginative and intellectually brilliant. Ashford’s vivid descriptions of the little boy and his outrageous antics, alongside with his often heartbreaking reactions to adult interaction, add a deeper emotional layer to the novel. Jean’s original plan to swoop in, collect Geoffrey and convey him to his grandparents’ care in London is clearly not going to succeed. Ever adaptable, Jean settles in for a long visit, vowing to solve the family complications.
For Benjamin, it’s as if Jean’s arrival wakes him from a long twilight, and he gradually becomes aware of the impact his protracted grieving has had on his son. He has a lot of work to do to regain lost ground with Geoffrey, not to mention deciding how to cope with the astonishing appeal of Miss Saunders. But just because Benjamin is finally ready to engage with the world, Jean is not ready to become involved on a romantic level with Benjamin. Though their attraction is both mutual and powerful, Jean is terrified of intimacy. Her own difficult childhood has left scars, just as Benjamin’s grief has marked him. If these two can reach a happy future together, it will not be an easy journey. Readers will be charmed by Ashford’s writing and will thoroughly enjoy observing these two honorable, wonderful people as they struggle to reach the happiness they both clearly deserve.
Lois Dyer writes from her home in Port Orchard, Washington.