Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥
He: the wastrel son of a baronet who's been banished to the Sussex countryside to behave himself. He's a good-natured, affectionate sort who misses his uncomplicated London life of fun and easy manners. But to end his banishment, he needs to prove to his father's steward, and by extension his father, that he has become a respectable land-owning gentleman and has left the life of dissipation behind him.
The task becomes especially hard when his very pretty, very widowed neighbor makes him an offer impossible for a cad like him to refuse. Not that he wants to refuse.
She: The widow of a man who was rather careless of his lands and responsibilities while he was alive. She took on all the responsibility of running the household and oversaw the duties to their tenants and lands. But now that her husband has died without an heir, the land and life she regards so highly will be lost to her dead husband's villainous brother. She cooks up a plan to find an "heir" in a month by recruiting the H to be her hired stud. Wha whaaaat!
Conflict: She's prickly, proper to the point of being tedious, and entirely without the capacity to charm. She's single-minded in her goal to fake an heir because she knows if the property gets into the nasty old lech of her brother-in-law's hands, he will be a threat to the virtue of every female servant and she just can't let that happen. She thinks the H is vain and silly and has little respect for him, even though she needs his help to conceive. She hires him to be her "stud" for a month in the wild hope that she can keep the property but remains entirely aloof to his charms.
What I liked:
1) Considering that the construction of the story required 30 days of sex scenes I was worried that it would all get a bit comme ci comme ca by the nth description of their heaving bosoms and trembling nerves.
Noting could have further from that expectation! In fact, for most of the book there were no heaving bosoms! The heroine remained frigid and unresponsive to his bedroom blandishments for the majority of their doing-it scenes. I thought it was hilarious that the only times she felt turned on by him he wasn't trying to seduce her at all - it was during totally serious moments where was talking about wheat prices or being "intellectual" or when he being useful and fixing a tenant's roof.
2) There was some actual character development - as in both characters developed into richer, more complicated people as the story progressed and began to like each other as they saw and learned more of the other.
There was an interesting juxtaposition of this puritanical, "innocent" friendship that grows between them, while they're conducting this strange, rather scandalous physical relationship where neither is getting all that much pleasure. Usually romance novels present stories the opposite way - beginning with this explosively amazing sexual chemistry and using the rest of the story to develop an out-of-bedroom relationship between the characters. This sort of turns that formula on its head a bit because there non-sexual chemistry actually grows a lot faster and their sexual relationship has to catch up.
What I thought was a bit weird:
1) It seems sort of a stretch to think that a prim, governess-y lady would approach a random dude to hire him to be her stud. Pun intended. Why not just travel somewhere and adopt a baby? I get that she was desperate and things needed to be done really quickly so the baby seemed legitimate - but surely there were other ways to deal with the issue that didn't involve sex with a total stranger who has a reputation for being a philandering rogue. Did no one fear the pox in those days!? Seriously though, why wasn't adoption a viable option?
2) Why does he try so hard? It becomes clear from the first few interludes that she wasn't getting any pleasure out of his bedroom skills. This sort of compels him to try even harder, going to even greater lengths to see that she derives pleasure from their little interactions. To no avail. In fact, she just sort of acts holier than thou the whole time because she considers him useless and directionless. Um. He's not the one hiring someone to fake an heir so I feel like her feeling of superiority was a tad misplaced.
I see why he would be intrigued by her initial suggestion and go with it for a lark. But then when she proves to be a pain in the butt, why doesn't he just end it? Wouldn't a guy just feel kind of demoralized after day 5 of frigid reception? She's not very likable in the beginning so not sure why he decides to keep going? The way it's described in the book, he is determined to turn her on with his legendary bedroom skills and needs to prove to himself that he can. I call bullshit.
Skeptic's last word: Anyway, despite a couple of over-engineered plot points, this is a fun, craftily constructed story. CG cleverly weaves in so much more than a love story here - we talk about the rights of women during the times, the politics of land ownership and the social politics of the co-dependent role of landowner and tenant. The love story wasn't as dark and intense as the other one of hers I loved (A Gentleman Undone) but all in all, a good read.