The Earl's Untouched Bride

The Viscount & the Virgin
by Annie Burrows
(Harlequin Historical, $5.99, PG) ISBN 978-0373-29612-5
We once again have a story based on a lot of misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions that guide the two main characters throughout the book. Just when it looked like they might start really talking to each other, one misinterprets and off we go into misunderstanding land. Frankly, I did not mind this for a little while, but the pattern continued a little too long to make The Viscount and the Virgin totally engaging. But it was enjoyable for the most part.

Imogen (Midge) Hebden is not only stuck with a terrible name, but with a terrible family history. Her mother Amanda married Hebden, a rake who continued his rakish ways after they married. After having a son and a daughter, in revenge Amanda had an affair with an earl who was also involved in some type of espionage. Somehow, the earl killed Hebden and was then accused of treason and hanged. A Gypsy woman with whom Hebden had a child cursed Amanda and declared no male offspring of hers would ever survive. Shortly thereafter, her son died.

After remarrying. Amanda discovered the Gypsy boy who was her husbandís son and tried to raise him, but her father sent him away. Amanda was devastated and eventually died, leaving Midge with little in her life except her stepfamily, which consisted of a father and three boys. But upon his death, her stepfather did not provide for her and Midge was forced to go live with her motherís brother and his wife. The story opens as they are attempting to bring her out into society with hopes of finding her a suitable husband. However, the scandal of her parents has not been forgotten and everyone is waiting for her to show her true colors; bets have been made to see if she will have affairs like her parents. Midge is also inept at things the ton believes are essential skills, like flirting, dressing and acting like a lady.

Her one helper is her stepbrother, Rick, who is a captain in the Army. While he was in France, she and Rick often wrote and he ended up telling her about a fellow officer named Monty whom Rick admired. At times, Midge would send messages to Monty encouraging him to recover from his injuries. She often hopes of finding someone like Monty to love her.

Monty is none other than the Viscount Mildenhall, Vern, the second son of an Earl. He gains a title when his older brother dies. Monty has never been in favor with his father, partly because he is just the second son and partly because he disagrees with his father about how to treat tenants on the estate and politics. Monty has come home to take his rightful place, to marry and gain an heir. He is resentful and has decided to act like a veritable SOB as an act of revenge on his father. He is actually nice, sensitive and very practical, but he hides it well when in Society.

With all their personal angst and secrets, it is not difficult to understand how these two people who meet under less than promising circumstances could start off their relationship on the wrong foot. Monty doesnít seem like the same man that Midge envisioned in her letters, and Monty has a hard time imagining the Imogen he sees kowtowing to the tonís dictates as the same girl who liked to climb trees and take care of people that he met through her letters. Yet from the beginning and even after their marriage, they have a hard time really seeing the other person. The only time they really connect is in bed. And even then, Monty leaves immediately after, assuming that Midge wonít want to be burdened with his nightmares while Midge assumes that Monty is done with her after his use of her.

I really enjoyed when they started communicating and started getting to know each other. They were passionate, funny and understanding of each other. Yet this never carried over as soon as a new topic or disagreement came up. They always assumed the worst. And at almost 300 pages, this type of plot got old after a while. The author then threw in a subplot about the lost Gypsy brother and that was just a major distraction to the love story.

The Viscount and the Virgin has its good points, and yet it suffers as it progresses. From start to finish it dwindled from a strong 4-heart story to barely a middle-of-the-road Regency historical.

--Shirley Lyons

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