Other Gayle Callen reviews can be found in the Archives.

 
Surrender to the Earl
by Gayle Callen
(Avon, $7.99, PG) ISBN 006-207607-6
****
It has been years since I have read Gayle Callen and she has emerged as a writer with a clear voice. In this story, her heroine is vulnerable, stubborn, determined and blind, at a time when women had little control. Her hero is strong, stubborn, and a man filled with guilt and the determination to be a better man. They are engaging as individuals and doubly solid as a couple. You won’t go wrong reading this tale.

Audrey Blake is a widow – her husband courted her and married her for her dowry – then promptly left her after her wedding night to buy a commission in the cavalry. He then got killed, leaving her in her father’s household. Audrey did not love her husband, but rather, saw him as a way out. Following a bout with scarlet fever at age seven, Audrey became blind. Her mother treated her as she did her other two children, teaching her all she needed to know and assuring her that she could live a normal life. But her father was embarrassed and upon his wife’s passing, encouraged that Audrey be hidden. He warned her that Blake was not a good man and upon his death and the subsequent miscarriage she suffered, he used her for as his house manager, but little more.

Robert Henslow, the Earl of Knightsbridge, joined the Army to get away from his bully of a father. He was determined to become a better man and thought this experience would teach him to be the man he wanted to be. When a poor decision he and two other officers made led to the deaths of three men, they each decided to return to England and assist the families of those three men. Robert came to see Mrs. Blake, two years following the death of her husband, to offer condolences and to offer assistance. She takes him up on the offer by asking for his help to escape her father’s household for the estate owned by her deceased husband. He takes her away, using a fake engagement as the means.

The story that follows is intriguing. There are many plots and subplots that all meld into one very good tale that I read in one day. Audrey has to rely on her maid, who has also become her best friend. This is a unique but satisfying relationship that sets the stage for Audrey’s acceptance in her new home with a family of servants who have been on their own for a long time. There is the relationship with her sister Blythe who is immature and jealous of Audrey, even as she treats her poorly. There is of course, the romance. And that is the strength of the story. Robert and Audrey are well matched, both with some secrets and both with insecurities. But they become friends, and then find they have passion and finally reach their HEA after much ado.

I started reading this tale with memories of Callen’s previous books. I left the story with a sense that she has truly grown as a writer and I will keep her on my to-be-read list much more readily now. Surrender to the Earl is an excellent way to spend a few hours and I highly recommend it

--Shirley Lyons


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