His heart is a fortress.
And she’s trespassing!
After losing all he holds dear in a horrific fire, Max Aldersley, Earl of Rivenhall, shuns the world—until he catches Effie Nithercott digging holes on his estate! He banishes the intrepid archaeologist and the unsettled feelings she rouses within him. But she returns even more determined and infuriatingly desirable than before! He wonders just how deep she’s prepared to dig—so far she’ll reach the man beneath his scars?
Click on title below for direct Amazon buy link: Redeeming the Reclusive Earl (Harlequin Historical)
Max Aldersley enjoyed his life as a captain in the Royal Navy, and when lovely Miranda accepted his proposal, he felt that he had it all. A heroic action on his part changed all that, as a fire nearly took his life and ended his naval career. When Max pulls through his injuries, Miranda bluntly tells him that his resulting scars are revolting to her, and she dreads their upcoming marriage. Ever the gentleman, Max releases her from their engagement, and chooses to live in isolation. When Max inherits an earldom from his uncle, he can at least find some solace in riding free across his own land – until he finds a young woman digging on his property.
Effie Nithercott is the daughter of a professor (now deceased) and a competent archaeologist and antiquarian in her own right, though without the official credentials only available to men. When the previous earl was alive, he allowed Effie the freedom to dig anywhere on his property, and she has made some significant finds. Max, however, has no intention of allowing this arrangement to continue and orders Effie off his land. While Effie initially tries to be courteous, Max’s rudeness and refusal to listen to her pleas causes her to barge uninvited into his home, then later continue her excavation in the dead of night, without having the right to do so.
First impressions aren’t always true measures of character, as I initially found Max to be surly and mean, while I thought Effie was pushy and overbearing. It wasn’t long before I came to see how wrong I was. Max was wounded down to his soul by loss upon loss handed to him in the last two years. He sees himself as a monster, and doesn’t want anyone to have to look at him. He hates his own reactions, but he doesn’t know how to change. Effie is passionate about antiquities, but her personal life suffers because people find her odd. She has a photographic memory and is extremely intelligent, and tends to rattle off facts and figures in her conversation, which has put off just about every man who has ever shown an initial interest in her. She’s given up hope of marriage and a family, and foresees her future as a lonely one.
Eventually Max and Effie come to an armed truce. Max finds himself deliberately riding past Effie’s dig site every day, managing to toss a barb or two at her, while intentionally butchering her last name in a most amusing way. Effie only laughs at his verbal darts, and soon Max is even helping her dig, as the two become friends and confidantes. Unlike most men, Max is not put off by Effie’s intelligence, and he actually finds the facts she dishes out to be fascinating. Effie is not repulsed by Max’s scars, as she sees them as a badge of his courage, and, in fact, she is quite attracted to him. Both Effie and Max are so lacking in self confidence, that neither can imagine that the other would have any romantic interest in them. If only they knew that they are burning for the other, even falling in love, yet determined not to show it.
I love this story so much! The development of their relationship from adversaries to friends to lovers is truly delicious. Every encounter between them seems to bring back a little of Max’s confidence, and seeing him again become a self assured and amusing man is heartwarming, as is watching Effie bloom and feel desired as a woman. There are hiccups and obstacles along the way, as well as compromises to be made, but Max and Effie are committed to each other and having a future together. Virginia Heath has outdone herself with this warm, emotional, yet entertaining story. REDEEMING THE RECLUSIVE EARL is a book which touched my heart, and one I unreservedly recommend to all romance lovers. Even the cover is perfect, as it portrays how I think Max would look, scars and all. ~Rose