CBR15Passport Genre Romance
I knew when I saw the “genre” category on the CBR15Passport that I wanted to have romance in there. It’s a genre that I feel like I have overlooked, even though I did start CBR15 with a delightful collection of Georgette Heyer stories. It occurred to me that I have been following Courtney Milan on Twitter even though I’d never read any of her books, so I put out a call on the CBR Facebook page for suggestions on where to begin with Milan’s work. I received immediate responses from quite a few people, and the novella The Governess Affair was the winner. It is the first story Milan published, it is the start of a series that contains several well loved novels, and apparently Milan herself recommends it as a starting point. My fellow Cannonballers did not steer me wrong. This novella contains a lot of interesting period detail and characters who find themselves in the unique position to take risks and forge their own paths.
The story takes place in 1835 London and features two characters who live along the edges of the upper class. Hugo Marshall is the son of a coal miner. Hugo had success as a pugilist and now serves as the right hand man to the Duke of Clermont. He isn’t “security” for the Duke, but rather a financial manager trying to help the Duke get out of debt and increase his own wealth. Hugo, aka The Wolf of Clermont, does not get paid for his services, at least not yet. Rather than work for a salary, Hugo promises to help the Duke out of his financial predicament in return for a cut of whatever profit there is at the end of his service. Hugo is known for his ruthlessness; instead of threatening physical harm, he learns the secrets of the men who own the Duke’s debts and threatens to reveal them and ruin the men unless they agree to more favorable terms. Hugo also tries to get the Duke to change his profligate ways. In addition to a gambling problem, the Duke is a womanizer. Hugo had hoped that an advantageous marriage would be the answer to their prayers. Indeed, the Duke’s new wife is quite wealthy, but she has left the Duke after learning of his infidelity. Hugo is trying to get the Duke to apologize to his wife and get back in her good graces when another problem lands, almost literally, on their doorstep.
Serena Barton is a young woman who had been employed as a governess. She seats herself on a bench outside the Duke’s home with the aim of forcing the man to do what is right and just by her. The Duke tells Hugo a story about Serena, that it’s a misunderstanding over employment, but Hugo decides to investigate for himself. Serena is aware of the existence of the Wolf of Clermont but does not recognize that that is Hugo. He strikes her as a man trying to get her story so as to spread the gossip amongst the servants and she is having none of it. Hugo finds it difficult to see Serena as an enemy, and he thinks that offering her a lump sum of money and a good reference for another job should appease her and get her out of the way, but Serena categorically refuses to play ball. When Hugo learns the truth about the history between Serena and the Duke, he finds himself angry with the Duke, sympathetic toward Serena, and impressed with her conviction. He also finds himself falling in love with her, while Serena, even though she now knows with whom she is dealing, can’t help but think Hugo might actually be “safe.”
The scenes between Serena and Hugo are cleverly conceived and well written. Whether they are engaged in verbal battle or a romantic encounter, theirs is an appealing relationship of equals, a relationship rooted in respect for each other. Even more interesting for me was that the main obstacle to their relationship is not some outside force like society’s disapprobation or a lack of wealth, but rather their own personal traumas and the desire for justice. They want their abusers to admit or be shown to be wrong. I was not expecting that from a romance, and it was a welcome surprise. I enjoyed The Governess Affair and will most likely continue reading Courtney Milan in the future. Thanks to my fellow Cannonballers for the recommendation!