The Earl Next Door by Julia Daniels

EARL
The Earl Next Door by Julia Daniels
Publisher: Heartstrings Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Short Story (90 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Lord Brandon Maxwell is a flawed man. He lives daily with the ugly memories of the death and destruction he witnessed during England’s war with Napolean. He has become a recluse, avoids people as much as he can, knowing anything can trigger the anxiety attacks that debilitate him. His only solace is the controversial column he writes anonymously for his brother’s newspaper, and the occasional glimpse of his enchanting neighbor, Lilliana.

Lilliana Staplehurst is about to be evicted. Having lost her parents in a horrible accident six months earlier, she knows the man set to inherit will be arriving any day to boot her from her home. The only distraction from her woes is her weekly correspondence with a mystery man who writes for the local newspaper. When he suggests they meet, she jumps at the chance to put the egotistical man in his place.

The two neighbors realize quickly they are destined to be together. Although they accept their feelings for one another and allow their love to grow, soon the memories from Maxwell’s past threaten what should be a happily-ever-after. Lilliana will have to be strong enough for both of them, to help him move beyond the past and embrace their future happiness.

They called it nightmares, they worried they were going insane, and they didn’t have a name for it back then like we do now, PTSD. Max fought in the Napoleonic Wars and came back a changed man where the scars are only on the inside. He’s so afraid his demons will scare off any potential bride yet as an earl he’s beholden to produce an heir. What woman of gentle breeding would have him?

This novella focuses on the growing romance between Lord Max and his next door neighbor, Lily. They’d known each other growing up but the hero is much older than the heroine, a huge expanse of eight years. Doesn’t seem like much these days but back then, it’s an age. What I found charming about this story is the gentle dance of courtship when chaperones were diligent, protocols were strictly enforced and saying what was on your mind was strictly restricted. No lady of good breeding would snort, fish and get muddy, spend time alone with a man or say what’s on her mind. The strictures of the time seem stifling as an over-tight corset to my modern thinking. It amazes me to read about all the little subtle flirtations that women had to use to get their point across. What amazes me even more is when a man actually GETS the hidden message. This convoluted means of communication is hazardous as far as I’m concerned. All one has to do is misinterpret one gesture and hopes are dashed, assumptions are easily made and a crisis is born. That drives me nuts. Good thing Max and Lily ‘think’ alike for most of the story; the crux comes from neither of them knowing it. Only through the courtship does the picture get fully painted.

I’m thinking fans of ‘proper’ historical romances might find this a refreshing read. I don’t believe any modernisms sneaked their way in.

The one thing that jarred for me is when Max earnestly, honestly and forthrightly reveals his biggest secret and fear to Lily. I thought that was rather brave and wonderful of him. Then comes the test – and he failed, spectacularly. I was rather astounded. He laid the perfect groundwork, Lily responded just as a loving wife should and bam! Max totally messed up. He’s a guy, he has his pride and in this case it didn’t do him any favors. Thank goodness nature has a way of making silly men smart again, like a biological reset button. The ending was truly a happy ever after on many levels and was completely satisfying. Lily is truly his perfect match.

All in all, The Earl Next Door is a delightful story about an endearing romance between two people who loved each other all along – first as young kids, then as adults. Those are the best kind because they know each other on a deeper level than two strangers meeting and falling in love. I enjoyed meeting Max and Lily and I thought her Aunt Bea a hoot of a secondary character. This is a nice story to spend time with and I recommend it to other fans of historical romances.

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