The Wanton Governess by Barbara Monajem is her second short for Harlequin Historical Undone, and I'm just as taken with it as I was with her first. This is a strong story, that gives me an actual story, flesh and blood characters, a supporting cast (!), and sexy times - all without making me feel like I'm missing out because it is "short."
Pompeia Grant is in a pickle. When she dispatched of her virginity, she made the mistake of choosing the wrong man. Oh, the guy was skilled - but he couldn't keep his big, fat mouth shut. Word gets back to her brother, which means word gets back to her parents - which means she's working as a governess. The problem is that Pompeia is very beautiful. So beautiful that she apparently turns men into cads. In short, she keeps getting fired. Her latest dismissal occurs near Sir James Carling's estate. His sister is a friend, and she's thinking of begging for a night's lodging. Instead she gets roped into playing James' wife to appease their old goat of a grandmother!
James has just returned from America, and is shocked to learn that his siblings have invented a wife for him. He's even more shocked to discover it's Pompeia acting the part. They met years ago - and it was lust at first sight. But James, being a gentleman, never pursued an affair. Well now he's older, wiser, and here's the delectable Pompeia right under his nose. I mean, a guy can only resist so much.
What I liked about this short story is that it felt like a full story. Even factoring in the word count, I felt like I really got to know Pompeia and James. I was also charmed by James' two siblings, their banter with each other, and the farce of keeping the wool over grandmother's eyes. I'm not a huge fan of "love at first sight" style romances, but the author makes it work here, and also more palatable by coupling it with the "reunion/reunited" trope.
James is suitably hero-worthy, with strong Alpha tendencies without being a raging asshole. He's charming, slightly roguish, but also a gentleman. He wants to do the right thing by the heroine, even as he's planning on debauching her. What I liked about Pompeia was the little twist the author gives her character. Yes, she's a fallen woman - but her greatest sin wasn't actually having sex. Oh no. It was admitting that she ::gasp:: liked it. For that reason she thinks she's a wanton. Immoral and improper.
What readers will have to be able to swallow though is the whole Impossibly Beautiful Heroine trope. I mean, apparently just looking at Pompeia turns men into ravenous dogs. Different time, different era, life didn't equal living in a PC world, blah blah blah - but every guy mentioned in this story (OK, not her father or brother) is trying to get underneath her skirts. Hey, boys will be boys - but 99% of the ones Pompeia encounters in Regency Romance Land just have to come on to her? I mean, really? Normally this sort of thing gets on my nerves in a full-length novel, but as a trope for a short story? It worked better for me.
I've read a lot of these Undone stories since Harlequin launched the line - and I enjoy them for what they are - quick, sexy reads. That being said, they aren't all created equal. Some authors seem to handle the constraints better than others. Monajem is now firmly on my "she can make it work" list.
Final Grade = B