Sometimes you just want a book where the ending is never in doubt. You need sweet, frothy, banter-filled plot and dialogue headed exactly where you expect. When I find myself looking for something like this, one of the places I turn is to Regency-set historical romances, the ones without a kidnapping or spies and lurking danger. And Karen Hawkins has provided just such a novel in this latest of the The Duchess Diaries series, How to Capture a Countess.
When Rose Balfour was just sixteen, she managed to get Lord Alton Sinclair alone in a garden. He kissed her, she panicked, and pushed him into a fountain before fleeing. This incident, one that Lord Sin is certain was calculated and intentional, leaves Lord Sin a laughingstock and he vows revenge. But he loses track of the enticing Rose who has been whisked away to forestall the rumors. Six years later, though, still smarting from the mockery and as determined as ever to make Rose pay, he finds her again and discovers to his delight that his aunt is her godmother. When the Duchess of Roxburghe decides to throw a house party, she has ulterior motives that are more than suited by her rapscallion nephew's request that she invite her goddaughter to the party.
Alternately narrated through pages from the Duchess of Roxburghe's diary and an omniscient third person narrator, the motivations and machinations behind so many of the characters' actions are neatly revealed to the reader while remaining cyphers to the other characters. Rose never intended to humiliate Sin. She was simply young and ultimately scared herself with the intensity of her feelings when he kissed her. Sin mistook Rose not for an innocent young girl but an experienced tease and reacted accordingly. Now at Her Grace's house party, they have the opportunity to redress the past even as their awareness of each other grows and blossoms into something far beyond what a mere kiss might spawn.
The tension and banter between Rose and Sin is balanced and pleasing, especially in light of the Duchess' sly behind the scenes manuevering to protect both of them and yet to enable them to recognize their true feelings as they come together to scotch another scandal. Their constant contests and one-upsmanship has an ultimate prize and it's appealing to watch as they come to realize the end prize is the same regardless of who wins each encounter. The cock-ups and misadventures that take place in the course of the house party are good entertainment and go a long way towards establishing Rose and Sin's characters. It is a little incongruous that a man so esteemed by society, wealthy and good looking would in fact harbor such a long-standing grudge over an incident that happened so long ago especially since any resulting gossip would hurt Rose far more than it would hurt Sin given the mores of the time. But the book was fun and delivered exactly what it promised, some steamy sexual tension without recourse to forced danger or improbable plotting, well developed characters whose actions fit their time period, and a charming happily ever after.