I've been on an Elizabeth Hoyt reread binge lately, sparked off by a post from another reader. This author infuses her stories, especially the first two series, with a magical quality by introducing each chapter with an excerpt from a Grimm--like fairy tale that is just as intriguing and romantic as the main plot.
In this book, frumpy widower Anna Wren, in desperate financial straits, pushes her way into a job as secretary to the boorish Earl of Swartingham. Edward's rude behaviour has scared away several secretaries. But a childhood bout of smallpox, which took the lives of all his family, has left him scarred and sensitive about his appearance. The author has used this theme on several occasions and it's one that appeals to me. I like the thought that appearances don't matter and that love makes us all beautiful.
I found Anna's sad back story, which is only slowly revealed, very touching. For reasons neither MC can help, a life together is impossible. Anna can't have children, and Edward is bound to continue his line. It makes their inability to keep away from each other even more poignant.
The sexual tension and sex scenes are earthy and arousing. I like the way the author writes them with less purple prose and more physicality. On the downside I found the whole masked sex in the brothel thing quite far-fetched. But the hypocrisy of prostitution is addressed well in other ways.
I love Edward's dedication to his duties as a landholder. His ability to become totally absorbed in agrarian papers and lectures, to the point where he has no idea what's going on around him, is very endearing.
The setting is in a country manor and it's nice to be away from the usual regency ballrooms. There are plenty of bucolic secondary characters to flesh out the tale.
I love all three books in this series but IMO it ends on a high with the swoon-worthy Serpent Prince. This is one of the must-read authors of the Historical Romance genre and you should definitely start with her earlier work which is (as is so often the case) her best.