031 - A Notorious Countess Confesses
Updated: Jun 1
Evie is looking to start a new life away from London and its nasty nicknames. She has been left a house in Pennyroyal Green by her late husband and this is just the place to start fresh. News travels fast though, and the town quickly learns of her infamous past but not before she meets the local Vicar. Adam Sylvaine may be a man of God but he's single, handsome, and seems to actually empathize with Evie's situation. While there is an instant attraction, they both need to be on their best behavior, after all, every pair of female eyes is on the Vicar and they're worried about the immoral former courtesan. Can Adam and Evie find a way to be together that does not require one or both of them to run out of town? Today we're reading A Notorious Countess Confesses, which means we are now in the second half of this series by Julie Anne Long! **We know you want to taste these Spoilers!**
Pick up a copy of this week's book, A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long, here!
Check out the portion of JAL's website that we mentioned where she answers questions here.
Want to listen to a certain segment? Here is our outline this week:
0:00 - 06:50: Intro
6:50 - 10:02: Author Facts/Tropes
10:02 - 57:41: Synopsis
57:41 - 59:55: Parlour
59:55 - 1:24:19: General Book Discussion
Our book recommendation today was A Scandal by Any Other Name by Kimberley Bell.
We are now including our synopses as a semi-transcription of the episode in our blog posts. You can learn more about how we compose these by reading this article. As a reminder though, our synopses are FULL of spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk :)
A Notorious Countess Synopsis:
Evie Duggan has fallen on hard times, but she’s certainly fallen on harder in her lifetime. But, newly widowed, she has at least been left a small manor in Pennyroyal Green, and she’s on her way to start her new life there. It will certainly be different from London, but truly, now is an excellent time to be away from there, and away from the terrible rumors and the nasty nickname that the ton has given her - The Black Widow - a spider that Miles Redmond had discovered in America where the females killed the males after mating. A truly hateful and untrue nickname.
As her carriage rolled through Pennyroyal Green, it seems as though the church bells ringing are calling out to her, and although she is not at all a religious sort, decided to attend the sermon. She and her maid Henny find a spot in the too-small pews and do not attract too much attention. It seems as though she is met with a normal level of curiosity and no particular animosity. Phew, she thought, good.
The congregation stirs and comes to life when the vicar walks in.
She could have sworn that every pair of feminine shoulders rose and fell in a sigh when the vicar looked up, a smile, faint by warm, inclusive but impersonal, ready on his face, before he dropped his gaze to his notes. The perfect vicar smile. She’d spent enough time in a theatre to admire stagecraft. She’d spent enough time with men to be cynical about all of them.
But she cannot deny that he is an excellent specimen, he just doesn’t affect her that way. Until he speaks.
Oh. His voice surprised her: a baritone with the depth of a bell and deliciously frayed at the edges, it was like stumbling into a patch of sunlight on a relentlessly gray day. Her eyes closed; the temptation was to bask in it.
And it’s that voice that lulls Evie into eventual slumber - there was something so peaceful about it, and after all, it was still early morning. She slept peacefully all through his sermon on Loving Thy Neighbor, and was ready to make a hasty escape afterward to her carriage, but Henny was much too taken with the handsome vicar, and begged Evie to introduce them. And as Evie can’t really say no to Henny, she relents.
Our vicar, Adam, of course, noticed the new ladies sitting in his congregation. And perhaps it’s his visage, perhaps it’s his voice, or mayhaps it’s the riveting content of his sermons, but never before has he put someone to sleep. So yes, he noticed her.
But his sermon seems to have been well-received, and he braces to receive a barrage of embroidery-works featuring “Love Thy Neighbor” soon.
As the congregation is filing out, Evie introduces herself and Henny to the vicar. He feels that he has heard something about the Countess of Wareham, but he can’t quite place it. He also can’t quite resist a poke at the first person to ever be bored to sleep by one of his sermons.
“Henrietta dipped a graceful curtsy. “Yer sermon was a balm to me soul, Reverend.” “As soothing as a lullaby, some might say,” Adam said pleasantly.
And then the ladies are off to their new home….but unfortunately not for long as one of their carriage horses threw a shoe and they’re forced to stop. They don’t want to lame the horse - money is tight and her servants know it - and the horse is important so they go looking for help.
While Evie is milling about the carriage she spots a young boy. As she loves children she makes some silly faces at him, and causes him to giggle furiously. But then…
“Spiders aren’t pretty,” the boy said.
She was accustomed to small boys and non sequiturs. “Well, I don't know about that. I suspect girl spiders are pretty to boy spiders.”
And they continue talking about girl dogs and boy dogs and girl cows and boy cows, until his mother finds him and puts a decidedly nasty twist on everything.
She clapped her mouth shut when she saw evie. She froze midwalk, stiff-legged as a hunting dog pointing out prey. Then her eyes frosted, and her mouth became a tight, horizontal line. “See, Mama?” Paulie said cheerfully. “She doesn’t look like a spider. She’s pretty. And spiders aren’t.” Oh God. Evie’s breath left her in a painful gust. That hated, hateful nickname. But how would a boy have known unless he’d overheard his mother talking? Which meant his mother had learned it from someone else. Which meant they must know about her after all. So much for her refuge in Pennyroyal Green. So much for a new life here.
So with that, she wheels around and almost runs straight into the vicar! And curses loudly in a Irish accent..calling him a “bloody big….”
Adam is a tease. “Biggggg?” he prompts, so Evie finishes lamely with “vicar.”
They chat - they jest - and end up having a slight misunderstanding when he uses the word “inequity” and she assumes it is in reference to her past. But it was simply a poor choice of words, though neither learns this until much later. Adam also sort of slightly flirts with her, and Evie finds herself blushing profusely - something she hasn’t done in years. She muses that she’s never met a man before that was so contained. Quote
“As though there was something in him, some potential, required control. And whatever it was, whatever he was, pulled at her. The way earth pulled water into it. It felt stronger than she was, and her entire life had depended upon her being stronger than anyone.”
So Evie tries one of her patented defenses - flirting expertly - but Adam buttons up tightly and closes off to her. So they’re both ruffled at this point, but he finally realizes that their horse has a problem, and goes to help, eventually tying his cravat around the hoof to protect it. So then Evie and Henny are on their way again.
Adam continues onward after his chance meeting with Evie on the road to his initial destination - a sick member of his congregation Lady Fennimore. Lady Fennimore is a dragon of a lady who says what’s on her mind and doesn’t really like many people. But she does like Adam and so he usually enjoys their visits. But now he’s in a foul mood from his interaction with Evie which just had rankled him somehow.
A thoroughly baffling, unpleasant woman. Who had gone from sleeping in church to shrieking in what sounded very much like gutter Irish (which had perversely amused him) to prickly and difficult, to flinging flirtation at him - she’d quite alarming sparkled at him - like a soldier hurling boulders with a trebuchet. Despite all of this, two impressions surfaced through the others. And these were the ones that dogged him all the way to Lady Fennimore’s house How he’d first seen her: standing utterly still, two hot pink spots on her cheeks, hand flattened against her rib cage. Then squaring her shoulders, like a pugilist shaking off a blow. Something Maggie Langford had said hurt her.
And then there were her freckles. What might it be like to drag his thumb softly over those pale spots, which, if he knew women, were the bane of her existence, to sooth away whatever hurt had put the hot pink in her cheeks. He’d never had a thought like that in his entire life. Let alone about a woman he disliked.
His visit with Lady Fennimore is an interesting one, she ends up confessing to an affair and a grand love - her daughter Jenny is the product of it - and then gives her not valuable but much loved cross to Adam, asking him to bestow it upon someone one day who needs it. And while Adam is honored, he is also saddened as he realizes that his visits here would soon stop - Lady Fennimore isn’t far from death now.
Evie is settling into her very quiet country house, which is miles and miles away from anything she’s ever known in her life, reading some mail from her siblings. Her scamp of a brother Seamus is writing again for money, and her sister Cora who has had her sixth baby, a girl who she’s named after Evie - Aoife (ee-fah) - her original name. But also saying that her husband Timothy has been testier than usual of late.
We learn that Evie is the oldest of her siblings and has always cared for them. She is troubled by both letters, but the third letter of the pile is the one that gives her the most pause. It’s from an old friend and admirer, Frederick Lord Lisle who misses her and asks if he can visit her in Pennyroyal in a fortnight. Evie isn’t sure what she wants yet, so she puts off a reply.
Because what Evie is realizing is that she wants a chance to create her own history. Quote “To begin again. To decide what she wanted rather than allowing the needs of survival to dictate her life. But damned if she would be bored in the process.”
And in order to do this in Pennyroyal, she realizes that she needs an ally to help her make her way in their society. And in fact, she knows just the perfect one.
Adam returns home from his visit with Lady Fennimore to a lady visitor - but it isn’t who you think! Instead Violet Redmond is waiting in his parlor and ends up transferring the miniature painting of Olivia that she got from Lyon’s puzzle box in book three to his care. To decide if he should give it to Olivia. Violet confirms without saying that it came from Lyon, but won’t give any other details. And after that whopper of responsibility, he heads to the Pig and Thistle for a drink.
It is there he learns more of the Countess and her reputation from Colin and Ian. Colin asks
“What did you think of her?” Colin took a sip of his ale. “Mmm.” He tipped his head back. “Funny, but she reminded me a bit of...oh, a wild bird that needs soothing.” Colin choked on his ale and spluttered. Ian’s hand had frozen on its way to lifting his ale to his mouth.
“What’s the dev-what is the matter with you two? It was just an observation.” “Blooddy lyrical observation. Don’t you know who your...what did you call her? Turtledove? … is?”
And so they tell him of the Black Widow and her reputation. She began as an actress and opera dancer. Everyone vied for her attention. She caused men to fall over balconies, she caused a duel. And eventually a wealthy enough man came along and she became a professional courtesan. And then another wealthier man came along and she moved on from the first man. And then the Earl had come along, won her hand in a card game and she had married him to become the countess. Quote
“In other words, the Countess of Wareham, your ‘wild bird,’ was a ...courtesan, Adam” The word seemed to stretch languidly out on the table in front of them like a nude on a chaise. It was a voluptuous shock.
This is the moment he realizes that saying iniquity to her earlier was in bad form.
But he muses about all the behaviors he had seen in her earlier today. Had she been truly hurt? Was she just a good actress? Or was she just acting the part of a countess? And really, he wonders, what had led her down the paths of her life? What has led her to become a courtesan?
But the Everseas are eying him suspiciously, and Adam knows that he depends on them for his livelihood. And any linking of his name to the countess’s would ruin him.
Upon his return home, there is a package and letter waiting from him. It’s from Evie. It’s a new cravat to replace the one he used for the hoof and a charmingly misspelled letter apologizing for her curtness earlier and inviting him to take tea with her on Tuesday as quote “I understand it is the custom of Pennyroyal Green natives to feed the vicar as often as possible, and when in Rome! I shall endeavor not to bore you.”
Adam is charmed by the letter, the misspellings, the invitation, and the gift, which he knows isn’t particularly appropriate. But he has a duty to dine with his parishioners, so luckily he can use this to accept. However, he thinks quote
She never does anything without a reason, Colin had said. A strategist, his cousins had described her. Who knew how to get what she wanted and had always gotten it. Clearly, she wanted something from him. God help him, he couldn’t wait to find out what it was.
When Adam arrives next Tuesday for Tea, Evie finds herself a bit awestruck again, as quote “all of her faculties seemed preoccupied with just seeing him.”
They exchange pleasantries and pour drinks and the conversation dwindles awkwardly. So Adam opens again by saying that she has the distinction of being the first to ever fall asleep to one of his sermons, to which she replies flirtatiously “Oh, I don’t doubt it, Reverend. I expect none of the women would want to miss a moment of gazing upon you.” His silence was so instant and palpable, she nearly blinked. It was like slamming a door in a tinker’s face.
So Evie can’t seem to ruffle him, and he doesn’t seem to possess any vanity. And so, grasping herself to find a way back into conversation, she ends up being truthful, apologizing and slipping that it was his voice that did her in. And she admits she likes his voice. Adam doesn’t reply, but quote “And then one of those smiles of his appeared, so slowly it bordered on the sultry, which gave her time to experience it fully. And to lose her breath before she could brace herself.”
The conversation takes a turn again, and they lapse into silence after two double entendres are used - “daring” and “wild abandon” - and so Evie is forced into honesty once again.
“There were two before I was married, Reverend Sylvaine.” “I beg your pardon?” “Two. Men,” she said slowly. “Only two. If you didn’t know before I’m certain by now you’ve been briefed about my past and I thought it best to acknowledge it straight away, otherwise it will hover always on the periphery of our conversation.”
But Adam isn’t too shocked by this - and in fact informs her that she’s only one of the many colorful people who live in Pennyroyal Green. He isn’t here to judge. He also lets her know that he isn’t here to play games.
“Do you know why I liked it when you said ‘bloody?’ Because it seemed sincere.” “I’m sorry to hear it. It was me at my worst.” He made an impatient noise. “It was you being truthful. I prefer you to be who you are And you should know that I very much dislike being steered Lady Wareham.”
So they move on to the real reason she invited him here - and she starts with a confession quote “I should like to have friends.”
Evie tells him she doesn’t have any anymore - none that aren’t of the fair weather variety. She’s ever so sorry that her husband died - and describes the moment when he keeled over into his eggs and she cleaned his face off while the maids shrieked. And now that he’s died, she’s alone again. And after growing up with so many brothers and sisters in Ireland, she’s not good at being alone.
And now, Evie has heard that there’s a Pennyroyal Green Lady’s Society. And she’d like to be part of that.
Adam knows that this will be a huge mountain to climb - plus, is she sure they are what they want? And these are his people, what has she done, other than all the scandalous things that he knows about from her past. Why should he trust her in this matter?
Evie replies “I know it all sounds very damning, Reverend. But it’s easy to draw conclusions from things you hear. It may surprise you that I’ve never had the opportunity to be reckless. That the choices I made were not a product of whimsy or weak moral fiber.”
And finally she supplies “I just...I want an opportunity to be a friend. To begin again. To be...who I am.”
And though he knows that she is a talented actress, and though he knows that she is playing to what he said earlier, he decides she deserves a chance and agrees to help.
The first “outing” shall we say is a charity auction for baked goods by the ladies of Pennyroyal. Evie has brought some ginger cakes, and of course, when they come up, all the wives whisper and refuse to let their husbands bid. Adam gets extremely angry and ends up bidding five whole pounds for them. This causes quite a stir as you can imagine.
Then later, Mrs. Margaret Langford, Paulie’s mother who had insulted her before’s tea cakes come up for bidding - and Mr. Langford starts the heckling calling them akin to rocks. So of course, Evie comes to the rescue and starts the bidding off at two pounds. Quote
“Although…” she mused, raising her voice, “who can put a price on the loving labor the women of this fine town put in dave after day? All in an attempt to feed their families, to keep them healthy and happy. Three pounds,” she said firmly as if she’d reconsidered their value.
And this starts the ladies in the audience off - they continue to bid higher in appreciation for their fellow lady. Evie does finally win it with a ten pound bid, and also buys herself a more receptive introduction.
So Adam formally introduces her to the leader of the society, who she’ll have to continue to win over. Mrs. Sneath will definitely be the most difficult, but Evie is herself - and admits that she has a lot of knowledge in the world of men, and should like to share that with the ladies of Pennyroyal for quote “They should never allow men to treat them like anything other than queens. If they’d like to know how to accomplish this, I’d be delighted to share what I know about men.”
Mrs. Sneath is shocked of course, but agrees to convey this to the ladies - and returns with Mrs. Langford and two young women, Misses Amy Pitney and Josephine Charing.
In fact, the ladies have discussed it, and to be able to better determine if she’s a good fit for the society, would she join them to experience some of the work they do?
“Ah. So some sort of test was imminent, it seemed. So be it. Evie gave them a regal, neutral smile. “A sound plan.” “We should like you to join us at the O’Flaherty house tomorrow.” “I’d love to,” she said immediately, even though she hadn’t the faintest idea of what that meant and even as she thought she heard the vicar suck in a breath.
But Evie has made the first step. And tomorrow, a new challenge awaits!
That evening, Adam is treated to a visit from Colin, who’s come to raise his eyebrows about the 5 pound purchase and his very public approval of Evie. And while Adam tries to pass it off as just helping out a parishioner, Colin knows better. And he’s worried about Adam, he says. But he says more too quote
“And Evie Duggan...how shall I put this? It’s as though….you’re fencing with a foil and she’s fencing with a saber. You’re in two very different classes my friend.”
Adam of course is quite miffed to be chastised by Colin of all people, but he gets the warning. He doesn’t like it, but he gets the message from their conversation.
The next day Evie finds herself in the carriage with Mrs. Sneath and the Misses Pitney and Charing on their way to the O’Flaherty home. Only, once they arrive, it seems that since the other three ladies have all tried their hands at helping the O’Flahertys, won’t Evie have a go? They’ll be back in a few hours time to see how she fares. Ta-ta!
So Evie squares her shoulders and approaches the loud, screeching house with a smile and determination. This is actually in her wheelhouse. She’s learned that there are 6 children and that the Mr. is rarely seen, and if he is seen it’s usually at the pub. Oh, and they have a large dog, who makes herself known by galumphing into Evie before she makes it to the door, knocking her down and getting muddy paw prints all over her.
But luckily the dog is friendly and so she enters the house and assesses the situation.
Mary O’Flaherty is exhausted, there is much screaming from many of the children, the dog is barking, and the house is grimy. But Evie isn’t put off by this - no - she knows this very well from her own childhood and knows exactly how to start. She takes two fingers to her mouth and issues a loud whistle!
Once the children stop moving, she notices something. They’re all wearing what appears to be crude swords and admirals hats folded from old sections of a broadsheet, plus they’d tied up one of their brothers with twine to the settee. But Evie has been a sibling and an actress, so she’s ready for this role.
“I’ll have your attention!” Evie snapped out sharply. “Right this instant!” They whirled on her, surprised, and froze. Before they could rebel or stir or squeak, she demanded in the frostiest, most stentorian, most intimidatingly aristocratic voice she could muster, the kind that carries to the back of theatres: “I’d like to speak to the captain of you children at once.”
“But...we’ve no captain,” said one of the boys. Sounding worried. “No captain?” She advanced into the room and took a dark, frowning look around. “No captain? We must remedy that at once. Quickly: Which one of you is the oldest? Tell me now!”
And so Captain Katherine is named, a young girl who reminds Evie too much of herself. Evie bestows upon Katherine her St. Christopher’s medal, calling it the captain’s medal and telling her it will give her luck and keep her safe. But a captain has responsibilities!
“Now, the captain’s job is to rally the troops to make sure the ship is fit to sail and protected against pirates and marauders at all times, as well as to protect the babies in your care. The HMS O’Flaherty must be spotless, mind you. From floor to ceiling. And so must the proud mates who sail her. How else will you properly serve your liege mother. For she is your commander, and you sail at her pleasure.”
She gestured to Mary O'Flaherty who’d taken a seat in the rocking chair, clutching the baby, watching all of this with dazed wonder. “Now I shall appoint the ship’s officers and assign duties. But it will be up to you and your queen to make sure they’re done well and done often. First: Untie your brother at once! You are a crew now, and you will look after each other and protect each other, not tie each other up. And for your first command as a crew: Fetch me a pail of water, boys!”
Hours later, Adam arrives to see Mrs. Sneath and the ladies hovering on the walk of the O'Flahertys because Evie hasn’t come out yet, and also…..there’s no screaming and they’re quite unnerved. So Adam, concerned, rushes into the house to see what is going on. And certainly is shocked by what he sees:
“The windows were flung open; the room was filled with light and air circulated friskily. The faded rug had clearly been taken out, beaten within an inch of its life, and straightened nicely, the dishes had been collected and scrubbed and stacked, the hearth had been swept, the furniture righted, and the youngest girl was wielding a broom in the other part of the room, sending up luxurious clouds of dust. Every last one of them appeared to be tiptoeing as they went, and not one of them so much as hummed. Mrs. O’Flaherty was also asleep in her chair, mouth wide open, snoring softly; the doddler was asleep in his mother’s lap, thumb inserted into his mouth. It wasn’t until he was deeper into the room that he saw Eve: she was standing near the window wearing a paper admiral's hat. She appeared to have some sort of rag pinned around her dress, a makeshift apron, and she was holding the baby in a crook of one arm.
Adam is, of course, shocked at the whole situation and quite taken with Evie’s maternal moment. And even more shocked when the children bow to him and continue on with their work. Evie explains that she grew up in a brood of eight and she was the oldest - so this is basically an old hat for her. And later as they grew, she had become the sole parent...and she still looks after them today.
And so Adam goes to inform the ladies that it’s safe to enter. They ask - but did Evie survive? And he can’t help but reply with a bit of theatre
“He paused in thought for dramatic effect. Perhaps Lady Wareham’s influence was rubbing off on him. “Mrs. Sneath, I’ve provided a lost soul for you to reform. Now, do you recall how you’d once hoped to witness a miracle?” “Before I die, it’s my fondest hope, Vicar.” “Go inside. I think you’ll find your prayers have been answered.”
That evening after her success, Evie arrives home to two disturbing letters from Seamus and Cora. Cora’s husband hasn’t come home for two nights, and Seamus has met another lady who seems to have swept him off his feet again - and he needs more money. So there’s more for her to worry about now.
And later that week, the ladies begin to take Evie up on her offer to help them with men. Miss Charing visits Evie to ask how to catch the vicar’s eye. Evie, ever the diplomat, tells her that the fluttery feeling that she gets when thinking about the vicar - you know, how she gets all tongue tied around him? Well, is there any young gentleman who acts that way around her? Because if the vicar isn’t acting as such, perhaps she should move her attentions to that young man, as he may be more deserving. But just a thought…..and as soon as Miss Charing leaves, Miss Pitney arrives with similar questions. She likes the vicar of course, but has a suitor right now anyway, however, she’s been in love with a young man who has his eye on Miss Charing...so what should she do? And how does she charm this exceedingly handsome suitor of hers? Well, Evie dispatches sound advice once more and Miss Pitney leaves happily. And from these meetings, Evie realizes that Miss Pitney is quite a deal sharper than most would give her credit for.
And finally, once Miss Pitney has left, another guest pops out from hiding in her bushes - Adam - hiding from Miss Pitney departing. He’s brought Evie a book of Greek myths (as he had previously related the O'Flahertys to Hercules Nemean Lion) and finds out that her next task is visiting Lady Fennimore (which he relates to the Augean Stables task).
However, then we have a very convenient scratch that is noticed from his dive in the shrubbery, so we simply MUST come inside and doctor the cut so it doesn’t ruin the shirt immediately! And this leads to a physical and emotional closeness as they are TOUCHING but also discussing more of Evie’s past taking care of her siblings, and Adams trials of being a vicar - all the births and deaths he oversees. But then Adam asks an unexpected question: “Lady Wareham? Why two?”
And while shocked, she feels compelled to answer, and supplies that she needed the money to take care of her family. But did he mean quote “Why those two men or why wasn’t I a respectable seamstress or housemaid - or a flower girl instead?” “Both.” he replies.
“I hadn’t the skills for the first, and we would have starved if I were the second.”
The men is a more complicated answer, but it boils down to her brother Seamus being in debt to one of them….that is how it started. And after that, a richer fellow had come along, and then her husband. And while many feel this is a horrifying scenario, she doesn’t pity her situation - look at Mary O’Flaherty’s situation with a drunk husband for example. She preferred survival quote “my own and my family’s, to near-certain death on the streets.”
Adam ponders for a while finally saying, “Sometimes the only choices we have, even the ones made out of love, isolate us.”
And at this Evie is shocked - he actually understands - but she understands too because she realizes that he feels the same way. He is lonely as well. And then Adam supplies:
“Two.” he said softly. Deliberately as laying down a chess piece. “Two is my number as well, Lady Wareham.”
The air fairly sizzles after this comment, and she can’t help but ask how long it’s been. But Adam saves them both as he says he has another parishioner to visit.
Unfortunately the town gossips see Adam on his way home from Evie’s, and because her manor is the only one down that road, they make some assumptions as to what has transpired.
Next Evie has her visit to Lady Fennimore’s house, which, of course, goes quite well as Lady Fennimore truly appreciates Evie’s candor. She likes her so much she requests her again.
Our next scene is the Assembly which is being held at the Eversea’s manor in the ballroom. Evie has been invited but doesn’t expect to dance. Two important things happen at this dance:
Adam loses his resistance and dances a waltz with Evie, the whole town watches mouths agape as they can seeeeeeeee the chemistry.
Amy Pitney’s suitor turns out to be Lord Haynesworth - an old friend of Evie’s husband’s who has always wanted Evie and insists she dance with him for old times sake, and during so propositions her again. She says no way and also begs him to not marry Amy. But he likes her well enough and also she has lots of money so she’ll suit. Evie is devastated because she likes Amy and knows she will be dismally unhappy married to this ogre. But Haynesworth threatens Evie not to make a hash of it - besides, does she really think Miss Pitney will believe her over him? Of course, Amy already senses the tension between them and is not happy.
The next day Adam is going to the O'Flaherty's to help with some repairs and is happy knowing he will see Evie there. He gets a drop in from Ian Eversea who lets him know that Mr. O’Flaherty was seen at the Pig & Thistle just before, so Adam readies to leave earlier. Though he does ask Ian if he knows Lord Haynesworth, and Ian hesitatingly supplies that there’s a barrister who might have some info on him nearby.
Evie also receives news that same morning - from her sister Cora. Her husband has been gone a week now. So she sets off to the O’Flaherty’s a bit distracted. When she arrives she realizes something is wrong as she doesn’t hear any children at all. Instead, she hears Mr. O’Flaherty yelling, and enters quietly unnoticed to see the children cowering in the corner. But then he raises his hand at Mary and Eve shrieks and flies at him - but Adam is only a few steps behind her and gets in the middle. He successfully removes Mr. O’Flaherty from the house and threatens him to never return. The children celebrate - Katherine KNEW the St. Christopher medal would keep them safe from him! - but Evie is overcome by the whole experience, so she goes outside to gather herself near a large oak tree and is followed closely by Adam.
They talk about her father who was also a drunk and hit their mother mostly, and they talk about his father who was also a bit of an angry brute. Quote
He’d never said these things aloud to another soul. He wasn't quite certain he’d drawn these conclusions quite this clearly before this moment. But he wanted to give something of himself to her. Even as he knew these exchanges of confidence bound them ever closer together, like a cat’s cradle, even as he knew they simultaneously unraveled each other.
And from that touching moment we move to another, because Adam decides to give Evie Lady Fennimore’s cross. And as he puts it around her neck….he can’t resist.
He watched, as if in a dream as his mouth lowered. And first just his breath stirred the fine dark hair. And then his lips, at last, were against her skin. He pressed slowly, lightly, a kiss there. Her breath hitched. Half sign, half moan, the most wholly erotic sound he’d ever heard in his life.
They’re finally brought out of the moment by Molly the dog barking, and good thing to as the ladies of the society are arriving….of course, they do notice how close the two had been standing, and they also quickly notice the cross.
But Evie is in a bit of a dreamstate from the moment under the oak, and fails to notice any of the coldness or distance from the other ladies as they help with the children. Such is her bliss that she foolishly asks Amy to take a walk with her, intending to tell her the truth about Haynesworth. However, she’s too late, because Haynesworth has prepared Amy, telling her that Evie propositioned him and that she should expect Evie to say it was the other way around. Amy lashes back viciously and Evie realizes that she may have lost this round.
But Amy isn’t done, for when the vicar waves at them she shoots back with “You do know that the entire town will shun the vicar if he takes up with you, Lady Wareham. And it will be the ruination of him.” Evie’s voice shook with the effort to control her temper. “Consider that he gave the cross to me because he thought I might have need of the comfort, Miss Pitney. And consider that a good man recognizes the good in others. Consider that he views me as a friend, and only that.” Amy turned back to her, and said with weary incredulity, “Oh, for heaven’s sake. At least do me the honor of assuming I’m not stupid. I may be plain, Lady Wareham. But I’m not blind. And neither is anyone else in this town.” BURNNN
And in fact, the shunning commences immediately. The church is very empty on Sunday, all the ladies and their families absent (except Mrs. Sneath, who is obviously there as a statement). Evie sits in shock in the pews, and Adam somehow delivers his sermon. Colin gives him an “I told you so” look from the front row. His uncle Jacob tells him to fix whatever caused it.
And later, at his scheduled meeting to join the ladies to discuss the Winter Ball - the ladies give their ultimatum - “You are a very good man, Reverend Sylvaine, but sometimes merely setting an example of goodness is not enough. And while the Countess of Wareham has undeniably been remarkably helpful with the O’Flahertys, based on some new information we have obtained, we nevertheless believe we have cause to curtail her association with the committee.” And she proceeds to speak about Lord Haynesworth, Evie’s “advances” on him, and her attempt to disparage him with Miss Pitney. And no, while they haven’t discussed their concerns directly with the countess, they feel she’ll know their decision eminently. Plus they do a bunch of other snarky bible lady stuff stitching proverbs about sin and lust on pillows for him, which really pisses him off. So he leaves as gracefully as he can, fuming.
Before he leaves he offers one word of advice to Miss Putney - that she should ask Haynesworth if he knows of a man named Bartholomew Tolliver.
The next time she sees him, Amy does ask. His answer is just smooth enough to not prompt further discussion, but she decides to have her father look into this man anyway.
The winter ball arrives and Evie’s been shunned by now. However, she dresses in silk and goes because she wants to see Adam.
Amy Pitney is at the ball calling it off with Haynesworth, because her father learned that Tolliver was holding debts of Haynesworth and he intended to use her dowry to pay it off. And she finally realizes that Haynesworth is a skeeze.
Haynesworth doesn’t leave the ball but stays to cause trouble. He starts to make lurid comments about Evie to Adam, and Adam snaps, furious about Haynesworth starting rumors about Evie propositioning him. Things escalate until Adam straight out punches Haynesworth in the face and insists he tell the truth in front of everyone. But even though this astonishing scene has transpired Adam knows he’s sunk. So he hurriedly makes his exit.
Evie catches up with him, but he realizes that he’s gone too far, and tells her that they probably should never see each other again, because he is the vicar, and he just struck a man in the face. Evie says Quote
“It was...glorious. He deserved it.” “It was shameful. And I realized, standing there that I would have enjoyed hurting him even more. The ass. It solved nothing and I feel like hell. I should apologize to every person in the room. That’s not who I am. I don’t know who I am anymore.” “I would wager everything they’ve already forgiven you. They’ll likely erect a monument to the event in the square.” “They might forgive me once.” The implication being that since she was controversy incarnate, it was bound to happen again.
And Adam is forgiven promptly, as Evie has predicted. Evie did not fare as well - she had officially been cut. But Evie can’t seem to stop trying to have a friendship with Adam over the next week or so until finally he sends her a note back to her missives reading ‘Please stop.’
Around this time Adam also gives the miniature back to Olivia, and she admits out loud for the first time that he’s aware that she loved Lyon.
The evening Evie receives the note, she realizes that Henny’s recent sniffles have turned into something much worse, and her dear friend is quite unwell. When Henny descends into fever Evie sends a footman for the doctor.
However, the doctor, Amy Pitney’s father, has just gone out to a mother in labor. But luckily Adam is there having dinner with the family, and when he hears of the situation he rushes out to Eve’s house.
He finds Eve in a state of panic and Henny in a very bad way. He finally coaxes Evie to sleep a bit while he sits with her. She does and Adam sits with her and prays and prays. And by some miracle, or by a fever that had run its course, the fever finally breaks in the wee hours of the morning.
And when Adam emerges from his vigil and Evie awakens, the time apart, the dim lighting, the lack of sleep….well, whatever the magical combination, it leads to honesty...which leads to a kiss of Adams instigation.
And that kiss leads into encounter number one, where they get to it pretty quickly after two hundred pages of wanting, but have a pretty exquisite coupling.
Afterwards though, things get awkward, and Adam takes his leave. Evie is especially swept up with emotion from the event, and has started guarding her heart because she never wanted to be at the mercy of any man.
That very same day, we get some more complications into the story! Frederick, Lord Lisle has come for a visit, and Evie isn’t sure what to think. He is a kind gentleman with a good spirit and sense of humor. And she knows he is likely to want to make her life better in some way. Her tryst with Adam, which she knows will entangle her heart, weighs heavily upon her, and she’s indecisive as to what she wants. But regardless, he is here and she will be a good hostess.
Adam is feeling quite jubilant after his night with Evie, grinning like a schoolboy and quite wrapped up in the idea of her. He just knows he needs to see her again after their night together, so he grabs the wildflowers in the vase in the parlor of his home and sets off to her house.
Meanwhile, Frederick has arrived at Evie’s and they’re making pleasantries and exchanging minor flirtations in her parlor. She infers that her life is much duller here in the country than it was in London, and Frederick is inclined to believe her….that is, until a very handsome visitor arrives with a bouquet of wildflowers. Freddy, being who he is, can’t help himself.
“The vicar?” Freddy said on an amused hush. “Have you found religion, my dear? I didn’t think things were as bad as all that. Or have you been very bad, and he’s here to chastise you?”
Suffice it to say, neither Freddy nor Adam like each other very much when they do meet. Adam is jealous, and Freddy can’t help but keep poking the bear and making things worse, for he delights in these sorts of games. In fact, he invites Adam to join them for an early supper….and he accepts.
Adam remembers that Frederick was the man who had lost the right to marry Evie in the card game, and he just can’t back down. Supper is a tense affair full of innuendos and terse comments slung across the table at such a rate and volume that dinner much resembled a game of chess.
But finally, Frederick makes one comment too far, and Adam realizes that he is overdue to leave. Quote
Frederick smiled slowly, enjoying this. “I admit it’s been too long since I’ve seen her, and I’ve never seen her looking lovelier. So fresh...so deceptively innocent. And I must compliment the necklace, Evie - how it adds that necessary flare of innocence. But she’s so artful about appearing to be whatever she’d like to be. A talent all actresses share.”
Evie walks him to the door, and finally has a moment to converse privately with him since their time together the night before.
“Adam…” she hissed. “What in God’s name … What on earth makes you think you have the right to-” He halted abruptly then turned, with a finger to his lips. She fell silent instantly. They stared at each other for a moment. And then he leaned down slowly, deliberately, and whispered in her ear: “I hope you took the time to wash the scent of me off your body, my lady, before you rode him.”
Not cool, Adam, not cool. And of course, Evie is beyond furious and beyond hurt. She reaches to slap him, but he catches her hand in midair and tells her “Slapping me would be redundant, Eve.” And then he dropped her arm as if he were dropping the carcass of a snake and walked away.
When Eve returns to the dinner table, she tells Freddy she wants him to leave. He sincerely apologizes and asks her to listen to just one thing he has for her - he wants to marry her. To have her join him in London has his wife. She’ll not want for anything. Will she think about it at least, for a fortnight?
Evie isn’t in the kind of position not to think about it. So she agrees to do so, and Freddy takes his leave.
Later that evening, after an Exhausting Emotional Day, Evie is trying to calm down when she notices a figure in her garden that gives her a start. But it is, in fact, Adam, who pauses at her gate and stays there for a long time. So she goes out.
“I’m not really lurking,” he said by way of greeting, finally. “Just experiencing a little….indecision.”
But then he admits quote “I behaved horribly. I should like to apologize.” “Very well. Go right ahead.” “I apologize.” “I’m bowled over by your conviction.” He took a breath. Released it. “I...hadn’t the right. It was unlike me.” “How do you know if it’s unlike you? Have you much experience playing the jealous swain, then, Adam?” “None,” he said evenly.
And the apology continues in the form of an Honest Conversation, where they find a truce. And then Evie asks what she really wanted to know, why he is here, but the answer shocks her. “Lady Fennimore died tonight.”
An epiphany broke over her like a wave. Evie had been courted by kings and pursued by princes; she’d married an earl who’d won her hand in an infamous card game. And now...all of it, all of them, the men and their courtships and the flowers and the jewels and the duels, suddenly seemed like...so much Punch and Judy. Like little boys at their games. She suspected she looked upon greatness for the first time in the form of a dusty, weary, rueful vicar, who did things like hold the hand of an old woman as she breathed her last breath and throw his fist into the jaw of a man who slurred her questionable honor and come in the dead of night to sit by the bed of her maid.
Awe and a terrible, beautiful fear muted Eve.
They embrace for comfort, and the embrace leads to a kiss, and the kiss leads to encounter number two, which is just as explosive a coupling as the first.
Afterwards she tells him, needs him to believe her, that she’s never slept with Freddy or Haynesworth. Adam insists that actually, it doesn't matter. He does believe her, but even if she had, he would have found a way to her anyway. They realize without saying it that they love each other. But somehow, that doesn’t matter either, because there really isn’t a way for them to be together.
The next morning, Evie tells Adam that she’s going to London in a fortnight for good. Pennyroyal will never accept her, and they are so lucky to have him. And he deserves a chance to be happy. Adam doesn’t want to accept this fate, but Evie insists, and they do part.
Time passes, and it’s time for Evie to leave for London. Henny has them all packed, but as they see the church on their way out of town, Henny insists that they stop to pay their respects one last time, and show those Pennyroyal binnies what she’s made of. They arrive late, after Adam has just begun his sermon. Henny nods to him verrry subtly.
And Adam breathes a sigh of relief, and crumples his sermon into a ball and throws it away over his shoulder, shocking his congregation.
And then he begins:
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.” A few gasps erupted. His voice rang out, bold, clear. It was safe to say everyone was awake now. “Evie Duggan...You are the seal upon my heart. You are the fire and flame that warms me, heals me, burns me. You are the river that cools me and carries me. I love you. And love may be as strong as death, but you...I know now you are my life. Ant thought I wish I could have protected you and kept you safe from some of the storms of your life, I find I cannot regret any part of your past. For it has made you who you are. Loyal, passionate, brave, kind, remarkable. You need repent nothing.” The last word fell like a gavel. Not a single person moved or breathed. There are those who think good is a pastime, to engage in like embroidery or target shooting. There are those who think beauty is a thing of surface and forget it’s really of the soul. But good is something that you are, not something that you do. And by that definition, I stand before you today and declare that Evie Duggan is one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.”
And then Mrs. Sneath decides to interrupt this lovely speech to apologize and admit she and the ladies had the wrong of it, which is nice, but definitely throws off the groove. Amy and Josephine also get up and quote some scripture as way of apology.
And before Adam can pick back up, the church door opens and Evie’s brother Seamus comes in with her sister Cora and all her family! Adam had sent for them for Evie, who is more than overjoyed and relieved to see them.
However, there’s still one important thing left to do - which is for Adam to ask Eve to marry him. Which he does, very earnestly, very eloquently, in front of everyone. And she accepts.
The epilogue is short, and has an update on every character we’ve read about - the townsfolk accepted Evie, Mr. O'Flaherty was never seen in Pennyroyal again, Seamus Duggan was a handsome fellow who quickly captivated the bereft hearts once the vicar was wed, and Cora and Mrs. O’Flaherty became fast friends. Also, Olivia was seen in Lord Lansdowne’s company a lot. And Adam and Eve lived happily ever after!