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Bryson Courtland, Viscount Rainsleigh is everything his father is not -- and he is taken great pains to ensure that he avoids any comparisons with his father, who was, in Bryson's opinion, and to put it politely, the worst version of a human being to walk the earth. Now Bryson needs a wife to gain further acceptance in society -- and he has a criteria: she must be pure and pristine in body and reputation -- a woman above reproach. Bryson believed he had met such a lady when he is introduced to Elizabeth, the niece of the Countess of Banning.
What Bryson doesn't know is that this isn't his first time to meet Lady Elizabeth. Fifteen years ago, Bryson actually rescued Elizabeth from a brothel, where she had been forcibly brought after her parents were murdered in a roadside robbery. It was a moment that changed the course of Elizabeth's life for good: she has devoted her life to saving women and helping them to find new, more respectable work -- and she has devoted her heart to loving (from afar) the man who rescued her, Bryson Courtland.
Elizabeth never thought she would meet Bryson -- she has never made an appearance in society, nor attended any of her aunt's events. And she wasn't in attendance when she met Bryson at her aunt's dinner party -- Bryson had accidentally overheard a conversation Elizabeth had with Stoker, her most-trusted ally in her rescue work. Then Elizabeth's aunt uses the opportunity to force Elizabeth's hand in attending dinner, where Lady Frinfrock proceeds to grill Bryson on his notorious parents.
Bryson isn't a stranger to that sort of scrutiny, and was preparing to politely end the conversation, when Elizabeth stands up and defends him so spectacularly. I have to say, I loved what Elizabeth said at that dinner party -- it's everything that anyone placed in such an awkward situation has thought to say, but never had to courage to do so. But Elizabeth dared -- and showed spine and mettle. And, at that moment, Bryson knew he had found the one he would marry.
Our hero is meticulous and rigid -- a perfectionist to the core. I found myself identifying with Bryson and his obsessive need to plan and schedule everything, including his courtship and marriage. Bryson had envisioned marrying a particular kind of female, and believed that Elizabeth fit the criteria -- but, when Elizabeth revealed her work with the ladies of ill-repute, you could see Bryson struggling to adjust to this unplanned, unforeseen hitches.
But Elizabeth hadn't even revealed her biggest secret -- and the one that would effectively disqualify her from being Bryson's wife. Except, Elizabeth doesn't know what she wants: she has loved and admired Bryson since that night fifteen years ago, and, meeting him and talking to him is a dream-come-true for her. But she understands that her past experience, and her current work aren't considered acceptable in society, and knows that Bryson needs a woman who could help him gain society's acceptance and respect -- and she knows she isn't that lady.
Charis Michaels presents two characters who are so beautifully human -- despite Elizabeth's selfless and passionate work with her charity, she displays a slight hint of personal selfishness when she allows herself to enjoy the fantasy of having Bryson's attentions and affections. Despite Bryson's perfectly-timed, perfectly-calculated life, he hasn't anticipated that the woman he wants doesn't fit the mold of the woman he thinks he needs.
Elizabeth understands what drives Bryson to seek out a purpose: when she lost her parents, she lost her direction in life, and she lost the future that was meant for her. But she carved out a new path for herself, which is, perhaps, more meaningful and worthwhile. Though, sadly, it came at the terrible cost of the loss of her innocence. And, of all people, Bryson should understand what it feels like to be forced into a situation not of your doing -- to be a victim of circumstances. His parents were selfish, hedonistic, thoughtless, and cold -- and Bryson really made sure he would be the exact opposite of his father. What's interesting to see is how well our hero and heroine love each other -- there's so much acceptance and understanding -- and passion. But there's also a sense that they're both holding back: Bryson is constantly worried that he is one social misstep away from being the disgrace his father was, and Elizabeth is afraid to reveal her secret to Bryson -- because she knows how he would react to it.
While there are out-and-out villain in Charis Michaels' debut novel, The Earl Next Door, the greatest enemy of Bryson and Elizabeth are themselves. Bryson needs to make peace with his past -- and realize that society has already accepted him. That The Viscount Immaculate can survive and be a little bit tarnished. And Elizabeth needs to finally share her story with someone -- she has never told the full story to anyone -- not to her aunt, not to Stoker -- and, maybe Bryson may be the person who could help her finally move past the experience of that terrible night.
There's a final bombshell that the author drops in the latter part of the book, and it's something that upends life as Bryson has known it. It's interesting how he deals with it, and equally interesting to see Elizabeth's role as this is revealed.
Charis Michaels is an amazing storyteller, and this is an amazing follow-up to The Earl Next Door.
The Virgin and the Viscount is Book 2 in Charis Michaels' The Bachelor Lords of London series. To find out more about Charis Michaels and her books, click below: