Reforming Lord Ragsdale
A solid and precious book by Carla Kelly, "Reforming Lord Ragsdale" was a book where romance was slow burn; where you couldn't but end up loving the characters. This was one of Ms. Kelly's earlier publications; shorter than some of her other books but the story was engaging, as were the characters. It was amazing to see how easily two people with enough flaws and suspicion about one-another, could fall in love, just like that. John Staples, Lord Ragsdale and Emma Costello, indeed lived poles apart in everything.
But that was only in the beginning...
Lazy and richer than Croesus, Lord Ragsdale was living a dissolute life of a bored man-about-town, who had nothing better to do than spending time gambling and drinking. John had the same routine every day, for years. However, recently, he had come to realize that he had no notion of what to do with his life, which was a mess. His secretary robbed him, got caught and now awaiting transportation to Australia whiles his estates and tenants suffers the brunt of severe mismanagement. Hell, no one even answered his correspondence, his table overflowing with them! John's widowed mother wanted him to change his ways, marry and settle down. Open up the nursery for the next generations of Staples children. However, John had no interest... in anything to be precise. As things were, Lord Ragsdale was urgently in need of reformation. Pronto!
And as luck would have it, Emma, an Irish servant to John's currently visiting American cousins, had just arrived at the shores of England. She had no love, or anything remotely called liking, for the English. And why would she? She lost her whole family, thanks to them, in a horrible incident many years ago. We later get to learn how it ruined her life forever, and the guilt that she was drowning in because she somehow deemed it was her fault to begin with. Later, Emma somehow managed to get in an America-bound ship and became an indentured servant.
When she stepped out of that ship, Emma hardly thought her luck would change, let alone her life, so drastically, because of one lazy, good-for-nothing, English lord. But then, fate played its part and after some debacle with one of the spendthrift cousins, Emma finds herself indentured to John Staples instead. In one fell swoop, Emma's life completely changed. She was grasping at straws as to how to repay this debt when, one night, drunk as a skunk, John solves her dilemma by asking her to 'reform him' before passing out. That gave Emma an idea-seemingly impossible but not entirely unachievable. She will reform the rascal Lord Ragsdale so well that he'd soon be a gentleman to envy, married and settled down! She'd make it happen, or die trying!!
As Emma began working as John's secretary-the man needed one as urgently as his reformation-she begins to get to know him better. John was a military man, fought in the war which left him partially blind. That too had a tragic tale. His father died at the hands of the Irish rebels. John was extremely close to his father. And it was the same day he also lost one of his eyes. He also had guilt, of not being able to do anything to save his father, as he was dragged away only to be slaughtered in front of him. John was too drowning, and this was his only way of coping with that guilt, not to mention the obvious PTSD. But Emma understood, even if she didn't like him much for being an Englishman.
Soon the dynamics of their relationship began changing too. It wasn't love or lust, but pure affection. John quite obviously liked Emma, no matter his extreme dislike of the Irish. He saw her potentials, her brilliance in everything she did. He admired her, which soon grew into adoration. On the other hand, Emma knew instinctively that John was a good man, though it took her some times to begin trusting him. After reading what she'd suffered, I couldn't blame her at all. Trust, once broken, is the hardest to regain. But in this case, the scenario was a tad different. What happened to her family wasn't directly John's fault. Neither it was Emma's that John's father was dead. So it was expected that as they came closer, an ardent fondness developed. John's mother certainly approved of Emma.
When he wasn't under one of his dark moods, John was a happy-go-lucky guy, all charming and witty. When he talked, you couldn't help but smile and laugh with him. I really enjoyed Emma and John's banters. Theirs was an easy relationship, though Emma kept her secrets within herself for a long time... until John, who always wanted to know the cause of the shadows lurking behind her eyes, and help, found out himself. At one point, Emma finally saw the friend she had in him. Finally she could share her burdens with someone, she suddenly realized, not only she'd come to trust but maybe even love. Only she knew that the latter was a bad idea. John was already engaged to a diamond of the first water, a part of his ongoing "reformation". What Emma didn't know that John had loved her for a while now. Only he thought his feelings wouldn't be reciprocated. He thought going with the reformation plan was the wisest course of action. But he tried to show her in other ways. Emma took those as his kindness, affection. But love? She couldn't even imagine that the fickle Lord Ragsdale was capable of love! Could this be even true??
The ending was sigh-worthy. This was another light and heart-warming read from Carla Kelly, adorable and absolutely hilarious at times. Her stories are well-written and her characters never fail to touch my heart. To make me feel. Some days, that's exactly what I need in a book.