Let me be perfectly honest: I'm not a terribly religious person, nor did I, in the years I was growing up, ever have a parish priest who was hot enough to be crush-worthy. So I'm not sure what sparked my love for historical romances featuring vicars as heroes. But give me a vicar (or a virgin or, best of all, a virgin vicar) for a hero, and I get all swoony even before I begin reading. Add in a former courtesan who has the gall not to feel ashamed of her past, a village full of judgmental gossips, and a gaggle of besotted young ladies, and what you would seem to have is the recipe for a comedic romp or even a farce.
What you have, instead, is A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long. Although this book has its moments of levity, what it's truly full of are pages and pages of unfulfilled longing. It's the kind of longing that is all furtive glances and "accidental" brushes of hands and that I, as a reader, felt all the way down to my toes. It had me holding my breath and biting my lip and leaning forward in my chair and hoping, hoping, hoping that Evie and Adam (hah, I just noticed: Adam and Eve; glad that didn't occur to me before now because it's just a little too... something) could manage to come together in spite of the obstacles in their path. And they did. Of course they did. This is a romance novel, after all, and a happily ever after is de rigueur. But, man, did they have to work for it. And this was one of those novels, like Loretta Chase's Silk Is for Seduction last year, where I honestly believed that our hero and heroine might not end up together for reasons that were true to life and not just invented for the sake of plot.
I did, sadly, feel that the ending was a bit rushed — not that it was a cheat or unearned in any way, but I would have liked to have seen it play out a bit more on the page. I wanted to witness more of the village's slow, begrudging acceptance of this unconventional pairing, rather than having to infer so much about how that acceptance came to be. That is, however, a minor complaint. Because, ye gods, the longing. I can still feel it two weeks later.