Sweet and charming
Goodness, this was such a sweet and heartwarming romance – and isn’t the cover lovely? While this is the start of a series, it has some ties to some of Ms. Fenichel’s previous series. While it was obvious I was missing some backstory, I think this works fine as a standalone.
After caring for her grandmother in Scotland for several years, and then suffering a broken engagement to an absolute jerk, Phoebe breaks with her family and goes into service as an employee of the Everton Domestic Society. While normally it’s against the Society’s rules to work with someone you’re acquainted with, Phoebe makes an exception for Markus, the husband of her late best friend, Emma. In the two years since Emma died giving birth to her daughter, Markus has been mired in an alcohol-fueled fog, neglecting his estate and daughter, and rebuffing any attempts at help from friends or family.
“’I am four and twenty.’
‘What do you see? That I am too old to make a good match and had no choice but to join the Everton Society? That I have wasted my best years? That I should be married and raising a family by now? That I am an old maid put on the shelf to be pitied and despised by the women of the ton?'”
Phoebe is twenty-four, and has resigned herself to being on the shelf, though she dreams of a marriage and family. She also has a bit of a temper, a tendency to let her emotions run away with her, and likes to stick her nose in other peoples’ business, but most of all she is strong-willed with a firm moral compass, and through her tenacity starts to get Rosefield, Markus’ estate, back into running order. Through a series of late-night meetings in the kitchen, Markus and Phoebe reminisce about Emma and begin to develop feelings for each other. However, Markus believes he only has rom in his heart for his dead wife, and Phoebe doesn’t want him to marry her out of obligation instead of love, and eventually end up as an unwanted encumbrance.
“’You have value, Phoebe. I do not know why you cannot see it, but you do yourself a disservice by believing you must settle.’
She swallowed the lump in her throat. His warmth spread through her along with the warm, masculine scent that muddled her mind. ‘I am a woman past her time to marry well, with little to recommend her. I know my worth, Markus, but I am realistic and know my limitations. Joining the Everton Domestic Society at least gives me some power over my own life.’
His grip tightened and he drew her forward until his body pressed hers. ‘You are a smart and beautiful woman, tenacious and witty. Anyone who does not see that is a fool.'”
In true romance novel fashion, their relationship helps both Phoebe and Markus heal. Phoebe feels unwanted and unseen – by society in general, since she’s a spinster, and by her family, since she refused to leave her Grandma to come back for her London season and remains unwed. While joining the Society has given her some agency and allows her to help others, that help comes with a time limit, and she knows that eventually, if she does her job well, they’ll no longer need her and she’ll have to move on. Markus is trying to deal with the ramifications of his two years of anger and neglect, seeking forgiveness for himself from his friends and family, and eventually realizing that he needs to forgive as well.
Unlike some second marriage books I’ve read, there’s no doubt that Markus and his first wife were deeply in love, and it was nice to see both he and Phoebe accepting that it’s OK to love more than one person. Also, while I make no bones (heh) about the fact that I love steamy romances, there is something delightful about historical romances where touching bare hands is risqué and chock with sexual tension. One thing I especially liked about their relationship was that Markus accepted that Phoebe was due her own agency (unlike her other suitors). As for cons, things seem to happen rather quickly – from getting Rosefield back in order to Phoebe gaining a trio of suitors – plus Markus’ daughter, Elizabeth, veered into twee territory too much for my liking.
Overall, this was a delightfully sweet and charming historical, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series!
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.