This is one of my favorite Carla Kelly stories. It was so refreshing to read a story where the hero encourages the heroine to grow and take chances, while exuding confidence in her ability to handle herself and the situation she finds herself in.
It is not hard to see why this book won a RITA Award (Best Novel for 1995); the story is unique, the writing is beautiful and the pacing is well-done. Im not really into Regency novels, but this book is sublime.
As the book opens, Mrs. Roxanna Drew is in mourning for her husband, the vicar of a small church. It is perfectly obvious that Mr. and Mrs. Drew were very much in love. Her only solace is the fact that Mrs. Drew has two lovely daughters from their union six-year old Helen and Felicity (4 years of age).
Not far into Roxannas mourning period, her brother-in-law comes to the vicarage (which she will soon lose as a home) and proposes that the girls and Roxanne move in with him and Roxanne become his mistress. Mrs. Drew is horrified.
Finding a small house (in terrible condition), Roxanne rents it for $10/year. The three move quietly so her brother-in-law (who always gets what he wants) cannot stop them. He is also in charge of Roxannes tiny quarterly stipend and she worries that he will force her compliance through the purse strings.
The dower house is the property of a shadowy figure, Fletcher Rand (Lord Winn), who has been abroad fighting Napoleon for years. One night, during a severe storm, he takes refuge there; he is now out of the military and is taking a tour of his properties. He is surprised to see how young the widow is.
Fletcher has his own problems; hes been ousted from society because he did not give his philandering wife a quiet divorce, but paraded many of her lovers before the court. He was ostracized but she was not! She immediately married another aristocrat. Fletcher vows never to wed again.
However, Roxanna and her daughters provide a balm to his soul that he cannot deny. Just before Christmas, Roxanne gets notice from her brother-in-law that he will take her children away. While Roxanne is reeling from this news, Fletcher offers her a marriage of convenience. He realizes hes in love with her but knows she needs time.
Because she sees no alternative, she marries Fletcher. Helen panics because she is worried that they will all forget her father with the new arrangement. She really likes and enjoys Fletcher; but shes the conscience of the family.
The whole grief process the Drew females are in is incredibly realistic. Anthony Drew continues to be reflected in the actions and thoughts of his loved ones he is always there. This is not a negative thing; it shows the great love within the family and their difficulty in rearranging their tight group to include Lord Winn.
Fletcher is an incredibly multifaceted character and I liked him very much. Actually, I enjoyed all the characters; Carla Kelly has a deft hand when she creates her stories.