Reviewed by Mandi
Favorite Quote: “You’re one of the somebodiest somebodies I ever met.”
Phoebe lives in Lively St. Lemeston, a town with an upcoming election. Phoebe is poor, living in two small, cramped attic rooms and barely supports herself by writing stories for young girls for a publication. Her husband printed the town’s newspaper but died, leaving Phoebe’s brother-in-law, Jack in charge. Phoebe has no desire to get married again, but she owns her late husband’s vote. A vote that is essentially trying to be bought by the Whigs and Tories. Phoebe is a devoted Whig, however, when her sixteen year old sister shows up on her doorstep pregnant, Phoebe is willing to be wooed by both sides of the political spectrum, to help her sister.
Nick Dymond is the son of an earl, and has returned from war with an injured leg. He has a limp that embarrasses him and pains him. Nick’s brother, Tony is running in this election and wants Phoebe’s vote badly. Nick’s extremely politically driven mother has found a confectioner that she thinks would be suitable for Phoebe to marry and to secure a whig vote. Nick is tasked with befriending Phoebe, and introducing her to this baker. The Tories also have their eye on her, and a suitor they want her to marry. With Phoebe’s sister in dire straits, Phoebe decides to put her happiness aside and marry one of these two guys. But the one she falls for is Nick.
This is such a lovely story. While Nick is the son of an earl, Rose Lerner takes great care in giving us the many details of Phoebe’s poor life. She really is broke – and with no money comes fewer options. Phoebe is so strong and mature and…exhausted. There were so many times in this book where I could feel the waves of exhaustion coming off Phoebe. She is frightened for her sister. She is frustrated that she has no money. There is also a deep sorrow in her for having suffered a miscarriage during her marriage. Her relationship with her mother is strenuous at best, and even worse once her sister moves in with her. And now the back and forth with being courted by both sides of the election have her running ragged.
“I used to see possibilities for myself. It used to seem as if maybe one day I could visit Spain, or the West Indies, or Giza. As if even if I didn’t there’d be no room in my life to regret it. I thought…”
His gaze came back to her, blue eyes steady. He waited patiently for her to go on.
“I think I stopped seeing possibilities after I lost my baby. I-I stopped seeing them for the world as well. I lost interest in the Intelligencer. I lost interest in politics. I still believe in progress here” – she tapped her forehead – “but my heart, I stopped. I hate it. I hate that I’ve become so small. All there is to my life is two rooms. I don’t even read the London newspapers anymore.” She picked up the Times, then dropped it with a thwack. “I don’t recognize half the names in these political articles. What’s happened to me? I used to care about things. I used to want things.”
He chewed his lower lip. “You still want things. You must. You move with so much purpose.”
That stopped her. She flushed. Was that how he saw her? It wasn’t the usual sort of compliment, but she liked the idea.
The only time she stops and smiles is when Nick visits. Nick is such a sweet guy. Growing up, his mother cared more for elections than him (or at least on the surface – it’s hard for a young one to understand) and he has that deep-rooted need to please his mother, hence finding himself, limping around town match-making. This romance for the first half of this book is not a sultry, lustful one – real life gets in the way too much. But just sit back and wait for it. It’s very well done. Nick has such insecurities and sadness over his injury – but he feels so comfortable confiding in Phoebe:
I lay there for hours, men dying in agony all around me. I was sure they would take the leg. They would have if I’d been an enlisted man. I couldn’t see past that night into living as a cripple, into leaving the army.”
He was surprised at how flat and calm his voice sounded. His reaction to the memory felt dull and muted, as far away as his voice. But he must feel something, because he couldn’t stop. “I couldn’t think past the operation. I tried to ready myself by imagining it, and I couldn’t. Each time, I couldn’t go any further than the saw scraping against the bone.”
She put a hand on his arm, her eyes bright with unshed tears, and he confessed the deepest, darkest secret of all. “I wanted my mother.”
OH Nick. His vulnerability in this scene and his raw truth just made me melt. I reread this scene over and over. And honestly, as soon as I finished this book, I wanted to start all over again. There is so much to this story that I don’t think I absorbed everything in the first read through.
There are also great supporting characters in this book. Tony, Nick’s brother who is running for this election has a very interesting side story. Phoebe’s brother-in-law Jack has quite a dramatic side story that intrigued me greatly. There is also a man named Mr. Gilchrist who surprised me. I went from being annoyed to anticipating his scenes. So well done.
This story has a very different tone to it than a normal regency romance. It’s a smart and more somber romance – similar to the way Courtney Milan writes. Rose Lerner doesn’t shy away from the gritty, almost unfair life Phoebe lives, but she quietly weaves in a warm romance and by the end, you are smiling. It’s quite fascinating and I hope you take a chance on this one.