My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway
Two novels in a row about crazy, but large and life-saving, inheritances. Lillian Bede our illegitimate, feminist, heroine with a chip on her shoulder. Avery Thorne is our world-exploring hero and both are involved in Avery's uncle's too-crazy to be believed will. Lillian is left the manor that Avery believed he was to inherit, but the terms of the will are that she only retains possession of the manor for five years and if she hasn't made a profit during that time the estate goes over to Avery. Like any romance novel old blueblood the uncle also stipulates that she may forfeit the manor in exchange for a very nice allowance if she is willing to give up the her feminist tendencies. Ms. Bede of course refuses, Avery takes off to explore the world and the two begin a 4 1/2 year correspondence until Avery comes to claim what he expects to become his.
A very small portion of the book is dedicated to the years of correspondence and most of it does center around the few months the two are in residence together at the Manor House. The interactions between the two are often about the other residents of the Manor, including a persnickety feminist leader, a promiscuous spinster, an abused widow and her pre-teen son who idolizes Avery. Lillian has her own odd views of marriage because of her mother's experience with a poor husband who moved to Australia with her two children. For this reason Lillian is understandable wary of any marriage, much less with someone who stands to gain so much from marrying her. Her companions at the manor however harbor no such compunctions and make no secret of their desire to see the two wed. There is also a side plot of mini- disasters, such as a burning barn and a broken window that could have killed someone, that is, as usual, resolved rather quickly. It was interesting nonetheless because the culprit was someone I did not guess and usually these side- plots are pretty transparent.
The mater of Lillian's demons are certainly unusual, as most often the illegitimate woman, in a romance novel, would be reluctant to marry our hero for few of tainting HIS reputation, rather than of any fear for her own sake. The book does an excellent job of portraying the realities of illegitimacy during the end of the 19th century in England without having the entire focus being on the angst provided by such. Although her feminist leanings are drilled into the readers head repeatedly, little is written of what those leaning actually entail and the only other feminist in the book is portrayed as a self-righteous monster. Implied in the novel, or perhaps I am just reading more into this than I should have, is a romantic attachment between the abused widow and said feminist which is definitely a first for me in a historical romance.
The matter of them falling in love is entirely believable as well. The two are antagonists, as many such characters are, but their arguments and discussion are never hateful or outright nasty and insulting as so many heroes seem to be toward the heroines. He respects her intelligence, while admitting to a slight wariness of her feminist ideals, which is understandable given the times. Their are a couple steamy scenes and several less steamy scenes leading up to them which created a really nice buildup to the consummation. Their was definite heat between these two. One issue I have with this novel, and so many other in a similar vein, is the mushiness of one of the characters, in this case Lillian who squanders her money protecting castaway horses. I understand it is a writing tool used to help the reader understand why someone would fall in love with someone else, as "goodness" is hard to portray except by such techniques, but it does still tend to get on my nerves.
Overall the book was good, more readable than most, but not perfect. Both characters were impossible not to like and genuinely loved each other.