A Lady's Honor by A.S. Fenichel
Phoebe Hallsmith willingly spent her eligible years caring for her beloved grandmother instead of looking for a husband. Now firmly on the shelf, she chooses to become useful by seeking employment with the highly reputable Everton Domestic Society, dedicated to placing respectable ladies in positions of usefulness. Assigned to help the grieving husband of a close friend after his wife’s death in childbirth, Phoebe has to fulfil her duties while adhering to the Society’s strict rules, one of which heads each chapter in the book.
Many second-chance romances dismiss or demonise the first spouse, but this book does the very opposite. Markus was deeply in love with his wife, and struggles to reconcile growing feelings for Phoebe with his belief that loving again would betray Emily. Phoebe in turn encourages Markus to celebrate his love for Emily, and their daughter Elizabeth. Emily was her friend too and she doesn’t want her to be forgotten.
Despite Phoebe being ostensibly on the shelf, she has a couple of suitors other than Markus turn up in the novel, neither of whom really consider her wishes. There’s a hilarious scene where both of them try to propose to her at once while Markus watches on, seeking to contain his laughter, and making a conscious choice to let Phoebe handle them unless and until she appeals to him for assistance. Of course she manages the matter beautifully, but that single moment of contrast, of Markus assuming her competence and respecting her choices, made the contrast between him and her other suitors quite glaringly obvious.
The only thing I wasn’t sure of was a rather unnecessary love scene. In the early Regency era, a respectable and honourable lady like Phoebe just would not sleep with a man before marriage, especially when considering possibly marrying someone else! I understand sex scenes are considered de rigeur in even historicals these days unless they are categorised as Christian, but in this case I really felt it detracted from the plot. Potential consequences weren’t even mentioned, and considering the lack of reliable birth control, it should definitely have been considered. To be honest, it felt like an addition after the fact, probably at the suggestion of an editor, and could have been left out altogether. It was well written, though, and my sense that it wasn’t necessary isn’t enough for me to take a star off this otherwise really excellent historical second-chance romance. Five stars for a charming read.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.