Here’s the premise: Ellie Wilson has been married for five years without a hint of a child. But on her way home after a family funeral, a coach accident throws her into a chance meeting with Captain Tom Allerby, who happens to be passing and stops to help as the stranded passengers, some injured, struggle to a nearby inn. An initial spark of shared trouble and friendship deepens over the evening to something more, and the two share one night of passion before separating, not expecting to meet again. But Tom can’t forget the woman he knew so briefly, and Ellie finds herself with a permanent reminder, in the form of a child. And since her husband is more friend than lover, he’ll know it’s not his.
Normally I’d describe something of how the protagonists resolve their problems, but I don’t want to do that here. Suffice to say that there are multiple challenges for our hero and heroine to deal with. Ellie has to own up to what she’s done and her husband has to decide how to cope with the revelation. Martin has problems of his own, too, including a cousin who’s trying to wrest control of his two farms from him. And Tom returns after two years to find Ellie, and is faced with a situation he hadn’t expected. It will not surprise anyone to hear that there is a happy ending to all this trouble, but things get very dramatic along the way.
Davis is a writer whose evocation of the Regency era always feels spot on to me, and this book is particularly enjoyable because it’s far away from the usual themes of balls and Almack’s and rides in the park. These pages are populated by hard-working ordinary folk – doctors and farmers and horse-breeders and attorneys and their women. Their marriages are as likely to be pragmatic as romantic, the misfits are fitted in somewhere, people are accepted for who and what they are, in the main (Ellie’s pious and selfish father excepted). And there are good and bad everywhere. It all feels very real, and there are little vignettes that don’t impact the plot greatly but provide those little flourishes that provide colour and depth (I’m thinking particularly of Kate and Tom’s brother’s wife and the poor, long-suffering magistrate).
If I have a complaint at all, and it’s a very minor and personal one, I’d have liked a bit more passion from Ellie and Tom towards the end. Given that the story kicked off with a night of illicit passion, I thought they were a tad too restrained afterwards. There were some highly emotional moments of terrible fear when the subsequent relief might have swept them into some fervent kissing, at the least. But it didn’t happen and that’s OK too. The author knows her characters best, and perhaps the memory of the time when they didn’t restrain themselves kept them in line later. There, that explains it nicely.
A wonderful, satisfying story, with bittersweet moments but a lot of joy, too. A great read. Five stars.