It has been a very lovely year thus far when it comes to new-to-me authors. Some years are like that, while others (I'm thinking of last year in particular) are often quieter and filled with familiar voices. Both are wonderful. But I confess to being rather thrilled that this year has held so many new authors. As part of my ongoing historical binge, I recently ran across the work of Jillian Eaton by way of her Bow Street Brides series. Side note: I find myself reading about many brides this year. Brides are positively in abundance, especially around Bow Street and Belgravia. A Dangerous Proposal is the second book in the series and my clear favorite so far. The third book just released in March and is sitting on my Kindle waiting to be started as I type this. This series involves a number of mysteries featuring interlocking characters, and I very much enjoyed that aspect of it all.
Felicity Atwood does not recognize her life. The whole of it went so suddenly and so irrevocably south that she and her two young children are still struggling to pick up the pieces. Though she remains Lady Ashworth, she is no longer married to Lord Ashworth. The divorce took care of that. Now he lives with his new wife (and former mistress), while Felicity and the children he no longer wants anything to do with are forced to get by on their own in the decidedly dodgier part of town. Enter one Mr. Felix Spencer, former jewel thief turned Bow Street Runner. Felix and Felicity first met months ago as part of a theft in the home of Scarlett―Felicity's sole remaining friend. Felix was naturally doing the thieving and managed to nick one quick kiss off a very startled Felicity on his way out the window. Neither would be able to forget the incident. Now he is reformed (somewhat) and determined to keep the young single mother safe now that her circumstances have been so drastically reduced. And if Felix has his way, he'll also be able to convince her to give love (and him) another chance as well.
What an unexpectedly sweet story. It's quiet and thoughtful and ever so genuine. Felicity is so easy to feel for. She has had nothing but bad experiences with the men in her life, from a terrifying and damaging encounter years ago with Scarlett's dissolute husband to her own husband's omnipresent coldness and eventual blank betrayal. I didn't once question her reticence in the face of even Felix's determined charm. And he is nothing if not charming. Felix is a delight from cover to cover. Full of roguish, persistent kindness, he is the perfect person to quietly enter their lives when Felicity is at the end of a long and wearying road. And so a gentle courtship commences against the backdrop of the Runners' investigation into a series of murders around Felicity's new home, one that stretches its tentacles back into both of their pasts. The balance between mystery and relationship development was just right, and I hoped and feared equally for these eminently likable characters.
"What are ye afraid of?" he murmured, the bristle on his jaw scraping against her cheek as he rested his chin on the sloping curve of her shoulder.
"I am not afraid," she said, but they both heard the lie in her voice. She began to stiffen, to draw back, but on a soft, whispering sigh she let herself relax against him. After so many months―so many years―of nothing but coldness she needed warmth. Like an untended flower that had grown too long in the shade she desperately yearned for the sun. For the heat it gave, and the comfort it brought. For no matter how deep the dark, the sun would always find a way to rise again. And when it did its light would be brighter and reach further than ever before.
"I am not afraid," she repeated as tears gathered. "I am not afraid."
"Ah, love." Felix's embrace tightened. He began to sway from side to side and she swayed with him, a dance where the only music came from the rhythmic beating of their hearts.
This level of gentle sweetness runs throughout the novel, and I found it (and them) utterly disarming. Felicity's children, Henry and Anne, their interactions with her mother, the intriguing crew of Bow Street Runners, and Felix's way with the whole lot of them are engaging and lively. I heartily recommend A Dangerous Proposal for your next cozy night in.