Annabelle Honeycote is a talented seamstress. She labors dawn to dusk not just for the joy of creating beautiful garments, but to also support her gravely ill mother and younger sister. In today’s age she’d be a contestant on a designer reality show, turning duct tape and Christmas ornaments into runway-worthy gowns. But Annabelle Honeycote doesn’t live in the 21st century, she lives in Regency era London, when any profession that employed women paid far less than a subsistence level wage. Annabelle is desperate to pay their modest rent, to afford medical care for her mother, so she turns to extortion.
Blackmailing the haughty, privileged women who frequent her shop and their lovers is a difficult moral pill to swallow, so Annabelle develops a code of ethics that allows her to do so and somewhat sleep at night. Each one-time payment of hush money allows her family to pay for the essentials for only a few months. When circumstances become desperate, Annabelle once again takes to her criminal ways, only to be caught red handed by the very man she’s attempting to blackmail – the devastatingly attractive Duke of Huntford.
Huntford knows he should haul this woman off to the police. He’s furious that she threatened to spread gossip about one of his beloved sisters and that she dared to attempt to extort money from him, but something about her and her story pulls at his heart. Before he knows it, he’s offered her a contract position as seamstress to his sisters to better evaluate her as a risk to society. You can guess the rest – Annabelle and the sisters bond. Annabelle and the Duke do far more than bond.
I have fond memories of reading Regency romances as a teen, devouring them faster than a box of chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts. I can’t guide those readers looking for a high degree of historical accuracy. Nothing in the novel popped out as anachronistic to me except for the level of physical interaction between Annabelle and the Duke. Yes, I’m certain many a noble and their servant were overcome by passion back in the day, but the price for discovery was high – especially for the woman, and the sharp eyes of society took note of every glance and gesture. In fairness, Annabelle does worry about her reputation and attempts to keep things proper between them, but she’s a woman in love and both women and men in love make mistakes.
By all rights this should have been a tragedy, but I’m pleased to report it’s not. Society in this novel is unusually forgiving, and I’m willing to suspend disbelief for a happy ending. The Duke and Miss Honeycote are both engaging characters, with tight family bonds and a refreshing sense of humor. The sexual tension is very well done, and the more explicit scenes are steamy and romantic. I found myself oddly sympathetic when it came to the Duke’s wayward mother – a woman whose inability to restrain her “activities