Desert Isle Keeper
Forever And Ever
In the third of her Wyckerly trilogy, Gaffney has crafted another true keeper. As she had in To Have and to Hold and To Love and to Cherish, the author makes this story stand out by creating two highly unusual protagonists – Sophie and Connor. Sophie, for instance, is of a higher social class than Connor, something I’ve never come across in a romance. Then too, author Gaffney’s inclusion of social issues faced during the Victorian era brought the book to life – this is not history as wallpaper, but history as rich texture upon which a wonderful love story is told.
Sophie inherited a tin mine from her father and runs it herself. Connor is a radical socialist (by Victorian standards) who poses undercover as a miner in order to write searing journalism about the true conditions of mines. Connor takes his brother Jack’s identity because Jack is too ill to work, having become ill from his work in the mines. Connor and Jack both grew up in a poor mining family so Connor has raised himself by his bootstraps. He even went to university, albeit one that the common man attended.
For his investigation, Connor pretends to be Jack and is hired at Sophie’s mine. Though Sophie thinks she does a good job of running her mine, she is ignorant about safety improvements for her workers. Of course, safety standards were virtually nonexistent during the Victorian era in mining so she is like all mine owners of that time. Connor is attracted to Sophie despite his feelings that she acts the part of Lady Bountiful in the village by good works for the needy when she should attend to the safety of her mine instead.
Sophie is likewise attracted to Connor although she can’t believe she is attracted to a man of his class. This is not acceptable to society and she knows it. However, Sophie lives alone and is her own mistress. The only living relatives she has are an uncle who also owns a neighboring mine, and his husband-hunting daughter. Sophie and Connor are thus able to meet at her house. The attraction escalates and they are intimate.
This romance blows wide open though when Connor’s article comes out exposing the conditions of Sophie’s mine. Connor leaves to work in another town, although he tries to reconcile with her at first. However, they lose their tempers with one another and part angrily.
Sophie is forced to confront the conditions of her mine by Connor’s expose. To her horror, she discovers her mine is dangerous to the workers. However, she is not making a fortune with the mine. It is profitable and provides her with a comfortable existence. If she invests in the recommended safety equipment, she will be putting herself in a much shakier financial position, perhaps even being forced to sell the mine in the long run. Added to that, her uncle and other mine owners are opposed to her making improvements because then they will be expected to do the same.
Sophie is forced to find Connor after a short while because she is pregnant. They marry and Connor decides to run for Parliament from the village. Sophie and Connor still have a lot of battles to wage with one another as neither is happy over this forced marriage although their attraction is still very alive. The secondary characters are very well drawn as well, and we are reintroduced to the characters from the first two books in the trilogy. Sophie is very active in the church so she sees Christian and Anne Morrell (from To Love and to Cherish) a lot. Sebastian and Rachel (from To Have and to Hold now have a child and it is amusing to see villagers fawn over Rachel now that she is a countess. I found Connor’s brother Jack particularly enjoyable because, despite being ill enough that he sometimes has trouble standing, he is quite the lady’s man. Among other richly drawn secondary characters is a widowed member of parliament who becomes Connor’s model of a loving husband. Added for comic relief is Sophie cousin. Because she is constantly on the prowl for a husband, every eligible man literally runs in the opposite direction when they see her coming.
I was quite taken with this book because of how different the leads were from the usual historical romance novel. The heroine is from a higher social and economic class than the hero yet the hero is no one’s intellectual inferior. I also liked seeing a plot revolve around some important ideas of the day such as socialism, mining conditions, early investigative journalism, and the politics of Victorian England. There is a HEA ending and this concludes the Wyckerly trilogy. One can only hope that Gaffney will be inspired to create a whole new trilogy from the offspring of the three sets of leads set, say, twenty-five to thirty years ahead from where we left off.