A Taste of Honey
I remember Robert Moon, the owner of the confectionery and patisserie in Lively St. Lemeston, as the shy but rather appealing young man who attempted to woo the heroine of the first book of the series, Sweet Disorder. His patroness, Lady Tassell, encouraged his courtship by offering him the money he needed to pay off all his debts because she desperately wanted to prevent Phoebe Sparks from marrying her son, Nick. Well, now the sweet sweet-maker at last gets his own story in A Taste of Honey, an erotic novella that is the fourth in Rose Lerner’s Lively St. Lemeston series. Set in a fictional Sussex village, the three previous books have treated readers to – among other things – an in depth look at the way local politics worked outside of London in the early nineteenth century, a wonderfully detailed exploration of the life lived by those below stairs and a thought-provoking look at how an initially unequal marriage can become something true and lasting. The author writes beautifully and with great insight and scope, but given the length and nature of this tale, the focus here is firmly on the central couple and their foibles and insecurities.
Robert Moon risked everything when he sold his family’s bakery in order to open the Honey Moon confectionery in Lively St. Lemeston. Unfortunately, the shop isn’t doing as well as he’d hoped, or, at least, hasn’t done well enough quickly enough which means he is in financial difficulties, and if it hadn’t been for the help of Phoebe and Nick Dymond six months earlier, he could easily have found himself declaring bankruptcy. Things since then have been going reasonably well, but he still isn’t making enough money to be able to afford to get married, and he longs to ask the lovely Betsy Piper, who works in his shop, to be his wife. But thoughts of matrimony are going to have to wait – again – while he works to fulfil the large order he has just received from the rather officious Mrs. Lovejoy to supply the food for the town assembly in a week’s time. It’s a very tall order and one which means Robert will need to close the shop for a week in order to meet the deadline – but if he can pull it off, the money he will earn will bring closer his dream of proposing to Betsy.
Betsy has harboured hopes of her employer for best part of a year, but hasn’t so far managed to divert his attention from his pastries and other gorgeous confections. She wants so much to prove to Robert that she will make him a good wife that when he asks if she will work as his assistant while he prepares the food for the assembly, she jumps at the chance to help him. But, as her friend points out, what Betsy needs is to get Robert to see her as a woman rather than a helpmeet, because she’s already proved her usefulness to him in that way many times over. Betsy realises this is true. If Mr. Moon is not seeing her as anything other than a useful employee, it’s time to change tack; she needs to take the initiative and seduce him, and if, once the assembly is over, he still hasn’t asked her to marry him, she will accept he’s not likely to and will find another job.
Thrown into close proximity in the kitchen, Betsy soon finds – and takes – the opportunity to seduce Robert, and (lucky Betsy!) quickly discovers that her employer is as thorough, meticulous and inventive when it comes to lovemaking as he is when making tarts or ice cream. Both characters are relatively inexperienced (he’s a virgin, she isn’t but had just the one lover quite some time ago), so we witness them experimenting and learning together, working out what they like and how to give pleasure to one another. The sex scenes – and there are quite a few – are earthy, awkwardly charming and sometimes clumsy; but there’s an undeniable sweetness to them and there’s never any doubt that these two people care for each other and share a connection that relates to more than just the sexual.
While Robert and Betsy are getting to know each other physically, they are also making discoveries about each other on a personal level. Betsy comes to understand how important the Honey Moon is to Robert, his fear of failure and of letting everyone down and his ambitions for the shop, how he wants it to be
“A slice of joy, a morsel of calm when they’ve need of it. A place that won’t ever turn them away.”
– for the local community. And Robert is surprised to discover that Betsy’s fears of not being good enough echo his own; even though to him, she’s perfect.
One of the things that Ms. Lerner does so well in all of her books is that she allows her characters to be human and, well, normal. Sometimes they’re selfish. Sometimes they’re irritable, or just downright unpleasant. Yet their flaws and frustrations are easy to understand and their dilemmas are realistic; and even given the shortened timeline necessitated by the shorter page-count of a novella, the author nonetheless manages to create a suitable amount of believable tension and drama while bringing her two lovers to a greater understanding of themselves and each other.
The descriptions of the food and cooking processes of the period are evocative and the book is full of lovely turns of phrase which bring the scenes fully to life in the mind’s eye. It’s not necessary to have read the other books in the series to enjoy this one – although I’d strongly recommend doing so because they’re very good. A Taste of Honey is a sweet and spicy addition to the Lively St. Lemeston series, and if you’re in the mood for a quick, saucy read, then it might be just what you’re looking for.