Mrs. Sommersby's Second Chance
Since we ran our feature on Seasoned Romances a few weeks back, I’ve been keeping an eye out for romances featuring more mature heroines, who seem to crop up less frequently in historical romances than in other sub-genres. I was pleased to learn that Laurie Benson’s Mrs. Sommersby – eponymous heroine of the final book in her Sommersby Brides series – is an independent widow in her forties. Having spent the previous books in the series seeking out suitable matches for her beloved nieces, in Mrs. Sommersby’s Second Chance, she gets her own happily ever after with a handsome and successful businessman eight years her junior.
William Lane has travelled to Bath in order to pursue an investment opportunity and goes to the famed Pump Room to do a bit of research. He owns the coffee house next door to the popular Fountain Head Hotel (where he is staying while in the city) and recently having discovered the existence of an underground (and capped off) hot spring in the coffee house’s cellar, intends to make the hotel’s owner an offer to purchase the establishment so he can develop both properties into a spa. Bath may not be the magnet it once was for members of the ton, but the new and upcoming middle classes are visiting in increasing numbers and Lane is keen to attract a wealthy investor or two.
In the decade since she was widowed, Mrs. Clara Sommersby has discovered she possesses sound business sense and the ability to make shrewd decisions. Married for a number of years to a man who was hopeless with money, they were on the verge of financial ruin when he died, and Clara is determined never to find herself in such a position again. After her husband’s death, she decided to invest the money she had left rather than dwindle into the life of a paid companion or dependent relative, and purchased the Fountain Head Hotel. For the sake of her reputation as a gentlewoman, Clara keeps her ownership of the hotel a secret, and the day to day management is undertaken by her cousin, Mr. Edwards.
She and Lane meet in the Pump Room, where she observes him closely scrutinising his glass of mineral water and after they catch each other’s eye, they strike up a conversation about the health benefits of the spring water and the hot baths. There’s a definite frisson of attraction between them but they are separated before they can learn each other’s names or how they might find each other again.
Both Lane and Clara find themselves dwelling on that meeting over the next few days, and luckily for them, fate – in the form of Clara’s boisterous puppy, Humphrey – brings them together once more when Lane is able to help untangle Clara from a too-long leash and some bushes when her dog becomes a little too enthusiastic on his walk. From then on, both of them find themselves consciously looking out for each other at the various events and entertainments they attend; even though Clara insists she’s too old for Lane, and that she has no intention of marrying again and surrendering her hard-won independence to a husband, she can’t deny her growing attraction to and desire for him.
Mrs. Sommersby’s Second Chance is a low-drama, character-driven romance between a mature couple who have a lot in common, despite the personality and class differences lying between them. Clara isn’t titled, but she moves in the best social circles while Lane is a foundling – an illegitimate orphan – who is in trade; she’s outgoing and bubbly while Lane is perhaps a little too serious – yet they have both worked hard for what they have and are determined to succeed in their future ventures. The chemistry between them simmers nicely, the romance evolves subtly and naturally as their friendship deepens and while the single love scene near the end is fairly brief, it doesn’t lack heat. The reader knows from the start that there’s conflict on the horizon and wonders how Clara and Lane will handle it, and I was pleased when Ms. Benson wisely opted not to put them through some big bust up when they find out the truth – that Clara is the owner of the hotel key to Lane’s business plans, and that he is the man behind the purchase offer. After their initial shock, they talk things through and find a way forward together – but then, a couple of chapters before the end, an eleventh-hour conflict is inserted which is based purely on an assumption made by Clara which has very little foundation and is certainly not rooted on something Lane has ever said. So I had to knock a grade point or two off for that, which is a shame, as it was the only false note struck in the book.
Mrs. Sommersby’s Second Chance is a charming historical romance featuring an engaging secondary cast and a pair of attractive, down-to-earth leads. If you’re looking for a story devoid of overblown drama and characters who act their ages rather than their shoe-sizes, it’s definitely worth checking out.