The Spinster's Secret
One of the joys at discovering a new author is reading through her back catalog of titles. Emily Larkin has started revising and re-releasing a few of her older books and The Spinster’s Secret was the first to catch my eye.
The premise of the story is a little bit hard to swallow at first. Matilda Chapple is a twenty-seven year old woman living on the charity of her Uncle while dreaming of the day she can escape his miserly household to run a boarding house. To earn money she writes erotic stories under the pen name “Cherie” that have become the talk of London. Her source of inspiration is the old diary of a Countess who used to live in the same house and her late cousin’s copy of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill. The correspondences to her publisher are neatly disguised as letters sent to a good friend; however when the post is swept away in a rainstorm, a draft of her latest story finds its way into her Uncle’s hands.
The storm also sweeps Edward Kane into Matilda’s life when he’s stranded at her Uncle’s house while trying to return his friend’s personal items to the family. When his host becomes determined to learn the notorious “Cherie” is someone in their small community Edward is driven out of guilt to help his friend’s father discover the identity of the author. Thus becomes a sort of cat-and-mouse game between Matilda and Edward as she tries to keep him from discovering her secret while he’s fighting against his attraction towards a woman he knows he’ll leave behind once his task is complete.
Ms. Larkin’s gift for creating characters against romantic types can be seen here with a plain, overly-tall and older heroine stealing the heart of an equally tall and sturdy hero. Their relationship runs very low-key throughout the story which I’ll admit wasn’t the most entertaining, but there were so many feelings expressed in their physical moments together that I understood all the passion these quiet characters shared. Edward’s passiveness also got under my skin, especially when he sees how Matilda is treated by her family and doesn’t make any attempt to help her or defend her. It’s Matilda who carries the story back into recommended territory by continuing to seek her own happiness and independence while not relying on a white knight to save her.