Book 1 of the Secrets of Charlotte Street series.
Historical romance taking place in Wiltshire, England, and London, England in the 1750s.
Poppy Cavendish, twenty-five-years-old, is a self-trained botanist of exotic plants who hopes to expand her nursery and build a vast and profitable business one day. This is even more imperative in light of the recent death of her uncle and guardian, whose debt has left her with no inheritance and whose entailed property has left her with no ground for her nursery. She is contracted by the sister of the Duke of Westmead, owner of nearby property Westhaven, to decorate the house and ballroom for a grand ball where the duke will choose his bride. Archer Stonewell, the Duke of Westmead, thirty-four-years-old, has not set foot on Westhaven ground in thirteen years, after a terrible tragedy that resulted in tragic personal loss. The grief and guilt he felt afterward led him to wall off his heart and seek out a penance and solace in Charlotte Street in ways others would consider "perversive". Now, he must marry and provide an heir to his estate or risk his properties and tenants falling into the hands of a brutal aristocrat. His best hopes are for a wife who will be so taken in by the material goods and comforts that come with becoming a duchess that she will want as little to do with him as possible.
When Archer meets Poppy, he is so taken by her ambition and industriousness that he can't help but be attracted to her. Although they initially part as friends, they are forced back together due to scandal. In order to save Poppy's dreams of building her business and achieving financial independence, Archer proposes a marriage in line with a business arrangement: he will provide funds, resources, property, and employees for Poppy to expand and operate her business independently in exchange for her providing him with an heir and privacy in his personal life. Poppy is very reluctant to accept a marriage she sees as dangerous to her independence and her heart but accepts in hopes of achieving her dream. The two embark on a marriage that proves more challenging than they initially thought and one that forces them to realize and acknowledge new needs and desires they haven't thought possible.
This was a unique historical romance full of angst, emotional connection, and unconventional steaminess. Peckham constantly inverts the expectations of tropes within this genre. It was lovely to see Archer and Poppy's initial attraction for one another grow from a base of mutual respect, admiration and understanding. One would think their marriage would proceed accordingly as well, with contentment and companionship. However, their pride, stubbornness, ambition, and fear of falling in love with a partner who would never want an emotional relationship all combine to create a quagmire of angst, disappointment and unhappiness as they pit their expectations of the marriage with their own hidden desires and hopes. They proceed in fits and starts, longing for and loving one another, while at the same time, behaving acutely politely or indifferently towards the other, afraid or unable to take the leap of faith into fully trusting one another with their deepest desires. A more realistic, emotional, at times painful, read about a marriage of convenience meant to be a mutually beneficial business proposition but one that turns into deep, abiding love that cannot be ignored or suppressed.