The Shopgirl’s Forbidden Love by Jenni Fletcher
Fans of historical romance set in the Regency period may have already encountered the “Regency Belles of Bath” series by this talented author, as it tells the stories of three young women who all at some point work in a biscuit shop in the lovely city. This fourth tale is of Nancy, a girl who comes to work in the shop as an escape from a difficult life in the city, and finds true friends. This book could be read as a standalone novel, but obviously it refers back to the previous books in the series. Nancy MacQueen is a young woman who has encountered the shop owner James Redbourne several times over the years, and each meeting has been memorable for many reasons. Their feelings for each other have never been allowed to flourish, however, because of Nancy’s concern for the social differences between them, and the timing of their meetings. What begins as instinctive concern for another desperate child has developed for James into a life changing attraction, but can he ever be allowed to finally express it? This is a lovely story of challenging romance in an historical setting that seems familiar, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
Nancy first appears as a fourteen year old who has been ordered by her feckless stepfather to steal an orange for her mother. Nancy’s objection is a very real one; in 1799 a girl could be transported for theft. She denies angrily that she would ever want a husband, but will nevertheless make something of herself. When the attempt occurs she fails, but is rescued by the quick and instinctive wits of young James, who covers her attempted crime. She is surprised – “surely anyone this nice had to be a figment of her imagination? Especially a man!” James or Jem offers her oranges, but she refuses, wanting to be independent and “Man- free”. While Jem is instantly attracted by this strange red headed girl, she cannot stand the implication that he pites her, and it makes her all the more determined to escape her family situation. A year later Jem is complaining to his great friend Sebastian who himself will become connected with Belles shop about how his parents are running his life, insisting that he take on their shop as the only child, and probably picking out a suitable wife for him. James knows that he will want to marry someone else, with more spirit. As he encounters Nancy once more in somewhat painful, if innocent, circumstances, he becomes more attracted to her, while she still wants her complete independence. It will take more meetings for mistakes to be made and realisations to be dealt with before the deeply honourable Jem realises what will really be best for both of them.
This book works so well because of the characters that Fletcher creates. Nancy is anything but a straightforward character, as she is determined and forthright. Emily Robinson is a classically challenging character, and I imagine she was enormous fun to create and maintain. There is a warm reunion with characters from the previous novels that I greatly enjoyed, especially when they realise what is truly going on. The atmosphere of the period is as always carefully evoked, as the settings range from a relatively poor house to a grand mansion, and the clothes worn are always suitable to the characters and the time period.
This is a very enjoyable read and I recommend it and indeed the whole series to those who enjoy novels set in this time with vivid and memorable characters.