Beyond Innocence, by Emma Holly

29 Sep

Beyond Innocence, by Emma Holly

Emma Holly is well known in the online romance reading community for her erotic romances (such as All U Can Eat, review here). Beyond innocence is my second full length novel by Ms Holly, and it was a wonderful surprise, giving me a glimpse of a very different facet of her writing.

Set late in the nineteenth century, Beyond Innocence presents a different perspective on societal mores, their pressure on the individuals, and the contrast those make with familial obligations. Love is a powerful force, indeed, and doing something out of love doesn’t always make it the right thing to do.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

When her beloved father passes away, Florence Farleigh finds herself alone in the world. All she wants is a man who will treat her kindly and support her financially—and she’s come to London to find him.

Edward Burbrooke thinks marriage is the only way to save his brother Freddie—and their family—from scandalous ruin. As head of the family, Edward has vowed to find Freddie a bride—and fast…

Thrown together by Edward, Florence and Freddie make a perfect pair—until Edward realizes he has feelings for his brother’s betrothed. The sight of her nubile young body makes his blood burn with lust. The sound of her voice makes his heart warm with love. And the sweet taste of her kiss makes him wonder if he isn’t making a terrible mistake.

One very important thing the blurb omits is the reason Freddie must marry or face social ruin. It’s not that he’s a younger son (though he is his brother’s heir, since Edward himself has yet to marry and produce a child). It’s not even because of Freddie’s sexual peccadilloes with members of the lower classes. It’s because Freddie has been caught during one such escapade…with a young footman during a house party.

At a time when sodomy was not only frowned upon, but a crime punishable with jail time (as Oscar Wilde found out much to his detriment), marriage would have been the perfect solution for all parties concerned. Except, perhaps, the person chosen to act as his beard—one Florence Farleigh.

With the best of intentions, one person after another sees just how perfect a marriage between these two people would be: Freddie would have protection against unsavory rumors and Florence would have the security and financial stability she seeks. In order to accomplish the former, though, everyone involved in throwing these two together must lie to Florence. It is a lie of omission, but no less of a lie for all that.

Maintaining such a façade would be difficult under the best of circumstances, but add Edward’s very uncomfortable and inopportune attraction to Florence, a vindictive ex-mistress, and the plethora of rumors about Freddie that already being whispered among London’s high society—to say nothing about a bitter spinster—and you have an even more volatile mix.

I really liked Ms Holly’s characterizations and her use of language; even though I cannot vouch whether some of the more graphic terms were in use at the time, they fit where they are used.

Edward is a fascinating mix of self assurance and self awareness with a sense of responsibility for his younger brother that is a tad overblown. Having an older brother who shares this trait, if not to Edward’s degree, I could very well relate to that aspect of his personality and understand his drive to protect Freddie, almost over every other consideration.

Freddie, on the other hand, wants to protect Edward’s name and standing in society much more than his own. His commitment to the scheme is absolute at first, driven as it is by love and a feeling of guilt—not so much guilt over his being homosexual as it is over giving Edward cause for grief and worry.

For her part, Florence likes Freddie very much. His natural openness, charm and gentleness make her feel comfortable enough. With him alone, she’s not the shy country mouse but just a person whose company he enjoys as much as she enjoys his. There is an equal footing in their interactions that puts her at ease from the beginning—while her every contact with Edward, Earl of Greystowe is fraught with a tension she cannot understand nor will away.

As time passes, this tangled triangle becomes a quartet and then a quintet of people whose feelings for each other not only are not what they “should” be, but also are not about to be squelched in the name of appropriate behaviour.

To the main cast, Ms Holly adds Hypathia, Duchess of Carlisle and aunt to Freddie and Edward. A social force for decades, her rôle in this play is to launch Florence and engineer her meeting and later engagement with Freddie. Lizzy, Florence’s maid and childhood friend, whose timidity allows her shy mistress to be brave, and to whom a romantic heart gives courage of her own. A bit more sketchy but no less well rendered are Nigel West, Edward’s steward at Greystowe; Imogene, Lady Hargreave and her spinster aunt, Catherine Exeter; Meredith Vance, youngest daughter to the Duke of Monmouth; and a few other secondary characters.

My only quibbles with this book would be that I want to know more about what impact—if any—those letters Edward found had on Catherine’s outlook. I want to know whether Merry fell in love with that fellow her father wanted for her and whether that mended her relationship with Florence. I want to know whether Florence ever finished learning to ride “as a lady born.”

8.5 out of 10

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