REVIEW: The Firstborn by Quenby Olson
Sophia has sacrificed everything for her younger sister, Lucy. She has removed them from the only home they ever knew, taken on the care of Lucy’s illegitimate son, George, and even assumed the role of a widow and mother in order to erase all hint of scandal from the boy’s birth. But rumor continues to follow them like the darkest of clouds, and Sophia must adapt to her new existence as a false widow with no prospects beyond the doors of her small cottage.
Lord Haughton will stop at nothing to prevent the slightest whiff of disgrace from tainting his family’s name. When he learns of his younger brother’s latest indiscretion-one that leaves a bastard child in his wake-Haughton rushes across the country to offer the boy’s mother a comfortable living in exchange for her silence about the child’s true parentage. But he arrives only to have his generous offer thrown back in his face by Sophia Brixton, a sharp-tongued and sharper-witted woman who proceeds to toss him out of her house. But just because he is banished from her home does not mean he is so easily banished from her life.
Dear Ms. Olson,
So many Regency novels use the “one night of love” premise to get the hero and heroine together before their scandal free HEA is achieved. But what happens if there is a child born of a marriage-free relationship and the elder siblings are left to pick up the pieces and try and ensure that the blameless baby doesn’t suffer because of the consequences of his birth? That is what attracted me to this book.
Our hero Lord Haughton has just discovered that his scapegrace younger brother is the father of a nine month old son. There is a reason that the family has always indulged David and bailed him out of the repercussions of his actions. Wearily Finnian decides what to do this time and heads off to the wilds of Northumberland. But when he arrives and haughtily offers “Mrs. Brixton,” whom he knows full well isn’t the child’s mother, a large annuity to keep quiet and make no demands on his family, he doesn’t realize with whom he’s dealing.
Sophia Penrose had to assume the role of guardian and pseudo-parent to her younger sister Lucy when their parents died and there were no relatives financially able to take them in. Busy with eking out their existence on £50 a year, she wasn’t able to keep Lucy from indulging in a relationship with a handsome rogue. To quell the scandal, they’ve moved far from their home and are living in a small cottage given to them by their grandmother’s friend. Now that the novelty of motherhood has worn off, Sophia honestly isn’t surprised that her flighty sister has disappeared leaving her to raise George.
With his offer thrown back in his face, Finnian leaves. Sophia frets over whether she’s let her pride deprive George of the money that could eventually help him overcome his illegitimate birth and be able to make his way in the world. But Finnian’s younger sister is having none of that. Widowed young and childless, she pokes and prods at Finnian until he gives in and invites Sophia and George to the Haughton family estate. It’s there that fate plays a hand in arranging something that just might finally bring Sophia and Finnian together.
So Finnian and Sophia do not get off to a great start. Yet each almost immediately rethinks the way they acted. Finnian sees that Sophia isn’t a money grubbing woman but someone doing the best she can and who obviously adores George – drool, tantrums and all. Sophia knows that Lord Houghton needn’t have sought her out nor offered to pay for George’s upbringing and schooling. He might have been initially cold but he is trying to take care of his nephew and make sure that George is being brought up by people who care for him and wouldn’t drink the annuity away.
Finn could have told, even without the information given to him by his private investigator, that this woman isn’t the type his younger brother would become involved with. Sophia is too bold and forthright – too unwilling to cave in or be coquettish. She’s made of far sterner stuff than David’s usual fancies. He finds his admiration growing for Sophia who has sacrificed everything to keep her nephew safe. Bravo that he apologizes to her before confessing any of his feelings for her. For George’s benefit, Sophia wants to believe that Lord Houghton is becoming more penitent and that they might be able to work out an arrangement that will help George’s future but without taking George from her.
It’s when a crisis arises that Sophia truly sees behind Finnian’s façade of control and the two hover on the edge of something each didn’t hope for. I like how it’s delicately resolved and not made easy nor are all possible future glitches removed. There will probably always be whispers about George among the ton and perhaps even some about Sophia. But none of this matters. B
She was not a slight thing, certainly not a wisp of a female to wilt in his arms the minute his hand found its way to her waist, and yet his first inclination was to hold her as if she were the most ethereal of creatures, ready to dissipate when his fingers sought out greater purchase. But instead of fading away, Sophia stepped into him, the hand that had been making a further mess of his neckcloth sliding over his collar to brush the edges of his hair.
This woman, he realized, and no other.
A dip of her head, a smile of her own, and she slipped inside, pausing only long enough to glance at him over her shoulder, the previous lines of stress replaced by a slight crinkling at the corners of her eyes. Lines of happiness, he realized. And he—cold, boorish fellow she’d once accused him of being—had been the one to put them there.