A Convenient Fiction (Parish Orphans of Devon)
1860. Laura Hayes submerges herself in a pond, holding her breath to ‘strengthen her lungs,’ only to be unceremoniously ‘rescued’ by a stranger. He turns out to be Alex Archer, the missing member of the parish orphans in this series. He has come to rural Surrey to woo an heiress, not a young woman whose family has fallen on hard times, but the attraction between them proves impossible to resist, especially since circumstances keep throwing them together. Later he really does save her from drowning when she goes bathing in the sea and is caught by the rip tide, but by administering the ‘kiss of life’ he ruins her reputation. Death before dishonor? He proposes; with some hesitation, she accepts; their mutual attraction develops into love.
The path, understandably, is not smooth. Both have issues: she the burden of responsibility for her ailing aunt and invalid brother, he a sense of guilt and unworthiness for past conduct. Can they learn to trust each other? And themselves? Like earlier books in the series, this offers keen insights into the conventions and prejudices of Victorian society, caught between traditional attitudes and progress. The description of seaside bathing is particularly fascinating. Strongly recommended.