Connor Pendarvis arrives in the little village of Wyckerley driven by a tragic past that fuels his ambitions for the future. The only family Connor has left is Jack, an older brother who suffers from a serious case of consumption caused by working in the mines for most of his life and who may not have much longer to live. Connor has joined forces with a progressive political organization and has made it his life's mission to uncover the harsh working conditions in the mines and bring them into the light of day to effect legislative changes that will protect all miners. He comes to Wyckerley undercover, using Jack's identity and work record to get a job at Guelder Mine, but before that happens, he chances to meet a beautiful woman in the town square who sparks his interest. He hopes to get to know her better until he discovers that she is the owner of the mine he's come to investigate, which places them at odds. However, as their acquaintance grows deeper, Connor knows he's fallen in love with her, but how can he tell her about his true identity and purpose without losing her?
When Sophie Deene's father died, he trusted her enough to leave his life's work at Guelder Mine in her capable hands, and she's determined to run it in a way that would make him proud. Because of her wealth, she is also one of the highest ranking ladies in town on the social ladder and intends to keep it that way, but she's far too busy with the mine for courting to really be on her agenda. When she meets Connor, she's instantly smitten with him, but when he comes to her mine seeking work, she balks at the idea of anything more developing between them out of fear of what the rest of the village might think of her association with someone of low birth. However, as she gets to know him, he proves to be intelligent, charming, and gentlemanly, qualities that are exactly what she's seeking in a mate. But no sooner has she allowed herself to entertain the idea of marrying him and the rest of the village's opinions be damned, than she discovers the full extent of his betrayal. Heartbroken, she vows never to see him again, but fate intervenes to reunite them. Can they find their way to a place of peace and understanding or are they doomed to forever be at odds?
Forever & Ever is the third and final novel in Patricia Gaffney's Wyckerley Trilogy, which follows the lives of a colorful group of characters who live in the small fictional village of Wyckerley in the English countryside. This one is the story of Sophie Deene, a young woman whose father left her his copper mine upon his death, something almost unheard of in the Victorian era in which it's set. She's a shrewd but fair businesswoman who's been running the mine quite well for the past two years. Then Cornishman Connor Pendarvis comes to town. He's impersonating his brother, Jack, who's a former miner, in order to get a job at the mine for the purpose of secretly evaluating its working conditions and safety protocols for a progressive political organization that hopes to enact legislation to regulate the mining industry. As the two often see each other at various events around town and start getting to know one another, they slowly fall in love despite the differences in their social stations. But when the truth of Connor's identity and actual mission come out, it puts their fledgling relationship to the test. I loved To Love and to Cherish, the first book of the series, but the second one, To Have and to Hold, was just an OK read that left me feeling rather cold. Because of that, I went into reading this book not quite sure what to expect, but I'm happy to report that I very much enjoyed it.
While not a titled lady, Sophie is definitely near the top of the social ladder in Wyckerley. She's always considered herself to only be beneath Rachel Verlaine (To Have and to Hold), the viscountess of the nearby estate, and Anne Morrell (To Love and to Cherish), the former viscountess of the same estate. As such, Sophie feels she has a reputation to uphold and has always behaved with the utmost propriety. She also prides herself on running her father's mine well, wanting to live up to the faith he placed in her when he made her his heir. While her uncle and cousin would like to see her find a husband, Sophie is far more interested in simply being a businesswoman. She likes being in charge and doesn't really want to turn the mine over to a man who would likely expect her to cease her participation in the day-to-day activities of running it, so she's content with where she is in life. Then Connor comes to town and she's instantly intrigued by him. When she discovers that he's a simple miner, she balks a bit at her attraction to someone of low birth, but ultimately he proves to be a temptation she can't resist. They begin to spend more and more time in each other's company and eventually become lovers, but just when things seem perfect and she's come to terms with making things more permanent with him, she learns his true identity and understandably feels betrayed. Things end badly between them, but fate conspires to soon bring them back together. However, just as they're starting to understand each other again, more drama and tragedy ensue. Sophie is the perfect mixture of the sweet ingénue who's kind to everyone and always happy to lend a helping hand, and a highly intelligent, strong-willed, mature woman who can run a business every bit as well as a man. She also has a certain stubborn pride that causes her to get in her own way at times. Despite that, though, she can still be quite reasonable and usually finds her way around to seeing things differently when warranted, so I very much liked her in spite of her flaws.
Connor tragically lost his entire family except for Jack, an older brother who is seriously ill with consumption from working in the mines all his life. Connor was the only member of the family to get an education and his family always had high hopes for his future. He had his own aspirations of becoming a barrister until that part of his education was cut short. Because of his brother's condition, he desperately wants to enact mining reform, so he took employment with a political organization for which he secretly investigates mines, using Jack's identity and work record, and then writes reports that are used to create legislation. When he first arrives in Wyckerley, Connor is instantly smitten with the lovely Sophie, but when he learns she's the owner of the mine he was sent to investigate, it just as quickly makes her his enemy. But the more time he spends with her and the more he learns about her and how all the workers at the mine seem to revere her, he can't help his attraction to her. However, it doesn't change the fact that her mine is still a dangerous place for the workers, so he goes ahead with writing his preliminary report, not knowing that the society he's working for is planning to publish it. Just as he realizes he's in love with Sophie and decides to reveal the truth of his identity and hope that she'll forgive him, the cat is let out of the bag before he can. Connor isn't unlike Sophie in that he, too, can be stubborn and prideful and get in his own way sometimes. But at the same time, he's a very kind, caring, and generous man who only wants to do what's right. In fact, I felt like he leaned more toward being a beta hero, because he isn't bothered by Sophie continuing to work at the mine and he's never a possessive jerk. I also very much liked that he wasn't a womanizer, focusing his energies instead on his scholarly work, and even when another woman practically handed herself to him on a silver platter, he politely refused in spite of not being with Sophie at the time.
Overall, I very much enjoyed Forever & Ever. It's an extremely well-written and well-researched story. The first half of the book is sweet and tender as Connor and Sophie get to know one another and share plenty of romantic and passionate interludes. After their separation, it's difficult for them to find their way back to a place of love and trust. Sometimes this could be just a tad frustrating, but usually their arguments don't last long before they make some kind of peace and they do eventually find their way to a much better place. However, there's still some fairly intense drama toward the end of the story that was emotionally heavy for me to read. In fact, Sophie suffers from a case of what I'm sure would be diagnosed nowadays as clinical depression, which might distress readers who've experienced this condition themselves. During this part, I felt that the narrative was perhaps just a little too melodramatic. Otherwise, this was an excellent read. I liked the little visits we get with Christy and Anne (To Love and to Cherish) and Sebastian and Rachel (To Have and to Hold) to show where they are now, as well as the love triangle between supporting characters, William and Sidony, who were introduced in the second book, and Jack. Everything came together nicely to make Forever & Ever a great wrap-up to the Wyckerley Trilogy and another of this author's books that will go on my keeper shelf.
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