A Jo Beverley book from 2004. This is actually the first Beverley I've read. Her agent will be at the conference, and, though I'm only going to the awards-dinner part, on the off chance I get a moment to pitch to her, I'd like to have some knowledge of at least one writer she represents.
So honestly, the going is a bit slow. The hero didn't show up until page 40. And I'm not grasping why Laura, the heroine, is so convinced her brother-in-law means her son harm. Anyway, peeking ahead (I'm currently on page 104 out of 361), it looks like there will be a lot of intrigue and mystery-solving. That's tricky business for me. So often it feels like a distraction from the story I picked up the book to read: how two people grow to be significant in one another's lives.
That said, Beverley is obviously scrupulous with her research, and I like her language too. And there are a few little details I really enjoy, like the fact that, although Laura's marriage was disappointing overall, she and her late husband had great sex together. Not sure how realistic that is - if your husband is a womanizer and you can't respect him, doesn't that spill into your sexual relationship? - but I'm willing to go with it for this book's purposes.
Now I must catalogue the attitudes of widows toward sex that I've seen in my romance reading:
Widow had a lousy husband and never enjoyed sex
Widow enjoyed sex, and was shamed for it by her lousy husband
Widow had a decent husband, enjoyed sex, and knows she will enjoy it again
Widow had a basically-decent-but-unreliable husband, enjoyed sex, but will enjoy it even more with the reliable hero
Skylark is the first time I've seen "lousy husband, except he was generous and attentive in bed."
Oh, and I have to say something about the cover of my paperback copy. In the foreground are some big old flowers; I'd like to say what kind but for the life of me I can't remember the name even though there's a bush of these things in the yard of the house where I grew up. Bluish-purple sort of snowball clusters; sometimes they're pinkish-purple depending on the acidity of the soil or something. Those ones.
Anyway behind these flowers, so far in the background that he only takes up maybe 18% of the cover's real estate, is this open-shirted guy. And his open-shirted anatomy is very strange. I think I'm supposed to be seeing abdominal muscles, but they're curvy, almost like extra pecs only kind of off center. It's hard to tell because the library bar-code sticker partially obscures him. But it's one more reason these romance heroes ought to keep their shirts on, in my opinion.