Sadly, Rose Lerner’s In for a Penny is out of print (used copies can be found fairly inexpensively, though)–it looks like this is one of the many book caught up in the Dorchester debacle.
It’s a shame, because this is a fantastic book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Lord Nevinstoke (or rather, more properly, Lord Bedlow) has inherited his father’s title and estate and discovered that he’s essentially bankrupt. So he needs a rich wife–and he remembers Miss Penelope Brown, a brewery heiress who he had briefly met at a society event. Miraculously, she agrees to marry him and it appears that the day may be saved.
The key word here is “appears”. For once Nev and Penny arrive at his ancestral estate, they find themselves caught up in an ongoing conflict between their nearest neighbor and their tenants. The neighbor, Sir Jasper, has a horror of commoners–there’s really no other way to describe it–and he will stop at nothing to make sure they know their place (which is, naturally, under his boot). He also wishes to marry Nev’s younger sister, Louisa and their mother is in favor of the match.
This is a nicely plotted and well done novel that, while it nods to the conventions of a romance, is really more about how people of different social classes interact with each other and how they each have a stake in each other’s success. I thought that part was incredibly well-done, in fact–Nev’s estate can’t succeed unless he can get buy-in from his tenants and his tenants need to know that he’s not going to bleed them dry.
The cast of secondary characters is great, too, and I liked that the antagonist had a pretty good reason for being antagonistic instead of just a stock bad guy who is totally jealous of the hero–it’s very clear that Sir Jasper is definitely the hero of his own story (as all good villains must be!).
Nev’s mother, who has the potential to also be an antagonist, is so very human and Nev tries his best to see where she’s coming from–she’s been married for 25 years to a man she doesn’t love and then he dies and leaves her essentially destitute. I can’t imagine anyone being a paragon of good behavior in that situation. There’s also a morally corrupt vicar named Snively (I imagine him with a glorious mustache for twirling), a complicit tenant with ambitions to become gentry, Nev’s childhood friends, and lots of other characters who are all as fully rounded as they can be in the story.
Finally, Nev and Penny are wonderful. They have misunderstandings between them but they almost always manage to use their words and talk things out–they both want, so much, for their marriage to succeed and, I think, they’re both a bit surprised to fall in love with each other.
If this sounds like your kind of thing, I can’t recommend trying to find a reasonable priced used copy. I hope that the author will be able to get their rights back and make it available again because it really is a great book.