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.
In Quenby Olson's The Firstborn, readers are introduced to Finnian and Sophia. The first has recently acquired his late father's title and responsibilities, an inordinate amount of which involves cleaning up after his younger brother David's messes. The second has sacrificed any chances of a respectable life to pose as the widowed mother of her sister Lucy's illegitimate son, George. When Finnian arrives to offer Sophia money for George's upbringing in exchange for her silence, the last thing he expects is for her to chase him away in anger. He expects their lives to further entangle even less.
I've enjoyed Ms. Olson's other books, so I looked forward to reading this with gusto. As is the norm for her work, The Firstborn is filled with glorious prose, exquisite dialogue, and characters so real, one half-believes they can reach out and touch them. As I was reading, I kept imagining how beautiful a film or a miniseries it would make. Olson manages to tackle a stigma that persists in some degree to this day without judging the past, but rather convicting the reader to show more compassion and kindness to those around them. This book is the soul sister of Jane Austen's beloved Pride and Prejudice; while the characters and plot couldn't be more different, they evoke the same emotional experience. I can't wait to read more Regency era stories from Ms. Olson.