More than a year has passed since Helena Martin was widowed tragically. Although she struggles to leave the house and brave the bustling streets of London, she is determined not to disappoint her children and agrees to escort them to the Grand Exhibition accompanied. Once there, however, the press of the crowds is too much, and she rescued by the last person she would ever expect.
Daniel Lanfield is shocked to discover the attractive woman he had been admiring just before her swoon is none-other than his brother's ex-fiance and his former neighbor. In his hometown, Helena is notorious. Her elopement with an agent of the railroads was a social and economic disaster for them. By eloping she wrecked a plan that would have united the lands that the railroads sought to acquire. That failure led to the town being passed over by railroads and entering into a steep decline.
Daniel and Helena's uncomfortable re-acquaintance would have been brief if not for the arrival of an unexpected summons from Helena's ailing but estranged grand-mother. Although Daniel tries to dissuade her, he ends up escorting her home. Once back,both have to face their past and the consequences of their choices.
I love enemies to lovers, and I think Royce did a wonderful job showing how Daniel and Helena come to appreciate each other. I love that Helena had deeply loved her husband and had been loved in return but at the same time, could now see with the eyes of a parent, the her elopement in a different light. She can recognize its rashness and count herself lucky for the happiness she had enjoyed. Royce also does a wonderful job developing characters who carry griefs and hurts but are not defined by or cured of them magically. There are serious obstacles to their growing relationship and those aren't magically overcome either. The resolution didn't sit well with me at first because it was a departure from what I have come to expect as a HEA, however, the more I thought about the more it made sense for the characters.
Once Beloved is a smart and mature Victorian-era romance about facing with consequences and making choices to trust and love against the lures of bitterness and resentment.
Disclosure: Amara and I have followed each other on Facebook and Twitter for several years and I met her in person last summer at RWA. She is a lovely person online and off-line. I am glad to have finally read one of her novels. I will be going back and reading the ones I have missed.