One night in a cafe in Paris, two people both on the cusp of beginning a grand adventure meet by chance. Phoebe is about to leap into her dream of owning her own restaurant, in association with an acclaimed French chef, also her lover. Owen has just left London and is about to commence a grand adventure, trying to work out what he wants from life. They share a few hours of conversation over a jug of wine, each intrigued by the other but two ships passing in the night.
Two years later, when Owen doesn’t come to the meeting they’d scheduled to discuss if they’d achieved their dreams, Phoebe can’t help but want to seek him out. At least one of them might have… because her dreams had turned sour very fast indeed. She finds Owen in London, though, and he’s a far cry from the supremely healthy, energetic young man she met in Paris. Injured in a fire in Marseilles just weeks after their first meeting, he’s now a lonely recluse suffering from a severe case of PTSD.
Distraught to see that Phoebe’s dreams failed just as dismally as his own, Owen determines to offer her a second chance. The only way he can convince her to accept his backing is as a partnership, though - a marriage partnership, because he has a fiancee he needs to let off the hook gracefully.
In 1830, there were no Parisien-style cafes in London, certainly not where men and women could sit down to eat together. Phoebe’s dream of not only opening one, but of being the head chef in an age where it certainly wasn’t a suitable occupation for a woman, makes Owen’s proposal the only chance she has. Owen’s trauma isn’t just physical, though, and Phoebe doesn’t know how to help him get past the demons haunting him, even though they fall quite quickly in love.
There’s so much wonderful historical detail about the restaurant trade in both Paris and London at the time, and the inherent unfairness about the way Phoebe is swindled will have you seeing red. Owen’s situation is very different, and he’s in need of a different kind of aid altogether, that being therapy, both physical and psychological, for what he’s been through. The author treats his PTSD with sympathy and care, showing both how it affects him and how his efforts to work through it turn out. What I particularly liked was there was no magical fix or Love Cures All solution; it takes time, confronting his trauma and learning how to manage his symptoms, and even at the end of the book it’s made clear that the trauma will always be with him even though he’s learned to manage the worst of his symptoms. It’s possibly the best treatment of PTSD I’ve ever seen done in a historical romance, and for this plus the lovely romance between Owen and Phoebe, I’m delighted to give this story five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the author.