Back in my book-selling days, I'd recommend Georgette Heyer to anyone who wanted non-smutty Regency romance, as well as any romance that was just reputed to be really well-written.
That didn't mean I'd gotten around to reading her, though.
I've now remedied that terrible evil.
You could say Heyer is Jane Austen's heiress, what with her alternatingly humourous and devastating description of our human foibles when it comes to such petty things as money, pride, livelihoods, sensibilities, too-- you know, the trifles that contribute to our sense of who we are and should be in the world.
She's funny, clever, not afraid to shy away from the ugly emotion, and kinder to her laughable characters than another author might be.
A Civil Contract reminds me in some ways of Persuasion, though it veers from the story-- still, I'll read anything that features a smart but sensitive-on-the-inside plain Jane (or Jenny, here, as the heroine's called). She weds our "hero," not that he isn't, just that it takes him a while to get over himself, good breeding and all to the side, and makes the best of her unwanted step up in the world because she wants to please her overbearing merchant father and because she has (unwarranted, she knows all too well) romantic thoughts about her husband to be.
There are more and less ridiculous family dramas, prior romantic entaglements to be gotten over, fortunes to be made, and more discussion of the Napoleonic wars than one might expect in a romance (rural agriculture as well, but I am a geek for that stuff, the wars, not so much), as well as lots of sympathetic friends whose own romances I'd like to see in their own books, but the best part of this book is that it's not really a romance.
Instead, it's the story of an anti-romantic marriage, one of convenience, and how the two parties learn not just toleration but fondness, friendship, and something warmer and more solid than the heights of fancy. Adam (our hero) and Jenny (our not-fair but dependable heroine) have their share of bumps, but you're cheering for them to figure it out even as your heart clenches for the (not-overwrought) scenes in which they accidentally harm each others' feelings along the way to contentment.
The story is well-paced and humane, and while it might not appeal to the twenty-year old reader looking for something dashing, to a thirty-eight year old (and thensome) looking for a story that isn't escapist, but is a lovely reflection of a possible love, A Civil Contract is a wonderful thing.