I’ve become a Grace Burrowes fan-girl after reading the entire Windham series, although one of the annoying things in those books was the author’s habit of tossing in new characters with little or no introduction. But, as I pointed out in my review of the series:
What I did not realize originally was that Grace Burrowes had already written something like twenty-four unpublished novels before this one was published as her debut. She’s created a whole world out there, people, and you’ll never understand who all the players are unless you read all of her books. And even then you won’t know because there are more on the way. Namely, the Lonely Lords series, each one featuring a secondary character from the Windham series.
Darius Lindsey, second son of the Earl of Wilton, is one of those secondary characters, in [b:The Virtuoso (Duke's Obsession, #3)|11214727|The Virtuoso (Duke's Obsession, #3) (Windham, #3)|Grace Burrowes|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1323202466s/11214727.jpg|16140236], as Lord Valentine Windham’s friend who helps him restore the run-down estate that Val won in a card game. (And how odd it is that these sons of an earl and a duke are such competent carpenters? Well, we’ll let that slide.) Darius is broke because his evil father has cut his allowance. Why does Wilton treat his children so cruelly? No idea. Why does Darius’s sister Leah need his protection? No idea. Why is Leah tainted by scandal? No idea. (But fear not, you’ll get answers if you read the next book [b:Nicholas|16099862|Nicholas (Lonely Lords, #2)|Grace Burrowes|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1366577114s/16099862.jpg|21909568].)
To keep the wolf at bay, Darius is a sort of man-ho for two ladies with bizarre sexual tastes. He refuses to engage in actual intercourse with them, but allows them to enjoy their peccadilloes. He hates them and himself, but he’s desperate to keep up his modest country estate, protect his sister, and support an adorable boy who may, or may not be, his son. Enter Lord William Longstreet, an elderly, highly respected politician married to a much younger lady. He and his late wife had two sons, but one died at Waterloo and the other in a duel. Thus, Longstreet has no heir, and upon his death his estate will revert to the Crown, leaving his wife virtually penniless. After discreet investigation, he has picked Darius as the man he wants to hire to impregnate his wife, and he offers Darius a fortune to take on the job.
Vivian Longstreet is, as Darius later puts it, a “married spinster.” She had been the hired companion to the late Lady Longstreet, and after that lady’s death, William married her to save her from falling under the dubious protection of her greedy stepfather. She has reluctantly agreed to her husband’s plan but has no real expectation that it will work. When she and Darius meet for the first time, though, they awkwardly enjoy one another’s company and agree to go forward with the plan.
You know where this is going. Darius and Vivian spend a month at his estate, uneasily at first but then passionately, and she returns to her husband. They don’t admit the love between them; they both know that they can never even acknowledge one another in public, and Darius can never be a true father to the child that she is going to have. I love the way the author gradually built up the relationship between Darius and Vivian. We get to see that he is a truly good man, despite his flaws, and deeply protective of those he loves. With Darius’s encouragement, Vivian comes out of her cocoon and enjoys herself. In addition to the increasingly passionate sex, he buys her a new wardrobe and gets her out of her drab gowns and severe hairdo. It’s a little bit like spending a month with a cross between George Clooney and Tim Gunn. I want to go there.
Okay, I jest, but actually I found this story sweet and charming and deeply affecting. Their parting was truly touching. I didn’t cry, but I wanted to. And then when Vivian returns to her husband, he actually comforts her. “It’s all right to be infatuated with the man, probably better in fact,” adding, “Lindsey is comely, he has a certain dash, and he no doubt charmed you. Some feelings for him were inevitable.” What a sweet old bird.
Back in London, Darius uses some of William’s money to set up a trust for his unborn child. He decides to drop his two “clients,” but they are not inclined to just let him go, so they cause trouble. Vivian’s stepfather and step daughter-in-law also cause trouble. There's some excitement, but Darius knows how to play down and dirty and gladly does so to protect Vivian's good name. In the meantime, Vivian is finding ways to keep “accidentally” running into Darius at various venues around town. In public, he treats her with cold politeness to avoid raising suspicions, but Vivian is hurt nonetheless.
As Vivian’s pregnancy progresses, Lord Longstreet’s health is deteriorating. I think Lord Longstreet is a sort of secondary hero in this story. He married Vivian to give her protection at a time when he still had two living heirs. Although he’s still in love with his dead wife and spends his time reading her old diaries, he always shows Vivian tenderness and respect. It gradually becomes apparent that Lord Longstreet hoped all along for a match between Vivian and Darius, and he goes out of his way to befriend Darius, even naming him godfather to Vivian’s child. He treats Darius like a son, and Darius finds in Lord Longstreet the paternalistic affection he had never known from his own father. It’s all rather unexpectedly moving.
I have now read all of Grace Burrowes’ published novels (although she’s turning them out so quickly that’s it’s hard to keep up). As I’ve said in other reviews, she has certain authorial habits that drive me to distraction, and yet I keep reading because her characters are so compelling. I found fewer distractions in this book, perhaps because I was so smitten by Darius himself. I suspect that most readers will be smitten as well.