Once again, Grace Burrowes has created a fascinating couple of characters in Hester Daniels and Tiberius Flynn, Earl of Spathfoy. As with most of Burrowes’ books, it helps to know the backstory.
Hester first appeared in [b:The Bridegroom Wore Plaid|13515289|The Bridegroom Wore Plaid (MacGregor Trilogy, #1)|Grace Burrowes|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1339827063s/13515289.jpg|19071609], when she accompanied her father, sister, aunt and cousin to Castle Balfour in Aberdeenshire, where they are guests of Ian MacGregor, the Earl of Balfour and his family. That book ended like an episode of Love Boat, with the sister, aunt, and cousin all married to MacGregor men. Then, in the novella [b:Mary Fran and Matthew|18046487|Mary Fran and Matthew (MacGregor Trilogy, #1.5)|Grace Burrowes|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1372177391s/18046487.jpg|25326222] Hester's brother marries the lone MacGregor sister, Mary Fran, who has a seven-year old daughter from her first marriage to the no-good Gordie Flynn, Spathfoy’s younger brother. While on the Continent for their wedding trip, Mary Fran and Matthew have left little Fiona in the care of her step-aunt Hester and her elderly step-great aunt Lady Ariadne (Aunt Ree).
Tiberius shows up in Scotland without warning, ostensibly to pay a visit to his niece, young Fiona, but in reality he is there to fetch her back to live with her father’s family. Her grandfather, the Marquess of Quinworth, had questioned Fiona’s legitimacy and never shown any interest in her, but now he has commissioned his son to bring her back. Tiberius decides to wait a few days before taking Fiona, but during that time he becomes enamored of Hester and Aunt Ree. Actually, at first he and Hester do not like one another, but that begins to change the longer he stays in Scotland. In addition, he is charmed by Fiona and begins to feel guilty at the thought of taking her away from the only family she has ever known.
Tiberius is a complex, enigmatic man, quite unlike any other hero in Burrowes’ other books. I sometimes think that her heroes verge on too good to be true and have a bit too much 'feminine side' to their personalities. Tiberius, however, is 100% male, and I found him both maddening and fascinating. His interactions with Fiona are charming. Although the romance with Hester is naturally the main focus of the book, little Fiona is also a star. Burrowes has the knack of writing juvenile characters who are real people and not just cute side characters. Fiona is indeed cute, but she is also maddening, calculating, and stubborn – just like a real kid. (This talent also comes through in [b:Ethan: Lord of Scandals|16099895|Ethan Lord of Scandals (Lonely Lords, #3)|Grace Burrowes|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1367615976s/16099895.jpg|21909622]).
This is not a criticism, but we modern readers may find it incomprehensible that the fierce MacGregor clan seems to accept Fiona’s fate once Tiberius reveals his mission to them. The idea that a distant paternal grandfather could just take a child from her mother is rather shocking to us, but it is consistent with the 19th century legal system. It is also a bit difficult to understand why Tiberius is so intent upon following his father’s commands, when it is clear that he has strong reservations about the plan. His motivation, however, becomes out later in the book, so be patient.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I have a love/hate relationship with Grace Burrowes – I tend to love her stories and hate some of authorial tics that afflict her writing (hero brushing and braiding heroine’s hair; tea and cakes in every indoor scene, etc.) Here, however, I found almost nothing to annoy me (she brushes his hair!), and much to admire. This is one of Grace Burrowes’ best books, and I highly recommend it.