Desperate, penniless, and shunned by his wealthy father, Darius Lindsey begins offering himself secretly to jaded society ladies. He hangs onto his last shreds of honor, but he’s losing ground financially each month.
That is until the aging Lord William Longstreet makes Darius an offer he can’t refuse: get the Lord’s pretty young wife-of-convenience, Lady Vivian, pregnant discreetly, and he will earn enough money to never want again. But problems lie ahead when the stunning Vivian captures his heart, and his clients refuse to let him go. Can Darius untangle himself without scandal and offer himself to Vivian heart and soul?
I have to confess to being a big fan of Grace Burrowes’ work. Her writing is sublime and even more importantly, so is her characterization. I’ve laughed and cried while reading her books; it takes a lot for the written word to reduce me to tears, but she’s managed it a few times.
Darius is the first in a new series of eight books under the title of Lonely Lords. From peeking at the next couple of books in the series, I see that the central characters from each story are related in some way, with a couple of characters from Burrowes’ Windham series making cameo appearances.
Darius Lindsey is a ‘spare’. The impoverished second son of the Earl of Winslow, he ekes himself out a meagre existence by providing services of an ‘intimate’ nature to wealthy, bored women in exchange for money. It’s clear he takes no real pleasure in his occupation, and that he despises himself for doing it. But having been cast off by his father and feeling unequipped to do anything other than trade on his good looks and charm, he does what he has to do to keep a roof over his head and to protect those he cares about. At the beginning of the story, he is persuaded into employment by Lord William Longstreet who is in need of an heir, having recently lost both his sons. Darius doesn’t have sex with the women who employ him – but Longstreet’s offer proves more than he can resist: enough money to make Darius financially secure in exchange for impregnating Longstreet’s much younger wife.
I’m normally quite wary of this sort of storyline. In the wrong hands, it can turn out to be an excuse for endless sex scenes and of course, in order for the hero and heroine to get their HEA, the elderly husband has to die conveniently or be otherwise put out of the picture.
But this author hasn’t let me down yet, so I felt fairly confident that she would be able to make such a contrivance work. I can forgive a hackneyed plot if the author makes me care about the characters, and that, I feel, is Burrowes’ greatest strength.
The reasons for Darius’ estrangement from his father emerge slowly, but from the outset it’s clear that his childhood was not a happy one. There are also references to a past scandal involving one of his sisters (which I imagine will be addressed in the next book) and the fact that Darius is doing the best he can to integrate her back into society and protect her from censure.
Vivian Longstreet is, as Darius terms it, a “married spinster.” She had previously been companion to Longstreet’s late wife, but after the latter’s death, William marries Vivian in order to prevent her being married off for profit by her rapacious stepfather. But with death approaching, he needs to secure her future and in order to do so, comes up with the idea of finding a man to sire a child who he will present to the world as his heir and who will inherit part of his estate and enable Vivian to live independently.
Vivian agrees reluctantly to the plan and together, she and her husband come to the conclusion that Darius is the ideal choice: in need of the money, very discreet and above all, Vivian comes to realize, a man who is fiercely protective of the people he cares about.
Even before their liaison begins, Darius senses danger. Vivian is fragile and lacking in confidence and he knows he needs to take care with her, and not just in the physical sense. But more than that, he recognizes a kindred spirit, someone he could easily come to love but who, for the sake of the child and her reputation, can never acknowledge him after their time together comes to an end.
Darius and Vivian are to spend a month together, and given the nature of their agreement, things begin awkwardly. But Darius, as well as being handsome, charming and good in bed, is a truly good man. He knows that the longer Vivian is allowed to brood over their situation, the more likely she is to want to back out – so while he can’t allow her too much time to come to terms, he sets about putting her at ease with a mixture of consideration and playfulness. Vivian begins to blossom in his care, gaining confidence in her appearance and in her ability to assert herself.
Before the month is out, they have fallen deeply in love even though they don’t acknowledge it and know it can never amount to anything. Their relationship is beautifully written, full of tenderness and genuine affection. I particularly liked the scenes where they have breakfast in bed, which were a little glimpse of an informal domesticity in the lives of two people who have never before experienced it. I sometimes think that moments like that are just as intimate as sex scenes – if not more so.
Their month ends, Darius and Vivian have to part and I don’t mind admitting that the pages that covered their final night and their subsequent goodbyes brought a lump to my throat.
Vivian returns to her husband, more or less sure that she is expecting a child. Darius attempts to return to his previous life, but he can’t – not only are his finances in a better state, Vivian has enabled him to rediscover some of his sense of self-worth and he resolves to tell his two current clients that they’re finished. Unfortunately, however it’s not that simple. They’re not going to give him up that easily, and make threats against his sisters to try to ensure his continued attentions.
There’s another spanner in the works, too, in the shape of Vivian’s stepfather, who, even though no longer married to her mother, has never removed himself from Vivian’s life and still has plans to gain control of her fortune as soon as she is widowed.
If I have a criticism about the story, it’s the somewhat melodramatic nature of the villains and their respective plots. On the plus side, these are not allowed to drag on or create a Big Misunderstanding between the hero and heroine. Darius decides on a plan of action and meets underhandedness with underhandedness which, while he is not proud of it, quickly and satisfactorily neutralizes the threats.
I know that Burrowes has been criticized for inaccuracies in historical detail in her novels, and while there were a couple of things here that made me raise my eyebrows (like the scene where Darius takes Vivian to Gunter’s and at one point feeds her ice cream!) there was nothing here that truly bothered me.
Because for me, what’s important in a romance is that we are shown that relationship developing. We get to know the characters, to understand what attracts them to each other, and watch them fall for each other and overcome whatever obstacles lie in their path. And this is where I think Grace Burrowes excels. Darius and Vivian have both been missing something in their lives – he feels worthless and lives on the edges of society, and she has never lived for herself – and in finding each other, they find themselves as well.