Nicholas: Lord of Secrets by Grace Burrowes

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Nicholas Haddonfield has something to hide…

After a wild youth, Nicholas Haddonfield, Viscount Reston, has promised his ailing father he’ll finally take a bride, though doing so will force Nick to make impossible choices and face old, painful wounds.

Leah Lindsey is glad to find refuge from her own desperate situation in a marriage of convenience with the gallant viscount. But soon convenience is not enough, and Leah can’t understand why Nick remains so distant. What is he hiding, and will he ever allow her into his heart?

Rating: B+

Nicholas Haddonfield, Viscount Reston, was a secondary character in Darius, the first book in Grace Burrowes’ Lonely Lords series. In this, the second book, we get to know Nicholas more fully, and to discover the nature of the scandal which surrounded Darius’ sister, Leah, which was hinted at in the first book.

Nicholas is a giant of a man, often likened to a Viking because of his height and massive frame. He’s a giant on the inside, too, with appetites of all sorts (!) to match his stature and a big, warm heart which won’t allow him to ignore the plight of a woman he hardly knows. He’s devoted to his family and, despite their having had their differences, has an affectionate relationship with his dying father, Earl Bellefonte. Nicholas is also feeling the weight of responsibility from that quarter, as he knows it will not be long before he has to assume the reins of the earldom and he worries about being able to adequately fill his father’s shoes and live up to his responsibilities.

He’s a man who adores women and genuinely likes them as people and not just as sexual partners – even though his sexual exploits and appetites are legendary. He is well-liked, charming, warm and funny; in fact he seems to have a perfect life, apart from one thing. As the heir to an earldom, he knows it to be his duty to marry and continue the line, but he doesn’t want to have children and therefore feels it would be wrong to marry. A wife is entitled to expect intimacy with her husband, and to expect him to give her children and as Nicholas is not willing to risk the latter, he is willing to forgo the former. Marrying under those conditions would be unfair to whomever he married and so, despite his fondness for the ladies, he has decided to eschew marriage and that his eldest nephew – when he comes into existence – will be his heir.

His reason for not wanting children is, it seems, a simple one. He is a very large man and frequently attests to the fact that his size at birth was responsible for the death of his mother; and he does not want to put his wife at risk in that way. It becomes clear later in the book however that this is merely a cover and that the true reason is a completely different one, and one that he does not want to share with anyone. Nicholas has a daughter who, at the age of sixteen, has the mind of a child. In order to protect her from the cruel and wagging tongues of the ton, Nicholas has housed her in the country, not far from his home, with a companion and he visits her as often as he can. Leonie is the reason he is terrified of fathering more children; he fears that any other offspring of his will suffer from the same condition, and knows that while he can hide away and protect a daughter, his son and heir would be a very different matter. He is unwilling to expose a child of his to ridicule, scorn and probably worse.

In Darius it was obvious that his sister Leah had been the subject of scandal some years before, and in Nicholas we discover the full extent of it. She had eloped with her fiancé (who had been her lover) having been, she believed, encouraged to do so by her father who could not wait to be rid of her. But between the elopement and the wedding, the Earl of Wilton had changed his mind, and proceeded to kill Leah’s fiancé in a duel. Distraught and pregnant, Leah was hustled off to Italy by Darius and her older brother, Trenton, where she bore her child who sadly died in infancy.

Back in England, Wilton has all-but promised Leah to one of his cronies, an older man with a propensity for violence in bed – and there is little that either of her brothers can do to prevent the match as Leah is a virtual prisoner in her home.
It was fairly clear from Wilton’s treatment of Darius that the man is unhinged, and the lengths he is prepared to go to in order to keep Leah from marrying Nicholas are further proof of that. But Nick has planned ahead and in true white-knight fashion, rescues his lady from Wilton’s evil clutches.

Nicholas has made it clear to Leah that theirs must be a “white” marriage as he doesn’t want to risk getting her pregnant. She doesn’t understand his reasons for not wanting children and is unconvinced by his oft-stated reason, that any child of his is likely to be huge and difficult to birth. But not only does Leah have no alternative, she loves Nick, so she marries him, knowing that he will be kind to her and quietly determined to burrow her way through his defences.

As ever, Ms Burrowes writes a thoroughly convincing romance. Leah is up to Nicholas’ weight intellectually and verbally, and there is a great and palpable tenderness between them that leaps off the page. My main problem with the book though, was the way that Nick’s fears were overcome in the blink of an eye when he discovered that his daughter’s infirmities were not caused by a birth defect but rather by a severe fever she’d had as a child. That he was in regular contact with the girl’s nanny/nurse, but never, in sixteen years, asked about Leonie’s situation seems ridiculous to me, as it does that the woman would never have offered up such information. I don’t like it much when an author (and especially an author as good as this one) has to resort to such a flimsy plot device in order to make a large element of the story work properly. And while I’m on this subject, are we really to believe that Nicholas who was, let’s face it, something of a manwhore, had never heard of french letters, sponges, douches, withdrawal or other forms of contraception? Or were his romps through the boudoirs of society confined to “everything but” ? Sure, nothing is guaranteed (other than abstention), but he does not even speak about contraception with his wife, which is odd, seeing as discussions of contraception and conception are things that Ms Burrowes does employ in other books.

But that apart, I enjoyed Nicholas, again principally due to the excellent characterisation and the way that Ms Burrowes is able to make me care about the people who inhabit her books and to draw me in to the story. Nick is a truly good man, despite his womanising – he’s charming and funny and wonderfully warm-hearted, and Leah, despite all she’s gone through is a survivor and thoroughly deserving of her gentle giant of a husband.

As well as the beautifully developed love story, the other highlight of the book for me was the relationship between Nicholas and his older – Illegitimate – half-brother, Ethan Grey. Even though he was a bastard, Ethan was brought up with the Haddonfield children and being closest in age to Nick, the two boys became very close emotionally, too – until the earl separated them and sent Ethan away to school. It’s clear in this book that that separation and the following years spent alone have taken a toll on Ethan, but in this story, they take the first steps towards reconciliation, and it’s beautifully done.

And this leads me to say that while all the books in this series are designed to be read as standalones, I think reading Ethan (the next in the series) will prove very rewarding, as Ms Burrowes has written a truly wonderful relationship between the half-brothers which continues into the next book.

With thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for the review copy.

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