Ethan Grey’s life was shattered…
Estranged from his family, widowed, and weary from fighting his troubled past, Ethan Grey now has a chance to replace loneliness with love. His sons’ beautiful and stubborn governess might help him battle his ghosts, but it’s been a long time since he let himself get close to anyone.
Alice Portman has more in common with Ethan than she can comfortably admit. For now, she’s satisfied with helping him rebuild his life and family, but the dangerous past is about to catch up with them both.
Grace Burrowes never ceases to amaze me. How on earth she manages to be both prolific AND so damn good boggles the mind. I haven’t yet read all of her books (I have to catch up with the earlier Windham stories) but everything else I’ve read of hers has been an A or B grade read for me, and Ethan is no exception.
Reclusive Ethan Grey is almost the exact opposite of his garrulous, younger half-brother Nicholas Haddonfield, now Earl Bellefonte. Where Nicholas is lively and open-hearted, Ethan is guarded; where Nicholas loves, he shows it, while Ethan does not. Both blessed with above average height and build and the golden good-looks that mark them out in any crowd, in terms of their respective personalities, the brothers are like chalk and cheese.
Ethan is a widower with two young sons, Jeremiah and Joshua. At the beginning of the book, the boys are staying with their uncle Nick and his wife, various members of the family and other houseguests and their children who are all in the care of governess Alice Portman. Alice currently working as governess to Priscilla Belmont, but as the girl has reached the age when she needs more than Alice can teach her, Miss Portman is looking to change her situation.
While it’s clear that Ethan adores his children, it’s also obvious that he has difficulty communicating this fact to them. He was miserable in his marriage and so buried himself in his work and looking after his estate, content to let others care for his boys. But when he discovers that Joshua was regularly beaten by their former tutor, he realises it’s time he took more of an active role in their upbringing. Having met Miss Portman and seen how good she is with his children, he offers her a position as governess. She is a shrewd woman – and accepts the position on a trial basis, having gained from Ethan an undertaking to spend more time with the boys so that he can re-connect with them.
I’ve said elsewhere that I’m not normally a fan of children in romance novels, but there are some stories which make me disregard my own prejudices, and this is one of them. Both Jeremiah and Joshua are beautifully characterised; boys who crave their father’s love and attention while trying not to show it because men don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves. Their interaction with Ethan is just lovely to read, as is the delight he finds in being a father to them, and Ms Burrowes skilfully creates a real and loving family unit with Alice as the catalyst to bring it all together.
A genuine friendship quickly develops between Ethan and Alice, and before long, a romance, which is also a delight. Both Ethan and Alice have suffered trauma in their lives (although we don’t find out exactly what happened to them until quite late on in the book), and have retreated into themselves as a way to be able to cope with it. Alice comes from a wealthy and loving family, yet because of an old family scandal and the huge weight of guilt she bears as a result, she has chosen to live apart from them and earn her own living. Ethan, too, shut himself off from his family, believing himself to be irretrievably damaged as the result of the abuse he suffered at the school he was sent to aged fourteen. This was initially alluded to in Nicholas – even though he was illegitimate, Ethan was brought up with the Haddonfield children and was especially close to Nick until their father separated them because of a misunderstanding.
Emotionally scarred so young, Ethan is convinced he is worthless, and furthermore, the abuse he suffered almost completely killed his interest in sex. When he found a woman who actually stirred his interest, he made her his mistress and then married her when she became pregnant. Deliberately, as he discovered later. The marriage was awful and his wife was unfaithful, throwing her infidelities in his face and blaming them on Ethan because of his dwindling interest in her. Ethan knows that Joshua is probably not his son, but that in no way alters his attitude toward the boy, which makes it all the more poignant when, near the end of the book, we discover the truth.
I absolutely loved this story, but if I had to say which was my favourite element, then it would have to be the continuation of the development of the relationship between Ethan and Nicholas that was begun in the previous book. Nick is a force of nature, huge in stature and huge of heart who desperately wants to regain the closeness he had shared with his brother when they were children. I adored the way that Ethan gradually opened up to let Nick back in, and the way that Nick never gave up on him even when he was rebuffed.
As I’ve come to expect from Ms Burrowes, the romance was tender and sweet and beautiful – two lonely, emotionally scarred people come together and learn that yes, it is possible to leave the past behind and stop letting what happened in the past govern the way they were living their lives in the present. It’s untimately a story about healing, I think, with Ethan repairing his relationships with his brother and his children, as well as the way in which Ethan and Alice come together to help each other and along the way discover that there is someone out there who is worth healing for.
The one negative thing I have to say is that it is rather too much of a coincidence that both Ethan and Alice suffered at the hands of the same person, but that really is all I can find to criticise.
I’m also growing to love the world Grace Burrowes is creating with these books. In Ethan we meet a number of characters who will be appearing in future stories (notably Gareth, Marquess of Heathgate who is Ethan’s neighbour and the only person who knows exactly what happened to Ethan at school, because he was the one who put a stop to it), as well as those who have appeared in her other books, such as Ben Hazlitt from the Windham’s series, who turns out to be Alice’s brother.
Each of the Lonely Lords series is designed so it can be read as a standalone, but I think that there is much to be gained by reading both this and its predecessor (Nicholas) in order, to get the full effect of the wonderful relationship Ms Burrowes has written between the half-brothers.