Hadrian Bothwell was never an excellent fit with a religious calling, so when his brother asks to manage the family estate, Hadrian gives up vicaring and returns to his boyhood home.
He’s spent years thinking of Lady Avis Portmaine as the woman he should have fought for, but he finds Avis has become a recluse on the neighboring estate, socially shunned, and more unavailable than ever. If Hadrian wants to win the lady’s heart, he must first win her freedom from a past that will not leave her in peace.
Readers who have followed Grace Burrowes’ Lonely Lords from the beginning may recall the heroine of this book – Lady Avis Portmaine – as the sister of the heroine of the third, Ethan: Lord of Scandals. In that story, we learned that governess Alice Portman (in reality Lady Alexandra Portmaine) had been injured during her escape from a brutal attack on her and her sister, and that Avis had been cruelly and viciously violated by the man to whom she had been engaged.
In Hadrian: Lord of Hope we finally meet Lady Avis, who resides quietly at her brother’s estate in Cumberland. In the twelve years since the attack, she has put her life back together as best she can, but spiteful gossip continues to abound; there are still those who blame her for what happened to her and who consider her to be a whore and “no better than she should be”.
Hadrian Bothwell is Avis’ old friend and neighbour. His brother, Harold, Viscount Landover, had given shelter to both sisters on that fateful day, following Hadrian’s discovery of Avis, bruised and battered. The brothers took care of the girls until they were well enough to be removed to the care of their brothers and their own home.
Hadrian is a loving, gentle man, whose determination, at the age of eighteen, to take holy orders was not a decision endorsed by his brother. Following a decade spent as the vicar of St. Michaels of the Sword in Yorkshire, and now a widower, Hadrian returns to Landover to take up the reins of the estate at Harold’s request. Eight years Hadrian’s senior, Harold has spent most of his life managing the estate and doing his duty by the land, but he has never been completely happy. Hadrian is his heir, and will remain so, given that Harold is leaving England in order to make a life abroad with the love of his life, Lord James Finch, a man with whom he has had a very discreet relationship for a number of years. Harold and Hadrian have no other family, and Hadrian is already feeling the wrench of parting very keenly. He is pleased that his brother has found someone who makes him happy, but is ambivalent about his choice of partner. He doesn’t condemn Harold (which may not be a particularly historically accurate reaction), but is nonetheless angry at Finch for taking his brother away from him.
As the story progresses, it emerges that Avis and Hadrian had been on the verge of something more than friendship all those years ago before Hadrian’s departure for University. He had written to her, making his feelings clear and asking her to wait for him – but never received any responses to his letters. Several years later, he married the youngest daughter of a fellow clergyman who, it turned out, had no real desire to be married to him. Hadrian, a man with a lot of love to give, found himself trapped in a relationship with a woman who clearly had more of an eye to his wealth and station as heir to a viscount than any feelings for him as a man.
Hadrian and Avis renew their friendship, finding those youthful feelings quickly re-awakening. As their relationship progresses to something more, Hadrian comes to realise that while Avis may have been able to rebuild her life since the attack, she is still imprisoned by the attitude of the majority of the local community. She is regarded as a pariah, as unchaste and an unfitting mate for any man, let alone a handsome, wealthy heir to a viscountcy. Hadrian is, however, puzzled by the fact that there is still such vitriol being heaped upon Avis after twelve years. Gossip – even about such a truly terrible thing – is eventually supplanted by tittle-tattle about something else, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Someone is keeping the scandal alive – and when that someone threatens others and overshadows Hadrian’s and Avis’ future happiness, it becomes imperative to find out just who that someone is.
Hadrian has a gentle, elegiac feel to it, which suits absolutely this story of a second chance at love by two people who have suffered in very different ways. I have yet to read all the books in this series, but in a couple I’ve found myself a little dissatisfied with certain elements. In Gabriel: Lord of Regrets, the secondary mystery was poorly developed, and in Nicholas: Lord of Secrets the reasons keeping the central characters apart were flimsy, at best. Here, however, that is not the case. The mystery element is constructed efficiently and isn’t allowed to overshadow the development of the romance. Avis’ reasons for wanting to keep Hadrian at a distance make sense, and even though perhaps she does over-react a little, given her past experiences, I think she can be forgiven for it.
As with so many of the other books in this series – and her books in general – Ms Burrowes has not only written a tender romance, she has penned another of those close male friendships at which she also excels. Avis’ steward, Ashton Fenwick, and Hadrian are initially wary of each other, Hadrian mistrusting Fen’s casual, openly flirtatious manner towards Avis and Fen being wary of the interloper. Yet they bond over horseflesh, sheep-shearing, hay-gathering, the depth of their friendship lying comfortably beneath the barbs and veiled insults with which they frequently regale each other. In fact, I was reminded somewhat of the friendship between Beckman Haddonfield and Gabriel North in Beckman (fourth in the series), which is probably my favourite of its type in all of Ms Burrowes’ rapidly expanding oeuvre.
Hadrian is beautifully written; the author’s style is lush and almost musical at times, and while I can agree with some of the criticisms I see levelled at her books (a degree of repetition and the intrusion of various Americanisms) I certainly won’t decry her wonderful use of language, or her ability to write a story in which the emotions are deeply felt and which really speak to the reader. The characterisations of all the principal characters are strong, although Avis’ companion was perhaps drawn a little heavy-handedly; and I liked the way she portrayed Harold and the glimpses we got of his relationship with his lover.
I believe Hadrian is the last of the Lonely Lords – for now. Ms Burrowes has stated on her website that she has plans for at least three more books in the series. Perhaps the delay will enable me to catch up with the half-dozen I’ve yet to read. If they’re all as good as this one, I’ve got some enjoyable reading matter stored up on my Kindle.