Douglas Allen needs a home for his aching heart
Douglas Allen, Viscount Amery, hates having arrived to his title without knowing how to manage his properties. Guinevere Hollister is a distant family connection raising her daughter in rural obscurity while stewarding the estate. Douglas reluctantly puts himself in Gwen’s hands for lessons in land husbandry and discovers beneath her prickly exterior a woman of passion and honor. Yet despite the closeness they find, she will not marry him.
Guinevere Hollister needs a champion
When the powerful Duke of Moreland arranges an engagement between Gwen and his heir, Douglas knows the marriage is not what Gwen wants. In Douglas’s eyes, Gwen deserves to make her own choices, and he will take on family, the meddling duke, and Gwen’s own lonely, stubborn heart to ensure his lady’s happiness.
When we met Douglas Allen, Viscount Amery in Andrew, he came across as rather cold, unfailingly correct and a bit stand-offish, so it was perhaps a little difficult to imagine him as the romantic hero of his own book.
To be fair, he has bloody good reason to be all those things. His older brother has just died, leaving him with a mountain of debts, an estate that he has never been trained to run and a younger brother and mother who complain of his every effort to curb their spending; and added to that, he is suspected by the Alexander brothers (Gareth and Andrew) and David, Viscount Fairly of possibly trying to cause harm to his sister-in-law and her unborn child. So Douglas is a man with a lot of crosses to bear, and one who, it’s made clear in the earlier book, has always been the odd-one-out of his family. Not at all gregarious as his brothers were, Douglas is the steady-hand, the practical one, which didn’t make him popular with his immediate family, who all saw him as a killjoy.
In Douglas, our eponymous hero is still struggling to repay his debts and to rebuild his life as best he can. Both his brothers are dead and his mother is very ill and he has no other family or close friends to whom he can turn for help or for simple companionship. Fortunately for him, by the end of Andrew, he’s been more or less adopted by the Alexanders and Worthingtons, all of whom prove to be steadfast friends.
One of Andrew’s estates, Enfield, is managed by his cousin, Guinevere (Gwen) Hollister. She is all but a recluse, having retired there after the birth of her illegitimate daughter, Rose, who is now five years old. Gwen is very self-reliant and even the mighty Alexander brothers are somewhat in awe of her and have tended to leave her to herself, because it has seemed to them that that is what Gwen wants. It’s what Gwen thinks she wants, too – until she is brought to see the disadvantages such isolation could bring to her daughter, as well as to realise that perhaps having someone else to shoulder some of her burdens may not be such an insupportable idea.
Gwen is a very good land-steward, so it’s to her that Andrew sends Douglas for guidance and instruction concerning estate management. His father and elder brother never bothered to learn much about the land they owned other than how to spend what money they could squeeze from it, and Douglas wants to retrench and start over. Andrew has offered to sell him one of his estates, and has suggested that Douglas asks Gwen to visit it with him to look it over and give him an honest opinion of its worth and its future viability.
Anyone who has read Ms Burrowes’ first published novel, The Heir, will have met Douglas, Gwen and Rose before, and will know a little of their backstory, which is fully fleshed-out in this book. Gwen’s experience with men left her badly burned emotionally, and she is determined never to place her trust in one of them again. But she can’t help but be won over by Douglas who is ever respectful and properly behaved towards her. He is a truly gentle man (and a lovely beta hero), one she comes to know she can rely on to do the right thing and who will never hurt her. Both Gwen and Douglas are misfits, but together, they find companionship, shared understanding and reawaken emotions so long buried they had forgotten they’d ever existed.
I applaud Ms Burrowes for the way she has turned Douglas from the aloof man we met in Andrew into a romantic lead without giving him a major personality transplant. He’s still very much the same man from the earlier book; still very proper and somewhat reserved, and it’s lovely to watch him loosen up when he’s around Gwen and Rose and to admit the possibility of affection into his life.
There is, of course, a nice big dollop of angst in the story, which comes when Gwen has to make a horrible choice between doing what she believes is the best thing for her daughter, or being with the man she has come to love – it wouldn’t be a Grace Burrowes book without it. And the crazy thing is that she does this to me book after book after book – I know it’s coming, and I still sit here sniffling and trying to locate the nearest box of tissues! (Which is in no way a complaint – I seem to have become addicted.)
The other thing I loved about the book is the Alexander/Worthington alliance and the way that Gareth, Andrew and David have taken Douglas under their collective wing. They regard him as family, even though his connection to them is fairly tenuous (his elder brother was married to Astrid, who is now Andrew’s wife, and also Gareth’s sister-in-law). The idea of these three very wealthy, very powerful men trying their hand at matchmaking is rather funny, and the scenes which feature the three of them are among the highlights of the book. The way they and their womenfolk rally around Douglas and Gwen at a time of crisis is truly touching and really brings home the importance this author places on family and familial relationships.