The elderly and ill fourth Viscount Longstreet summons Darius Lindsey to a discreet meeting, where he proposes the means for Darius to extricate himself from a life of shame and repay his family’s debts. William offers him a chance at redemption: Spend a month with his wife, Lady Vivian; get her with child; and he can retire from his life of degradation.
As weeks pass, Darius makes love to Vivian but also teaches her how to deal with the world after William has died. Vivian cannot comprehend what Darius has done to safeguard his family or why he protects her from those who would cause her harm.
When the time comes, will he be able to prove the depth of his love for her and their child?
Rating: B+ for narration, A for content
I reviewed this title at both All About Romance and Romantic Historical Reviews when it first appeared – so the content portion of this review is somewhat truncated. It’s one of the earliest books by this author that I read, and is still one of my favourites, so having an audio version at last is the icing on top of the cake as far as I’m concerned.
Darius Lindsey is the impoverished younger son of an earl who, in order to make ends meet, provides services of an intimate nature to bored, aristocratic women in exchange for money. He is approached by Lord William Longstreet, who offers Darius enough money to make him financially secure if, in return, Darius will spend one month with Longstreet’s young wife and do his very best to get her pregnant. Darius is reluctant – he doesn’t have intercourse with the women he consorts with, so accepting this particular “commission” will break his carefully preserved rules.
Vivian Longstreet is much younger than her husband, and cares for him deeply. She had been his late wife’s companion, and in order to protect Vivian from being married off for profit by her greedy step-father, Longstreet married her. His plan for her to conceive an heir has been mostly put into play in order to ensure her safety and security after his approaching death. Naturally, Vivian is not too happy about the situation, but agrees to it, knowing it will ease William’s mind.
Unbeknownst to her, however, he has not just selected a father for her child – in Darius Lindsey, he has selected his replacement.
Not surprisingly, things begin awkwardly and Darius does his best to put Vivian at ease using a mixture of charm and gentle humour. He’s gentle and attentive, and Vivian begins to blossom in his company, seeing herself for the first time as an attractive woman; and through her, Darius begins to re-acquire some sense of his own self-worth.
At the end of the month, they have fallen deeply in love, though of course they can’t say it, and Vivian returns home, fairly sure that she is expecting a baby. Darius attempts to return to his former life, but he can’t stomach it any more and tries to sever ties with the two women who have been employing him most recently. Unfortunately however, they are less than amenable to this, and make threats against Darius’ sister, who has already been the subject of one scandal and whose reputation can not bear another.
Also rearing his unwelcome head is Vivian’s step-father, who is hoping that once Vivian is widowed, he will be able to marry her to a man of his choice in order to gain control of her fortune.
But they’ve all reckoned without Darius ruthlessness when it comes to protecting his loved ones, because he doesn’t scruple to fight just as dirty as they when he has to.
One of the many things I love about Ms Burrowes’ work is the fact that while she cranks up the angst-o-meter to an excruciating pitch, I always know that things are going to work out in the end. There are parts of this story that had me in tears when reading – and did again when listening – but I know I can wallow safely in the angst. Darius and Vivian know that they will have to live as strangers once their month is over for the sake of her reputation and the child, but it’s heart-breaking for both of them. Darius can never be a part of his child’s life, and the part when Vivian, in late pregnancy, talks of their having been cheated out of all the little things that an expectant couple might do, is incredibly poignant (and one of those tear-jerking moments that Ms Burrowes does so very well).
I loved this book just as much in audio as I did in print. In Roger Hampton, Grace Burrowes has found a narrator whose voice, delivery and emotional engagement are an excellent match for her words. She has a very distinctive writing style and her characters’ speech patterns are quite unlike those found in the works of any other author – so finding someone who can utter them without mangling them or sounding self-conscious is incredibly important. Mr Hampton has done such excellent work on Ms Burrowes’ (inexplicably) small number of available audiobooks, that his is now the voice I hear in my head whenever I’m reading one of her books!
His performance in Darius is very good indeed, although not completely without flaws. Happily, however, those flaws are generally small and in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the audiobook. He differentiates well between all the principal and secondary characters, and absolutely nails the emotional heart of the story. His interpretation of Darius is spot on – this is a man living on the edge, having to support himself in a manner he hates so much that it has warped his view of himself and brought him to rock-bottom when it comes to a sense of self-esteem. One can hear Darius’ world-weariness and his physical tiredness in Mr Hampton’s voice, and he makes a clear distinction between the different sides of Darius’ character that the heroine is allowed to see – the real one; kind, tender and funny, and the worldy one; flirtatious, brittle and with an underlying bitterness that he barely manages to contain.
I liked the gentle northern accent he gives to Nicholas Haddonfield, and his portrayal of the elderly William Longstreet is very good indeed. I’ve had occasion to cricitise some of his female characterisations in the past, but for the most part, they’re all very good, and feel appropriate to the situations and ages of the ladies he is portraying. The one flaw I found is with his performance of Vivian, who begins the story with fairly low-pitched tones (as specified in the text) but which get a little higher as the book progresses. To be honest, it’s not something that bothered me excessively, because I was enjoying the story so much – but it’s something I noticed and wanted to mention.
Overall, however, Mr Hampton’s performance is very good indeed and one I’ll certainly be listening to again.