Grace Daniels, the village of Hartley’s resident midwife and herbalist, would like nothing more than to ease the suffering of Jonathan Loring’s young son, Peter. But the widowed Blackthorn estate manager is as prejudiced against her illegitimacy as he is her “witchy” profession. When Peter’s physicians say they can do no more for the boy, Jonathan finds himself in the unenviable position of having to turn to the woman whose skills he has scorned.
Drawn together out of duty, Jonathan and Grace’s relationship soon becomes characterised by a not-so-hidden desire. Having found a degree of independence unheard of for a lady, Grace has no intention of submitting to the bonds of matrimony. Not that Jonathan, who has lost his inheritance and has to work for a living, is in any position to propose.
With marriage out of the question, their only option is both shocking and dangerous . . . to become lovers.
Duty and Desire is the second book in the author’s Hearts of Honour series, but I don’t think it’s necessary to have read book one, Passion and Propriety, to be able to understand and enjoy it. The story is refreshingly different for an historical romance and I really enjoyed the slow-burn romance between the two protagonists, which is very-well written and developed.
Grace Daniels is the midwife in the village of Hartley, near the estate of Viscount Blackthorn and his wife Hannah, her childhood friend. The illegitimate child of a baron, she was tolerated by his family until his death, but she was then cast out and left to her own devices. She was taken in by her great-aunt, a herbalist and midwife, learned from her and has built up a considerable reputation as a healer.
Widower Jonathan Loring is the viscount’s estate manager, his former commanding officer and his closest friend. Born into an aristocratic family, he was forced to seek employment after resigning his commission in order to care for his seriously ill son. His older brother has gambled away his own fortune, stolen Jonathan’s inheritance, and his financial situation is such that Jonathan is now the sole support for his mother and sickly sister, Penelope. Sending what money he can spare to them and the expensive medical treatments he has sought for his son have brought him to the brink of penury, yet he stubbornly refuses to ask for Grace’s help, believing her traditional, natural remedies and treatments to be only one step removed from “witchery”.
But when an expensive and experienced London physician tells Jonathan there is nothing to be done for Peter and to resign himself to the inevitable, he finally swallows his pride and asks Grace for help.
Jonathan and Grace have an acrimonious relationship, begun in the previous book. He dismisses her as nothing more than a quack, and she gives as good as she gets, rather enjoying the opportunity to bait him. But as she cares for his son, the pair begins to see each other in a different light, and to acknowledge the reluctant attraction that lies buried behind their animosity. Their relationship is beautifully developed and progresses at a sensible pace – fast enough to make it satisfying to read, but not so fast as to make it unbelievable. The first frissons of physical attraction between them are delicious, and their longing for each other just leaps off the page.
Unfortunately, however, the truth of both their situations makes it impossible for Grace and Jonathan to marry. He cannot afford to support a wife, and her dedication to her profession caused her long ago to decide against matrimony. After all, what husband would be willing to put up with a wife who is often called away all hours of the day and night? And how can a woman with such a busy practice possibly undertake the duties of a wife? These facts leave them with few options. They either resign themselves to a life apart, or enter into a clandestine affair – which, if discovered, could ruin Grace entirely.
It’s always a refreshing change to read about characters in historical romances who aren’t rich or titled, and that is definitely one of the things that attracted me to this book. It’s an interesting move on Ms de Sallier’s part to introduce a storyline involving food-allergies into the story, and she lays the groundwork for it very well, so that Grace’s treatment for Peter’s illness never feels as though it is some convenient miracle cure that is present merely to fulfil the needs of the plot.
My criticisms of the book are few, and those are mostly concerned with the last few chapters or so, which feel a little rushed and in which things are resolved a little too conveniently. The reasons Jonathan and Grace are unable to marry are not spurious on his part – having to support his mother and sister as well as pay for expensive medical treatments had almost ruined Jonathan financially; but I was less convinced by Grace’s “I can’t marry you because of my career” stance.
Otherwise, however, Duty and Desire is a very enjoyable story in which the two principals are engaging, dedicated and compassionate characters. The writing is solid, in spite of the odd turn of phrase here and there which feels a little forced, but the romance between Jonathan and Grace is lovely. Their physical encounters are infused with both sensuality and tenderness, and there is no doubt of the depth of the emotional connection between them.