Tremaine St. Michael is firmly in trade and seeks only to negotiate the sale of some fancy sheep with the Earl of Haddonfield. The earl’s sister, Lady Nita, is pragmatic, hard-working, and selfless, though Tremaine senses she’s also tired of her charitable obligations and envious of her siblings’ marital bliss. Tremaine, having been raised among shepherds, can spot another lonely soul, no matter how easily she fools her own family. Neither Tremaine nor Nita is looking for love, but love comes looking for them.
It’s no secret that I’m a big Grace Burrowes fan. I understand the criticisms that are sometimes levelled at her books; they can be repetitive, the heroes are too improbable, there are too many Americanisms etc., but for the most part I can forgive her those things because she writes stories that pull me in by virtue of the strength of her characterisations and the way in which she gets to the emotional heart of those characters and their stories. It’s the rare Grace Burrowes book that doesn’t quite work for me – but unfortunately, Tremaine’s True Love is one of those few.
That’s not to say it’s a bad read – far from it. It possesses the things I’ve come to expect from Ms Burrowes’ books; attractive, engaging protagonists with hidden vulnerabilities, well-written familial relationships, a gorgeous hero with a protective streak the size of the runway at Heathrow and a quirky, distinctive style of writing which I enjoy. But I found it very difficult to sympathise with the heroine in this story, which is principally why I wasn’t able to rate it more highly.
Lady Bernita (Nita) Haddonfield is the eldest sister of Nicholas, the Earl of Bellefonte. Since the death of their mother, Nita has run the household as well as taking on the role of carer and medic to those unable to afford the services of the local doctor previously performed by the late countess.
Following Nicholas’ marriage, Nita has surrendered control of the household to his wife, but even though she does not resent her sister-in-law, she nonetheless feels somewhat purposeless. She fills the gap by continuing to provide medical services to the poor of the estate and surrounding area, often putting herself at risk of illness and infection. Nicholas remonstrates with her time and time again, but Nita is adamant. If she doesn’t help these people, then who will? They can’t afford to pay anyone, and in any case, the local doctor is a quack who still believes that bleeding is the cure for everything, has no truck with hand-washing and thinks that most illnesses are inflicted as God’s punishment upon those who sin – especially if the patient is a woman.
Tremaine St. Michael appeared briefly in another of the author’s Lonely Lords series, Gabriel . He is half-French and half-Scottish, a wealthy and extremely hard-working businessman who is actually a French Comte, although it’s a title he rarely uses. He is visiting the Bellefonte estate in order to negotiate the purchase of a valuable flock of merino sheep from Nicholas, but the discussions aren’t going as well as he had expected as one of the earl’s neighbours is also interested in the valuable livestock.
Tremaine is immediately drawn to Nita’s strength of character and sense of purpose, but soon comes to see beyond that, to the insecure and lonely woman that lurks behind the lady’s formidable exterior. He lives a somewhat nomadic existence as he travels between his various estates and business concerns, and can only allow a few days for his negotiations over the sheep – but days stretch into weeks, and over that time, Tremaine and Nita become closer, bonding over their instincts to care for others – human and ovine! – and sharing thoughts and desires with each other they’ve never shared before. Their romance is tender and sweet, and I very much enjoyed watching two people who had thought that marriage and family was off the table falling in love and finding their way through the differences that threaten them so that they can be together in the end. In fact, the idea of both characters having to find a way to balance work and family is one that is still a very relevant one; and it’s not easy, as Ms Burrowes shows very clearly in her story.
Anyone familiar with the Lonely Lords series will recall that Nicholas has a number of sisters, and we meet them all again here. There is a secondary plotline around Susannah, who is hoping for a proposal of marriage from their neighbour, Mr Edward Nash. It quickly becomes apparent that Mr Nash is not a suitable candidate for Susannah’s hand, but because Nita has gained that information through practicing her healing skills, she feels unable to tell anyone – even to save her sister from being mistreated at his hands. I found this a little difficult to swallow, as Nita is not a physician, has taken no oaths of confidentiality – and yet she is prepared to put her sister at risk.
And this goes back to what I said earlier, about finding it difficult to warm to Nita. She’s a well-rounded and well-written character and Ms Burrowes has done an excellent job of relaying her weaknesses as well as her strengths, but overall, I found her to be too inflexible and unwilling to consider other points of view. She sees Nicholas’ chastisements as his trying to assert authority over her and criticism of the fact that she is heedless of her reputation, whereas it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that he is desperately concerned for her. And she makes the decision to reject Tremaine’s proposal when she thinks he will insist she stops her medical treatments in order to sit at home darning his socks and having babies, without really talking to him about it. She expects others to make allowances for her while not being prepared to make allowances for them until right at the very end.
With all that said, I did enjoy reading Tremaine’s True Love, even though it doesn’t rank among my favourite of Grace Burrowes’ books. The protagonists are well drawn, their romance is well developed and the friendship that gradually builds between Tremaine and Nicholas is fun to read. I shall certainly be reading the next book in this series, and will continue to snap up whatever Ms Burrowes comes up with after that.