on 9 April 2013
Darius Lindsey, the impoverished younger son of an earl has been cast off by his father and in order to make ends meet, provides services of an intimate nature to bored, aristocratic women in exchange for money. His activities are not widely known which enables him to maintain a position on the fringes of polite society, and those who are aware know him to be both discreet and honourable. He does not, however, have intercourse with the women who employ him, partly to prevent unwanted pregnancies and partly because he wants things between him and his clients to be as impersonal as possible.
At the beginning of the story, he is being asked to break his "no sex" rule 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. It's clear from the outset that Darius despises himself for making his living in the way he does, but without support from his father or any hope of a suitable career, he uses what he regards as his only assets - good looks and charm - to keep body and soul together and to do the best he can to protect those he cares about.
Vivian Longstreet is much younger than her husband, and cares for him deeply. She had been his late wife's companion until her death, 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 both Vivian and Darius, however, Longstreet has not just selected a father for her child - 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 could 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.
If I have a complaint, it's that the villains were a little over-the-top in their villainy; but on the plus side, they weren't allowed to interrupt the progress towards the final HEA for too long as Darius was able to fight just as dirty as they were; and once he'd decided on the appropriate course of action, took it without hesitation.
I'm a big fan of Grace Burrowes' writing and characterisation and of the emotional impact she can bring to the page. But for me, this book's real strength is its hero. Darius has done things he's less than proud of, and at the beginning of the story is full of self-loathing, feeling deep-down that he is living the life he deserves. He has a strong sense of honour - but the irony is that in order uphold that and to fulfil his obligations to his sisters and others who are dependent on him, he has to sacrifice his own self-respect - to sell his soul, if you will - and become a man who can barely live with himself.
I know Burrowes has her detractors concerning historical accuracy, and I will admit that there were a couple of things in the book that made me raise an eyebrow. But her writing is so good, her characterisation so strong and consistent, that I can forgive the odd slip-up like that (provided there aren't too many!) But the thing that draws me to her books repeatedly is the emotional punch she packs into her stories. The scenes that deal with Darius and Vivian's last night together and the parting that follows brought a lump to my throat, and later, when the lovers have to pretend to merely the barest acquaintance, I felt as though she'd ripped out my heart and stomped on it.
I realise that a high angst-quotient may not be for everyone, but if you do like a meaty, angsty story (in which you're assured of the HEA), Darius is highly recommended.