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I had the pleasure of reading about Nicholas's life after his story, and he and Leah have already settled into a very comfortable situation, but it did not diminish my curiosity about how the two of them met and fell in love.
The Nicholas I know is a content man, who is enjoying married life, and builds bird houses -- but this is Nicholas prior to his marriage, and this Nicholas is quite a wild one. He prefers the company of women (plural) of ill repute and he doesn't really seem to have any care in the world. His story is interconnected to Darius, Leah's brother. From the previous book, Grace Burrowes hints at the Lindsey family dysfunctional dynamic, and Darius and Leah are, mysteriously, the main target of their father's enmity. It's a question that began in Darius's story, and continues in Nicholas and Leah's story.
Why does Leah's father hate her so much, yet why does he take such an active interest in who Leah marries?
Nicholas is a new acquaintance of Darius (introduced by Valentine Windham), yet the two share a lot of similar *ahem* predilections, and, this, perhaps, is why Nicholas immediately empathizes with Darius and Leah's situation and helps them.
As with other Grace Burrowes stories, the problem is never straightforward or easy:
1. Nicholas is racing against time. His father is dying, and his greatest wish is to see his heir, Nicholas, settled.
2. Leah's father is intent on having her marry one of her father's cronies. Because of Leah's past, she doesn't really have a lot of choices -- and she can only delay her decision for so long.
3. There's the mystery of the man Leah eloped with, and who subsequently died in a duel with her father -- leaving Leah ruined, and outside of her father's favor.
4. There's also Nicholas's estrangement from his half-brother, Ethan Grey. How did two very close brothers become so very disconnected from each other?
The first two problems are neatly solved by Nicholas when he proposed marriage to Leah -- but it introduces another problem: despite the obvious attraction and chemistry, Nicholas is insisting that they marry in name only. He is very consistent in his refusal to have sex with Leah and have children with her. But, why? This particular complication reminded me a bit of Julia Quinn's Simon and Daphne, who also agree to a marriage of convenience, and then Simon also refuses to have children with Daphne. While Simon was clear with his reasons from the very beginning, Nicholas is a bit more secretive about his reasons. And I felt frustrated for Leah, who seemed to have escaped a really bad situation, only to enter into another one. While she no longer needs to suffer her father's indifferent cruelty, she now has to contend with her husband's confusing detachment: they are clearly compatible, and they exhibit this in more than one occasion, but Nicholas continues to refuse to acknowledge what is between them.
Leah's an amazing woman, though -- her father in law dies just a few weeks after her marriage, but she steps into the role of emotional support, planner, sister (to Nicholas's siblings), and lady of the house. She instantly bonds with all of Nicholas's siblings, and becomes an important key to how Nicholas would relate to his brothers and sisters. I thought Leah's characterization was very consistent from her introduction in Darius's book: she is a woman besieged, but fights to maintain a calm, unruffled exterior. Nicholas, on the other hand, confuses me. I'm currently reading Ethan's story, and he describes Nicholas as a man who bounces back from adversity very well (whereas Ethan just falls), but, in the case of Leah, he seems to be floundering -- yes, it can be explained that it is his first time to fall in love, and this is new frontier for him, but I'm not so convinced.
And here lies my problem with the story: it has tension, yes, but not the excruciatingly taut tenseness and drama that I found in Darius's story. There's a great deal of angst as well: to want but not have, but, again -- I felt that Nicholas just inflicted this situation on him and on Leah. Nicholas's story has all the right elements -- Nicholas and his secrets are built up to such a height, and when all is revealed, the reasons and motivations behind them are a bit disappointing.
A lot of what I loved about the story rests between Nicholas and Ethan, who haven't really seen or talked to each other since they were 14 -- while there is an initial explanation for why their father suddenly sent Ethan away, the way he was never allowed to return and how the late earl took great pains to separate them, hints at something more. It was heartbreaking to finally know why, and, when the two brothers are finally reunited ... waterworks.
And that, perhaps, is what Grace Burrowes showcases in this instalment of the Lonely Lords series: the very accurate and authentic way she portrays families, flaws and all.
Nicholas is the second book in Grace Burrowes's The Lonely Lords series. To find out more about Grace Burrowes and her awesome books, click below: