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"When I was a boy, I thought I belonged to Bellefonte or to Nick or at least to Belle Maison. I was wrong. I thought I'd belonged to my wife, but again, I was wrong. ..."
- p. 227
The problem with Ethan's story is the problem Ethan has with being Nicholas Haddonfield's brother. Though Ethan is older than Nicholas, Nicholas is the legitimate son and heir, and Ethan is relegated to sidekick or shadow. I would have loved to read Ethan's story when he was away from Nicholas -- I would have loved to read about that Ethan, whose identity was not closely tied to his brother's and, from what he says in this story, it seems that Ethan struggled a lot during that period of estrangement.
But Grace Burrowes decided to tell Ethan's story after he had reunited with his Haddonfield family, and, yes, there are still a lot of important things left unresolved in his life. For one, he is a widower with two boys in need of guidance, and their current tutor has proven unacceptable. Enter Alice Portman, governess of the youngest Belmont daughter, who are, coincidentally, currently visiting Belle Maison.
Alice Portman is one of those people whose appearance don't really invite a second look -- and that's exactly how Alice had intended it to be. She's a lady with a lot of secrets: she's well-educated and well-spoken, and outspoken, so what is she doing working as a governess? But Alice does not easily give up her stories, and it takes Ethan almost the entire book to discover the real Alice Portman.
Ethan is not without his own skeletons in the closet, and theirs become a journey of discovery and healing, as they slowly grow to trust and share and love. There's a lot of apologizing in Ethan's story -- from both the hero and heroine, not because they have wronged each other, but because they've been wronged by others.
This story has a very quiet feel to it, and, like many calm, and placid surfaces, it's what lurks beneath that matters: Ethan and Alice are both haunted by their past, and he has now come back, intending to do more damage. It's a confrontation years in the making, and both Ethan and Alice have had time to process what had happened to them, and to prepare for how they would face their tormentor.
Grace Burrowes builds it up slowly, and I had to wonder what Ethan would do when he finally came face to face with Lord Collins: would he face it with anger and fists? It's always interesting how Burrowes's characters figure a way out of their predicament, though I have to admit, Ethan's planning was a bit too vague for me, and how the whole problem was resolved didn't really measure up to my anticipation of it.
Overall, Ethan's story was okay, but did not measure up to Nicholas's story (and Darius is still my favorite), but it will always hold a special place on my bookshelf for this one exchange between Ethan and his son, Jeremiah:
... "Shall we see how your brother fares?"
"He'll be fine," Jeremiah said as Ethan set him on his feet. "He's little."
"I know what you mean. He seems to bounce through life."
"Is that bad?" Jeremiah watched as, at the halt, Joshua slid off his pony.
"No," Ethan said, thinking of another little brother who seemed to bounce through life. "But he didn't bounce just then, did he?"
"No." Jeremiah grinned. "You don't bounce either."
"And neither do you, Jeremiah." Ethan smiled back. "But you fall beautifully."
- p. 81
Ethan's story also left me intrigued by Alice's family's story, so I skipped volumes and read Book 10: Hadrian's story next, which features Alice's sister, Avis.
Ethan is book 3 in Grace Burrowes's The Lonely Lords series. To find out more about Grace Burrowes and her awesome books, click below: