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One of the things that I notice when I read a Grace Burrowes novel is her use of words -- where one usually finds the word "move over", she uses, instead the word "budge up" -- and there's a lot of budging up happening in both Beckman and Gabriel's novels, as our heroes cuddle up with their heroines. It's idiosyncratic, yes, but it also is the perfect word to encapsulate the moment and capture the intimacy that exists between her characters. And Grace Burrowes is very eloquent in how her characters express themselves.
We already know that Gabriel is more than just a steward, and he has finally decided to resurface and claim his rightful place in society. Gabriel North is actually Gabriel Wendover, Marquess of Hesketh, who went to France to rescue his younger brother, Aaron, only to be ambushed and injured. Gabriel believes someone wants him dead, so he decided to disappear for a while to recover from his wounds, and also to observe his brother from a distance, because he believes it was his brother who orchestrated the ambush in France.
Gabriel's story is connected to Beckman's story, because a lot of Gabriel's backstory unfolded in the latter's book. And they are involved with the Hunt sisters, whose lives are fraught with secrets, a lot of them center on Allie Hunt, the young daughter of Sara.
One of the most difficult things that Gabriel has to do is to say goodbye to Polly Hunt, the cook at Three Springs, whom he has developed an attachment to. Polly is understandably heartbroken, but, with her sister's new relationship with Beckman Haddonfield, and with Gabriel leaving, she sees it as a sign that it might be time for her to move on. So Polly accompanies Tremaine St. Michael and tries to restart her painting career, with Tremaine now managing her commissions.
It's a lot of goodbyes and a lot of hellos, and a lot of confusion as Gabriel rises from the dead: for one, it throws a monkey wrench into Aaron's marriage to Gabriel's former fiancee, Marjorie. The marriage contracts state that Marjorie is engaged to the Marquess of Hesketh, and, at the time of Gabriel's disappearance, it was his younger brother who held the title, but now that Gabriel is back, Marjorie's mother is determined that her daughter remains married to the Marquess, whoever it may be.
Of all the surprises, the most surprising of all is Gabriel finding Polly Hunt napping in a chair in his house. It's been two months since he left Three Springs, and he hasn't heard from Polly -- and now he finds her in his house, hired by his brother to paint portraits of the family. There is a tug of war within Gabriel who wants Polly to stay, but also needs her to leave, for the sake of her own safety -- as long as he hasn't uncovered who was responsible for the ambush that has left him permanently scarred and in pain, he knows that none of his loved ones are safe.
I have to admit to being baffled by the mystery and by its resolution: Burrowes presents it as very dire, and builds it up really well by leaving hints as to who did it and for what reasons. We already know it isn't Gabriel's brother, who clearly loves him and was devastated by his "death" -- and all signs point to another person, but -- when everything is revealed in the end, I just felt let down. And the excuse provided didn't help either.
But, the whole middle part was very good: I wish Burrowes just focused on the confusion regarding the title and Aaron and Marjorie's marriage, and delved into untangling this legal knot. Gabriel's brother was put in a very difficult position: he doesn't want to retain the title, but he very much wants to retain the wife that goes with the title. It doesn't help that Gabriel is a bit ambivalent about getting the title back, and definitely averse to getting the wife that goes with the title, because Gabriel wants Polly Hunt -- and being Marquess would be another reason Polly would use against him: no one would accept a Marquess marrying the cook. Not that Gabriel cares -- after two years of working as a steward, Gabriel has learned to see a person's value not from their titles or clothes, but from the work they do.
The title is just one reason why Polly refused Gabriel's proposal. Polly has another, more potentially damaging reason for not accepting Gabriel -- and it has to do with Sara and Allie. I thought Grace Burrowes did a good job of showing the very complicated relationship that families have: to have that kind of love, and then to have that same degree of resentment inside -- a lot of the dynamic between the three Hunt ladies as explored in Sara's story, and it all culminates in Polly's story, with a very heartbreaking confrontation and confession.
Aaron and Marjorie have not consummated their marriage, because Aaron always believed that his brother would come back. Their marriage began under duress, and Aaron initially married Marjorie out of duty -- but, after two years together, despite the outward indifference, Aaron discovers that he is reluctant to give up his wife. What ensues, however, is a very confusing, protracted conversation between Aaron and Marjorie, because neither one wants to admit (openly) how much they really care for one another. It got a bit frustrating that they never progressed past needing an heir, in case Gabriel never marries, etc. etc.
Overall, I enjoyed Gabriel's story and saw at as an essential follow-up read to Beckman's story, but it isn't without flaws.
Gabriel is Book 5 in Grace Burrowes's The Lonely Lords series. To find out more about Grace Burrowes and her lovely books, click below: