Desert Isle Keeper
A Family for Gillian
My only DIK, romance or otherwise, thus far for 2004 (it’s now September) is A Family for Gillian, which I bought shortly after reading Jane’s B+ review of it. Jane and I often laugh about being “separated at birth” in that many of our tastes are similar – and not only where reading is concerned. Earlier in 2004 she thought another trad, Nonnie St. George’s Courting Trouble, was a DIK read while for me it was “only” a B+. This time the situations are reversed.
Unlike many of my AAR colleagues, I enjoy romances – historicals particularly – featuring children. Which makes me a sucker for governess romances, and also for romances featuring heroes who marry for the second time “in name only” to give their children a mother. A Family for Gillian is the best of this type romance I’ve read.
Miss Gillian Harwell faked her own ruin to avoid marriage. Unfortunately, she didn’t realize her mother’s meddling would continue, and as a result she finds herself betrothed to Viscount Prescott Avery, the widowed son of her obnoxious mother’s best friend. Avery lives in the Irish countryside and lost his beloved childhood sweetheart Elizabeth shortly after the birth of their third child, who was born with a “twisted foot.” He is in want of a new wife to help him raise his increasingly incorrigible children. He and his first wife had lived quietly, without excitement, and Gillian is altogether too attractive, clever, funny, and alive to suit; his attraction to her makes him incredibly guilty and he determines never to consummate their marriage.
As I recently wrote in an ATBF segment about favorite romance heroines, Gillian is not the sort of “wild child” readers associate with a heroine who pretends to ruin herself to avoid marriage. Still, she is like a breath of fresh air in the stale Avery house, and her behavior confounds her husband at every turn. Although his eldest behaves worst, he doesn’t see how Gillian’s handling of the situation could improve it…until it does. She argues against his over-protectiveness, but not in a foot-stomping, hair-tossing manner. She simply acts with common sense and humor that helps his children get on with their lives without fear. It’s not so easy where Avery is concerned.
It’s very difficult for a romance author to successfully write a deceased first spouse. Most often authors will take the easy route and write the deceased as evil, platonic, or untruthful about something that is only discovered after their death. Blair didn’t choose any of those options, nor did she create a character so utterly perfect that each remembrance of the person seems to have a halo over it, although Elizabeth comes close. But mostly Elizabeth is presented as a first wife who loved her family and was loved by her family, a woman who was right for the man at the time. But the living must live, and Avery eventually discovers that he can love someone other than his first wife, and that, by loving Gillian, he is not betraying his first love.
It takes Avery some time to come to this realization, and though it’s a slow discovery, it’s quite effective. This is a “kisses-only” romance, but when Avery and Gillian finally consummate their marriage, it follows a most romantic and touching scene, one in which Avery finds Gillian in the back of the stables. This woman, who moved to a strange land to live among people who really didn’t want her there, has no place within the house itself where she truly feels a part of things, and so she retreats to the stables to regroup at times. Avery discovers her there, sees the vulnerable side of Gillian for the first time, and softens toward her. She asks if she can simply lean against him for strength, after which they passionately kiss and are intimate. What’s all the more poignant about it is that, the morning after, it’s as though they’d never shared the night together and Gillian feels all the more alone.
Gillian’s foil is Avery’s sister Louisa, who vocally finds fault with everything Gillian does. It makes for some wonderful reading to watch Avery change from a man who quietly condemns Gillian whenever she doesn’t conform to his standards to one who is proud of her intelligence and wit. But every few steps forward still has a step back for this couple, which means Gillian walks a difficult path throughout the book. On the one hand this strong woman will not simply cave in and become Avery’s yes-woman, and yet her growing feelings for him seem to require that she walk on eggshells. But Avery is no alpha heel; he’s a passive-aggressive beta who must learn the hard way that living life requires the taking of chances, and the possibility that one might look silly living life to the fullest.
The children are integral to the story; they aren’t simply there to talk with lisps or create drama. As with the governess romance, it is through the children, though, that the adults come together, and by the end of this book I was enormously pleased that Gillian had found her family. For me it was a two-hanky read, but a quiet two-hanky read that well suited the path Gillian and Avery found to love.