Beginning with a scene in which Claire DePeche is accused of being a witch by her mother-in-law, then turned out of her home by her conniving brother-in-law after the death of her husband, Lord of Compton Castle, Dangerous Gifts begins with a wallop. In order to save the life of her young son, Claire relinquishes her rights to him and wanders for two years until taken in by a healer who says she was “expecting” her.
Nonna, the healer, is getting old, and fears being left alone in her old age. Though beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s, she manages to trick Claire into a proxy marriage with Palmer, her son who has been long gone with the Crusades and whom Nonna thinks may be dead. Claire will stay and care for her just as if she were tied by blood. Nonna gets a caretaker and Claire gets a home. In time Nonna’s son Palmer does return from the Crusades, but by then, she no longer recognizes him.
If this sounds like an unusual premise – it is, as is the entire book. And while the start is quite explosive and dramatic, the remainder of the story is not. Instead it is a quietly told love story between characters so well crafted they seem entirely real. Filled with dignity and courage, these two people, both hurt to the depths of their souls by what they have suffered, do not lash out at the other. While they do keep their hearts to themselves, they behave honorably and heroically.
The horrors Palmer has seen and participated in while doing his work for “God” have led him to feel that he is not deserving of happiness. As for Claire, she was raised a serving girl; she doesn’t miss being a Lady, but misses her son and fears for him, knowing the only thing that saves him from his uncle’s greed is her former mother-in-law’s love for her grandson.
I reviewed Haywood Smith’s earlier Secrets in Satin while at The Romance Reader and enjoyed it thoroughly, although I felt it lost steam toward the end. There are no such problems with Dangerous Gifts; it is well told through and through. Readers will feel for Claire as she loves Palmer, all the while wondering when he may leave out of restless guilt. Readers will feel the same awe Palmer feels when he discovers all Claire has been through.
Watching these two people heal through the power of love is something very special indeed. As one who prefers my heroes and heroines to be together from the start, I wondered whether Claire and Palmer’s meeting at roughly page one hundred would detract from my enjoyment. It did not, and allowed me the chance to enjoy Claire and the secondary characters.
This is not a romance filled with action or sexual tension based on arguments and quips. Its delights are quieter, smaller, and meant to be savored, like a fine and mellow bottle of red wine.