Daniel’s True Desire is the second book in Grace Burrowes’ True Gentlemen series and is easily the best of the three. As is always the case with this author, the book is intelligently and beautifully written; but what makes it a little different from the other novels in the set is that the obstacles which the central couple has to overcome are very real, lending an emotional depth and poignancy to Daniel’s story that isn’t present in the other books.
The Reverend Daniel Banks appeared as a secondary character in David: Lord of Honor, the ninth book in the author’s Lonely Lords series. In that book, we learned that his sister, Letty, had a son as the result of a youthful indiscretion and that Daniel has been bringing up his five-year-old nephew as his own so that the boy can escape the taint of illegitimacy. We also know from that book that Daniel’s wife, Olivia, is a nasty piece of work who blackmailed Letty for years, something about which Daniel was unaware. His decade-long marriage has been a difficult one, and he long ago realised that Olivia was not the wife he should have chosen – and he still can’t believe she would stoop so low. But now, Olivia has disappeared, and Daniel has no idea where she is or what she is up to, so he is in a kind of limbo, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Daniel is a compassionate man who is dedicated to his calling, but of late has found himself feeling restricted by it. It’s not a crisis of faith as such, but he’s at a low point, unable to see a way out of his present difficulties. Adding to Daniel’s feelings of guilt and general unhappiness, is the pain of his recent parting from young Danny, who has gone to live with his mother and her new husband now that Letty is settled and able to care for him. And Daniel is moving on, too, having just been granted the living of Haddondale by Nicholas, the Earl of Bellfonte.
On his way to his new home, Daniel is misdirected and ends up at the cottage of one of the Haddondale residents instead of the vicarage. Stopping to ask for assistance, he is met by a lovely, blonde whirlwind of a woman who introduces herself as Lady Kirsten, the earl’s sister, who then accompanies him to his new home to make sure he gets there safely.
Lady Kirsten Haddonfield is brusque, brutally honest and, to be truthful, a bit of a grouch. She has had to take over the numerous estate duties that were previously performed by her older sister prior to the lady’s marriage, and is, in addition to that, helping her youngest sister, Della, prepare for her upcoming London season. Years before, Kirsten’s own season had been a big disappointment resulting in two broken engagements, but worse than those unpleasant memories is the prospect of the gossip that will no doubt ensue when the ton gets its first glimpse of Della who is as unlike all her siblings as it is possible to be. The Haddonfield men – and women – are all tall and blond, whereas Della is dark and petite; she is rumoured to be a cuckoo in the nest, even though the previous earl and countess never treated her any differently to their other children and they all love each other dearly. But Kirsten knows how cruel society can be, and her concern for her sister just adds another layer of worry to her already large pile of burdens.
There is an instant affinity between Kirsten and Daniel, who recognise in each other a kindred spirit, someone who has learned to live with disappointment and has been buffeted about a bit by life. Daniel finds Kirsten’s bluntness refreshing, and is quickly able to see through the surface bluster to the truth of the caring woman beneath; while Kirsten is very taken with the handsome young vicar’s aura of quiet competence, sense of humour and compassion. The attraction between them grows steadily, but of course Daniel is married, and there is no way that he could divorce Olivia and remain a member of the clergy, even if he were able to afford such an expensive process. Leaving the clergy would deprive him of his livelihood and make it impossible to support a wife – so they are stuck; deeply in love but unable to look forward to a future together.
There is much to enjoy in the book besides the lovely, bitter-sweet romance. Ms Burrowes excels at creating a sense of community and her stories always have strong elements of friendship and family and the different kinds of love. Her gift for writing children who come across as living, breathing, actual children rather than precocious moppets is strongly in evidence when it comes to the characters of Danny and his friends, the group of unruly boys who come together under Daniel’s tutelage; and the way she charts the growing bonds between the boys and between them and Daniel is touching and very skilfully done. I also love the way she writes the friendships between her male characters, creating strong relationships based on a deep mutual respect, but in which the characters tease and joke with each other in order to cover up the fact that they’d give up the shirts on their backs if needed. Here, the way that David and Nicholas rally around Daniel when he really needs them is a delight to read.
The author’s solution to the problems that lie in the path of Daniel and Kirsten’s happiness is completely unexpected and rather brilliant, although I do have one criticism of the way things are wrapped-up overall. There is one particular plot-point that is not only too much of a magical fix to a problem that is rarely magically fix-able, but which makes things just that bit too perfect. That said, the ultra-perfect ending has become one of Ms Burrowes’ trademarks, and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Daniel’s True Desire, which is a sweet, emotionally satisfying romance, and one I would definitely recommend to fans of the genre.