Duty and Desire
Duty and Desire is the second book in the author’s Hearts of Honour series, but can be read as a standalone. The two protagonists are both gentry fallen on hard times – so no dukes or debutantes – and the slow-burn romance between them is really well-developed and the problems they face feel quite realistic.
Grace Daniels is the bastard daughter of a baron and was brought up alongside his legitimate family until his death, when she was cast out and left to her own devices. Fortunately, her great-aunt – a midwife and healer – took Grace in and taught her the tools of her trade, so that now, Grace has a large and respectable local practice among the ordinary people in and around the village of Hartley.
Former military officer Jonathan Loring is a widower with a young son who is seriously ill. Born into the aristocracy, he resigned his commission in order to care for Peter following the death of his young wife. Although he was formerly the commanding officer of the local landowner, Viscount William Blackthorn, Jonathan now works as the viscount’s estate manager, a job he enjoys, even though his snobbish mother hates the idea of her son doing something so lowly as paid employment. But Jonathan has no alternative. His profligate brother has brought the family to financial ruin – stealing Jonathan’s inheritance in the process – and he is supporting his mother and sister, and in addition, the medical consultations and treatments he employs for Peter are expensive.
At the beginning of the story, Jonathan and Grace don’t like each other very much at all. He dismisses her natural, traditional methods as little more than “witchery” and Grace quite naturally gives as good as she gets, rather enjoying baiting him at times. But when he is finally desperate enough over his son’s situation to swallow his pride and ask Grace for help, the two begin to see each other in a different light, and gradually to fall in love. Unfortunately, however, neither of them is in a position to marry – Jonathan is close to penury and cannot afford a wife, and Grace’s profession allows little room or time for romantic attachments, so they are faced with a difficult choice. Do they part forever, or embark upon a clandestine affair, something which, if discovered, could destroy Grace’s reputation and livelihood forever?
Jonathan and Grace are both well-rounded, engaging and compassionate characters, and the storyline dealing with Peter’s illness is both unusual for an historical and realistic. My criticisms are mostly confined to the latter part of the book, when things are resolved rather too easily, and I wasn’t quite convinced by Grace’s “I can’t marry you because of my career” stance. But otherwise, Duty and Desire is an enjoyable read in which the emotional connection between the protagonists is deeply felt and their physical encounters are imbued with sensuality and tenderness.