I’ve read a few things by Grace Burrows- The Duke’s Obsession books, for example – and I liked them and all. I thought that Burrowes' great weakness was characters not worrying overmuch about period social mores (The heir to a dukedom marrying his housekeeper, for example) but I love how she draws characters. This is no exception- the plot is, well, it's there, but the characters are what kept me up late to keep reading.
The hero is Christian, Duke of Mercia, who was in France during the Napoleonic Wars and was captured by the French. He was held and tortured for nearly a year, and released once the war was over. He’s having some re-entry issues, not the least of which was that his wife and infant son died while he was held.
The heroine is Gillian, a countess and new widow. She was also Christian’s wife’s cousin, and comes into Christian’s orbit when she’s the only person who’s concerned about his 8-year-old daughter, Lucy. The kid needs parenting, and Christian needs someone to help manage his life as he figures out what his life IS. So he invites her to move in with him (with nods to the fact that she’s a respectable widow, and also family, so her reputation wouldn’t be at risk) and take over dealing with his correspondence and blocking social invitations.
His torture was personal enough that he can’t bear the thought of a man helping him dress, and shaving himself with a razor is too much. His left hand was injured, and he’s left-handed, so he can’t write or do a lot of things, and Gillian starts just doing those things without making a deal out of it, or even really asking. This is exactly what he needs- someone to help without making him ask. This wouldn’t work for a lot of people, because it does require a sense of mind-reading in a way, but it works for them.
Of course, the reason it’s possible is due to Gillian’s horrid marriage and the survival skills one develops when living with an abusive asshole. She’s hyper aware of what he’s doing, and she channels that into being able to help him without making a THING out of things. He wants to eat an orange, but can’t peel it because his hands won’t work? She peels and shares a couple of oranges. She’s the one who will tell him, “Your Grace, your hair looks like shit and you can’t go out with your cravat looking like THAT.”
Sebastian and Gillian both have physical and emotional scars from their respective traumas, and there’s a really interesting scene where there’s a carriage accident, and Gillian just takes the whole thing without any show of concern. There’s an implication that people have noticed her constant lack of ruffled feathers in the past, but this isn’t really followed up on. (I mean, there was an inquest as to whether she killed her husband, but that’s wrapped up by chapter 2.)
My only real problem with this book was the rushed ending, which came across as just way too tidy. Unsuspected actual bad guy! The torturer has ~reasons~ for doing what he did! Mute Plot Moppet find her voice! (Okay, but there are also adorable doggies and I am a sucker for adorable doggies.)