The Heir
by Grace Burrowes
(Sourcebooks, $6.99, R) ISBN: 978-1-40224-434-6
****
The heir to a dukedom, the earl of Westhaven has recently found himself to be on the receiving end of matchmaking mamas and papas -- most recently and awfully his own. Westhaven is a man who, especially never having expected to become a duke (he was the third son, and a series of tragedies have since made him heir), respects his privacy and the privacy of those around him. The Heir, Grace Burrowes' first book in a series that follows the Windham family, is not just about the earl, however: his heroine is a very outwardly calm but inwardly feisty lady whose name he thinks he knows ... but there are a lot of things about Anna Seaton that few but Westhaven's deaf housemaid know.

Frankly, Westhaven generally left his few servants alone. He had a rare summer to himself: most of the ton had left London to spend the broiling days of summer in the country. Then, in a humiliating case of misunderstanding, his quiet but sturdy housekeeper whacks him in the back of the head with a fireplace poker.

Westhaven begins to notice a lot of things about Anna Seaton then, once she has to take over nursing him. Anna, grateful she hasn't had the authorities called on her, willingly takes over that job since Westhaven has a fear of physicians that hearkens back to the death of one of his brothers and a prolonged illness suffered by his father. Their romance is gradual and sweet, but more revealing to Westhaven than Anna would have expected. By the time they become intimate, he knows Anna Seaton pretty well, and knows there are secrets in her past that he hopes Anna will share with him. Once the affair is consummated, he knows for a fact that she isn't a widow.

Gayle Windham, however, is the sort of man with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders as he tries to take over a dukedom, and he knows the value of privacy. It isn't until his remaining two brothers join his household and get to know Anna as well that Anna's secrets become a problem. The Windhams are a close-knit group, and Val and Dev are very protective of their older brother. They want to help; it's clear to them that Gayle wants Anna to be their sister-in-law, but they won't allow any harm to come to the earl. Anna wants her secrets to remain just that since she is oathbound to keep them. When an investigator uncovers some of Anna's past, it's a bit of a relief. Unfortunately, the investigator leads the two men who have been trying to destroy Anna's life and that of her deaf/mute sister straight to the earl's doorstep.

Though The Heir has its suspenseful parts and its two evil villains, it is at its heart a sentimental love story. Unlike many period novels, there are no balls and very few noblemen, so the focus is not on the social niceties, gossip, and brown-nosing found in most Regency-era stories. Gayle Windham's entire family conveniently overlooks the fact that Anna Seaton is not only an untitled single woman posing as a widow but that she has been in service for several years.

Although not blatantly inaccurate, many historical aspects have been ignored. Honestly, it's a nice change; too many times readers spend a third of a historical romance sifting through details about hair feathers, corsets, and manners. Anna and Westhaven are almost always just Anna and Westhaven: yes, their respective statuses are a sticking point in a long-term relationship, but neither finds it an overwhelming obstacle. The Heir is a grand start to a series and a nice, relaxed twist on the historical romance genre, even if it is lacking a little as far as conflict is concerned.

--Sarrah Knight


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