Sourcebooks Casablanca / August 5, 2014 / $7.99 print & digital
The past will overtake him...
Abandoned in France since boyhood, despite being heir to an English barony, Sebastian St. Clair makes impossible choices to survive a tour of duty in the French Army. He returns to England hoping for the peaceful life of a country gentleman, though old enemies insist on challenging him on the field of honor, one after another.
But this time, he will not fight alone...
Millicent Danforth desperately needs her position as companion to the Traitor Baron's aunt, but grieves to learn that Sebastian must continually fight a war long over. As Sebastian and Milly explore their growing passion, they uncover a plot that will cost Sebastian his life and his honor, unless he does battle once more-this time in the name of love.
I tend to think of Grace Burrowes as one of the sunniest of writers, but she actually goes to some pretty dark places in her books. After all, her assorted heroes and heroines have survived penury to various degrees, bereavement, childbirth out of wedlock (and the attendant social consequences), abusive childhoods and abusive marriages, post-traumatic stress, physical disability, and the crushing weight of parental expectations. That everything usually turns out just fine in the end proves that her books are surely optimistic, if not exactly a non-stop laugh riot.
In The Traitor, however, Burrowes goes as dark as she ever has, taking us into the mind and heart of an English veteran of the Napoleonic wars whose psychic wounds are of a different stripe. Specifically, our protagonist was a professional torturer…for France. Can Burrowes turn this man – an out-and-out villain, on paper, at least – into a sympathetic hero whose HEA we crave?
In rehabilitating Sebastian St. Clair, formerly in the employ of His Imperial and Royal Majesty Napoleon I, Burrowes has set herself a formidable task. She largely succeeds, thanks to a sympathetic backstory and some sweet chemistry between St. Clair and his put-upon lady-love, Millicent Danforth. The Traitor may not be your typical summer beach read, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time.
Sebastian, whom we first met under somewhat different circumstances back in The Captive, has recently returned to his ancestral home after serving as an interrogator under the loathsome Anduvoir in Napoleon’s France. His path in life up to this point has been colorful and interesting, to say the least. The child of an English father and a French mother, back in the day young Sebastian found himself stranded in France after the Peace of Amiens – a brief lull in hostilities between France and England – ended. The family was in France to visit his maternal grandparents, but once fighting resumed, Sebastian’s father was forced to sneak out of the country or risk imprisonment. Sebastian’s mother died before the family could be reunited, and so at a very young age, Sebastian was placed in a very difficult position, and did what he had to do to survive…
…which entailed joining the French army and interrogating captured English officers, a task at which he excelled. Disdaining violence for its own sake, he preferred to zero in on his subjects’ weaknesses and extract the information he needed as quickly and neatly as possible. The entire time, he was keenly aware that his superior officer, odious Anduvoir, frankly enjoyed other men’s pain and was all too willing to employ more extreme measures (read The Captive for more detail) if St. Clair failed to produce results – or if he even turned his back for a couple of minutes.
With all of this behind him, the “Traitor Baron” has returned to his late father’s estate and is mostly just trying to get by, doing his best to avoid his neighbor, the Duke of Mercia, who remains the only man that neither St. Clair or Anduvoir was ever able to break. He’s muddling along tolerably well, suffering only the occasional cut direct, enduring the odd call-out from former soldiers, and sparring with his feisty aunt, when that aunt hires a new companion who threatens his already shaky equilibrium.
Millicent Danforth is young, lovely, and alone. Her adored aunts, with whom she lived, have died recently, and her remaining relatives treat her like a half-wit. Initially this makes no sense to Sebastian, but his preternatural ability to uncover others’ deepest secrets stands him in good stead, and once he figures out what’s going on he becomes Milly’s staunchest champion. Milly is gentle but spirited, and she proves understanding and accepting when she learns about Sebastian’s unusual past. But when that past comes looking for him, it will take the intercession of more than one most unexpected individual to allow him to finally lay his history to rest and take his place in society as an honorable man.
Sebastian is an interesting fellow, by turns regretful, stalwart, sad, pragmatic, and proud. All of these characteristics are on display when he first begins to court Milly. Behold their first kiss:
For a kiss that bore more than a little anger on Sebastian’s part, the touch of Miss Danforth’s lips on his was sunlight-soft…She tasted of the wine, of sweetness, and a little of grief. He kissed the grief then nudged it aside by stroking his fingers over her cheek, her throat, her temple. Although she was a redhead, her hair was silky soft, and her skin…
No human female ought to have skin like that, warm and smooth, and a sheer pleasure for a man to drag his fingertips over. He wanted to taste her everywhere, and that he’d never have the chance was the only thing that made him ease out of the kiss.
“You are alive,” he growled. “Be grateful for that. Don’t tempt fate by questioning your good fortune, because one day it will be you who lies in some churchyard.”
Summer was made for light and mindless reading. This is not that. However, romance lovers who slip The Traitor in between a couple of fluffy beach reads will discover an absorbing story featuring a complex hero and his gripping, ultimately rewarding fight for love and redemption.
Learn more or order a copy of The Traitor by Grace Burrowes, out August 5, 2014:
Kate Nagy blogs at kateholdscourt.wordpress.com.