Though I consider myself a reader of inspirational romance, I do find it cloying at times. My rule is to keep my inspie romance reads on spare occasions … until I read Michelle Griep’s The Noble Guardian. What a refreshing voice and ethos! I want to read ALL the Grieps. (She is to historical inspie what Kara Isaac is to contemporary, breathing new life into the subgenre.) The religious element is present, but more in the characters’ personalities and actions, less in finger-wagging didacticism. In The Noble Guardian, Griep’s protagonists occasionally enjoy ale, travel together chaperoned only by a one-year-old adorable moppet, and share affection, passion, and desire that is more palpably sexy than many an explicit, pages-long love scene. There’s a shared horse ride that is sensually magnificent.
Moreover, Griep’s Regency setting, with its evil, violent highwaymen and the eponymous “noble guardian,” Samuel Thatcher, is beautifully developped. Our heroine, Abigail Gilbert, “Abby”, hires Samuel to act as protective escort on her journey to her fiancé, Sir Jonathan Aberley. They travel Regency England’s dangerous byways, sleeping in inns, deflecting dangerous criminals, braving stormy weather, and caring for a tyke named Emma, the daughter of one of Samuel’s fellow-veterans too grief-stricken over the death of his wife to care for her himself. On this at times joyful, at times sad, at times perilous journey, Abby and Samuel banter, converse, share their lives, and grow to love one another and their charge, Emma.
I loved Abby and Samuel as individuals as much as I did their growing love and friendship. They are, at first, an unlikely pair. Samuel is a hardened Bow Street runner, a man grown weary of the day-to-day confrontation with evil and violence. While he remains a man of faith, noble bearing and intent, he wants nothing more than to rally sufficient finances to buy a small farm and work the land. He is world-weary and heart-sore. Meeting Abby doesn’t result in Samuel’s sudden conversion to light and love thanks to her “specialness.” No, he notices how pretty she is, also annoying, persistent, and privileged. He comes to see her in a new light as she interacts with Emma and him, as she exhibits bravery, kindness, and intelligence. Abby, in turn, notes how attractive Samuel is, but she also finds him dour, stubborn, and rough. She too comes to recognize his qualities of consideration, affection, loyalty, and humour.
Samuel and Abby realize they have more in common than apart, given their cross-class status. Samuel came from a deprived abusive childhood. Abby has endured her stepmother’s abuse, father’s neglect, and stepsisters’ scorn. If not for her dowry, she’s Cinderella. Abby’s hopes for a life of love and family, at first, lie with her fiancé. While Samuel has to recognize that he’s worthy of Abby no matter his humble beginnings, Abby has to see that Samuel is where love, safety, and happiness lie. Their shared journey furnishes the matrix for their realizations. Griep builds her romance on compatibility, care, admiration, and desire.
What also charmed me about Griep’s Noble Guardian was her wonderful turns of phrase. Griep’s writing is elegant and her metaphors surprise and delight. I loved this description of Abby’s pride: “she lifted her chin before the trap of self-pity snapped shut.” As you know, dear readers, any heroine “chin” is fascinating and pleasing to me. I loved the metaphor of Abby contemplating bidding Samuel farewell: “But why did the thought of saying goodbye to this rough-and-tumble man feel like lightning struck her soul, leaving behind a hollowed trunk that might not stand without him?” And the banter? Sheer fun: ” ‘I did not take you for a religious man.’ ‘In my line of work, you run either from God or toward Him.’ … ‘You are a starry-eyed dreamer, lady.’ ‘And you are a dour old naysayer.’ ”
And remember when I said this was sexy? Here’s Samuel when Abby wakes him during one of their many inn nights: “The captain stood, feet planted wide and muscles straining against the thin fabric of his shirt. Dark hair peeked out on his chest, just below his collarbone, matching the dark stubble on his clenched jaw.” Also, manly-smell is done particularly well: “Strong arms broke her fall, lifting her up against a chest that smelled of leather and horses and man. Her face pressed against a warm neck, and for the first time in her life, she felt safe. Protected. As if the arms of God himself held her aloft. Ahh, but she could live here.” There’s woman-smell too!: “Though he ought not, Samuel leaned closer and inhaled her orange-water scent, the sweet fragrance mixing with the wildness of the storm. If he bent any nearer, his lips would be against the bare flesh of her neck, and the craving to taste that skin charged through him, settling low in his belly.” I’ll let you read the horse ride and the two lovely shared kisses for yourself!
Michelle Griep’s romance is wonderful from start to finish as it tells the story of two souls who help each other learn to live on love and hope, who share laughter and sorrow and can be as easily imagined as passionate lovers as they can responsible, loving parents, as they can elderly, beloved companions. The fire in the belly, the light in the heart, built on faith, hope, and love. With Miss Austen, we say that Griep’s The Noble Guardian is evidence “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Michelle Griep’s The Noble Guardian is published by Barbour Publishing. It was released on June 1st and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-galley from Barbour Publishing, via Netgalley.