The first difference that I noticed between Burrowes' historical and Hernandez's contemporary was how each positions her heroine in terms of personal and job power. When we're first introduced to Burrowes' heroine, Jacaranda Wyeth, she has already spent five years in her post as housekeeper on the country estate of solicitor Worth Kettering. She is more than well-regarded there; the butler, cook, groundskeeper, and stablemaster all consult with her, and more often than not are directed by her ideas and wishes. Even though she is the housekeeper, Jacaranada has power at the Kettering estate, especially since its city-dwelling owner hasn't ever visited in all the time she's worked there.
Both Worth and Tracy are attracted to their employees, and push their housekeepers to engage in amorous relations with them, even after both women say no. Why, then, did one protagonist's actions seem more palatable than the other's? I think it has to do with the point of view through which each author chooses to tell her story. Hernandez uses the first person, with the entire story told from Reggie's POV, while Burrowes uses the third person, switching back and forth between Jacaranda and Worth, the book's male lead. In Worth, we are allowed inside Worth's head, and are reassured by his thoughts about Jacaranda. He's attracted to her, yes, even wants to make her his mistress. But he expresses no desire to harm her, to force her to succumb to his sexual advances. Nor does he ever consider threatening her job to persuade her to consent. The switching point of view acts as reassurance against the doubts Worth's actions in pursuing Jacaranda, in teasing and flirting even after Jacaranda tells him no, might have raised if we had only seen them through her eyes.
Reggie's first-person narration offers us no such reassurance. In a scene where Reggie returns from her high-school reunion with her escort, Tanner, older brother Tracy expresses his jealousy through actions, actions that we see only through Reggie's eyes: "He forced me into the casita and shut the door" (1059); "I tried to push him away, but he wouldn't budge"(1069); "he captured my head in his hands and pushed me up against the door" (1069); "he found it effortless to remove my clothes" (1069). Where is the line here between forceful seduction and assault? Ultimately, Reggie welcomes Tracy's advances in this scene, but in its opening moments, without knowing Tracy's thoughts or intentions, it was difficult for me to feel entirely comfortable that Tracy understands the line between sexy forcefulness and just plain force.
Consent is never a topic of discussion between Reggie and Tracy, only a demand. "I'm waiting, Reggie. Tell me what I need to hear," Tracy demands before the first time they have sex. But "I didn't have the strength to say no to the beautiful man. But I couldn't look at him, either" (1079). Tracy takes Reggie's sexual arousal as permission to forge further down the sexual path; only on the verge of penis entering vagina does Reggie finally grant overt consent: "I want to be inside you," says Tracy; "Yes, inside," Reggie answers (1088). Later, their sexual relationship edges in to BDSM territory, but without any talk of safe words or boundaries that we've grown accustomed to seeing in many erotic romances that include BDSM. Tracy spanks Reggie as punishment for being too bodily close to Tanner, not as part of a consensual game of pain. Reggie finds this a sexual turn-on, but it seems clear that Tracy was not doing it for that reason: "he groaned, surprised by my arousal," Reggie notes, after the slapping stops (1523).
Reggie and Tracy's contretemps also stems from a family difficulty. When he hired her, Tracy had asked Reggie to try and find out why his brother Tanner was acting out. Reggie discovers Tanner's secret, but at Tanner's request, promises to keep the truth from Tracy. Eventually, Tanner's secret is outed, leaving Tracy more than a little enraged at both his brother and his lover (you have to read the book to find out why). In some of the most vile, sexist breakup language it's ever been my displeasure to read, Tracy reams Reggie out and then dumps her. That Tracy eventually repents, grovels, sneaks behind her back to contact her family members, and ultimately convinces Reggie to get back together seems less cause for celebration than for dismay, at least to this reader.
A heroine's degree of power; a narrative that gives a hero's POV, not just a heroine's; discussions between protagonists about consent; and a relationship block that can be resolved through mutual understanding rather than through manipulation and melodramatic plotting—these are the elements that made the troubling aspects of domestic workplace romance palatable in Burrowes' book, but deeply problematic in Hernandez's.