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Scandal can be handled…
Captain Maximus Harcourt, the unconventional tenth Duke of Alderidge, can deal with tropical storms, raging seas, and the fiercest of pirates. But he’s returned home from his latest voyage to find a naked earl—quite inconveniently deceased—tied to his missing sister’s bed. And he has only one place to turn. Now he’s at the mercy of the captivating Miss Ivory Moore of Chegarre & Associates, known throughout London for smoothing over the most dire of scandals.
Miss Moore treats the crisis as though it were no more serious than a cup of spilt tea on an expensive rug. As though this sort of thing happened on the job every day. Max has never in all his life met a woman with such nerve. Her dark eyes are too wide, her mouth is too full, her cheekbones too sharp. Yet together, she’s somehow…flawless. It’s just like his love for her, imperfect, unexpected—yet absolutely true.
Is anyone else confused by the choice of the dress for the cover model? The book is set in 1819 and that is most definitely NOT a late Regency era dress.
I thoroughly enjoyed the books I read in Kelly Bowen’s début Dukes of Worth series last year, and had marked her out as a new author to watch as a result. In Duke of My Heart she has once again crafted an entertaining story that is well-written and strongly characterised, with deft touches of humour and a nicely developed romance.
Maximus Harcourt, Duke of Alderidge, returns home after two years at sea to discover a dead, naked earl tied to his sister’s bed and his sister missing, while downstairs, there is a ballroom full of people gathered to mark Lady Beatrice’s come-out. Used to being in control and having every order obeyed, he isn’t predisposed to listen to the advice of the lovely, but unfamiliar woman who seems to have taken charge of the situation and starts telling him what to do.
Miss Ivory Moore represents Chagarre & Associates, an incredibly discreet organisation that specialises in fixing the seemingly unfixable, salvaging reputations and making scandals disappear. She has been summoned by Max’s aunt, Lady Helen, to prevent the ruin of her niece’s reputation as well as to see if she can discover what has happened to her. But Ivory’s clients are usually pleased to allow her to handle everything and then pay the bill, and Max makes it quite clear that he isn’t having any of that. His sister is missing, and it’s his responsibility to find her.
Max and Ivory’s relationship doesn’t get off to a great start, but once his initial panic wears off, Max realises that Ivory does know what she’s doing and starts to trust her. And for her part, Ivory has to accept that Max isn’t going to be a typical client who just sits back and waits for results. Even so, the pair continues to clash over methods, with Max generally wanting to rush in all guns blazing, while Ivory wants to take a more considered approach.
Being a third son, there was never any expectation that Max would inherit the dukedom, and so he was never prepared for it. In fact, his parents never bothered all that much about him and packed him off to sea as soon as he was old enough. But even though the death of his father and twin brothers has brought him a title, he doesn’t feel like a duke; he has never felt comfortable in the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the ton, loves his life at sea and sees no reason to change it. He believed he was doing the best for his sister and all his dependents by leaving them in the capable hands of his aunt while he pursued his interests elsewhere… but Beatrice’s disappearance is the catalyst for his realisation that perhaps what he thought was right for her was no such thing, and for him to face up to the fact that he has been running from his responsibilities.
And Ivory has spent so long bearing her own burdens and taking care of herself and everyone around her that she has almost forgotten what it is like to be able to let someone else shoulder some of them and what it is like to trust another person. Yet part of her longs to be able to share some of those burdens with Max, even if only for a short while, before he leaves England and returns to his former life at sea.
I enjoyed the book and raced through it in a couple of sittings. The premise is different, and both protagonists are complex, well-rounded characters with good reasons for acting as they do. I liked how Ivory was able to bring Max to draw his own conclusions about his deficiencies as a brother, and how Max was able to show Ivory that allowing a man into her life didn’t mean she was weak or had to give up her independence (although, of course, it would depend on her choosing the right man!)
But with all that said, there were a couple of things in the story that didn’t quite work for me. In the first place, the idea that an unmarried, childless peer of the realm – and a duke, no less – could spend his life captaining his fleet of ships rather than attending to his responsibilities to his estate and dependents required considerable suspension of disbelief; and in the second, while I appreciated Ivory’s sterling qualities, her intelligence, her desire for independence and her ability to stay one step ahead of the game, it was another big stretch to believe in her background as a former-opera-singer-turned-duchess-turned-society-‘spin-doctor’. Ms Bowen certainly gives plausible explanations for the situations of both protagonists, but I couldn’t quite buy either of them.
The ending is also a little weak. Ivory makes a distasteful deal to ensure Lady Bridget’s safety, leading Max to ride to her rescue – which he does most impressively. But then his efforts are shown to have been largely unnecessary, which made the whole thing rather anticlimactic. We’re repeatedly told that Ivory can handle herself and doesn’t need someone to rescue her, but this is a romance, and there are times when it’s allowable for one character to save the other. And it’s not as if Ivory hadn’t already pulled Max out of numerous tricky situations and saved his sister, so I think he could have been allowed his moment of glory, just that once.
I went back and forth over the final grade for this book. The weaknesses I’ve pointed out, plus the general modernity in tone pull the rating down, but those issues are balanced out by the strength of the writing, characterisation and sheer entertainment value. I enjoyed Duke of My Heart in spite of its flaws and it gets brownie points for being such a thoroughly engaging read. I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different and definitely intend to look out for the next in the series.