A bargain that was all business…and pure passion.
Neither wealth nor beauty will help Lady Francesca Gordon win custody of her young niece Georgina, saving the girl from a cruel stepmother; she needs London’s top solicitor for that. But when Edward de Lacey, son of the powerful Duke of Durham, hires away the one man who can do the job, Francesca decides Edward himself must champion her case…if only she can melt the dashing lord’s stony heart.
Edward has reason to be guarded, though. London’s tabloids have just exposed a secret that could ruin his entire family. When Francesca offers a unique chance to undo the damage, Edward is forced to agree to a partnership…and now, each moment together feeds the flames of his scandalous longing for the passionate widow. But when Georgina disappears, fate will test them both…and leave their love hanging in the balance.
Rating: Narration B-; Content: B
In One Night in London, book one of Caroline Linden’s 2011/2012 The Truth About the Duke trilogy, the deathbed vigil of the two younger sons of the Duke of Durham, is followed the next day by a meeting with the family solicitor. The solicitor reveals that the late duke contracted a secret marriage some years before he married their mother. As this may mean the later marriage was bigamous and they are all illegitimate, the brothers stand to lose everything.
The story focuses on the middle brother, Lord Edward de Lacey, who has run the Durham estates with great skill and great success. He doesn’t care much for society and has a reputation for being a ruthless businessman and a bit of a dull dog. He hires London’s premier solicitor to prepare their case, and hopes it will be just a matter of time before his eldest brother Charles is proved to be the rightful Duke of Durham. (While the “Durham Dilemma” is the thread which connects all three books in the series, this one is principally concerned with Edward’s romance. Anyone who is expecting the resolution of the matter of the inheritance is going to be disappointed, because that doesn’t happen until book three.)
Lady Francesca Gordon is furious when she discovers that the same solicitor has turned down her case in favour of working for the de Laceys. She confronts Edward, accusing him of “poaching” him, her annoyance greatly fuelled by the fact that he is the only lawyer she met who gave her case even the most basic consideration. When one of London’s scandal sheets prints a story about the “Durham Dilemma” the next day, Francesca sees an opportunity to advance her cause. She knows the editor of the scandal sheet and will contrive to have him print a retraction in return for Edward’s help in securing the services of another solicitor. This bargain naturally throws them more into each other’s company, and as they spend time together, they each begin to revise their original assessments of the other.
The protagonists are both very strongly drawn, and although at first they seem to be complete opposites – he rather starchy and she a tempestuous free-spirit – as the story progresses both they and the reader come to see that what originally seem to be almost unbridgeable gulfs in personality are actually qualities which are complementary. Francesca livens Edward up, reminding him what it feels like to be happy rather than merely content. Edward helps her to see the value of learning to hold back and plan rather than to rush headlong into a situation.
The sexual tension simmers between them from the get-go. Francesca thinks Edward is dull and colourless at first, and he thinks she’s a managing harpy, yet they find it increasingly difficult to stop thinking about each other. Edward fights his attraction to Francesca particularly strongly, feeling that she is everything he doesn’t like in a woman – she’s forward, opinionated and capable; and Francesca can’t believe she is having lustful thoughts about such a stiff-necked fellow as Edward de Lacey. And when the lustful thoughts finally turn into reality… the pair of them may just have melted my earbuds! Their passionate affair has the feel of a mature relationship, but is simultaneously one in which the characters experience that first explosion of infatuation and physical desire.
Gildart Jackson, a new-to-me narrator who is also, it seems, a newcomer to the world of audiobook romance, has a voice like melted chocolate, rich and dark. His narration is nuanced and expressive. Although there are times when it is a little on the slow side, that fits with Edward’s character, as he’s a reserved man who always thinks before he acts. Mr Jackson differentiates clearly between all the male characters, doing an especially good job in providing each of the three brothers with his own, distinctive sound. His performance of Edward is excellent. He really captures the essence of him – part restrained, buttoned up gentleman and part sex-god (!) – by skilful use of subtle changes in tone and inflection. Edward intent on seduction is utterly and deliciously wicked while Edward the businessman is considered and rather restrained in both speech and manner.
His portrayal of female characters is less successful. Francesca is a widow in her late twenties, so it’s right that she doesn’t sound like a wide-eyed ingénue, but at times she sounds more like a middle-aged dowager than a vital young woman. That said, Mr Jackson’s portrayal changes as the book progresses, so overall he does a more-than-decent job. I don’t, however, much care for the falsetto he uses to characterize Louisa Halston, Edward’s ex-fiancée, as it falls over the edge into caricature.
One Night in London is an enjoyable listen and a good start to this series. I certainly intend to listen to Mr Jackson again on the strength of it, and I’m pleased that he’s joined the very small club of men who narrate historical romance. I hope he maintains his membership, because the genre needs more good male narrators.