Monday, 22 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 93: "Duke of My Heart" by Kelly Bowen

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Captain Maximus Harcourt, the reluctant tenth Duke of Alderidge, comes home after several years away in India to discover that there is a big ball at his house, his younger sister is missing without a trace, and there is a naked earl tied to his sister's bed with red ribbons. Oh, the earl is very much dead. Already in the room is Miss Ivory Moore, a society fixer working for Chagarre & Associates. She was hired by the duke's aunt and intends to make sure that not a whiff of scandal attaches to the duke's household or his debutante sister's reputation. Her first order of business is to get the earl dressed and placed in a different bed, so that his body can be found by a servant later in the evening, making it seem as if he was taken ill and died, completely unconnected to anything to do with the young lady of the house. She makes sure a double wearing a wig and the girl's dress is seen in the distance by enough people at the ball that her whereabouts will not be questioned.

Harcourt is appalled by Ivory's cold and business-like manner and he certainly doesn't enjoy being ordered around. He quickly comes to realise that she is his only chance at finding his sister, who may or may not have been taken from his house by force. Unlike other nobles who hire Chagarre & Associates, Harcourt doesn't intend to just sit back and let others do all the work. He insists on working with the exasperating Miss Moore, and the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to get her out of his mind.

Ivory Moore was a singer, celebrated on stages all over Europe, before she became the elderly Duke of Knightley's second wife. When he died, his family made it clear that she was quite unwanted in their lofty circles, but left her with a financial settlement large enough that she could live out her life in a very comfortable manner. Not one to be idle, however, Ivory made sure to keep busy. Along with others at Chagarre & Associates, she makes sure that the same nobles that would shun her pay dearly to have difficulties go away. She's got secrets on practically everyone, and knows that no one is as good at problem solving as she. Born poor and pretty much sold to her manager as a teenager, there are skeletons in Ivory's closet, she's done many things to survive before she became a Duchess. She hasn't really missed male companionship, until she clashes with the Duke of Aldridge.

With two older brothers, Maximus Harcourt never expected to inherit a dukedom. He joined the navy at an early age and feels much more comfortable at sea than in opulent mansions or ballrooms. A part-owner in the East India Company and owner of several merchant vessels, he has a stalwart reputation for captaining his own ships. The responsibilities of the dukedom are delegated into capable hands, and his aunt has been there for his sister. Returning after years away, he is forced to realise that the many pleading letters his sister sent, about being allowed to join him in India, were not just the wishful longing of a young girl. His aunt sacrificed a life and happiness of her own to raise her niece and resents her nephew for running away from his duties. She feels that he is indirectly to blame for the possible scandal they are now facing and doesn't hesitate to tell him so.

As the captain of a fleet of ships, used to everyone obeying his smallest command without question it is very disconcerting to Max suddenly find himself helpless and having to rely on a bossy woman he knows nothing about. He does his best to discover Ivory's true identity, but doesn't find out the truth about her until she tells him herself. While he may be a big strong alpha man, it doesn't take him too long to admit when he's out of his depths and trust Ivory to take the lead in the investigation. He also apologises to his aunt and admits he may have been selfish in staying away from England for so long. He doesn't judge Ivory for her past, or treat his sister with anything but understanding and affection when Ivory finally manages to negotiate her return. He doesn't hesitate to act decisively when discovering what Ivory may have to do in return for his sister's safety, however, and uses not his brawn, but his cleverness and brains to ensure that Ivory doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to.

Kelly Bowen is a new author to me, but she is clearly someone whose books I will have to read more of. A hero who isn't afraid to take second place to the hugely competent and clever heroine? Not a whiff of slut-shaming, despite the heroine's dark past? A decidedly original meet cute? I like this book a lot and have heard very promising things about Bowen both on the CBR blog and other romance review sites. I always enjoy discovering new romance authors, and this is the first book in Bowen's second series, I can go back and read her previous books while waiting for sequels to this to come out.

Judging a book by its cover: Such a pretty dress! Gorgeous details and colours. So incredibly wrong for the time period! Gah! I hate it when the cover models on romances are dressed in blatantly the wrong costumes. While this cover is probably based on a photograph, how hard would it have been to put her in a Regency appropriate dress? It would have made the cover SO much better. Stupid cover designers.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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