Saturday, 23 March 2019

#CBR11 Book 10: "Dare to Love a Duke" by Eva Leigh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Thomas Powell has just become the Duke of Northfield and has to set aside his previously rakish ways to protect his father's legacy and ensure a good future for his younger sister. She's very much in love with the son of one of their father's most trusted allies in Parliament, who clearly expects Thomas to continue supporting him, whether Thomas actually agrees with his views or not. Torn between duty and his own conscience, Thomas is struggling. The one place he feels at ease, the Orchid Club, is a deeply inappropriate hang-out for a duke.

Lucia Marini has had to make her own way in the world. The illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Englishman and a poor Italian woman, she came to England when her mother died, only to find her grandparents refusing to take her in. Now she is known to all that visit the exclusive Orchid Club as "Amina", the beautiful and elusive proprietress. The Orchid Club takes visitors from all levels of society, and charges what the visitors feel they can afford. Everyone has to appear masked, and all the sexual acts are entirely consensual. The club was successful even before Lucia took over its management with some of her found family, but now they have received news that the club's noble patron has passed away, Lucia and the rest who work there are worried that they may find themselves homeless and without a way to make a living.

While Tom has been drawn to the beautiful Amina since he first visited the Orchid Club, he has never propositioned her in any way, quite happy for their friendship to be platonic (while they flirt shamelessly). Now that he knows he has to become all that is dutiful and responsible, and he comes to the club to say goodbye, he requests one night with her, before he and Amina go their separate ways forever.

I don't think I'm spoiling it for anyone who's ever read anything ever when I say that of course it turns out that the wealthy patron who died was in fact Tom's seemingly faultless father, and that now that Tom is his heir, he finds himself the unexpected owner of the sex club he's been visiting for the past year. His super conservative, family values father also had a pretty big secret, and Tom is rather shocked when he discovers it. Of course, it also means that he is Lucia's employer, which is very fraught for a number of reasons. They were only supposed to spend one night of passion together, but of course, as in all romance, that night was utterly transformative for both of them, and they're completely ga-ga for one another.

Even really rather disreputable dukes are unlikely to settle down and marry former sex workers, and the former Duke of Northfield was known as a pillar of propriety and Tom therefore has all sorts of expectations to live up to in society. He really does take his position seriously, and is extremely protective of his younger sister. He's quite willing to be utterly miserable, giving up any chance of his own happiness, if it means she gets to marry her sweetheart, even though said sweetheart's father is clearly an odious bully, whose political views are pretty much diametrically opposite to the progressive views Tom himself holds.

Family is an important theme throughout the book. Tom deeply loves his mother and sister, and comes to discover his father was a very different man than he believed. Lucia was rejected by first her father and her father's family and had to sell herself to survive, but has managed to find friends and confidantes who love her and care for her as much (or more) than an actual family would. They run the Orchid Club together, determined to make it a safe haven for people of all creeds and classes, and the main reason Lucia has for running the club is to make enough money to open a girls' school for poor and underprivileged girls, like she herself once was, vowing to give them lives better than she had when she arrived in England.

Does the storyline presented in this book require quite some suspension of disbelief? Yes, but no more so than in the majority of Tessa Dare's historical romances. Is it an entertaining read? Yes. Do Tom and Lucia work as a couple? Absolutely, they complement each other's strengths and weaknesses beautifully. Is pretty much all the supporting cast also fun to read about? Yes, I especially liked Tom's sister and the lesbian couple who Lucia run the club alongside. Does Tom's mother seem to accept her son's choice of bride, despite her 'colourful' past, unexpectedly quickly? Yup, but I didn't care.

Eva Leigh continues to write very entertaining historicals, and I'm excited to see what she's going to come up with next.

Judging a book by its cover: Not sure whether Eva Leigh has made some sort of unholy covenant, but the covers for her historical novels are pretty much always, without exception, gorgeous. The cover models portraying the heroines actually look like pretty much like the women inside the cover are actually described, and the dresses they wear are absolutely sumptuous. The utterly stunning blue dress on this cover takes my breath away.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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