Tuesday 19 February 2013

#CBR5 Book 19. "The Way to a Duke's Heart" by Caroline Linden

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Charles de Lacey had a massive falling out with his father, the Duke of Durham, because when he was 22, Charlie wanted to marry a penniless girl of unsuitable family, and his father made sure the marriage never happened. Now Charlie's father is dead, and he discovers that the late duke also had a youthful indiscretion, but that said impulsive marriage may cost Charles his title as duke, and make him and his younger brothers illegitimate. While his two brothers initially started trying to sort out the whole scandal, one through legal means and the other by tracking down the blackmailer, they've both gone and fallen madly in love with their new wives, demanding that Charlie himself save the ducal title, his estates and their fortunes.

Having tried desperately to be the best ducal heir ever until their falling out about his ill-advised romance, Charlie was all the more determined to be the biggest disappointment possible afterwards. Known throughout England as a rake, a scoundrel and seducer of women and generally good for nothing, Charlie is rather shocked when his brothers demand he take matters into his own hands. He starts in Bath, where his brother Gerard discovered the name of the man who posted the letters. At the hotel where he's staying, he runs into a haughty young widow, who unlike pretty much every other woman he's ever met, has absolutely no time for him, and seems to regard him as a nuisance rather than God's gift. As she seems to be doing business with the potential blackmailer, he wonders if she's an accomplice in the plot against the de Laceys, and even follows her and her elderly companion in order to ascertain the truth.

Mrs. Tessa Neville has learned the hard way that charming and good-looking gentlemen are not to be trusted, she's been burned before, and has sworn off men entirely. She's also learned that most men are either disbelieving of or completely put off by her intelligence and business sense. Managing her brother's estate and advising him on financial matters is a very rewarding life for her, she doesn't need gorgeous and notorious noblemen swooping in and charming the wits out of her companion. Once she spends more time with the Earl of Gresham (as the title isn't legally his yet, Charlie doesn't call himself a duke), she discovers that he's not just a handsome face, and that he seems to have a lot of time for her cleverness and forthright opinions.

The previous two de Lacey brothers both fell in love very quickly indeed, but both seemed to at least spend a little bit of time getting to know their significant others. Tessa goes from pretty much loathing and mistrusting Charlie, to being head over heels in love with him. The flaws in his character are actually really well explained in this book, as is her wariness towards men and romance, but she still changes her opinion of him pretty much overnight, and that seemed a little bit too sudden for me. Seriously, they spend less than a week in a muddy little village, while she's investigating a canal scheme her brother wants to invest in, and Charlie desperately tries to find anything else in the world to do rather than go through boring old ledgers to investigate his father's clandestine first marriage.

I see why Charlie fell for Tessa, but her opinion goes from "get away from me" to "please get me out of these wet clothes and ravish me" (because she does indeed turn up on his doorstep, at night, in the pouring rain) in about 2 days. It seemed like a pretty boring village, but at least her companion entertained herself with lurid novels, she didn't just throw herself at the first handsome guy who showed her the least bit of interest.

Still, despite the extremely sudden change from dislike or at least indifference to mad, passionate love on Tessa's part, I really enjoyed this book too. The final revelation of what actually motivated the blackmail and caused the "Durham Dilemma" was nicely done, and having to sort out his own troubles led to impressive personal growth in Charlie. I suspect I may have to go back and check out Caroline Linden's back catalogue, to see if her previous novels are as entertaining as these.

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