Sunday 11 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 15: "A Duke in the Night" by Kelly Bowen

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

August Faulkner, the twelfth Duke of Holloway is a known ladies man and ruthless business man. Very few people know how extensive his holdings actually are, though. He's just bought the Haverhall School for Young Ladies and is planning a trip to Dover to persuade the current Baron Strathmore to sell the family's struggling shipping company to him for a large sum as well. Then he discovers that Lady Anne, his beloved younger sister, has run away to spend the summer with the Haverhall School's summer program, and decides to combine fetching her back with charming the Haywards into selling him their family business.

Miss Clara Hayward and the Duke of Holloway shared a dance at a ball ten years ago, an occasion neither has forgotten. Clara is therefore taken aback when the Duke shows up, claiming to want to keep an eye on his sister. While the regular terms at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies is everything you might expect from a prestigious boarding school for the wealthy and titled, the summer program is meant for specially selected ladies who dream of something more. For twelve weeks, Clara works with them to increase their confidence and teach them self-worth, and they get to try their hands at professions that ladies are normally excluded from. She doubts Holloway would approve. His presence and his attempts to charm her are also very distracting to Clara, who may have had an unusual upbringing, but needs to keep her reputation spotless if she wants to continue as headmistress of her school.

While Clara and Holloway share an attraction, does their relationship have a chance of survival if Clara discovers why the Duke really came to Dover? Can she find happiness with the man who's already purchased her beloved school and wants to take over what remains of her family's business?

This is the sixth Kelly Bowen romance I've read, and as in all the others, A Duke in the Night has a very capable and unorthodox heroine. To society in general, Miss Clara Hayward is all good breeding and proper manners, from a wealthy background, but so educated that she's been relegated to wallflower and spinster status. Since Clara has no intentions of marrying and subjecting herself to the whims of a husband, her reputation suits her just fine.The wealthy families who send their daughters to her school don't know just how unusual an upbringing Clara and her siblings have had, with parents who encouraged them to pursue their interests and learn what suited them. Clara's younger Rose is a talented artist, while her brother Harland, the current baron, is a practising physician. Any whiff of impropriety, such as if Miss Hayward were rumoured to be the mistress of the Duke of Holloway, could destroy her career. So while she enjoys the flirtatious banter between herself and Holloway, Clara needs to stay unaffected.

Most of society also don't know that the Haywards are struggling financially, because their popular parents left their children in quite a lot of debt. Their public image is still one of success. Of their formerly successful shipping company, only two ships remain, and due to storms and inclement weather, they are currently missing. Both Rose and Clara are doing whatever they can to help their brother keep the company solvent, but there is absolutely a strain on their finances. Initially, Rose and Harland are concerned about Clara's reputation when Holloway shows up. They both feel she's free to make her own choices, but are not blind to the attraction between their sister and the duke, who doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to ladies or business.

Holloway's determination to buy the Hayward's business is the main conflict in the story. Faulkner may be a duke now, but he's one of those off-shoots on the family tree that only inherited the title after a whole slew of distant family members kicked the bucket and passed the title onto him. Faulkner grew up in abject poverty on the streets, stealing and doing whatever he could to make money to support his father and sister, stuck in debtor's prison for years. Now that he's a duke, Faulkner spends an absolute fortune lavishing fancy dresses and jewelry on Lady Anna, determined that she will have everything she missed out on when she was a child. What he fails to do, is listen to what his sister actually wants. She wants nothing so much as a chance to run a business of her own, trying her hand at hotel management.

Faulkner can't forget his years of starvation and poverty and keeps buying struggling enterprises and turning them around for a profit. He uses middle men and acts through corporations, so very few people actually realise just how wealthy and successful (or ruthless) the duke is. The duke seems incapable of just enjoying the wealth and power he's already amassed and resting on his metaphorical laurels, so to speak. Until he comes to terms with having enough, he's never going to find happiness with Clara.

While Clara is worried about the duke's reactions to her summer program, he turns out to be surprisingly understanding and progressive, if he occasionally needs a little time to come to terms with each new revelation. He keeps insisting that Clara keeps challenging him, and she does. Both protagonists in this may be somewhat anachronistic in their opinions and beliefs, but it felt refreshing with a thoroughly alpha hero who was nevertheless willing to be questioned and wanting to improve.

There is a minor subplot in the story with a rather predictable antagonist. While I didn't like the character or the subplot, I was surprised at the way the story played out and overall, this was another solid historical romance from Ms. Bowen. Based on the sample chapter at the back of the book, Clara's sister Rose is the next one to find her happy ending.

Judging a book by its cover: As with the prequel novella The Lady in Red, the title really doesn't have much, if anything, to do with the book. Yes, there is a duke (like in pretty much half of all books set in historical Romancelandia), but where the "in the night" comes in is uncertain. I don't know if scowly, brooding man on the cover is better than lady with partially undone dress, or yards and yards of fabric making up the skirt, but this is a pretty generic cover. I like the shades of blue in the background, but this could be the cover of almost any historical romance novel, and it's not exactly memorable.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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