by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2013)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-9346-1
Okay, this can get quite convoluted, so bear with me. First, we have our heroine Lisette Bonnaud's family history to dispense with, since this book is the first in what seems to be a series revolving around her and her siblings. Lisette and her brother Tristan are the children of the former Viscount Rathmore and his French mistress. Lisette has two half-siblings, George and Dominic Menton. When the Viscount was widowed, he generally waffled around when it came to marrying his mistress, so when he finally croaked, he left only a codicil to his old will during his final moments, to provide for his mistress and illegitimate children.
George, who inherited everything, detests his half-siblings so he tore the codicil up and proceeded to throw his unwanted siblings and their mother out of their house. Tristan in the meantime stole the horse he was meant to inherit, so George wanted him imprisoned for horse theft. Lisette learned from the whole mess that men are unreliable. Her father neglected to provide for his children, after all, and Tristan only made things worse for everyone. Dominic sided with the Bonnauds, so he was cut off by George.
Okay, that was then. Today. Lisette came down from France, where she lived with her brother until... things happened, to assist Dominic in his private investigation business. She doesn't mind the job, but she wishes that Tristan and Dom would stop treating her like a fragile darling and let her do some field work. You know, interrogating suspects and such. She may get her chance when, one evening, she is visited by Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons.
Max says that he was contacted by Tristan recently about his brother, thought to be dead all this while. Apparently Peter may be alive, but Tristan failed to show up at the appointed hour for more discussion, and now Max wants to see Tristan and get some answers. Thing is, Dom is away on business and Lisette has no idea what Tristan is up to or where he is, although she knows it's probably some where in France. Max decides to go find Tristan himself, and Lisette of course insists on following. Her brother must be innocent, she must be there to make sure that Max doesn't ill treat Tristan when the man finds her brother (I guess she wants to scold and lecture Max to death should that happen), blah blah blah. Fake married couple deception ensues, and I'm sure you know what will happen along the way.
Max has a pretty detailed family history too, involving what seems like hereditary madness and infidelity and kidnapping and other tragedies, but since they are only revealed as the story progresses, I won't get into his family closet too much here. Let's just say that this is a story where love comes with considerable family baggage from both sides.
What The Duke Desires is a middle of the road romance by this author. It has both the best and worst elements from the author's repertoire, and there is a heavy sense of I've read this before several times as I turn the pages.
Lisette has a sympathetic back story, and it's easy to understand her mistrust on the reliability of men in general. Unfortunately, like many of this author's heroines, Lisette has that irritating tendency to fly off the handle and assume the worst of the hero's character at the smallest provocation. When this happens, she has no issues lecturing, scolding, or nagging that poor man. The thing is, Lisette is often wrong about everything - she loves to make sweeping generalizations that only reveal how horribly sheltered she actually is, and how little she knows about people or life in general. Her sheltered nature is understandable, given how she is treated by the men in her family, but yikes, she just has to be so annoying shrill and judgmental doing her thing. Then there's her tendency to stick to her inconvenient moral code even if it makes little sense to do so. Lisette comes off as someone who has serious issues about wanting to convince herself that she is better than everyone else.
This annoying aspect of Lisette, however, is a familiar one, as she is exactly the misfire of a creature that results when Ms Jeffries has an off day. This time, however, Lisette has a back story that makes much of her constantly being wrong understandable. She's out of her depths and she never had a chance to truly see the ugly side of life, she just thinks that she has. That doesn't excuse her irritating personality, but there you go - she's a mix of good and bad when it comes to the author's formula.
Max is a familiar character too. He doesn't trust softer emotions, he has been hurt before by his father, wah wah wah, just like every other hero from this author. He's also predictably more capable and smarter than the heroine, and he gets all emotional at the more dramatic later moments of the story because love makes tough guys fidget like popcorns on the stove or something like that.
And then there is that formula which is obvious when it comes to the romance. That kiss, the inability to resist the siren call of hormones out of whack, the way the immature heroine immediately transforms into a sage hot mother who understands everything the hero is feeling and thinking, how she offers succor and hot sex as she patiently waits for him to work out his issues... yes, they are all here. Mix in some oh-so familiar scenes of the heroine scolding everyone else for daring to even say a little negative thing about the hero, no matter how well-deserved the barb is, while protesting that she is the most virtuous person on earth, and yes, this is a place that I've visited often.
The only unpredictable thing here is how the heroine doesn't spend a hundred pages wailing that she can't marry the hero and she'd rather live the honorable life of a ruined woman who martyrs herself in the name of love, but that's like saying that a book by Amanda Quick is suddenly so incredible because the heroine has a craving for raw steak.
At the end of the day, this one is a fifty-fifty kind of mundane. It has some good points, some bad points, but everything feels so predictable and familiar that I truthfully can't be bothered to sort out the good from the bad. Maybe I'd enjoy this book more if I'm new to this author's formula. As it is, it's a book that leaves me feeling a considerable degree of apathy.
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