by Kasey Michaels, historical (2009)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77371-8
Rafael Daughtry's estranged uncle, the Duke of Ashurst, and Ashurst's two sons conveniently perished when their luxury yacht trip turned into a cautionary tale about having orgies in a yacht when a storm was brewing. Therefore, our soldier hero, who has planned to remain in the army even after Napoleon has planted his rotund behind on the throne in Elba, finds himself unexpectedly elevated to a most lofty position indeed.
When the story opens, he returns home to Ashurst Hall to see to his twin sisters, and finds himself reunited with his neighbor and childhood pest, Charlotte Seavers. Confused and rather lost when it comes to behaving like a Duke and managing all the properties and staff that comes with his title, he finds himself relying significantly on Charlotte's advice and assistance. Charlotte is pretty good at managing and getting things done, after all. But as they slowly fall in love, we get the predictable "someone's out to kill Rafe" drama and some secrets of Charlotte that may jeopardize her relationship with Rafe.
How To Tempt A Duke is a pretty familiar romance as I have come across the plot and the characters many times before. While this would normally make for a most uninteresting read, in the case of this book, the relationship between Charlotte and Rafe has some pretty decent chemistry and humorous banter to keep things somewhat interesting. I also love how the two characters can talk so easily that they often defuse any silly misunderstanding before it worsens. Charlotte wants to marry for love, of course, but in this story, because Rafe opens up to her at the right moment about how much he loves her, she doesn't have to pull that stupid Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test and run away because she pigheadedly believes that the hero doesn't love. Rafe and Charlotte communicate well, play off each other beautifully, and they feel so right together.
Charlotte is, I'm afraid, a pretty annoying kind of stereotype in her own right. She's the kind of romance heroine who will immediately do anything and everything to make everyone around her happy, but when it comes to her personal problems, she happily martyrs herself. Rafe is a pretty standard hero, but he's pretty impressive in how he ends up solving Charlotte's personal problems for her without judging or condemning her. He gives her TLC, sees at once how parasitic and weak her father is and take steps accordingly to tell the man just what he thinks of that useless waste of flesh, and even tells Charlotte at one point to think about her own needs for a change instead of worrying so much about everyone else. Unfortunately, Charlotte still doesn't get that last bit much by the last page. Nonetheless, because Charlotte doesn't do anything more than to martyr herself to her personal problems and this matter is not so painless to follow because Rafe is fully understanding and remains 100% on her side in that issue, Charlotte is actually a likable character here rather than a stupid one. Charlotte is surprisingly smart when it comes to solving other people's problems. It's just that she fumbles in inactivity when it comes to dealing with her own problems.
My bigger issue with this story is not Charlotte but Rafe's sister Nicole. This is a young lady who is allowed to run wild while Rafe, Charlotte, and everyone else scrambles to clean up her mess. It is Nicole that unwittingly triggered the mess that caused Charlotte to have her issues, and it is Nicole who happily creates the final conflict that see our hero and heroine desperately trying to rescue her from the villain. What really annoys me here is how Nicole is never made to understand the horrifying extent of the damage caused by her relentless stupidity - Charlotte and Rafe protect her from knowing such unsavory details, and therefore, Nicole never have to learn or grow up. Therefore, Nicole just keeps being herself - rushing headlong into trouble without pausing to even think of what she is doing. She's getting her book next, and I'm not sure whether I have the fortitude to read that book.
How To Tempt A Duke is a pleasant if rather unremarkable read, but it would have been so much better if Nicole had been shipped to somewhere far, far away so that she would not have any contact with other people for at least ten years.
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