Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29809-9
Historical Romance, 2014
Yes, the hero’s name is Darian Hunter, and he is the Duke of Wolfingham. Of course it has to be Wolfingham. The hero is the biggest prime specimen of masculinity, and his dong will shrink by at least five inches if his title is, say, the Duke of Smokedham. He is the Duke of Desire! A “legendary rake” and a “notorious bachelor”!
Actually, the hype on the back cover is a bit misleading. Darian, like his BFF Zachary, is actually a secret agent for the Crown, and he uses his reputation as a shield for what he is really doing around town and abroad. When Darian Hunter: Duke of Desire opens, Darian suffers a bullet wound on his shoulder, but he bravely marches on to confront Mariah Beecham, the widowed Countess of Carlisle, whom his brother claims to have fallen in love with and will marry regardless of what Darian has to say about the matter. Naturally, Mariah’s open-all-day reputation is a lie; instead of being the neighborhood 7-11, she’s just being stiffly and prickly because her late husband was a grade A scum. Darian insists on believing that she’s a whore, which creates some problems because she’s also an agent of the Crown – surprise – and they have to pretend to be paramours and attend a hot sex party to foil an assassination plot on the Prince Regent. How can Darian concentrate when he is already conflicted by his feelings? He can’t make up his mind whether he’d like to sleep with Mariah and then call her a whore immediately after, or to sleep with her and then call her a whore maybe a little later.
Yes, this is another standard “Is she the town bike?” story, because it’s always palatable when a male town bicycle judges a female for daring to even being even a little like him. I know, we can all argue, “But that’s how guys think back in those days!” but if we want to take that as a yardstick for historical accuracy, then how about the rest of the story? Dukes and Countesses playing spies, for a start, and we can happily go downhill to wallow in the mud at the bottom from there.
Darian is basically a Greek tycoon with less body hair, more height, better wardrobe, and an English accent. Fortunately, he’s too ridiculous and over the top to be taken seriously, which is good as his interactions with the heroine can be quite misogynistic in nature. He nearly forces his attention on her during their initial encounter because he doesn’t believe that she is not leading his brother on and he would molest her to show her that she’s gagging for it like all women of her type – yes, once again, it’s a downhill slope and we can all be happy pigs rolling in the mud and going, “Oink to the Duke of Ham!” Darian is pretty dense, dumb, and the author tries so hard to make him the biggest and the baddest in the land that he comes off like a Cynster or Mallory beefcake on steroids – too hilarious to be believable.
A bigger issue here is the author making both characters spies and then having these characters behave more like lummoxes. For example, Darian is said to be a great spy, so he should be more aware than most that people are often not who they are said to be. However, he insists that Mariah is giving free Slurpees to all the boys in the land because people say so. He is only convinced that the Slurpee is all chilled and waiting only for him when she proves that she is more innocent than he thinks. Never mind the implication that she’s not good enough for the Duke of Ham-Every-Woman if she isn’t a victim of her past, the problem here is that we have a spy who so easily believes rumors to be gospel. The rest of his spy repertoire isn’t any better – he’s more like the muscle or the mule instead of a spy.
Mariah isn’t very convincing as a spy, either, because she’s too emotional for her job. She lacks the personality that would have made her choice of vocation believable. The idea that she can pry secrets out of guys, when she speaks more than she should the very first time she meets Darian!
And during their assignment, the two of them are far more fixated on the ups and downs of their feelings for the other person rather than on the mission. Darian, for example, scrutinizes the guests in the party not for clues or anything else, but to search for signs whether they may have bought Slurpees from Mariah before. England must be really short-handed when she recruited these two jokers to play at being spies.
If the author had done without the spy angle, Darian Hunter: Duke of Desire would have been a standard misogyny and big wee-wee tale. Put in the spy angle, however, and the couple become clowns rather than hounds of love.