Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-246993-8
Historical Romance, 2017
The last two books in Karen Ranney’s Duke series left me feeling bored and vaguely annoyed with the main characters, and The Texan Duke follows the unfortunate pattern. It’s easily the best entry in the series, but at the same time, it leaves me cold.
Connor McCraight is a Texan.
“I’m an American. Even more important, I’m Texan. If I’m the epitome of anything, Elsbeth, it’s the XIV Ranch and Longhorn cattle.”
That’s the new Duke of Lothian and the laird of the McCraight clan. His father was a Scots, a fact that still rankled at Connor because that man, like everyone else outside of the center of the universe – Texas to you and me – “spoke funny”. That man is now dead, and everyone else in succession had also went into the grave, making him the new duke. He doesn’t want to leave the ranch because, despite having employed a billion people to run the largest ranch in the universe (or so it seems here), everything there will die without him being around. Still, his mother wanted him to go see his holdings at Bealadair, so here he is. I hope you like a hero who spends a bulk of his time reminding you and the other people around him that he is Texan, his ranch is the biggest place ever and better than anything else Scotland can ever throw at him, and he is a very important person in the hugest, most prosperous, absolutely Texan ranch, humongously better than Scotland so he really needs to go back ASAP.
Our heroine Elsbeth Carew is the ward of the previous duke, and now she is basically the unpaid housekeeper around the place, while calmly bearing the brunt of the occasional bossy orders or unkind remarks from the rest of the family. She would like to see the clan prosper under a dedicated laird, but is Connor that one? Maybe she should peek inside his pants to find out. Oh, and because Connor is the busiest owner of the most awesome ranch in the whole wide galaxy, he really should sell off everything in Bealadair, but oh my, he’d love to take what Elsbeth is selling. Fortunately, you know how heroines are – she’d give it away for free and then expect nothing in return because he never says the L word so it’s okay, you know. True love and all that.
If you can’t tell from my tone, I’m bored by the whole thing. Even when someone wants to kill Connor, I am not moved to even cheer for him to bite the big one. The problem here is that Connor and Elsbeth are very reminiscent of the typical characters the author normally creates, and while I normally adore such characters, these two are stuck in a plot that is not very interesting. The middle part of the story is the most romantic one, as our hero and heroine interact and indulge in plenty of bonding and introspection, but I get that in pretty much any of the author’s stories. The premise would be the reason to read this book and not the author’s other books, but this one doesn’t have much going for it.
Connor wants to go back to Texas and sell off Bealadair, for example. So… why not just go ahead, go home and sell then? He’s a grown-ass man, and he has a long list of things to complain about Scotland, so what’s stopping him? The pacing of the story can be very slow, perhaps to draw things out and to keep me from wondering too much about this, but at the end of the day, Connor doesn’t have a compelling or urgent reason to remain, so much of his ‘issue’ skirts dangerously close to whining. Meanwhile, Elsbeth is bland. She is a familiar unpaid-housekeeper sort, and she is mostly reactive here – reacting to the people around her, to her attraction to Connor, to Connor – so much so that her character seems to exist mostly as the honey trap to keep Connor around Scotland a little longer.
And in the end, the honey trap predictably works its magic and Connor awakes from the shagging a completely changed man. Last night was… incredible! Awesome! But oh, he has to go back to Texas to do his yabba dabba doo, et cetera – yes, we’ve heard all that before, god – so oh, what to do? Scotland honey or Texan hugeness? Really, this story needs a more compelling conflict. Anyway, the author has Connor deciding that he’d take both – pack Elsbeth up ASAP, he’d like to go back to that you-know-what in you-know-where, thanks – and I find myself wondering whether it’d be fair to his tenants back in Scotland that this fellow is going to live in Texas with his wife and entourage. But maybe I’m just overthinking it, as perhaps titles in this story are to be treated as status symbols instead of anything else.
At any rate, The Texan Duke feels a lot like a watered-down version of better stories by this author, only with a less interesting plot.