Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-268585-8
Historical Romance, 2019
You May Kiss the Duke is the third book in Charis Michaels’s The Brides of Belgravia series, but the hero Jon Stoker is also the kid taken in by the couple in The Virgin and the Viscount now all grown-up. Also, the whole arc about the will that brings our hero and the heroine Sabine Noble together first came up in the first book in this series, so read my review at the very least to get the low down.
So, the story. Jon is a swashbuckler captain of his own ship, and he first meets Sabine when he shows up at her uncle’s place to tell them he’s not going through the plans to marry her. He’s not the marrying kind, you see. He also has a soft spot for saving ladies in distress, though, and when he discovers that her uncle has locked her up in a cupboard to ensure her cooperation, he realizes that he can’t leave her in the clutches of her abusive guardian. He doesn’t need her dowry, but he will take that so long as he can marry her and get her out of there. So that’s what they do. He then takes his leave, just the way she likes it.
In the following four years, they live mostly separately lives, with her occasionally helping him out when he needs her to mail him some information about the current happenings in London. Meanwhile, she has build up a successful career as an author of travel guides as well as a cartographer. Sabine never forgets her uncle, though. She wants her family home back, and she can only get it back when her uncle is out of the way. That may come to be, though, as she is quietly collecting evidence that her uncle is using the charts and maps left by her late father to operate a lucrative smuggling ring. It is during one of these investigative rounds that she stumbles upon her husband, badly wounded and left for dead, in the morgue of a hospital ship. She has to take him back to her place for some bedside TLC, of course. This time around, perhaps the two of them will find time among looking into his and her personal Scooby-Doo mysteries to finally know one another better.
Now, I like the romance. Sabine is sassy and all, but she has the brains and perception to go with it – she is a smart heroine who can take care of herself, so bring out the confetti, people. You can argue that she may be a bit too perky and sanguine for someone who had undergone the things she had, but I can overlook that as there is so much else about the heroine to adore.
Likewise, Jon has a horrific childhood – his late mother was a prostitute, and he grew up with a warped view of relationships between men and women. He’s not nasty or cruel, oh no; it’s just that he thinks all forms of sex are essentially a business transaction, and he respects Sabine too much to have sex with her without having something good to pay her back for the transaction. Sex also leaves him feeling some degree of Catholic guilt. Meanwhile, he is an action hero through and through, who will hurt people who dare to harm even a hair on Sabine in various delightful degrees of pain.
Jon and Sabine have great chemistry as a duo, with her being his equal in many ways, and there are also some toe-curling romantic moments between them. Really, the romanticism in this story gives me warm fuzzy feelings all over, and the saccharine epilogue has me going “Aww! This is so sweet!” when normally these things make me want to drink a few bottles of vinegar to get rid of the aftertaste. The romance in this story hits mostly all the right spots where I am concerned.
I know, you are probably looking at the three oogies and wondering whether there is a mistake somewhere. There isn’t. The problem with You May Kiss the Duke is that the author doesn’t seem to know what to do with her story after loading the kitchen sink into the first few chapters.
The story takes a while to get going again once Sabine finds Jon in the morgue, because Jon is too weak to move and hence the story really doesn’t go anywhere for a long time despite having two mystery arcs waiting to be resolved. Once Jon can stand of his feet, the author seems to forget her own plot. She instead turns the story into a pretty typical cozy romance. It is only in the late third or so that the characters remember that they have some story arcs to wrap up, and then the bad guys show up one by one for rushed closures – the heroine accidentally bumps into her bad guy for her denouement, believe it or not. As a result, this story feels very artificial – it’s pretty obvious that the external subplots are introduced only to get the two characters together, and these subplots are resolved in a manner best described as half of a rear end.
Hence, as much as I love the romance, I can’t in good conscience overlook the treatment of the plot. The romance is four oogies quality easy, but the plot is a two-oogie kind of meh. Round things up, and three oogies would be a fair score for You May Kiss the Duke.