BOOK BLURB: Outspoken and opinionated, Katherine Sutherland is ill at ease amongst the fine ladies of Regency London. She is more familiar with farmers and her blunt opinions and rough manners offend polite society. Yet when she hears the scandalous rumours involving her sister and the seductive Duke of Darlington, the fiercely loyal Katherine vows to save her sister’s marriage – whatever the cost.
Intrigued by Katherine’s interference in his affairs, the manipulative Duke is soon fascinated. He engages in a daring deception and follows her back to her country home. Here, their intense connection shocks them both. But the Duke’s games have dangerous consequences, and the potential to throw both their lives into chaos…
The Duke of Darlington was sitting in the bow window at Whites, when the Earl of BenRuin entered. The man was huge – almost ugly with it.
‘We’ll need another pot of coffee, after last night,’ Darlington said to Jewellyn, who sat beside him comparing three silk handkerchiefs.
‘Mother says the daffodil yellow makes me look consumptive, but the pale is just so joyless.’
‘Your mother knows best, darling.’ He took another sip of coffee, and didn’t look around. But he felt BenRuin’s eyes on him. He heard a hush follow the Earl through the room as he made his way over.
‘Darlington.’ BenRuin spat his name with a thick Scottish R.
He looked up and smiled sunnily. ‘What ho, old boy!’
BenRuin looked as though he wanted to crush Darlington’s throat and stop him from ever speaking again. Something woke, and shivered through Darlington, and he despaired because it was not fear.
He brushed a speck of lint from his cuff. ‘Coffee?’
BenRuin stared at him. ‘I am going to kill you,’ he said slowly, every word clear. Men looked up from their papers, frowning. BenRuin gripped the back of an empty chair, his hand a powerful, blunt instrument.
Darlington lowered his cup and wondered that his hands didn’t shake at all. He had been waiting so long for this. A month ago he had been given an old iron key that unlocked his father’s private papers with his father’s things. The key might as well have unlocked this sick, loose delight in him. It had brought him to this moment.
He screwed up his brow, and turned to Crispin, who sat at his feet on an ottoman. ‘Was I supposed to meet this man in a duel today?’
The boy looked back at Darlington with perfect trust, undiminished by the slight confusion on his face.
‘I don’t think so. No one’s come to see me about being your second. Unless—’ Crispin flushed and turned to Hopwell, across the table. ‘Hopwell, you rotter, you’ve not been approached, have you?’
Hopwell drew himself up. ‘And if I had? Are you the only one who could possibly represent him?’
‘But you know that I—’
BenRuin’s face clearly spoke his frustration – his disbelief that these boys, these butterflies would ignore him. His huge frame bunched and he threw the chair at the wall so hard it broke. Muted conversations broke off, and a footman’s half-sobbed apologies limped alone into the silence. Men rose from their seats, but left a wary space around BenRuin. Darlington couldn’t look away from BenRuin’s pale eyes.
He smiled as if his patience was wearing out. ‘Why do you suppose you want to kill me, old boy?’
‘You.’ BenRuin forced a couple of heavy breaths through his nose, like speaking the words was a feat of strength. ‘And my wife.’
‘Ah.’ Darlington let understanding dawn in his voice and spread his manicured hands out before him. At last. At last they had come to it. All this violence was his for the taking. ‘Look, she told me it was one of those marriages, you know. That you both found pleasure where you could.’
For a moment BenRuin couldn’t speak, like Darlington had cut his tongue out of his mouth. Then, ‘Stop talking,’ he said.
‘But I’m sure she…wait, so you’re back from your trip to South America, then? Did you collect any interesting new specimens?’
‘Stop talking,’ BenRuin said. ‘Stop.’
Crispin leapt up, relief clear in his smile, his voice. ‘You’re thinking of Lady Drysdale, Your Grace!’
‘Of course!’ The Duke placed slim fingers against his brow and made an apologetic face at BenRuin. At last. ‘All a misunderstanding, old boy!’
‘Call me old boy one more time,’ BenRuin said, his brogue making him almost unintelligible, ‘and I won’t wait to hear your explanation.’
‘Explanation?’ He had begun to shake with a kind of excitement. ‘Lady Drysdale and I had an understanding, and I don’t see that it’s any of your concern!’
‘And your carriage – in my driveway?’
He had forced a proud man to say this in front of other men. It was despicable. He would do it again in a heartbeat for what he wanted – needed.
‘Which driveway would that be, old – er.’ Darlington leaned down to Crispin and said, ‘Do you know who he is? I’m not sure what name to address him by.’
And then it came. So fast that for a moment his whole body felt the shock of not being ready. Of needing a moment to think.
BenRuin came at him, all muscle and murderous intent, his eyes fixed on Darlington’s face.
And Darlington was greedy, his whole being a gruesome invitation. Everything he normally hid flared to life within him.
BenRuin saw it. He faltered.
The men who had leapt into action had their arms about BenRuin, their hands gripping him wherever they found purchase. BenRuin’s knife never reached Darlington’s throat.
Darlington felt so bereft that for a moment he couldn’t breathe.
A man was hurrying through the room. Perhaps someone had sent a boy to find him, because he spoke in BenRuin’s ear and BenRuin listened. Tension leeched out of BenRuin’s huge body, and he began to shake, like a horse after a hard race.
He pointed a finger at Darlington. ‘I’ll not hang for the sake of seeing your pretty blood,’ he ground out. ‘This time. But the next time you trespass against me, you will know what I mean to do.’
BenRuin left, and Darlington fluttered his hands about his throat, and went into mild hysterics and allowed Crispin to fuss over him.
REVIEW: You’re either going to love it or hate it. I don’t think there’s a middle of the road for this novel. I more than loved it! I adored the hero, heroine, plot…oh and the prose is so good that it borders on poetic. It brings to mind Julie Anne Long’s and Grace Burrowes’ writing.
As soon as I was done with it, I had to Tweet the author. My Tweet was “I am in awe of it. It’s intriguing, clever & exciting; romantic & sensual; breathtakingly delightful!”
This was one of those stories that made you unknowingly hold your breath, and then slowly exhale as you go from page to page. At the end of it, it brought to mind two movies I am such a fan of: “Pretty Woman” and “An Interview with a Vampire”.
“Pretty Woman” because of its ending as the heroine ‘rescues’ the ‘hero’, and “An Interview with a Vampire” because for some reason the Duke reminded me of Lestat [no he wasn’t a Vampire, just the characterization].
Let me also say that if you’re a stickler for historical detail, you might have to suspend your disbelief and ignore a couple of things in it [notably reform of the Corn Laws and Parliament’s involvement in the divorce] to enjoy the rest of the story. I had no problem with it.
Story’s prose and especially characterization of the hero and heroine, was what engaged me emotionally.
It really was a breath of fresh air. For a change we have an author that gave us a cross-dressing hero instead of a heroine, and the result was entertaining, intriguing and engaging.
It was a risk, but I think it paid off big time!
I recommend it whole heartedly!
ARC courtesy of NetGalley.
I stopped writing when I was fifteen and my teen angst was too much, even for me. Also, boys.
Now I’m An Adult, and I’ve never wanted to work so hard at anything.
I live in a beautiful flat in the middle of Melbourne with special k – husband / coffee mogul / love of my life. We’ve started having weekly managers meetings where he says things like, “This is work, so there are no feelings, okay?” and I quake in my writerly boots. I couldn’t have done any of this without him.
This blog is where I think out loud about writing. I break down the things I watch and read – I try to figure out how they work, or don’t work. It tends to centre around love, romance, gender, feminism and writing.
I hope you enjoy the conversation!