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When the Duke Found Love
by Isabelle Bradford
(Ballantine, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0345527332
***
When the Duke Found Love is the final installment in Isabelle Bradford's series about the Wylder sisters. Lady Diana Wylder, age eighteen, is the youngest sister, about to be married off to a man who is totally unsuited to her high-spirited personality. Unfortunately for Diana, marriage to a couple of dukes has rendered her two older sisters inexplicably thickheaded. And her mother, Lady Hervey, is even worse.

Diana is informed by her mother that she has accepted the suit of the Marquis of Crump on Diana's behalf. Diana has never met Crump, but her mother is certain that the older, sober, somewhat Puritanical marquis will be the perfect husband for her impetuous daughter. Crump has recently come into his title, and, as he informs Diana on their first meeting, he needs heirs. Her sisters have been popping out children (Charlotte has had four in four years) so Diana should be of good breeding stock. Crump then leaves a dumbstruck Diana standing alone in the park while he exchanges political views with a fellow lord.

Diana is approached by a loose dog and while she's petting him, his owner arrives. He's a handsome young man about her own age, and they have an immediate connection. But Diana leaves before discovering his name, mindful of her impending marriage and not wanting to disappoint her family.

Fate has other plans, and Diana runs into him again at a ball. He's the Duke of Sheffield, returned to London after several years abroad, in which he managed to build quite a reputation as a rake. Sheffield's older, more sober cousin, the Duke of Breconridge, advises him that the King is tired of Sheffield's escapades and wants him to wed. Soon. To a respectable young lady. Lady Enid Lattimore, to be precise.

Sheffield reluctantly meets with Lady Enid, and is astounded to find she has no interest in marrying him and is in fact in love with another man, a vicar whom her family refuses to accept. Sheffield and Enid agree to a sham engagement. It will keep the King off his back and give Enid time to work out her problem. But Sheffield and Diana keep running into each other, and there is no denying the joy they find in each other's company. How can this mess be untangled?

Sheffield and Diana have to go it alone, because they receive absolutely no help from Diana's mother or sisters. Having married their own dukes (who are Sheffield's cousins) and fallen in love with them, her sisters are just sure that Diana's marriage will be a love match eventually. The fact that Crump is an annoying, disapproving cold fish is brushed aside. Neither of them listen to Diana's protestations, nor do they seem to care how she is feeling. After all, Crump is a marquis. That's what really matters.

And if the sisters are annoying, self-absorbed twits, the mother is worse. How Lady Hervey could be so blind to her daughter's unhappiness, while professing to love her, was beyond comprehension. Remember, he's a marquis, I guess. The Duke of Breconridge, for all that he's supposed to be a fond father figure to Sheffield, doesn't believe in marrying for love and is no help whatsoever. The King says to marry Lady Enid. So marriage to Lady Enid it shall be.

Sheffield is delightful. He's been a scapegrace, but it meant nothing to him. Now that he has found a woman he can truly love, he'll move heaven and earth to be with her. His kindness to Lady Enid is endearing, too. Diana is a bit too dutiful at first, but as she gets to know Lord Crump and dislikes what she sees, she discovers her spine. Soon the two are working to find a way out of their respective engagements.

I'd have rated this book higher were it not for the annoying secondary characters. Having read the sister's stories, their smug complacency in the face of their sister's unhappiness made no sense. It was a complete turnaround from the Charlotte and Elizabeth readers met in the earlier installments, and not a welcome one.

When the Duke Found Love is a somewhat disappointing finish to this series. Read it for the two lead characters, who make the story entertaining.

--Cathy Sova


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