|Picking up right where the previous installment of the Heiress Brides series left off, we meet Deirdre Cantor proposing to Calder Marbrook, Marquis of Brookhaven. Calder walked away from his previous fiancée and allowed her to marry her true love, his half-brother Rafe, and is feeling a little lonely and down. He sees Deirdre as one way to assuage that loneliness and he is attracted to her. Deirdre meanwhile loves Calder, as she has ever since she met him. She sees Calder as the means to escape from her waspish stepmother.
If this paragraph makes sense to you, then you have read Desperately Seeking A Duke and you have a chance to enjoy The Duke Next Door. If you are bewildered and wonder what exactly happened in the previous book, then you will probably not became engaged in this tale on your own. Having read the previous novel, I found myself enjoying this story at times and being discontent at others.
Calder is a complex character and not your typical hero. He was raised knowing his destiny was to inherit and be a Duke. His father ensured he knew that meant he had to be staid and responsible rather than loving and able to enjoy life. Calder’s persona to the world very much fits this profile. But underneath he is a caring man who is looking for love. His first wife only wanted his money and cuckolded him before she died. She did leave him with a daughter, Margaret, who he has basically kept secluded. Few know of her. She is a hellion, and at eight, causes Calder fits because he can’t keep a governess and she is often rude to him.
Deirdre has high hopes for her marriage, although she has not really had a good role model. Her mother died and Tessa, her stepmother, was a nasty piece of work. After Deirdre’s father died, all Tessa cared about was getting Deirdre prepared to marry a Duke, which would allow her to inherit her family’s fortune. This fortune is large and controlled by the attorneys, one of whom is determined to keep the girls from marrying their Duke. He succeeded with Phoebe and now he is out to stop Deirdre. Even after she and Calder marry, he promises to break it up to protect his own income from disappearing.
There is no story other than the marriage and the relationship between Calder and Deirdre and this attempt by the attorney to break up the marriage. While the story had good pacing, there is little action to keep things moving. Most of the conflict in the marriage is a result of Calder’s high handedness and Deirdre’s lack of acceptance of that attitude. It is half way through the book before they consummate their marriage, making the romance feel more like a couple of teenagers playing immature games with each other. The addition of Margaret just fuels that immaturity fire. There are many threads left unanswered and inconsistencies that were hard to buy.
Calder is portrayed as a man who is dedicated to his factories and his innovations in industry. Yet he keeps from going to them because he is holed up in his office avoiding Deirdre’s moods and sulking himself. When he finally goes and a circumstance occurs which essentially destroys everything, he chooses his love life over his business. It is as if his other persona was just a fake. And the fate of his factory, which actually was a little interesting, was never resolved.
Deirdre on the other hand, shows signs of a backbone and can be applauded when she stands up to Calder. Then she turns around with some harebrain scheme and loses the respect from readers she has built up. She flirts with a young sop, using him to get to Calder and then is surprised that he falls in love with her and creates problems for her. She is immature. It isn’t until the very end that she does what she should have done 200 pages earlier.
When Calder and Deirdre are actually engaged in their relationship, the story moves along and there are some signs of delight. Yet the bulk of The Duke Next Door did not emit this feeling from this reader. If you haven’t read the first of the series, this book really does not stand alone well. And even if you have, you may find there is not as much to like as one would hope from a Bradley novel.