|Mastered By Love is one of the most enjoyable Stephanie Laurens novels I’ve read in quite a while. This story of a new duke who discovers the perfect woman literally right under his nose is entertaining, with a fair amount of emotional punch and a suitably steamy romance. If the author cuts a few corners in characterization to make her plot work, well, it’s easy to overlook.
Royce Verisey, new Duke of Wolverstone, is known as “Dalziel” to his fellow Bastion Club members. Though he’s the last unmarried member of the club, Royce has little interest in finding a wife. He’s just inherited a powerful title and a vast estate, but it comes at a high price. Royce was banished by his father sixteen years earlier, when at the age of twenty-two he decided to serve the Crown as a spy. The breach was never mended. Now, with his father and mother both dead, Royce returns home to Wolverstone to take up his responsibilities.
He finds an unexpected ally in Minerva Chesterton, who is the castle’s chatelaine. The late duke and duchess raised Minerva after the deaths of her parents when she was just a small child. Royce remembers her, though he last saw her when she was about twelve years old. Now twenty-nine and a confirmed spinster, Minerva has spent the last half-dozen years running the castle. She’s witty, intelligent, caring, and much-beloved by the tenants of the estate.
Minerva also remembers Royce, who was the object of her girlhood crush. She’s shaken to find she still feels the same pull toward him, and so adopts a cool, businesslike façade. After years of living at Wolverstone, Miranda knows that her time as chatelaine will end when Royce chooses a duchess. Using her own fortune, she’ll then be free to travel. Until then, she’ll help Royce settle into his duties and help to ease his path, while keeping her heart under wraps.
Royce’s sisters soon descend upon the castle, along with several matrons of society, all determined to see Royce wed in short order. They explain that the Prince Regent has his eye on Royce’s fortune, and if he should die without an heir, the Prince might try to confiscate the money and the title. Therefore, Royce should marry as soon as possible. In fact, they refuse to leave until he has announced his choice for Duchess.
Here the author relies on characterization of convenience to make her story move forward. Royce, who is supposed to be a cold-eyed assassin when needed, can’t bring himself to order a bunch of interfering females out of his house. Then more friends and hangers-on appear, cluttering up the book, and one of them means to kill Royce. Of course, if the author had stuck to her guns and had Royce act in character, there would be no plot. So Royce soon decides it’s the delectable Minerva he really wants, only she doesn’t want him. Or so she says.
Royce sets out to convince Minerva they are perfect for one another. Minerva, who is of genteel birth but not of the nobility, thinks she is too lowborn to make a good duchess, though she’s been acting the part for nearly a dozen years. This didn’t quite work either. But if readers can overlook these contrivances, the romance is quite satisfying.
Royce is a fine hero. Silently grieving the loss of his father, he’s quickly overwhelmed by his duties and isn’t afraid to lean on Minerva to help him out. This bit of vulnerability really helped to lift him above the usual run-of-the mill imperious dukes found in historical romance. And when he realizes he’s fallen for Minerva, he plows straight ahead with a campaign to win her, even though he has no experience with love and harbors doubts that he can feel such deep emotion. He was a captivating character.
Minerva was a delight, because the author allowed her to be mature and intelligent without throwing it in the reader’s face. She tries to keep to the background, but as Royce draws her forward to help him, they begin to forge a deep friendship. Minerva finds that she likes Royce, and his respect for her knowledge and understanding of the estate and its tenants goes a long way toward cementing their bond.
The sex is trademark Laurens, steamy and fairly explicit. Here Minerva doesn’t display a lot of smarts; for a woman who is looking forward to traveling on her own once a duchess is chosen, she never once thinks about the possible consequences of an affair with Royce. But I imagine most readers will be happy to overlook that point.
Mastered By Love is a fine wrap-up to the Bastion Club series. A teaser at the end of the book hints that the members may turn up in subsequent books, however, so readers likely haven’t seen the last of them.