Silver Hearts

A Wish for Nicholas

Taming The Duke by Jackie Manning
(Harl. Historical #562, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29162-0
Lady Alicia Spencer is resigned to her fate as a spinster, living at her family’s estate, Marston Heath, in the English countryside. But it was not always that way for Alicia. She was once the toast of the ton, the most beautiful young woman making her entrance into Society. Until someone’s jealous manipulations thrust Alicia into a compromising position that left her reputation in tatters.

Alicia was forced to retreat to Marston Heath, where she quickly distinguished herself as a healer of horses. It’s this skill with horses that drew Dalton Warfield, Duke of Wexton, to Alicia. His favorite stallion, Bashshar, was shot in an accident. Although his physical wounds have healed, the horse suffers from hysteria and will have to be put down...unless Alicia can use her skills to cure him.

Alicia’s compassionate nature makes it difficult to refuse to help an animal in need, but she’s forced to make an exception in this case. Why? Because Dalton wants Alicia to travel to his country estate, Havencrest, to treat Bashshar. Havencrest is not only Dalton’s home, but also the home of his mother, the dowager Duchess. The woman who orchestrated Alicia’s banishment from Society.

Alicia’s father is enraged when he discovers she’s refused Dalton’s request. Her father is a gambler and has borrowed against Marston Heath. The arrangement he has made with Dalton for Alicia’s services will save them from financial ruin. Alicia has no choice but to accept and she does, with one caveat...she must have accommodations in the stable with Bashshar. That way she can be with the horse at all times and also avoid the dowager Duchess.

Dalton is thrilled and quickly agrees to Alicia’s terms. He has no idea his mother was responsible for Alicia’s ruined reputation, but had he known, it wouldn’t have surprised him. There is little love between Dalton and his mother and when he realizes Alicia’s presence at Havencrest infuriates the dowager Duchess, he begins to spend more and more time in Alicia’s company.

Alicia is aware that Dalton’s attentions are merely to annoy his mother, but she still looks forward to the time they spend together. She treats Dalton as an equal and is not afraid to put him in his place. Since Dalton’s role as Duke causes most to defer to him in every way, Alicia’s forthright manner is shocking and at the same time, very appealing.

Alicia is a very sympathetic heroine. She’s been wronged, but doesn’t wallow in her fate, she just deals with what life throws at her. At times she’s a bit too good to be true, particularly in her dealings with the dowager Duchess and Lady Elizabeth, Alicia’s rival for Dalton’s attentions. But I liked her, nonetheless.

Dalton, several years Alicia’s senior, seems a bit more childish. Particularly at the end when the dreaded “big misunderstanding” tears the couple apart. His ranting and carrying on had me rolling my eyes, yet it was not unexpected.

Every character, situation and behavior in Taming the Duke came right out of Romance 101: the virtuous heroine, the wealthy and powerful hero, the hero’s trusting sister, the scheming other woman, the evil dowager duchess and contemptuous father of the heroine. One predictable scene followed another.

Although it was possible to follow the storyline blindfolded, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the time I spent reading Taming the Duke. There’s quite a bit happening here and the pacing is perfect, nothing occurs that is jarring to the story.

The strongest scenes are not those between Alicia and Dalton, but those where Alicia is working with the wounded stallion, Bashshar. Her love for her horses is clearly drawn. A week after finishing reading, I have to refer back to the book to refresh my memory on the interaction of the protagonists, yet the scenes between Alicia and Bashshar remain clear in my mind.

If you’re out to read something a bit different, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re in the mood for a good old-fashioned romance that covers all the predictable bases, Taming the Duke will definitely satisfy.

--Karen Lynch

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