From the moment I opened the cover of The Duke's Return, until I turned the final page several hours later, nothing could force me to put down this book. I was enchanted.
Trevor Phillips is the reluctant Duke of Rawlston. He has unexpectedly inherited the declining property from a distant relation and has no interest in giving up his indulgent Parisian lifestyle for the demands of managing a complex estate. Trevor knows the administration of the property is well beyond his capabilities, because no matter how hard he tries to learn, he can barely read and write.
Today, a problem such as Trevor's would quickly be diagnosed as dyslexia. But in the 1820's, it is a source of embarrassment. He prefers to remain in Paris, where no one will learn of his affliction.
Sara, the young widow of the previous Duke of Rawlston, has valiantly attempted to hold the property together since her husband's death some 10 months earlier. But now, with her funds quickly dwindling, she will stop at nothing to get the new duke to fulfill his responsibilities.
In addition to her financial worries, Sara must deal with the superstitions of the village inhabitants, who believe in a long-standing curse over the dukedom. The curse states that each new Duke must marry within the first year of his inheritance, or the estate will not prosper. Sara is quickly running out of time.
Sara is able to convince Trevor to come to Rawlston and see for himself how urgently he is needed. While working together, they become attracted to one another. But Sara is older than Trevor and believes he needs a young wife in order to produce an heir. So, putting her growing love for Trevor aside, Sara takes it upon herself to find him a suitable Duchess.
Everything about this book worked for me: the richly described setting, the complete range of emotions (I laughed, I cried, I sighed) and characters who jumped off the page. Especially Trevor, whose struggle with dyslexia was completely convincing. Plus, you gotta love a guy who uses gourmet cooking as a form of relaxation.
Sara, who could be difficult at times, was harder to like. Yet it was the sacrifices she made for Trevor that were the most heart wrenching portions of the book. I genuinely believed that these were two people who were meant to be together and would remain together long into the future.
I have a copy of Malia Martin's debut novel, Her Norman Conqueror, somewhere on my bookshelves. But for some unknown reason, I've never bothered to read it. I intend to remedy that situation right now. One of the pleasures of being a romance reader is discovering a new (to me) author.