The Dangerous Duke
by Christine Wells
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0-425-22326-0
***
The Dangerous Duke gives readers a glimpse into an interesting part of Regency life, circa 1817. A pity it’s not a bigger glimpse.

Maxwell Brooke, the Duke of Lyle, is hunting for the arsonists who set his family home ablaze and killed several members of the aristocracy in the process, including family members. It’s widely feared among the ton that a “British Revolution”, similar to that which took place in the American Colonies and France, is in the works. The fire may have been set by seditionists. Max is determined to bring the arsonists to justice.

His best chance lies with the Reverend Stephen Holt, a vicar who almost certainly knows the identities of the arsonists. But Holt isn’t talking. Max has gone so far as to have him imprisoned, with no results. Now Max has devised a different plan: he’ll kidnap Lady Kate Fairchild, Holt’s sister, and hold her until Holt decides to talk.

Kate is a widow, and she’s determined to see her brother freed, even though he’s told her repeatedly to stay out of his affairs. A brighter heroine might figure out that Holt has a plan and it doesn’t include a close encounter with the hangman’s noose, but our Kate decides Stephen really needs her help. Aha! She’ll threaten to blackmail important political figures with her “diary” of their scandalous behavior. Max, not wanting to see Stephen freed, kidnaps Kate and her diary. What he doesn’t know is that the diary he grabs is a collection of Kate’s personal sexual fantasies, and the scandal diary doesn’t even exist - it was all a bluff on Kate’s part.

Kate is outraged at Max’s high-handed behavior, but when he gets a good look at her writings, he can’t resist attempting to fulfill some of her fantasies. Apparently Kate’s late husband was a dud in the bedroom, and Max is more than willing to show her what she’s been missing. Soon they’re involved in a passionate affair, and both of them are trying in vain to resist getting emotionally attached.

Max is a pretty calculating figure for much of the book, and frankly, it was a bit hard to warm up to him. He tries to treat Kate with a bit of decency, and though he leers at her and lusts after her, etc. he does honor her requests to be left alone. Until Kate just can’t help herself, you understand. Then it’s no holds barred, at least in the bedroom.

Since the story rests on the foundation that Kate knows best and is willing to engage in her rather harebrained scheme with little forethought, it’s on shaky ground from the start.  It never occurs to her that powerful men in government aren’t going to stand for being blackmailed by a widow, and she very well might end up dead. Sure enough, a villain pops up and Max then must try and keep her safe or lose his best bargaining chip. It’s not too hard to guess who the villain is, either.

The author included an interesting secondary romance between Max’s sister, Louisa, and a rival operative that is an apparent former lover of hers. This is left unresolved (perhaps for a future book?) and I was disappointed, as they were far more electric and interesting than Kate and Max. The writing is smooth and the pacing doesn’t sag in the middle, making it an easy read. Perhaps you’ll find Kate less annoying than I did.

The Dangerous Duke interweaves an interesting element of English history into the plot, and kudos to Christine Wells for that. The teaser for her next book looks very intriguing, too. She may well be on her way to being an auto-buy for many readers. 

--Cathy Sova


@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home