Desert Isle Keeper
Duke of Sin
It is amazing to me when an author can sustain a series as long as Elizabeth Hoyt has her Maiden Lane novels without their becoming stale or tedious. But I knew this particular author was something special as soon as I finished reading The Raven Prince and felt compelled to immediately turn back to page one and re-read it. I always look forward to new titles by this author, and generally buy them as soon as they are released.
So I am not quite sure how it happened that I missed reading Sweetest Scoundrel, one of the books that sets up Valentine Napier’s story. I will have to remedy that oversight as soon as possible! However, not having read that did not cause me too many problems with this one as it can easily be read as a standalone. I will say, however, that if you really cannot stomach a very bad guy as the hero, then this book may not be for you.
Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, is in the business of blackmail. He deals in using other people’s foibles, crimes, secrets and mistakes against them because he can, not because he wants money or power. It is all a cynical game to him. He is a wealthy hedonist with absolutely no scruples whatsoever. The only person that he might claim to care about other than himself is his half-sister, Eve, although Val is not really even sure how he feels about her. Love is a foreign concept to this anti-hero, though he does recognize loyalty. When the book opens, he has just “returned” from his banishment to the continent after engaging in a duel with another peer. His ticket to getting around his banishment? Why blackmailing the king’s heir of course. The king is not the only important personage in Val’s sights though. He has dirt on most of the peers of the realm which is the only thing that allows him to move about in society unchallenged. Everyone is terrified of him. Everyone except maybe for Bridget Crumb.
Bridget Crumb is the illegitimate daughter of Lady Amelia Caire. She was given up by her to be raised in the country by commoners, but it was Lady Caire’s connections that helped Bridget to gain work as a domestic servant and she is now considered one of the best housekeepers in London. Her mother is also the victim of one of the Duke of Montgomery’s blackmail games and she implores Bridget to help her out by gaining employment with the Duke and finding her incriminating letters. Using her mother as a reference, Bridget does get the housekeeper’s job, but as luck would have it, the duke returns and walks in on her in his rooms just as she finally discovers the hiding place of Lady Caire’s letters. Val is used to people being terrified of him, but the fact that Bridget stands up to him is something he finds very intriguing. He intends that she become the mouse to his cat in a seduction game that becomes the focus of their relationship. Little does he realize that his little mouse is not easily deterred.
Oh, where to even start!!! Val is very nearly evil personified. He has no moral center and does not even really recognize a difference between good and evil. It is beyond his scope of understanding. If he can do it, he will…regardless of what his actions might do to someone else. He is almost entirely narcissistic in his behavior. However, being wealthy and powerful does have one drawback. Val is easily bored with a life where almost everything is his for the taking with little or no effort. Bridget’s main attraction is not her physical appearance. She is actually described in the book as plain. The attraction she holds for Val is her courage in standing up to him despite her fear. He wants to see how long he can play with her before she breaks. But Bridget sees something in Val that draws her and she becomes complicit in her own seduction, and what a seduction! Hoyt understands the distinction between sensuality and carnality.
The blackmail of Bridget’s mother provides the framework for her and Val’s relationship, but his schemes are very much secondary to his interactions with his housekeeper. This is very much a character driven story and considering the deficiencies of Val’s character, there is a lot of material to work with. Hoyt takes two broken people, one goodness and light and the other darkness and despair and somehow creates almost a new persona that is Val and Bridget combined into one entity separate from their individual selves. Theirs becomes a symbiotic relationship where one cannot exist wholly without the other. Val names Bridget ‘Seraphine’, his avenging angel, in order to mock her but she becomes his angel in truth. It really is just delicious watching her work miracles with this badly damaged hero.
The only criticisms I can dredge up are of Bridget’s surname and the degree of Val’s redemption. Is her name too cutesy a way of encapsulating the entirety of her life prior to meeting Val or a clever use of Crumb to describe the affection and love she has received growing up? I will not go into Val’s redemption in depth because I do not want to spoil anything for Hoyt’s readers, but she handles it so adroitly that it will be hard to remember why he was once despised and readers will be rooting for him to see the light. I anticipate this will be the most discussed aspect of the story.
Duke of Sin is pretty much another winner in a long string of winning novels by this author. Read and enjoy.