Last Night with the Duke
Amelia Grey doesn’t really get her new Rakes of St. James series off to a good start. Last Night with the Duke has all of the romantic elements of a fairly average story but what brings its rating down is the listless way everything unfolds. It’s romance without the romanticism and a love affair without a spark.
The Duke of Griffin knows that this season may be the most challenging he’s ever faced. His twin sisters are ready to make their débuts, but a rumor is in the air that someone wants to ruin the girls as payback for Griffin’s past transgressions. Years before he and two friends had scandalized the ton with what they thought would be a harmless prank with no real victims. Instead it almost destroyed the reputations of several innocent ladies and forever labeled the three lords as the Rakes of St. James. Since that time Griffin’s behavior has been above reproach while the ton quietly forgot about his role in the whole affair; however someone’s memories are strong enough to threaten his sisters’ futures. Keeping them out of trouble requires a chaperone who can manage the girls’ excitement while protecting their virtue against a possible wolf in sheep’s clothing. Griffin arrives at the offices of Fortescue’s Employment Agency to find the perfect woman for the job but instead finds the woman perfect for him.
Miss Esmeralda Swift is a little unnerved when the Duke of Griffin walks through her front door and hires her on the spot to watch over his sisters. The employment agency was supposed to be a way for her to quietly exist apart from the society that had rejected her mother, yet the duke makes it almost impossible for her to say no to the work. Running a business has not been quite as lucrative as Esmeralda expected and it’s been a struggle to earn enough through her employees to keep the doors open. The amount he offers for a few weeks of work would be enough to support the agency and her younger sister, Josephine, for a long time. Still, her personal responsibilities won’t let Esmeralda accept the job until Griffin sweetens the deal with the concession to let her bring Josephine to live in his townhome until the end of the season.
The duke’s sisters are full of schemes and ideas, and Esmeralda is soon caught up in their plans to make a match with the year’s perfect bachelor. Keeping their heads from being turned by the wrong sort of man isn’t difficult when each girl believes herself in love with the same gentleman. What becomes a problem for Esmeralda is trying to keep her own head from being turned by her employer. His kindness towards Josephine and the way he protects his family are endearing, while his kisses awaken a need Esmeralda hasn’t felt before. A match between a duke and a woman without a noble name is impossible, yet Esmeralda cannot help enjoying the time she and Griffin spend together. As the season continues, the secrets about her family background are revealed to Griffin, changing the dynamic of their relationship. Esmeralda may be the woman he hired as a chaperone but she is also the granddaughter of a viscount. With the class barrier between a peer and his employee no longer an issue, Griffin he will do whatever it takes to show Esmeralda that her own future is by his side.
A romance involving a duke and a governess/companion/chaperone is hardly anything new, so it falls to the author to bring something unique to her story. Ms. Grey tries to spice things up by pairing Esmeralda and Griffin to investigate the matter of who might want to ruin his sisters’ chances on the marriage mart, but this whole sub-plot is a nonstarter. It serves to bring the two principals together under the same roof but once both girls begin courting they are quickly paired up with two rather boring suitors. The threats towards them never really materialize and the search for possible suspects just kind of peters out until the very end of the story. There is no real danger to either girl or even to Griffin because of what he had done years before. Without that element of uncertainty, there’s nothing moving the story forward other than how the relationship builds for Esmeralda and Griffin – which is another of the book’s weaknesses.
Griffin is drawn to Esmeralda at their first meeting because of her appearance and then does everything in his power to keep her in his sphere. Throwing money at her, giving in to her requests even when they are meant as a deterrent, welcoming her into his home despite knowing very little of her background – to name but a few. These are all clear indicators that he is infatuated more than anything and his feelings don’t mature from there. He wants Esmeralda in his bed and tends to get a little handsy with her when they are alone, but he always stops because he’s a gentleman who would never force his attentions on a woman. Esmeralda is an innocent so it’s very easy for her to misinterpret a lot of Griffin’s behaviors towards her as affection. She really only gets to know the side of him presented to her and there is very little exploration of who Griffin is as a person or how he reformed himself after his misspent youth. Esmeralda falls for him too quickly, surrendering to his experience over his substance. We’re intended to believe their love affair runs deeper than either realizes, but in reality, the whole thing comes across as very superficial.
Last Night with the Duke commits the ultimate sin of being a boring book. With no driving force behind the storyline and a romance that is easily forgettable there is nothing to keep readers entertained or even willing to push through to the end. The other two Rakes of St. James are briefly introduced but I have no desire to read about their inevitable redemptions.