The Duke of Desire
The Duke of Desire, the fourth book in Darcy Burke’s series, The Untouchables, is quite possibly my favourite of them all so far. I will admit that when I read the blurb, I was doubtful. After all, the idea that the eponymous duke is a kind of Regency Era sex-therapist who helps couples to liven up their love lives by sleeping with the wives and helping them to learn to find and give pleasure – is certainly most unusual, not to mention unlikely. But bear with me; the ability to suspend your disbelief on that point will pay dividends, because said duke turned out to be one of the most charming, well-balanced and thoroughly adorable heroes I’ve read about in a while.
Sebastian Westgate, Duke of Clare – known as West to his friends – has such a notorious reputation as a seducer of married women that he has been nicknamed ‘The Duke of Desire’ by lady’s companion, Ivy Breckenridge and her friends Lucy and Aquilla (heroines of the previous two books). West is one of several eligible gentlemen the ladies also designated as ‘Untouchable’, men so far about them in station that they daren’t even look that high, let alone think about doing anything else. However, given that Lucy and Aquilla have recently married two of those men (The Duke of Daring and The Duke of Deception), it seems that perhaps the Untouchables weren’t so far out of reach after all. Although Ivy has absolutely no intention whatsoever of finding out if the Duke of Clare is touchable or not; in fact, she wanted to nickname him ‘The Duke of Depravity’, because the ease with which he embarks upon his numerous affairs disgusts her.
She is therefore not best pleased when, at a house-party she is attending with her employer, the duke takes notice of her and attempts to start up a flirtation. There’s no doubt he’s very handsome and very charming, but Ivy isn’t interested, and certainly not in a man whose attention to a lowly, paid companion can only lead to one thing. And Ivy isn’t interested in that, either. Yet in their few, brief encounters, West reveals himself to be something quite different to the heartless seducer Ivy believes he is. He doesn’t deny the truth of his many affairs, but unlike the other rakes she has encountered, West is not self-centred or jaded – in fact he’s the exact opposite. She has never before met someone who seems so comfortable in his own skin, someone with such a capacity for joy and the desire for others to find their own happiness… and in spite of her misgivings, she begins to wish she could experience some of that joy for herself.
But she persists in holding herself back from both joy and him. Ten years earlier, Ivy fell in love with a young man who promised her marriage but then left her utterly ruined. In the intervening years, she endured great hardship, and then, with the help of a kind lady patroness, re-invented herself and made a new life, leading to her current situation as a companion. She isn’t interested in men or in marriage; she just wants to live a quiet, respectable life and to pursue her many charitable interests, most of which take the form of helping to improve the lot of people who have been unlucky enough to have ended up in the workhouse.
Ivy may come across as rather cold and inflexible to begin with, but she has good reasons for that, some of which are quickly obvious, some of which are revealed to good effect later on in the story. But in spite of her past and in spite of her determination not to like West, she soon finds that it’s completely impossible not to fall under his spell. West is determined to pursue Ivy at first, but once she turns him down, he backs off, and, as he has no wish to ruin her, tries to leave her alone. But he also recognises that she needs someone like him – he says himself that it’s his nature to push people into challenging themselves – because he can see that Ivy is not the dry, mirthless woman she makes herself out to be, and he wants her to live and enjoy her life rather than just trudge through it. As fellow guests at a house party they cannot completely avoid each other, which makes their interactions even more of a delight. It’s clear that West isn’t actively trying to charm Ivy (although his charm is so natural that he really can’t help it!) and isn’t pretending friendship in order to get her into bed. He wants her, yes, and offers to teach her about pleasure, but he leaves it to Ivy to decide how their relationship should proceed.
One of the things I really liked about the book is the way in which both West and Ivy are changed by their association. Ivy deliberately represses her emotions because she believes that allowing herself to feel will lead to more pain and heartbreak, but hasn’t realised that in doing so, she has cut herself off from positive emotions as well. She is profoundly affected by West’s honesty and zest for life – and starts to realise what she has been denying herself; not just passion but pleasure in even the simplest things. And West has his eyes opened to the terrible situation faced by so many when he accompanies Ivy and some of the other ladies on a visit to a local workhouse, and is moved to help; not just because he wants to impress (although he admits that might be part of it) but because his compassionate nature compels him to do so.
West has his own cross to bear in the form of his puritanical mother, whose reaction to his normal, healthy, teenaged preoccupation with females was to castigate and beat him. As a result, he began to take delight in defying and shocking her, his rebellion taking the form of leaping in to the beds of as many women in as scandalous a fashion as possible. It’s perhaps a bit extreme, but the Duchess is a complete horror and fortunately, doesn’t get a lot of page time.
I liked the way the truth of West’s character is gradually revealed and the subtlety with which the author shows the evolution of his feelings for Ivy. He’s intrigued by her spirit and intelligence from the start, but it takes her rejection to get him to start looking beneath the beautiful surface, and to realise that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye. And that’s another of the things I loved about him; he’s intuitive and as sensitive to the things people don’t say as to the things they do.
The chemistry between West and Ivy is scorching right from the start, and I’d venture to say that the love scenes in this story are probably the sexiest I’ve read in any of this author’s books. There’s one particularly sensual scene where all West does is talk… kudos, Ms. Burke, on that, because not many authors can write a Kindle-melting scene where the characters are a) upright and b) fully clothed.
In spite of the eyebrow raising concept of the nobleman sex-therapist, The Duke of Desire – the book, and the man himself – completely won me over. The pairing of the independent, somewhat repressed heroine who needs to learn to let go once in a while with the confident, all-round-swoon-worthy hero who oozes sex appeal is a potent one that proved, in the end, to be a winning combination.