Desert Isle Keeper
A Duke by Default
I love a good meet cute/meet crazy and Alyssa Cole offers up a delectable new favorite in her latest novel, A Duke by Default. Funny, poignant and sweet this is a truly fantastic summer read.
This is book two of the Reluctant Royals series by this author but you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this one.
Her new life is not off to a good start. Portia Hobbs is in Scotland to kick start her revitalized, responsible, respectable self. No more quickie relationships. No more late-night alcohol-fueled festivities. No more changing majors and picking up obscure knowledge. New Portia is all about living right – no drinking, no men – and she has a dependable, creditable apprenticeship with a Scottish armory where no one will judge her by whom she used to be. Yet somehow, in spite of everything, she’s stranded at a terminal with no ride and no one apparently expecting her, just like what would have happened to old Portia. She is no longer a helpless hot mess though, and determined to prove it, she lines up a ride to her new work location. Upon arrival, she follows a woman’s screams for help to a back courtyard where she mace-sprays a broad-shouldered hunk attacking a lady. Only it isn’t an attack but practice for a staged duel at a renaissance fayre. And the man Portia just maced? Her new boss, Tavish – Tav – McKenzie.
Tav’s business hasn’t been in the best shape recently but he doesn’t think taking on an apprentice is likely to turn things around. He makes it clear Portia is the responsibility of his assistant/sibling Jamie and tries to avoid her as much as possible – which isn’t an easy thing to do since he finds himself thinking about her constantly. Hard runs and cold showers can only do so much to alleviate the need Portia has awakened in him, but he refuses to be the ‘that guy’. The one who can’t keep his hands to himself. The one who hits on the people who work for him.
Portia isn’t thrilled that her interactions with Tav involve him being grumpy and foisting her off on others, but she is used to being treated like she’s unwanted, unwelcome and a burden; her parents have excelled at that for years. Determined to succeed in spite of the odds against her, she revamps the armory’s website, and does lots of major social media promotion. It’s while she’s working on this angle of her job that she makes an unexpected discovery; Tav is in line for a dukedom. One DNA test later finds Tav in the somewhat hostile, definitely alien world of the rich, titled and famous. His apprentice goes from helping him navigate technology and advertising to teaching him to navigate the shark infested waters of the British Nobility.
Let’s stop for a minute here and all agree that this setup is a bit ridiculous. Royalty romances are rarely known for their accuracy and true-to- life plots, though. That works in this story because the author concentrates on the romance between Tav and Portia. Would the book perhaps have been better if it had stayed more realistic and had Tav and Portia simply save the business? Perhaps, but this fantasy aspect, while a bit outlandish and astounding, doesn’t detract from the charm of the story.
That charm comes primarily from a wounded soul healing herself and then finding her home. Portia has been the disappointment in her family for as long as she’s been alive. She doesn’t do well enough at school, her interest in art and fashion is essentially ridiculed, and her taste in men is apparently all wrong, too. Her family wants her to work for their business or find a rich guy to marry. She made the mistake of wanting to have some fun, pursue her passions and date people who made her hot and bothered. Her mom and dad make a point of letting her know how her choices disappoint them. This makes her vulnerable and unable to see how amazing she is.
At the armory, she meets a motley crew of people pursuing their dreams who are all in awe of her. She’s an asset to their business from day one and a good friend from the very start. Once she and Tav agree they have to do something about the heat that flares between them every time they get together, their relationship calms down into a genuine friends-to-lovers tale. And I must say, the author sets this up perfectly. Perfectly. Tav and Portia are grumbly and awkward with each other because they are attracted to each other but as boss/employee they both feel it would be inappropriate in the extreme to get involved. They fight their attraction to almost the very end of her apprenticeship. When they agree that the heat between them has risen to combustible proportions, and act on it, there is no sense of one taking advantage of the other nor is there any overtone of irresponsibility and wrongdoing. More importantly, they’re never unkind to each other when they’re hot stepping around one another. When things cross lines, genuine apologies are given and received. The characters handle all issues like decent, caring human beings.
Which helped me really believe in the HEA. The fact that Tav, right from the start, not just wanted Portia but realized what an asset she was made the setup of the romance very effective. Additionally, that he. too had gone through a similar experience, of giving up a dignified, reliable office job to pursue something more frivolous (sword-making) enabled him to speak to Portia’s anxieties about being ‘less’ for not wanting to take traditional paths to her dreams. These two enrich each other’s lives in all the right ways and had me cheering for their love story.
I also loved that the tale had several laugh out loud moments. It’s a light, comedic romp that has lots of heart, which made it a pleasure to pick up and read through.
The story has some moments which may make you roll your eyes at the silliness in regard to the dukedom plotline, but A Duke by Default is such a wonderful, whimsical, tale that even sticklers for accuracy will be able to overlook that flaw. I highly recommend you put this book at the top of your summer reading pile.