Desert Isle Keeper
A Duke in the Night
Some authors just get better and better each time out, and Kelly Bowen is one of them. Her last series, Season for Scandal, was tremendous, but right out of the gate, A Duke in the Night trumps them all. It’s smart, sexy and romantic, and I enjoyed every bit of it. In the lovely novella The Lady in Red (released late last year), Ms. Bowen introduced us to Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, who takes center stage this time out. A brilliant and beautiful feminist ahead of her time, Clara meets her match in August Faulkner, the Duke of Holloway. The pair, and this story, are sure to find their way onto my best of 2018 list in December. New to Ms. Bowen? You could start with this novel as it works perfectly well as a standalone.
August Faulkner, the Duke of Holloway, would give the world to his sister if he could. After a childhood of hunger and desperation, he isn’t content to rest on his laurels and he’s amassed a fortune buying and selling companies. He’s ruthless, determined and unsentimental… except with it comes to Anne. When A Duke in the Night begins, he’s surprised her with a new ball gown and jewelry to match. When she interrupts him in his study, he assumes it’s to thank him. Nope. Anne wants to discuss one of his hotels. August, oblivious to her interest in the business, can’t fathom why she wants to discuss his hotel; he cuts her off mid-discussion and holding up her floor plan illustrations, patronisingly suggests she apply her talents to portraits or landscapes instead. Poor Anne. The awkward visit ends when August’s man of business interrupts. Anne departs – unhappily – but August is distracted. He’s recently acquired the Haverhall School for Young Ladies and its surrounding property after two failed earlier attempts. He wants to know the reason why and sets his man of business, Duncan Down, to discover it.
Ten years earlier, August was an immature rake who, on a dare from his snickering companions, confidently asked famed wallflower Clara Hayward to dance. When she accepted with an expression of bemused tolerance and allowed him to lead her out on the floor, Augustus was smitten… and lost. Heart hammering once it was over, he left her in the care of her brother Harland… and never danced with her again – in fact, has not spoken to her since. Discovering her name on the previous deed of ownership for Haverhall surprises him and triggers a flood of memories… and undermines his pleasure in the purchase. His instincts were right – Clara’s family fortune is gone and her brother, Baron Strathmore, is at risk of losing their shipping business. August decides to acquire it – by any means necessary – before his competitors get wind of a possible sale. When Duncan mentions Lord Strathmore is often found at the British Museum on Wednesday afternoons, August plans a ‘surprise’ meeting; instead, he sees Clara Hayward… and falls hard for her all over again.
Clara is struggling to come to terms with the sale of Haverhill, the legacy left to her by her parents. Discovering the Strathmore fortune was all but lost was a brutal shock, but she agreed with her siblings that it was necessary to do whatever they could to keep Strathmore shipping afloat, although the personal cost, Haverhill, is staggering. Lost in thought at the British Museum, she’s startled by a voice from her past, and pulse racing, she turns to see August Faulkner, the man who stole her heart during a waltz ten years ago. She’s never forgotten him and although she tries to remain calm as the exchange mundane comments on the sculpture in front of them, she’s overwhelmed by her emotional and physical response to him. When he asks if he can call on her the following day she’s confused. Surely he knows she’s headed to Dover for the Haverhill summer session? After all, his sister is scheduled to attend. But before she can remind him, they’re interrupted by a family friend and depart shortly thereafter. Disappointed, Clara assumes it will be another decade or so before she sees August again.
When August discovers Anne has snuck away to Dover, he’s furious at both her and Clara, whom he mistakenly assumes pretended she didn’t know Anne was to be one of her students. He promptly pays a visit to the Earl of Rivers and the following day, he’s on his way to the earl’s estate, Avondale (site of the summer school) to assess the estate’s crops and livestock. But really, he’s going in order to retrieve Anne. Oh and finagle a way to meet up with Baron Strathmore, and convince him to sell Strathmore shipping, and hmm… to see Clara. With whom he’s madly in love. Sigh.
Reader, the set-up is marvelous, the principal and secondary characters are terrific, and Ms. Bowen puts August and Clara on a wonderfully romantic and passionate collision course. The summer session at Haverhill, as you may have surmised, is far from a typical finishing school. And Clara isn’t your typical teacher. Instead, under her tutelage and via her trusted network of mentors, the specially invited girls are given an opportunity to pursue their professional dreams – for Anne, it’s the chance to become a hotelier. When August shows up at Avondale, Clara is alternately thrilled (to see him) and terrified (he’ll discover what they’re up to).
I love a great-enemies-to-lovers story and this one is a doozy. Clara and August play a bit of cat and mouse as he tries and fails to understand what’s really happening at Avondale, and they try and fail to fight their attraction to each other. August is convinced he knows best for his sister and Clara… well, Clara patiently and delicately shows him how his own privilege – white, wealthy, titled, male – largely informs his opinions… and that he’s often wrong. August’s love for his sister is deeply rooted in their history together, and he struggles to understand her wants, desires and frustrations. Reader, he tries. Often to comic effect, but he does. Fortunately, Clara is a smart, sexy and sharp teacher, and she’s unwilling to play the simpering female to August’s alpha hero. Although the sexual tension between them is intense, it never overwhelms the feminist message that underlies the romance and the novel. Clara constantly surprises August and challenges the way he thinks. August’s evolution from typical male to enlightened male is particularly well done, and A Duke in the Night is at its best whenever they’re together.
Unfortunately, undermining the burgeoning relationship between the pair is August’s purchase of Haverhill. He keeps it from Clara – and his frequent missteps in regard to the school and Strathmore Shipping leave Clara uncertain of her place in his heart. She doesn’t trust him, and begins to doubt the choices she’s made in life – to remain single and pursue an academic life instead of to have a husband and family. August is yet another painful reminder of how ‘different’ she is; after all, he only danced with her on a dare from his taunting, snickering friends…
Oh reader, there’s so much to love about A Duke in the Night – and this review only scratches the surface. The love story and lovely tribute to early feminism are both fabulous and so well done. Elegant, romantic and engaging, A Duke in the Night is one of the best romance novels of 2018.