A Duke’s Temptation
Every once in a while I get a book that may have a lot of flaws or places that could be improved, but was still just so enjoyable I have to recommend it. A Duke’s Temptation is one of those books.
Our hero, Samuel St. Aldwyn, Duke of Gravehurst, is known as a radical and supports a number of progressive causes. He also has a rather questionable reputation. But what Society doesn’t know is that he is also Lord Anonymous, the secretive author of a popular series of dark fantasy novels that many say are corrupting the morals of society. One of his fans is Miss Lily Boscastle. Samuel and Lily meet at a masquerade and are quickly attracted to each other, but Lily is engaged to a man for whom she feels great affection, but not love.
However, that affection is destroyed when she witnesses her fiancé and his friend murder someone. As there is no body, Lily’s reliability is questioned. Maybe she just got so swept up with her adventure novels she imagined it all. When there are murmurs about sending her to an asylum, she instead decides to leave her family and seek employment as a housekeeper. When she is hired by Samuel, what she finds is something so much more unusual than what she expected, with midnight scene enactments, strange writing rituals, and the secretive and slightly mad mind of the man whom she loves.
There’s a fairly large gap in believability. A relative of a marquess would not go get a job as a housekeeper. If she’s totally impoverished, perhaps a governess. But her family would never allow her to become a housekeeper just to escape scorn from the ton. In all honesty, I would think this would be more scandalous than a potential insanity. That whole part of the novel felt overly contrived, focused more on moving the plot from the first part to the second, without caring too much about believability and rationality.
If you let that go, though, Samuel and Lily’s relationship is delightful. They fit so well together, and had such a strong connection. I was sort of irked that she continued to be his housekeeper even after they got together (which is fairly early; this isn’t a particularly big spoiler). But most of that was, admittedly, Lily’s doing, not Samuel’s. He is a fascinating character – probably a bit insane, to be honest. He’s very much the tortured writer type, suffering from writers’ block and having conversations with his characters and leaving apple seeds in troop formations on the floor. He also has a dark past, and the atmosphere of the novel certainly reflects that.
There’s a great cast of secondary characters in the rest of the staff, all of whom are in on the secret and devoted to their master and his antics. It was much more a family atmosphere rather than the duke, his housekeeper-slash-future-duchess, and the rest of the help. That dynamic worked really well.
The whole book is a bit mysterious. There’s a parallel between Samuel’s struggle to write the hero and the villain in his novel and his own relationship with Lily, which worked for the most part but was occasionally either heavy-handed or loosely connected. The book had its flaws, but in the end I have to recommend it; I had such a good time reading it.