Desert Isle Keeper
Duel of Hearts
Sometimes when I finish a book I think of it in terms of a single word. I’ve read books that are “fun,” “frustrating,” “disappointing,” and “encouraging.” Unfortunately, I’ve read one or two that I thought could be summed up in the word “debacle.” For Duel of Hearts, Diane Farr’s second single title release, the word that kept springing to mind was “delightful.” It features a hero and heroine whom I adored every step of the way, and ongoing banter between the two that is simply enchanting. I actually read the book as slowly as possible in order to prolong my enjoyment, and I plan to read it again sometime soon when I need a pick-me-up.
Lilah Chadwick has a personality that can politely be called forceful. The servants and even her father cower in her wake and bow to her whims more often than not. When she gets a letter from her father informing her that he intends to marry, she simply can’t believe it. She’s sure he would never propose to a woman without consulting her, unless he was beguiled by a merciless fortune hunter. With her governess-turned-companion in tow, Lilah sets off for London immediately, determined to dissuade her father from his course of action.
Unfortunately, her father has taken the only good traveling carriage, so Lilah and her companion Pickens take an open carriage as far as the nearest inn, where they plan to rent a more suitable vehicle. They arrive to discover that the only available carriage has just been promised to a gentleman, and the nonplussed Lilah approaches him with the intent of changing his mind. She’s pretty confident of her success, because she always gets what she wants. She soon finds out that the gentleman in question is the high-handed Earl of Drakesley, who is equally accustomed to seeing his wishes gratified. Lilah’s appeals to chivalry, decency and practicality fall on deaf ears; Drake is determined to get to London as soon as possible, and after all, he had the carriage first. The exasperated innkeeper ends up solving their problem by manipulating them into sharing the carriage. It’s really too small for all three passengers, but they set off anyway with nerves frayed and tempers up.
Part way through their journey they discover that for all their bickering they share a common objective, for Drake is also planning to break up the same engagement. Lilah’s father has attached himself Eugenia Mayhew, the woman Drake has intended to marry for years – though he hasn’t actually gotten around to proposing. Although Lilah and Drake can’t resist hurling the occasional barb, they decide that they will have better luck breaking up the engagement if they work together.
Naturally, almost nothing happens as they plan. At first their attempt to break up the pair is entirely unsuccessful, and then it’s a little too successful. Meanwhile, they are falling in love with each other. Neither one has intended to marry another strong-willed person; just as Drake intended to wed the demure Eugenia, Lilah had her eye on her father’s meek secretary. The blunt truth is that they both want to marry someone they can run roughshod over. But as their mutual attraction becomes increasingly hard to ignore, they both begin to wonder what they found so appealing about their original choices.
There were many things I adored about this book, but topping the list are the unabashedly selfish hero and heroine. If you are tired of paragons, this is the couple for you. Neither is cruel or unkind, but both of them are determined to get their way, and both refuse to take no for an answer. As they charge ahead with their plans to break up the impending marriage, both eventually do some soul searching and realize that their rash thinking and bold natures have drawbacks. There are a couple of nice moments when Lilah realizes that she tends to forget the feelings of her companion, and is embarrassed at the reminder. And in one scene near the end Lilah and Drake are intent on a somewhat dishonorable course, and both of them end up thinking the better of it so their consciences can be appeased. That’s the type of character growth that makes such a plot worthwhile.
Watching Drake and Lilah fall in love was just plain fun. Both of them are initially appalled by their feelings, and the banter is non-stop. It’s so difficult for authors to get banter right; often it’s so shrill and caustic that you want to cover your ears. Other times the characters end up sounding like children in need of some serious time out. Farr strikes just the right pitch, not only with Drake and Lilah but with the secondary characters as well.
I adored both Drake and Lilah; the supporting cast is every bit as well drawn. The character of Pickens was detailed and believable, and I especially enjoyed Eugenia, whom I found to be the most interesting “other woman” in recent memory. I always think kudos are due to authors who understand that the other woman doesn’t have to be evil – just wrong for the hero. Eugenia fills her role and plays a crucial part in the romance between the hero and heroine as well.
If this book has a flaw, it’s the length. It’s a full story, but I couldn’t help wanting just a bit more – of pretty much everything. But that’s really just a small niggle in a book I otherwise loved. I’d highly recommend this to any fan of historical romance; Duel of Hearts is truly one of the most delightful books of the year.