Duke of Desire
In this final installment in the beloved Maiden Lane series, Raphael, the Duke of Dyemore is desperate to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and orchestrate their demise. He manages to work his way into one of their gatherings, where Lady Iris Jordan is an unwilling participant. Iris is not exactly a damsel in distress and takes her escape into her own hands, but its ramifications lead to a quick marriage of safety even more than convenience which evolves into a deeply grounded love story where Iris and Raphael become the best versions of themselves. Simultaneously a standalone novel and a fitting end to a series, Duke of Desire is worth any historical romance fan’s time.
Imagine waking up in a room full of naked men wearing animal masks. You’ve been kidnapped and dragged there, and you have absolutely no idea how to get out of there. The men are clearly participating in some ritual and, even more frightening, your death is a key part of the proceedings. What would you do?
Well, when Lady Iris finds herself in that exact circumstance, she grabs a gun and shoots the first dude she could and gets the heck outta Dodge. Unfortunately, she shoots the one masked man who was actually there to help her and not kill her. Minor detail.
Raphael, the Duke of Dyemore, has to be at the gathering of the Lords of Chaos in order to achieve his ultimate goal: the group’s destruction. His father was once their leader and his legacy of destructive debauchery is still known; after a lifetime of being a better man than his father, Raphael’s final plan is to disband the sect. He was close to achieving that goal – until the fool woman shot him.
Iris and Raphael escape to his house, but are being pursued by the other Lords, who still want Iris dead and now need Raphael dead. In the grand scheme of each of their lives, this is clearly not ideal. In a panic, Raphael sees no other alternative than for the two of them to marry.
This all happens in pretty much the first forty-or-so pages, by the way. Once the marriage of convenience/safety is enacted, the book really settles into itself. We’re with the pair as they fall in lust, then in love, then figure out if they’re going to be able to transition from convenience to covenant. It is, in a hallmark of Ms. Hoyt’s writing, both completely bonkers and completely grounded.
While I wouldn’t term this a romantic suspense novel, it certainly flirts with the intersections between the subgenres. A huge portion of the plot centers around the continued need to dismantle the Lords of Chaos, which requires Raphael to learn the identity of the leader, who wears a Dionysus mask. That’s the thing about this secret society – they’re secret even to each other. As Raphael puzzles out who each member is and how that member can help him achieve his ultimate goal, he’s continually forced to deal with memories of his childhood. I wasn’t particularly invested in this portion of the plot, except to the extent that its resolution held the key to Raphael’s character development.
I really enjoyed Iris. She has to put up with a lot from Raphael throughout the book, but takes none of it lying down He’s not used to trusting anyone, nor relying on anyone. As the pair move from, essentially, roommates with benefits to a couple emotionally invested in their marriage, I was consistently impressed by her quick-wittedness and resourcefulness. Now that her life has been determined for her, she’s going to make the most of it and her broody-as-all-get-out husband. Watching them finally fall in love was lovely.
The Maiden Lane series is one I’ve dipped in and out of over the years, through no fault of its own. Grad school and a transatlantic move got in the way, but I remember enjoying the instalments I’ve read. Details of the plots, however, have fallen completely out of my head, so I have no idea how it connects to the larger world of the series. It, therefore, worked for me as a stand-alone. I think anyone who has loved the other books will love Duke of Desire as well, and it has spurred me on to head to my local library and hunt up the previous eleven works.