Desert Isle Keeper
Duke of My Heart
I greatly enjoyed Kelly Bowen’s début Dukes of Worth series. She has a knack for creating interesting female characters who live and work outside of the normal roles society would have them play. Her new book Duke of My Heart takes some the best traits from her earlier heroines and wraps them all into a woman whose intelligence and wit are matched by a duke used to surviving by his own instincts and savvy.
It could be the scandal of the century! The Earl of Debarry found dead in the bedroom of eighteen-year-old Lady Beatrice Harcourt while half of London is attending a come-out ball in her honor. If the gossips of the ton learn about the circumstances of Debarry’s death and that Lady Beatrice is missing, it will forever shame the Duke of Alderidge’s household and ruin her reputation. With no way to hide the events unfolding in the family wing of the house Lady Helen Harcourt calls in Chegarre & Associates, a group with expertise in managing the unmanageable and saving the reputations of those who need saving.
Miss Ivory Moore is a woman experienced in the many sides of London; the ton and its strict social mores, the demi-monde with their colorful lifestyles, and the unfortunate or unwanted. Using her knowledge of each of these spheres, Ivory can salvage Lady Beatrice’s reputation by re-staging the scene, influencing the gossips and creating a new truth that no one will question. She arrives at the duke’s house ready to use all the resources of Chegarre & Associates to protect her new client but is interrupted by the arrival of the absentee duke himself, Maximus Harcourt. Never one to waste an opportunity, Ivory capitalizes on the duke’s unscheduled appearance to draw even more eyes away from the missing Debarry and Lady Beatrice; however she is walking a very fine line as Lord Alderidge’s patience is razor thin.
He has arrived home from three years at sea to find a dead body in his house and his sister missing, Max barely has a moment to consider the situation before he is swept up in the machinations of the managing Miss Moore. Her quick thinking at the ball buys him some time and privacy to question why Beatrice would run away from home and why she seems impossible to find. Believing that the team from Chegarre might have more insight, Max arrives at their offices only to find Miss Moore there to receive him, but quite unhappy to learn he will not idly stand by while someone else handles the investigation. When he receives a note supposedly from his sister requesting he not come looking for her, Max knows there is more to her disappearance. Using his own skills to get information from unlikely sources, Max and Ivory begin tracking down a mysterious gentleman who knows exactly where Beatrice may be.
Following the clues, including Beatrice’s note and Debarry’s lewd wager recorded in a betting book, Max and Ivory begin piecing together what led up to the scandalous events of that fateful evening. Ivory’s knowledge of society’s biggest secrets gives them the leverage but Maximus’s title opens doors normally closed to a woman on her own. The deeper they are drawn into finding Beatrice the stronger their pairing becomes; moving from a simple partnership into a relationship they can trust after past hurts and betrayals.
I loved that Ivory and Max continually challenge each other’s perceptions of who they are underneath the titles or aliases they’ve used for years. Max has always been uncomfortable as the Duke of Alderidge, seeing the title as still belonging to his father or as something outside of who he is as Captain of his shipping fleet. It is only through his sister’s disappearance and his investigation with Ivory that he begins to see everything he has been ignoring back in England. Because Ivory is separate from the problems Max has been running from, she pressures him into seeing the family and responsibilities of the dukedom in the present tense rather than in the past. Ivory treats Max not as a duke or as a captain but as a man who must account for his actions and make amends.
Making Ivory a “fixer” for the upper classes is a novel way of introducing a smart and calculating woman without making her a bluestocking. In every scene, I could tell Ivory is constantly aware and thinking of the next move. She is very clear about her endgame, both in the job she is hired for and for the success of Chegarre & Associates. Having Max involved in her work throws her off balance as he forces her to consider another angle.
The search for Lady Beatrice and the personal discoveries Max and Ivory make along the way keep the storyline moving at a good pace. Just when I thought I knew who was responsible for her disappearance everything twisted into places I didn’t anticipate and characters acted in ways contrary to how they were set up. Duke of My Heart introduces a new series for Kelly Bowen but for once I’m not quite sure who might be next to have their story told, making me even more excited for the next book’ in the series.