Duke of Sin
Make no mistake about it: Adele Ashworth is back.
Elegantly written, refreshingly adult, and over-the-moon erotic, Duke of Sin marks the author’s return to form in a very, very big way and, to put it simply, I loved it.
How did I love it? Let me count the ways. I loved the pleasingly authentic Victorian tone of the author’s prose and her wonderful touch with dialogue. I loved heroine Vivian Rael-Lamont’s pragmatic independence; her frankly adult perspective on the world; and the direct, straight-forward approach she takes to tackling some undeniably daunting problems. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I loved virtually everything about the Duke of Trent, Ms. Ashworth’s oh-so-memorable hero. A tall, broad-shouldered, long-haired Duke named Will with a real knack for verbal foreplay? I’ll take one right over here.
A 34-year-old widow, Mrs. Vivian Rael-Lamont lives a calm and satisfying life in a quiet Cornwall village lovingly tending to the flowers with which she makes her living. The florist’s life is one of immense respectability, a critical factor to her continued success since her clients spring from the village’s social elite. Her tranquil existence is rudely interrupted one summer afternoon when an actor currently appearing in the area blackmails Vivian into agreeing to “acquire” an original manuscript of a Shakespearean sonnet from its owner. Vivian, the man alleges, is not who she says she is – a truth our heroine can’t deny – and her real identity will be exposed if she does not immediately comply with his demand.
The owner of the sonnet is, of course, none other than William Raleigh, Duke of Trent, Earl of Shreveport and Kayes, Baron Chesterfield. The reclusive, mysterious Duke – known far and wide as the Duke of Sin – is widely thought to have murdered his wife several years earlier, a belief seemingly unaffected by the fact that he was found innocent of the crime at trial. Not surprisingly considering the whispers that follow him everywhere, Will is far happier in his beautifully appointed seaside estate than he is when confronting the condemning faces of the village or the ton. When Vivian appears on his doorstep with an offer to buy the sonnet, Will is intrigued for a number of reasons.
Firstly, no more than five or six people in the whole of England know of the manuscript’s existence or that Will is the owner. Secondly, a woman who earns her living through the sale of flowers surely wouldn’t have the means to purchase the rare manuscript, even if Will might be prepared to sell it. And, lastly, Vivian is a beautiful woman – especially to a man who’s been without the solace and comfort of a lover for some time. To Vivian’s shock, Will makes her an offer she finds she can’t refuse: If she will agree to be his “companion,” he will give her the manuscript.
What follows is a lush, sensual, intelligent romance between two wonderful characters. In a time when far too many “light” romances also seem far too “light” on characterization, reading Ms. Ashworth’s story was nothing less than an invigorating experience. The courtship dance here is played out between two formidably smart, refreshingly direct people. The attraction between them simmers from their very first meeting and its ultimate fulfillment, for me at any rate, results in one of the most memorable love scenes I’ve yet come across. Frankly, I usually retain some distance when reading love scenes and it takes a great one to move me to . . .er, a higher level of involvement and I’m delighted to say that Ms. Ashworth accomplished it nicely. The honest truth is that I can count on two hands the love scenes that truly rank up there as “great” for me and the initial encounter between Will and Vivian most definitely holds a place on that very short list.
I want to assure readers fearful of plots that hinge on secrets and Big Misunderstandings that it’s not a problem here. Will is very quick to jump to the correct conclusion – that someone is pressuring Vivian to gain possession of the manuscript – and, without railing over her motives or loathing her for her actions, he’s determined to find out who and why. And, yes, Vivian isn’t completely honest with Will about her past, but, without giving too much away, she withholds no more of the truth than she must in order to protect herself and those she loves. In short, Vivian is a good woman in a bad situation who finds herself confronted when she least expects it with the possibility of a great love. Sometimes it happens that way.
I’ve been fortunate this year to have read several great historical romances and I’m delighted to say that Duke of Sin is one of them. For fans of Ms. Ashworth who share my belief that she is one of the most gifted authors currently writing romance, I can only assure you that this is a book worth waiting for. As for me, after the very promising introduction of the author’s next two heroes within the pages of this book, I sincerely hope that the wait until the next one isn’t nearly as long.