Dukes Are Forever
It’s perhaps a bit late for Thanksgiving, but this year I am quite thankful for new authors with great stories to tell. When so many try to claim that Historical Romance is a dead genre, authors like Anna Harrington manage to stir the embers by creating stories full of the situations we all love with a fresh take on the material. Her debut book Dukes are Forever uses strong characterizations and dramas to create an entertaining read.
After experiencing heartbreak as a young man, Lord Edward Westover purchased a commission and became a dedicated soldier. All of the passions that were spurned by his lover were turned into a fierceness on the battlefield that saved him and his men on many campaigns. But when his older brother is killed in a carriage accident, Edward’s life as a soldier is over and he must assume the mantle of Duke of Swarthmore. Learning that his death was caused by the drunken recklessness of Phillip Benton, who was never prosecuted for the crime, Edward once again uses his emotions to fuel his drive and purpose, turning sorrow into anger and an all-consuming need for revenge.
Using Benton’s gambling addiction against him, Edward slowly drives the man into ruin by purchasing all of his outstanding debts until he becomes his sole creditor. Faced with the reality of debtor’s prison or criminal proceedings, Benton accepts Edward’s terms but offers one stipulation; his daughter Katherine will become the duke’s ward and her security and financial responsibility will be solely in Edward’s hands. Blinded by his success against his foe, Edward is quick to agree and has legal papers drawn up to put Kate under his care. What Edward cannot know is that it’s impossible to swindle a swindler and Benton has manipulated him soundly. Arriving at Brambly House to meet with his new ward Edward is shocked to meet a twenty-year old woman, not the young girl that he expected.
Katherine Benton has been completely ignorant of her father’s misdeeds in London and cannot understand why a man only a few years older than she is now claims to be her guardian. For too long, Kate has borne the brunt of her father’s financial carelessness, slowly watching all the material goods in her home taken and sold. The only possession kept out of her father’s hands was Brambly House itself, entitled strictly to Kate until her marriage. Incredulous that her father could gamble his parental rights away and sever ties to his only child, Kate is reluctant to let Edward have any influence on Brambly House or on how she lives her life.
Seeing Edward as an obstacle to her independence, Kate is slow to lower her defenses around him. She is attracted to the handsome interloper but is puzzled as to how a man such as he would be associated with her father. His decisions regarding Brambly House begin to revitalize the struggling property, but Kate cannot shake her belief that any improvements to the land are only so that her value on the marriage market will be increased. She becomes more confused as Edward’s actions reveal his own attraction towards her but he seems reluctant to open his heart. Their relationship changes dramatically when they are trapped together during a storm, but their fragile new understanding is jeopardized when Edward learns that Kate has been in contact with her father behind his back.
Both main characters are very likeable as they move past their inauspicious meeting and let go of their wariness towards one another. I appreciated Kate’s dedication to the people and servants around Brambly House and it shows just how strong a woman she is that she can shoulder so many burdens without it breaking her spirit. Kate has such love to give to those who care about her that it is heartbreaking to see how she keeps holding out hope for affection from her father. Edward, too, is a man who feels very deeply but tries to disguise his feelings through the excuses of duty and responsibility. His shame at loving a woman who betrayed him and his guilt over the death of his brother all move him to keep his better emotions locked away, safe from anyone who might use them against him.
Kate and Edward have a stubborn streak a mile wide which perhaps unnecessarily complicates their relationship, but definitely made for great tension within the story. Edward steadfastly holds tight to the idea that love is something easily manipulated and he cannot let himself love Kate. On Kate’s side, she had seen love used as a weapon against her mother so she will not let herself fall even when there might be someone there to catch her. What neither one will allow themselves to see is that from almost their first meeting they are lost to one another. In their earliest days cohabiting Brambly House, the dialog between Kate and Edward zings with the playful banter and fierce competitiveness that hides their true feelings. When the situation turns, it isn’t because of some Big Misunderstanding but rather it’s a result of their own stubbornness keeping both Kate and Edward from realizing just how important they have become to one another. Ms. Harrington has done a great job at balancing the needs of introducing herself and her series to readers. Her voice is strong and I can only see it improving now that the foundations of her characters and their world have been established. First books are always a tricky business, but Dukes are Forever manages to rise above a rather forgettable title and made me remember what I love about romance.