Her Best Friend, the Duke
Laura Martin’s latest historical romance promised a simple friends-to-lovers tale between a duke and his best friend, a young woman who has loved him for years but who has decided it’s time to stop waiting for him to fall for her and move on. The author delivers on the premise; Her Best Friend the Duke is a nicely done love story featuring two attractive protagonists in which there are no mysteries to be solved, no nefarious plots and no moral crusades; those things have a place and I have certainly enjoyed books featuring those sorts of plotlines, but it made a nice change to read a romance that focuses purely on the central relationship and characters.
At twenty-four years of age and having experienced seven London Seasons, Miss Caroline Yaxley is, if not on the shelf, then very nearly so. That has never been a problem; Caroline has been reluctant to give up her small modicum of freedom by marrying, and has politely discouraged the suitors she’s had over the years, but lately, she’s started to undergo a change of heart. She’s been in love with James, Duke of Heydon, for five years, and had convinced herself that having no-one was better than settling for second-best – but now she’s realised that she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life without companionship, home and family. She doesn’t expect to find a man who will make her heart flutter and her head swoon, but surely she will be able to find someone kind and considerate who will make her a good husband.
After betrothing himself to a suitable young lady who subsequently jilted him, James has decided that when he eventually marries, it will be to a woman he loves wholly and completely. His parents fell in love at first sight and had a loving and happy marriage, and he wants that for himself – so now he’s determined to wait for the coup de foudre that will turn him inside out and knock him off his feet.
James is taken aback when Caroline announces her intention to marry, but accepts her decision and even offers to help her to polish up her flirting skills. Of course, we romance devotees know that he’s toast from that moment on, but he has no idea, and is initially shocked to realise that Caroline’s smiles and heartfelt gazes are affecting him in a way he recognises as desire. He continues in denial until one of his closest friends starts taking a serious interest in Caroline, and she indicates she may well accept his offer of marriage.
The author creates a warm, believable friendship between the couple and does a great job of slowly increasing the sexual tension between them as James starts to become aware of Caroline as a woman rather than just as his friend. Her longing and desire for him are palpable, but I appreciated the level-headedness of her decision to move forward with her life. I also liked that James was the one holding out for ‘true love’ – so often, the heroes in historical romance are allergic to relationships, so it was good to read one who isn’t!
Ms. Martin clearly shows, right from the start, that James is every bit as in love with Caroline as she with him and just doesn’t realise it. I was looking forward to his gradually recognising that love had been under his nose all the way along, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite happen that way. James recognises that he desires Caroline, and that he actually wants to marry her because they could have a good life together, but when it comes to realising he loves her… he’s not so good there. It takes an outright statement from Caroline’s mother that the slow-building, slow-burning kind of love is just valid as the lightning strike kind, and later, a direct intervention from a close friend for James to wake up to the fact that he’s in love – and I’m not a fan of the kick-from-the-third-party element in a romance. I prefer the person concerned to realise it for themselves, and here, I wasn’t convinced that James would ever have worked it out for himself because he was so set on what (he thought) he wanted.
The pacing lags somewhat around the middle and there’s a fair bit of repetition as well. James and Caroline interact, there’s a flare of desire between them, and they part, she knowing he’s something she can never have, he wondering why he’s suddenly feeling attracted to his friend. And while the author does a reasonably good job of having Caroline behaving (more or less) according to convention (I could sort of turn a blind eye to the fact that she was rarely chaperoned because she was regarded as being on the shelf), I found it odd that there was no mention of possible consequences when James and Caroline finally make it into bed.
Her Best Friend the Duke is an easy, enjoyable read that is sure to appeal to anyone looking for a gently moving friends-to-lovers romance. Caroline and James are likeable – even though James is a bit dense! – and easy to root for, and the connection between them is very well drawn. It was a pleasant way to pass a few hours on a sunny afternoon.