Desert Isle Keeper
My One and Only Duke
When I picked up My One and Only Duke one morning, I gambled that I’d be able to put it down when necessary… and I lost that bet, since the book sucked me in from the start.
The story begins with Quinn Wentworth, one of London’s most famously wealthy bankers, biding his time in Newgate prison before his execution. As he prepares to wait out his last week on earth from his quiet cell (the nicest quarters a bribe can get you in Newgate), one of the prison guards brings in a woman to visit him. She is Miss Jane Winston, a kind young lady who accompanied her minister father to the prison, but who had no desire to listen to him sermonize. Although Quinn freely admits to being a convicted murderer, neither he nor his clean cell gives off an air of danger, so Jane consents to the guard’s plan of her waiting for her father with Quinn rather than in the hall.
Over the course of this visit, and one more the following week, Jane and Quinn go from talking about innocuous things like their favorite foods, to the more serious topics of their goals and plans for life. Quinn, obviously, is about to have his life cut short, but he’s interested in Jane’s predicament, living unhappily with her father, whose enthusiasm for his religion borders on insanity. When a moment of illness forces Jane to reveal she is pregnant, Quinn becomes even more concerned for her. It seems Jane eloped about a year ago, only to have her husband die in a duel months later. Although her father took her back, the zealous minister refused to acknowledge her marriage and presents her to the world as his spinster daughter. Jane is worried her father will become more irrational as her pregnancy becomes more obvious, but she has no resources to allow her to live independently.
Concern for a pregnant woman in an unsafe situation and a desire to do good by someone else before he dies lead Quinn to propose marriage to a woman he has only met twice. Although skeptical at first, as Jane begins to seriously discuss the proposal with Quinn, she starts to see the logic in it. Jane and Quinn genuinely like each other despite their short acquaintance, but even then, it’s not like they’re really intending to build a life together. Jane will have desperately needed security as Quinn’s widow, and he can die with the satisfaction of a doing a final good deed, so she agrees and the two are wed.
If you’re wondering where the titular Duke comes into play, it is now, in the eleventh hour, right before (or just as) Quinn is to be hanged. The Dukedom of Walden has been languishing unclaimed and deeply in debt for a few years, and as fate would have it, the Royal College of Arms discovers Quinn is next in line for the title. Deciding that a wealthy banker is just the man to take over the dukedom and all its debts, they send a man out to interrupt Quinn’s execution and inform him of his new circumstances.
All of these events cover approximately the first twenty five percent of the book – a lot a lot of action in a short time, which should pull in almost any reader. Yet what had me glued to the page was not the events so much as it was the characters. When I first met them, I assumed Quinn was a rich leader of the ton wrongly convicted of murder, and that Jane was the innocent young miss destined to fall in love with him and see past his conviction. Then Quinn revealed he was a self-made man born to poverty and made no protestations of innocence, so I figured I had him pegged completely wrong. But then, once he was freed, Quinn begins to investigate the question of who framed him for murder – proving me wrong in thinking he might actually be a killer. And of course Jane surprised me by revealing herself to be a pregnant widow acting as a unmarried girl (quite the opposite from the average spinster Regency heroine posing as a widow).
All of this is to say that it took me quite a while to feel like I truly understood either Quinn or Jane, although I did understand them by the end of the book, and moreover, I liked them. Quinn is a deeply caring man who would protect the whole world if he could, and he is well matched by Jane, who takes a different, but no less dedicated, approach to helping others. They balance each other out and work well as a team in the face of society – or Quinn’s family.
The Wentworth family is one of the more interesting romance novel families I’ve met, not because they’re wittier or more adventurous or more troubled, but because, like Quinn and Jane, they’re hard to get a read on. Once Quinn moves back home and begins to investigate the setup that landed him in Newgate, I had moments when I suspected each member of his family. Although they’re tight-knit and Quinn trusted them, I could tell there were some secrets and histories I wasn’t privy to, which had me feeling at turns curious and suspicious.
I won’t say much more about the mystery plot, other than to add that it is one of the better ones I’ve read outside of an official ‘romantic Suspense’ novel. Ms. Burrowes did a good job of keep me guessing as to everyone’s motivations.
The romance plot was equally enjoyable; one of my favorite scenes in the book was when Quinn showed up at Jane’s house to tell her he survived his hanging. Although a living husband was not at all part of her plans, Jane was ecstatic. She didn’t love Quinn yet, didn’t know what it would be like to share a life with him, but she knew him to be a truly good man, and had been heartbroken to think he was gone from the world forever. I loved that as a foundation for their marriage – a genuine faith in the other person, rather than love or convenience.
My One and Only Duke was a surprise DIK for me. Although I’ve read and enjoyed many of Ms. Burrowes’ books before, they don’t usually reach DIK status for me. Discovering this story, with its many unexpected characters, was a lovely way to start my day. I will definitely be watching for future additions to the series.