Desert Isle Keeper
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished
This was a truly wonderful story of revenge and redemption, the darkest of the three books that have as yet appeared in this series. In Temple, Ms MacLean has created possibly her most engaging, heart-breakingly gorgeous hero so far, which is really saying something given how much I adored Cross in the previous book! But there’s something about Temple that’s so intensely loveable; a joie de vivre which – amazingly, given the ills that have befallen him – still shines forth, that is immediately and devastatingly captivating.
The third book in Ms Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished tells the story of the disgraced Duke of Lamont, who, along with his business partners, Bourne, Cross, and Chase, is co-owner of The Fallen Angel, the most successful gaming club in London.
As with the two previous books, this one opens with the story of the hero’s fall from grace. At the age of eighteen, the heir to a wealthy and highly respected dukedom, William Harrow, Marquess of Chapin had it all – until he awoke one morning covered in blood not his own. He has no memory of what happened on the preceding night, only that he had taken a fascinating young woman to bed… and that she has disappeared.
Suspected of murder – but never brought to trial through lack of evidence (or a dead body) – the young man was disowned by his family, cast out of polite society and left to fend for himself with nobody to care what became of him. In the days immediately following his exile, he made use of his boxing skills – strong, fit, and built like a house, even at such a young age, he made his living bare-knuckle fighting in the less salubrious areas of London. Over time – and known now as Temple – he gained a reputation as a fearless and unbeatable fighter, and upon acceding to his father’s title, he became known throughout the ton as “The Killer Duke”.
While busily building a reputation as a force to be reckoned with on the streets of London, Temple is found by his old school friend, the Marquess of Bourne. Bourne may have lost everything, but he’s still an incredibly skillful gamester, and he and Temple team up and begin running games on the street. But even Temple’s muscle can’t protect them forever. One night, they are set upon by a rival gang and escape with their lives thanks to the enigmatic Chase – and the rest, as they say, is history.
From the previous two books, we know that Temple’s role at the Angel has been far more than that of hired muscle. He is the last resort for those gentlemen who are at point non-plus – if they can best him in the boxing ring, their notes of hand will be returned to them and their debt to the Angel cancelled. In the twelve years since his disgrace, Temple has never been beaten, yet these desperate men continue to challenge him, daring to hope that perhaps, they will be the one to turn the tide and somehow end his undefeated status.
One evening, completely out of the blue, he is accosted by a young woman whom he almost immediately recognizes as the same woman he had met and taken to bed on the eve of his father’s (fourth) wedding, twelve years before. Miss Mara Lowe has come to propose a bargain. If Temple will arrange for her brother’s gambling debts to be written off, she will show herself to be unharmed and thus proclaim that Temple never murdered anybody. His name will be cleared, his title expunged of the taint of murder and he will be restored to his rightful place in society, able to find himself a proper wife, raise proper children and leave behind him a proper legacy.
But after twelve years – twelve years in which even Temple himself has never been completely sure of his innocence – that isn’t enough. He has no memory of the events of the night that changed his life forever, and he wants more from Mara than proof that he is no murderer. He wants more than justice. He wants retribution.
Mara knows she did a dreadful thing all those years ago. At the age of sixteen, she was desperate to escape from an arranged marriage to the much older Duke of Lamont, who had already buried three wives. On the eve before her wedding, and thoroughly beguiled by the ready smile of a handsome, dark haired young man, she had put into action a plan to effect her ruin and thus render herself unmarriagable.
At the time, she had no idea of the identity of the young man she had embroiled in her scheme – and once she discovered it, she had already made good her disappearance and adopted a new identity. She was too scared to return to put things right – scared of her cruel, violent father and knowing all too well that she would be forced into the marriage she had been so desperate to avoid.
But even though she knows that her actions led to the ruin of a young man’s life, Mara is determined not to relinquish an ounce of her control to the forbidding, giant of a man that youth has become. She has the knowledge that Temple so desperately wants – the true story of that night – and she is not about to give it up without getting what she wants.
What transpires between them is a battle of wits in which neither is prepared to give any ground.
Temple not only wants to reclaim his name, he wants to ruin Mara in the process – and despite the fact that all the guilt is on one side (hers), she nonetheless refuses to concede the upper hand and gives as good as she gets.
Their battle is further complicated by the incredibly strong attraction they both feel towards each other. It seems that the intervening years have not dulled the spark they both felt twelve years previously – and that now, it is stronger than ever. It’s an attraction neither of them wants, and, more importantly, never expected to feel; and they fight it tooth and nail. The romance between them is well-developed and never feels rushed or forced; it’s tender and highly sensual, all of it beautifully written as we watch this unlikely pair fall in love by degrees.
I confess, I found Mara a harder heroine to like than either of her predecessors. She is, after all the guilty party and is therefore in need of the hero’s forgiveness. She did a stupid thing out of desperation which led to the ruin of a young man’s life; and while the reasons behind those actions make some sort of sense and do elicit the reader’s sympathy, their impact on an innocent man nonetheless makes them hard to justify.
Yet incredibly, Ms Maclean has somehow made Mara into a character with whom the reader can empathize. Even when I disliked her intensely, I understood her – and I take my hat off to the author for pulling off such an amazing feat. When I first heard the storyline of this book, I confess I was worried that it might be one of those stories from which I came away thinking that the heroine remained undeserving of the hero’s love by the end. There were times throughout the book when I retained that opinion, but somehow, I ended up rooting for Mara just as much as for Temple who is, by any standards, an extremely sympathetic hero.
Big, brawny, and beautiful, Temple is a truly wonderful character. He had a charmed life mapped out before him until it was all taken away, and it’s no wonder that he wants revenge for the years he feels were stolen from him. But he’s so preoccupied with his desire for retribution that he fails to realize one, very important thing. It takes Mara to show him that he actually likes the life he has, despite the persistent gossip and rumors. He has friends who would do anything for him, more money than he knows what to do with and the respect of (practically) all of London. His life is still charmed… just in a different way.
If you’ve enjoyed the other books in this series, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one – and if you haven’t read the others, you can read this without needing to know too much about what has gone before. I was pleased to meet Bourne and Cross again, and particularly enjoyed the relationships and banter between the Angel’s four owners, which felt very much in character. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished is well-written, funny, tender and heart-breaking; and in Temple and Mara, Ms MacLean has created a compelling central couple who, despite an inauspicious beginning, thoroughly deserve their hard-won HEA – and each other.