Desert Isle Keeper
The Desperate Duke
Theo Radney is not having a good day. For one, his father died. For another, his father was the Duke of Reddington, meaning Theo must now take on responsibilities that his father never bothered to prepare him for. Finally, Theo is twenty-three going on seventeen (at most), so he promptly gets himself into financial straits. Is it any wonder Sheri Cobb South titled this book The Desperate Duke?
Theo is one of those people who wants very much to be an adult without having a clue how to go about it. So he does all the things he thinks men should do – tups his mistress, shrinks from her suggestion of marriage, buys a hideously expensive necklace as a breakup gift, and tries a ‘don’t you know who I am?’ at the bank. Theo’s brother-in-law, Sir Ethan Brundy (The Weaver Takes a Wife), is a wealthy man, so finally Theo asks him for a loan. Ethan is used to bailing out his wife’s relations, so he says yes, as long as Theo pays him back by working in the cotton mill that Ethan owns.
“I’ll tell my sister!” Theo splutters. Even I wasn’t this bad at seventeen.
Needless to say, Theo soon finds himself in Lancashire, where he has to dress in castoffs, toil at a loom and live in a boarding house run by a gentlewoman who’s down on her luck. But his landlady’s daughter, Daphne Drinkard, is a kind soul who brings him ointment for his blisters and prepares him a sandwich to take to work. Theo soon begins to like her for how she bears her lot in life, and for her compassion towards others. He teaches her to defend herself when one of the other boarders makes improper advances towards her.
Knowing that Theo is a gentleman – and believing he’s come down in the world just as her family has – Daphne suggests he offer secretarial services to Sir Valerian Wadsworth, who’s in the area campaigning for support in his bid to become a MP. But Theo finds it odd that Sir Valerian’s speeches are directed at mill workers rather than men who can vote. And Sir Valerian’s opponent is Ethan, who’s busy in London with his family. Something untoward is afoot.
Unfortunately Theo’s letter to Ethan about this goes unread. Meanwhile, Mrs. Drinkard has pinned all her hopes on Daphne attracting the attention of a future MP, so she refuses to acknowledge Daphne’s interest in anyone else. And worse, she allows Sir Valerian to hold gatherings under her roof, meetings meant to whip the mill workers into a mob.
This book was a light-hearted but engaging read. Daphne is on the bland side – she’s sensible, spirited and soft-hearted, which describes nearly every other romance heroine. Nothing made her stand out, though she was obviously the best thing that ever happened to Theo. On the other hand, Theo was just plain fun. Once he realized other people had it much worse than him with his First World Problems, he shaped up. There is a great scene late in the book where he realizes he’s in danger and he’s outnumbered. Oh, and although he saw fifty men on the march towards him earlier, their ranks have grown in number. So Theo, afraid and alone, tells himself :
“You were already outnumbered fifty to one. What’s a couple hundred more?”
And then he does what a man should do – stands up for what he knows is right. It was wonderful.
Most of all, what I liked was the humor. A scene where a dying man is exchanging final words with his children is not typically funny, and yet I couldn’t keep a grin off my face when I read it. I also love the fact that Theo is part of a secret club of young aristocratic gentlemen :
With the callousness of youth, they had dubbed themselves the Lads-in-Waiting, and had sworn an oath (with much pricking of fingers and mixing of blood, which had lent the business just that degree of solemnity and high drama sure to appeal to very young men of seventeen).
The club is as deep as it is useful, so just writing about it makes me want to laugh.
If I have a complaint about The Desperate Duke, it’s that I would have loved to read more about Theo’s experiences working in the mill. Still, ‘I wish this book was longer’ is the definition of praising with faint damn. Although this is the fourth of Sheri Cobb South’s Weaver romances, you don’t need to have read the others, but I recommend the first in the series as well. I never thought I’d pick up a book with “Duke” in the title, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.