The Duke I Once Knew
If you’re a fan of Olivia Drake, or if you’re just looking for a good book to while away a quiet afternoon, you can’t go wrong picking up The Duke I Once Knew. As the first book in the new Unlikely Duchesses series, it’s easy to jump into, and the reunited lovers theme is a classic romance plot well executed here.
Abigail Linton is a step above Cinderella when the book opens. The good news is she’s genuinely loved by her family, and is never asked to clean out the hearth. The bad news is that every one of her siblings seems to enjoy her presence mainly because it makes their lives easier. As the youngest child and a spinster to boot, Abby was the obvious choice for taking care of their parents in old age, and now that they’ve both passed, her older siblings get to fight over whose household will acquire a nursemaid/chaperone/companion.
After listening to the debate and not hearing a single person ask what Abby would like to do, the poor girl decides she’s going to claim a life for herself. Although it’s not financially necessary, Abby announces that she intends to apply for the position of governess to the Duke of Rothwell’s sister, who is their neighbor. She’ll return to the family eventually but needs a breath of fresh air and independence at the moment. Although they clearly don’t understand the impulse, Abby’s siblings eventually, begrudgingly, wish her well.
What none of them realize is that Abby has a history with Maxwell Bryce, the current duke. When they were fifteen, they spent a summer falling in love, meeting in a secret glade and exchanging confidences. When his mother died and Max was forced to leave for London, Abby wrote him constantly. But no letter ever came back, nor did Max himself return to the countryside, so after a time Abby resigned herself to a broken heart. That feels like ancient history as Abby applies to be governess of his sister Gwendolyn, but all the same she’s glad Max has no plans to come out to visit.
Wouldn’t you know, Max does choose this as the first time to return to Rothwell Court in fifteen years, and he’s shocked to find his old sweetheart working there. His first encounters with Abby are fraught with awkwardness and some long-ignored anger and hurt on both their parts, as Max also wrote to Abby and never heard back. Fortunately, Ms. Drake doesn’t drag out the Big Misunderstanding too long. It only takes a few encounters with each other when a stray comment has the pair realizing Max’s father interfered with their budding romance, stopping the flow of letters and thus sending their lives down completely altered paths.
Abby and Max straddle the line between eagerness and hesitancy in the wake of this realization. While there’s a part of each of them that simply wants to return to their previous closeness, they also recognize that significant time has passed. They’ve both changed, and they need time to learn each other anew. I particularly appreciated the way Ms. Drake maintained that feeling of excitement without allowing the pair to rush into a relationship prematurely. It made for a distinct contrast with the impetuousness of their younger selves.
As the story develops, Abby in particular comes into her own, learning to stand up to her family more regularly and make a habit of pursuing her goals. I particularly liked that, while Max is able to recognize her problems (it only takes one encounter for him to understand how her siblings take advantage of her), he acts as a support to Abby rather than her savior. When she truly stands up to her family, as in the beginning, it’s on her own.
In sum, you should read The Duke I Once Knew. It has drama, but not excessively. It has main characters falling in love, but also finding their independence. And it manages to capture just a dash of that magical-true-love feeling I like to see in a good romance novel.