The Duke of Defiance
I hadn’t read any of Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables novels, but the title The Duke of Defiance sounded intriguing enough to make me try the book. Sadly, it was a dull read with the exception of a single moment I’ll mention later. Mild spoilers ahead.
Thanks to an accident that kills both of Bran Crowther’s older brothers, he’s now the Earl of Knighton. Bran, who is a widower, returns from Barbados along with his five-year-old daughter Evie in order to assume his duties. One of those responsibilities is to produce an heir and Bran doesn’t look forward to dealing with marriage-minded ladies who won’t understand his eccentricities.
Joanna Shaw lives with her sister and brother-in-law (hero and heroine of a previous book in the series) and tries to contain her pangs of sadness at being reminded of everyone’s joy and fertility. A widow, she has no hopes of a future. But when her niece befriends Bran’s adorable, precocious daughter, Joanna grows fond of the enchanting little girl and wants to help her adapt to life in England. Except that means dealing with the devastatingly attractive Bran.
I recently read an historical romance which used tropes I wasn’t keen on, but that story made me care about the characters, and so the tropes worked. They felt natural. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in The Duke of Defiance.
First, all the heroes (who gather to welcome their new friend Bran into the club) enjoy their cheesy nicknames.
Bran blinked at Kendal. “The Forbidden Duke?”
Kendal inclined his head. “Just so. I think it’s the most dashing of our titles, really. Far more respectable and commanding than Duke of Desire. Or Duke of Daring.”
Second, Joanna is convinced she’s barren because she was married for eight years and didn’t conceive. Needless to say, she more than proves her fertility in the epilogue. It just takes the right man – the right, virile man. I wasn’t in the least surprised to learn her late husband was abusive, short, and not as gifted in the downstairs department as Bran, but he turned out to be gay as well. There are tired tropes, there are offensive ones, and there are those which manage to be both.
Third, Bran hires Joanna as a governess for Adorable Precocious, who – the first time she ever meets Joanna – suggests her as a prospective new mama. Joanna is perfectly in sync with the darling child.
“I only wanted to tell you that even though I’ll be your governess, I’m still Jo. We needn’t become formal.” Jo winked at her, and Evie grinned.
I have never read such an anachronistic romance. Bran’s valet notices when Bran has had sex, and discusses this with him, speculating as to who the lucky woman is. Bran tells Joanna she’s going to eat with him and have a maid of her own. He also wants her to call him Bran. None of this rings true as to how an aristocrat and a servant interact when they’re trying for decorum.
Fourth, everything Joanna does makes Bran hard, so he asks her to marry him. But for the nth time, we’re reminded she’s barren. So he tells her the only way to determine whether she’s really infertile is to make love with him.
This is the best reason I’ve ever read in a historical romance for unprotected sex between an aristocrat and a servant. If you don’t sleep with me, you’ll never know whether you’re barren or not! Jo’s response isn’t consideration for the baby who’d be conceived as a result of a sexual experiment, or even for her own future.
She was an abject failure when it came to womanhood.
It’s her usual lack of self-confidence. She’s a wet noodle, and no amount of Bran thinking how wise and witty she is made any difference.
The sum total of Bran’s defiance is that he lets his daughter ride astride and tells his mother she can’t mistreat him any more. His other schtick is that stress makes his skin itch, so he rips his coat off on a regular basis. This gives Joanna a view of his bronzed chest, and during a sex scene she notices his ‘dashing little nipples’. I imagined his nipples running all over his body, which was the sole entertaining moment in the book. The only person I felt anything for was Bran’s first wife, who existed to give him Adorable Precocious (who doesn’t remember her), then died to make room for the heroine.
The plot is equally thin. Joanna helps Bran conduct interview after interview for household staff. After a dance, she runs off into the garden to recover from being turned on, and since he wants to get away from the crowd, he also seeks refuge in the garden, with predictable results. The children have delightful playtimes. Looking at the reviews here for other books in this series, it seems they’re better than this one, but I can’t recommend The Duke of Defiance to anyone except die-hard fans. Though the plus in the grade is for the dashing little nipples. At least those made me laugh.