The Duke's Temptation
There are times in reading a romance where I feel an author has great ideas but the execution falls a bit short. As I began reading The Duke’s Temptation I liked the initial set-up for the characters, their motivations and what would drive them together. Unfortunately as the story continued those same opening moments were never developed and the final product was a rather flat read.
Lady Elizabeth Blakely has grown up knowing exactly what love feels like. She came from a home where her parent’s marriage was a love match and after tragedy takes them from her she knows the love and protection of her older brother. Elizabeth has also been in love with her brother’s best friend Gabriel ever since she was nine years old. Holding tight to that love for ten years, Elizabeth has never given up hope that her feelings for Gabe would someday be returned. It has hurt her deeply to see him change from the caring young man who comforted her at her lowest moment into a scandalous rake who seems to care for nothing.
To Gabriel St. James, every day has become a routine of drink and debauchery, following in the well-trod footsteps of all the previous Dukes of Wesbrook. Living up to a family legacy of depravity has forced Gabe into too many situations where he has taken the wrong path and he has become disgusted by his own actions. He is still haunted by one such event where he failed to stand up to his father, inadvertently causing a young woman to commit suicide. This sense of self-loathing has forced Gabe to keep those he still cares for at a distance for fear that his wickedness will somehow taint them, too. For many years Gabe has been aware of the beautiful woman his friend’s sister Elizabeth has become. If he were a better man she is exactly the woman he would wish to spend his life with; however the sins of his father have shown him that no Duke of Wesbrook will be faithful to their wife and Gabe cannot sentence Elizabeth to a miserable life as his duchess.
Gabriel is shocked when a young girl is delivered to his doorstep with a note claiming she is his daughter Phoebe. The physical similarities are too much for him to dispute and the mother of the child was another woman from Gabe’s past that he’d wish to forget. Having no idea what to do with a child in his household he turns to his best friend for advice. Overhearing their conversation, Elizabeth offers to take on the responsibility of the child for a time while helping Gabe find a suitable governess. During this period she will live in his house with her elderly aunt serving as chaperone. Initially refusing the idea outright due to the strain of having Elizabeth under his roof and so close, Gabe soon sees no alternative and agrees.
The catalyst to everything in the book is Phoebe and I appreciated how the author used her without resorting to the trope of the precocious moppet who manages to solve the adult’s problems with their child-wisdom. Phoebe’s presence causes Gabriel to start taking a really close look at the man he has become and he slowly starts to change, not just for her but for himself. There are many sweet moments where her innocence allows Gabe to see a less jaded side of life and he begins to understand the value of responsibilities. I liked that Phoebe was allowed to be a child and Gabe and Elizabeth were allowed to be adults, unlike in some stories where it feels these roles are reversed.
Forced into close proximity forces both principals to confront their feelings for one another, but sadly, the author doesn’t do a great job at expressing those feelings in such a way that the reader can share in them. Elizabeth’s unwavering love for Gabe doesn’t allow for much development for her character and I would have liked to see her mature more as the book progressed. It is only towards the very end of the novel that Elizabeth starts to see Gabe as he really is and to love the man rather than the boy she’d loved for years; but that development is included almost as an afterthought in order to create one more conflict after the main one has been resolved. Elizabeth’s unconditional love is necessary so that Gabe feels safe revealing more of his hurts and fears to her, but that sameness doesn’t really entertain a reader as much as watching a character grow over the course of a story. Unfortunately Ms Ryleigh has opted to dispense with many of the rules about proper behavior current at the time, so that the historical setting is almost irrelevant. Just the notion of Gabriel’s natural daughter being brought into his household should have created much more of a scandal than it does. There is also the impropriety of Elizabeth and her aunt moving into the household of a bachelor who isn’t a family member. Readers are supposed to accept her plan because Gabe is so close to her brother, but this type of living arrangement would have immediately ruined Elizabeth’s reputation no matter how many chaperones moved in with her. I tend to forgive authors who bend the rules so that their main characters get some alone time when we get more depth to their feelings for one another; however there isn’t quite enough romantic development between Gabe and Elizabeth for me to be able to ignore those problems.
The Duke’s Temptation is an okay read, but doesn’t break any new ground in terms of memorable characters or storylines, and anyone wanting more substance to their romance will find it lacking.