The Return of the Disappearing Duke
I had mixed feelings about The Sinful Sinclairs series. I didn’t finish the first book, and I gave the final book (which Return of the Rogues jumps off from), a not very enthusiastic C-. But I have good news for fellow Temple fans. The Return of the Disappearing Duke is a delightful surprise and a lovely return to form for this talented author. I’m eager to read the next book in the series.
In The Lord’s Inconvenient Vow, Lord Edward Edgerton travels to Egypt to search for his brother Rafe (our titular disappearing duke), after he learns Rafe is missing and presumed dead. He’s unaware it’s actually a ruse concocted by Rafe to force Edge out of his grief and self-imposed exile following the death of his wife and son. That book ends shortly after Rafe and Edge are reunited in England; Edge is newly married to his childhood friend Samanthan Sinclair (one of the not-so-very Sinful Sinclairs), furious at Rafe for the subterfuge and worry he caused – but forgiving – and Rafe is reluctant to accept his fate as the new Duke of Greybourne (after the death of his violent and abusive father). Unbeknownst to Edge, Samantha and readers, Rafe is also deeply in love with Cleopatra Osbourne, a young woman he helped while in Cairo and who accompanied him on his return to England. But I’m getting ahead of myself and this story. The Return of the Disappearing Duke takes place during the same time frame as The Lord’s Inconvenient Vow, but begins just after Rafe, alive and well in Egypt, learns Edge took the bait, and has arrived in Egypt determined to mount an expedition to find him.
When her brother Dash goes missing shortly after the death of their disreputable father, Cleopatra Osbourne fears the worst. She has good reason to be scared. A group of men has pursued her for days and she’s nearly out of money and places to hide. She suspects the men want something her father stole from them, and fears what might happen if they catch up to her. Desperate to locate Dash – who she hopes has fled and waits for her in Cairo – she turns to the one man she believes might be able to help: Rafe Grey, a famed local mercenary. Disguised as ‘Patrick’ she pays him a visit and asks him to help her return to Cairo and find her missing brother. After teasing Patrick for staring at his naked chest, Rafe asks if her disguise has ever actually fooled anyone, and rejects her request for help. Cleopatra is close to begging when Rafe suddenly shoves her into a corner and orders her to remain absolutely silent before pulling a curtain to hide her from view. Moments later a knock on the door sends her heart racing. It’s her pursuers. They demand entry so they can search for a young Englishman believed to be hiding close by. Rafe turns them away after suggesting he might try to find the Englishman if the reward is substantial. The men leave, but Cleopatra isn’t sure if she’s been saved from one group of villains only to fall into the hands of another.
After witnessing his father attack a young, female parishioner after she made the mistake of giggling during one of his sermons, a young Rafe launched himself at his father to stop him. Not long after, he found himself bloody and face down in the snow, held by a Greybourne groom. After promising Rafe that Susan (the young girl) was unhurt, the groom finally released him. But when Rafe returns to his rooms, he discovers his mother is packing his things and sending him away, much like she sent his brother Edward away. He plots his escape from the moment the carriage leaves the estate, and when opportunity presents itself, he runs away. By the time ‘Patrick’ shows up in his rooms asking for help, Rafe has spent decades avoiding England first as a soldier and then as a mercenary. Now that he’s the Duke of Greybourne, he dreads a return to his aristocratic past and his mother. Instead, he’s making plans to find Edge (who fell for his ruse and has traveled to Egypt to find him). Escorting the strangely compelling young woman who obviously needs his help further delays a return home, so he agrees despite his doubts about her story.
The Return of the Disappearing Duke unfolds as these two unlikely companions escape in the dead of night from the small town of Syene (a city on the Nile) and travel to Cairo in search of Cleopatra’s missing brother. Cleopatra has some idea why she’s being pursued – her father, a counterfeiter who dragged his children along on his misadventures with little care for them or his role as their protector, stole something from one of his less reputable associates. Rafe, a scarred, handsome and gentle giant, is clearly capable of keeping her safe, and she soon finds herself feeling decidedly more than friendly towards her gruff protector. Rafe knows Cleopatra is keeping secrets (so is he!), but he finds himself unwilling and unable to release her from his protection. Every heartbreaking revelation about her life before and after arriving in Egypt devastates him, and he can’t deny he’s become obsessed with helping her find her brother and somewhere safe to call home. He struggles mightily to resist his attraction to her, constantly reminding himself his job is to protect her, not lust after her. The seemingly never ending journey from Syene to Cairo, and then Cairo to Alexandria, and eventually to England, provides Temple with ample opportunity to develop their affection and fondness for each other, to flesh out their mutually sad backstories, and eventually, for them to fall in love. The Return of the Disappearing Duke is the ultimate road trip romance, and the desert is a wonderful backdrop that enhances this slow burn love story in every way. Fortunately, Cleopatra’s brother Dash is a hard man to find. Rafe ultimately decides they must leave Egypt to keep Cleopatra safe, and his decision provides Temple with the opportunity to introduce us to the next rogue (ship captain, Kit Carrington, a childhood friend of Rafe’s), and for the plot to converge with The Lord’s Inconvenient Vow.
Friends, I fell hard for this story and this pair nearly from the get go. So why isn’t it a straight up DIK? What works is wonderful – the setting, the tension, the budding friendship, trust and love between Cleopatra and Rafe, the teasing, the nicknames – all great and good. But they both keep secrets from each other for much too long, Rafe often treats Cleopatra like a child, the villains never actually do much that is villainous, and Dash, Cleopatra’s missing brother, stays missing for one too many chapters. It grows tedious trying to determine where he actually is, as does Rafe’s inability to confess to Cleopatra his true identity. Once Rafe and Cleopatra arrive in Alexandra, the story begins to falter, and it loses some of the charm and humor that mark the first three quarters of the novel. The scenes at Greybourne, especially those that include the dowager duchess (eyeroll), aren’t nearly as good as what’s come before.
Despite these problems, The Return of the Disappearing Duke marks a return to form for this talented author. I recommend you escape to Egypt with Rafe and Cleopatra; it’s a lovely journey.