Desert Isle Keeper
The Runaway Duke
The Runaway Duke is set in England at the end of the Regency period and features a tortured hero and the spunky heroine with whom he falls in love. “But I’ve read that story and seen these characters a hundred times this year!” the romance reader wails. “Can’t we have something new?” Well, don’t dismiss this one. The setting and characters may be very familiar, but Julie Anne Long tells the story in such a fresh and lively way, you’ll swear this is the first time you’ve read a book like this.
Roarke Edward Connor Riordan Blackburn, the heir to the Duke of Dunbrooke, is working on Sir Henry Tremaine’s estate. Everyone thinks he’s Connor Riordan, an Irish groom. Several years ago, Roarke ran away from his brutal father and enlisted in the infantry. On the field at Waterloo, he was badly wounded and when asked his name, he mumbled the name of his best friend, Roddy. Roarke Blackburn was assumed killed in battle, and when Roarke recovered, he took two of his names and became Connor Riordan. He has been happy working as a groom and has become very fond of Sir Henry’s lively daughter, Rebecca.
Rebecca is accidentally compromised by Lord Edleston when she attempts to spy on her sister. Connor can’t stand the idea of the bright and intelligent Rebecca engaged to a wastrel like Edleston, so he helps her escape to his aunt’s home in Scotland. But a pair of villains has formed an uneasy alliance and is on their trail. Edleston has fallen in love with Rebecca and wants her back. He is aided by Cordelia, dowager Duchess of Dunbrook, a former mistress of Connor’s who married his brother. Since Connor was assumed dead, the brother inherited the title and the fortune – and when he died childless, she inherited it all. She will stop at nothing to keep her status.
The characters in the book are a delight. Every single one of them. We’ll start with the supporting cast. Connor’s former mistress is a villain and has done some nasty deeds, but she is not without sympathy. She has had a hard life and isn’t the caricature of eeeevil that so many romance villains often are. Actually I think she’d make a good example of a reformed villain in a sequel to this book. Lord Edleston is a handsome rake who is surprised when he falls in love with Rebecca. He too is a villain, but not a deep dyed one and he is quite reformable, should the author want to feature him in a future book. Sir Henry and his wife may not understand their daughters, but they truly love them and want them to be happy. And wait till you meet the band of gypsies!!
Now, let’s get to Rebecca. I think she is the best romance heroine of this year. She is unconventional (she wants to be a doctor), she rides astride, turns up her nose at deportment, and is not skilled at feminine accomplishments. I’ve encountered so many characters like this and they mostly come across as silly and self consciously madcap – but not Rebecca. She is a delight from beginning to end. Smart, sensible, and not a bit foolish, Rebecca is practically perfect, and a perfectly wonderful heroine.
Connor is as wonderful as Rebecca. He begins by comforting her when she is crying over the death of her pet dog. As time goes on he and Rebecca become the best of friends. He sympathizes with her frustration over society’s rules for women in her position since he too has little use for social niceties. As the book progresses, Connor realizes his aversion to his birthright was not to the position, but to the mess his father made of it. He will be a wonderful Duke and Rebecca a very unconventional, but useful Duchess.
The love scenes in this book are my favorite kind of love scenes. They are not at all gratuitous or tacked on. Connor and Rebecca slowly realize they have moved from being best friends, to being deeply in love. Their love scenes put the final touch on this road romance – they’re sweet and passionate and all I could ask for.
I haven’t read a debut this wonderful and charming in some time. I have added Julie Anne Long to my automatic buy list and The Runaway Duke right now is at the top of my list for best romance of 2004. It is a delight in every way.