Thursday, November 3, 2011
Driven to uncover the truth about the mysterious death of his ladylove, the Duke of Hawkscliffe will go to any lengths to unmask a murderer. Even if it means jeopardizing his reputation by engaging in a scandalous affair with London's most provocative courtesan-the desirable but aloof Belinda Hamilton.
Bel has used her intelligence and wit to charm the city's titled gentlemen, while struggling to put the pieces of her life back together. She needs a protector, so she accepts Hawk's invitation to become his mistress in name only. He asks nothing of her body, but seeks her help in snaring the same man who shattered her virtue. Together they tempt the unforgiving wrath of society-until their risky charade turns into a dangerous attraction, and Bel must make a devastating decision that could ruin her last chance at love. . . .
I am somewhat of an historical romance snob. One of the things I have a hard time with in romances is when the heroine is a courtesan. Rarely have I come across a romance that had this scenario where I could live with it. One exception is A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man. Another one is ... The Duke.
The Duke is the first book of the Knight Miscellany Series. I had a bit of trouble getting into it at first because of the depressing scenario. Our hero, the Duke of Hawkscliffe is suffering due to the fact the woman he loved - the married woman he loved - has drowned. Something is afoot, and Hawk is certain she was murdered. It's an uncomfortable scenario, for her elderly husband (who's up to something) convinces Hawk to avenge her murder. Her husband, Coldfell, sends Hawk on his way convincing him his nephew (and heir) may have been the murderer. Hawk rushes off to avenge the death of his love, Lucy Coldfell (whom he never actually had relations with - their love was too pure for that). The elderly Coldfell rubs his hands gleefully, certain that the duke will conveniently kill his nephew in a duel.
Before all of this, we meet Belinda Hamilton, an honorable young lady who is down on her luck. Beautiful beyond compare, she has attracted the notice of an obnoxious young "gentleman", Sir Dolph. Dolph wants to marry her and refuses to take no for an answer, going to extreme lengths to get her to capitulate. Her absent minded father, a professor only interested in his illuminated manuscripts, forgets to pay their bills. Dolph uses this as his chance to make her agree to marry him. He has her father thrown into debtors prison. But, Belinda fights to keep her head above water and does everything to earn her own money - except the unthinkable. She will not sell herself or marry the creep. Guess who the creep is? The nephew that Hawk is out to kill!
Unfortunately for Belinda, the worst thing happens and she is raped by the warden of her father's prison. It's horrible, especially after trying so hard to remain respectable. Now what can she do? Ruined and traumatized, she has no where else to turn to. All she knows is she needs help and a protector - someone that will make her feel safe. Out of choices and resources, she goes to the most exclusive and sought after courtesans in London. She resigns herself to becoming a courtesan herself. An independent woman who will be able to have her own home and money and never be hungry again. She is taken in by the sisters who run the exclusive brothel and taught the ways of love - but only in theory. Though no longer technically a virgin - Belinda has yet to try out her new talents. She realizes she'll need a protector, but she doesn't rush into anything - waiting for just the right man to come along. She can now afford to be choosy. She'll know who he is when she sees him.
And guess who comes along?
As you can guess, Hawk and Bel meet at a ball and he becomes enamored of her instantly, against his better judgment. He believes she's an experienced courtesan, the newest sensation amidst the demimonde. Yet he can't abide women who sell themselves that way. Little does he know how his principles will be challenged! Upon watching Bel that first evening, he soon realizes she has an axe to grind regarding Dolph. He wastes no time in making a deal with her. She will pose as his mistress so the two can work together to set up Dolph and get him to admit that he murdered Lucy Coldfell. As Bel and Hawk "live" together, things heat up fast. They're both dying for each other, but part of the bargain is they don't sleep together - it's all a ruse. Fat chance. Before long, they're in love and Belinda knows that there is no hope for her. Once a respectable lady, she knows only too well a duke can never marry a notorious courtesan. She can only keep up the facade of being happy with him for so long. Inside her heart is breaking. Meanwhile things are getting dangerous in regard to setting up the nephew. This book was chock full of excitement, sensuality, surprises and danger. Not to mention the absolute roller coaster ride leading up to the outlandishly romantic ending! I loved it!! (I'm deliberately leaving out a lot so as not to give away any clues or spoilers).
Despite the great ending, I had some trouble getting into this romance. I'd have given this book five stars, if it weren't for the fact I couldn't shake the pall that hovered over the story line wondering how Bel was going to overcome society's condemnation towards her. How was she going to live happily ever after with her duke? I found her side of the story depressing, especially in the beginning, and my prudish sensibilities kicked in when she decided to become a courtesan.
Still, by the end, as Hawk realizes he can't live without her, I got more into it and I was won over completely. Their love for one another was heartbreaking and bittersweet but the ending more than made up for all my doubts. I really didn't know how the author was going to make it right! But... she did. Wonderfully! I highly recommend this book but keep in mind it has it's dark side to it and it's somewhat angsty.
Hawk has a couple of hunky brothers, so I'm definitely continuing with this series!