The Duke's Captive
by Adele Ashworth, historical (2010)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-147484-2


Take the title of Adele Ashworth's The Duke's Captive as a warning: the heroine is the object of the hero's revenge scheme in this story, some coercive and kidnap elements are involved in this unorthodox courtship, and really, if you are not a fan of those Harlequin Presents stories, you should approach this one warily. Because underneath its historical romance trapping is the spirit of Harlequin Presents beating true.

You don't have to read A Notorious Proposition to catch up with this story, as there is ample back story provided in this book, but Ian Wentworth's story began in that book when he was kidnapped, starved, and sexually abused by some villainous women. In The Duke's Captive, five years have passed since Ian's abduction and subsequent rescue. Two of the women involved in his abduction had died or been imprisoned. One more woman remains unpunished in his eyes: Viola Bennington-Jones. She cared for him and comforted him during his ordeal, but he wants to break her and destroy her nonetheless for her inaction - that is, he sees her as his enemy because she didn't defy her family and rescue him five years ago.

Viola had married well in the meantime, and now she is a widow with a son she loves. But Ian's reappearance in her life means that her fragile new life is about to shatter. She refuses to go down without a fight, not when her son's future is at stake, but she is no match for Ian. Oh, she can say some things that prick at his conscience, but she is handicapped in this fight as, where Ian is concerned, she is also at the mercy of her hormones.

I do like Viola, don't get me wrong. She has done well for herself and she is willing to fight tooth, claw, and all for her son, which I can definitely appreciate. But after a while, it's pretty obvious that she's all talk and very little action. She's not going to win this fight, much to my dismay.

As for Ian... well, he reminds me of a silly child who breaks his favorite toy despite other people telling him not to do so, only to sulk when the toy is finally broken. Oh, I know, he had hurt, he was scared, he was... punishing a woman whose only crime was to care for him. He is breaking her will, destroying her life, humiliating her in public, and dragging her innocent son down with her. He doesn't even give a good grovel, and the only way I can accept this fellow is when he's cold and he's ashamed - like the song by Natalie Imbruglia would go - bound and broken on the floor.

I do love the way all those turbulent emotions fly off the pages, and as much as I think Ian is a bullet train on his way to run over poor Viola tied on the tracks, the sexual tension between them is incredible. Throughout the whole revenge nonsense, Viola demonstrates that she is not stupid - she can put two and two together and know quickly what Ian wants to do to her. She's just... in love with him, sigh.

And that's my problem with this story. Why is she still in love with him? The things he had done to her up to the last few chapters should have killed any sane woman's love for Ian, if you ask me. He has been cruel and possessive, stringing her along and cruelly pushing her away in a heartbreaking yo-yo pattern, and by right, if Viola is sensible, she would take him back only after he has lost everything and has nowhere to go but her, the Jane Eyre triumphant. The fact that she can somehow love him after the things he has put her through has me shaking my head and thinking, "Only in romance novels, hmmph!"

Make no mistake, I actually have a pretty good time reading The Duke's Captive - up until Viola bewilderingly harbors a strong strand of affection of Ian even after he's put her through yet another of his nonsense one time too many, this book was shaping up to be a well-written guilty pleasure that gets me to feel all kinds of emotions. Okay, these emotions are mostly negative when it comes to Ian, but I appreciate any book that gets me all riled up, and this is one such book. It's just too bad that Ms Ashworth doesn't devote more of the story to Ian groveling to Viola, because more grovel is just what this book needs to make the romance believable.

Rating: 82


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