by Caroline Linden, historical (2012)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202534-0
The Way To A Duke's Heart closes Caroline Linden's series The Truth About The Duke series. It can stand alone very well, as the author lets the reader catch up with what happened in the previous two books in good time, but I suspect the last few chapters of this book will be appreciated better by folks who have read the previous books. To be on the safe side, maybe you should read the previous two books before you tackle this one. At any rate, read my review of the first book, One Night In London, to get the back story of what happened to set the de Lacey brothers off to their respective missions.
I have to confess that I didn't expect to like the hero, Charles de Lacey, as much as I do here. In the previous two books, he seemed like a stereotypical emo whiner who uses his issues with his father to have plenty of sex and drunken binges, all the while remaining miserable despite the fun he is having. He doesn't seem like a bright person to me. In this story, however, he turns out to be quite the revelation. The author gives him a back story that is actually quite moving, as Charlie is the eldest son who always ended up being the one least appreciated by his father. Think of those naughty little rakes from Loretta Chase, and Charlie is in good company.
What makes him an adorable hero is that he never asks for pity, nor does he use his past as an excuse to whine non-stop about everything and anything while behaving like a self-absorbed peacock in the process. In fact, being charged to locate his late father's blackmailer actually gives him a sense of purpose and, in the process, allows him to learn some things about himself that has him realizing that he's not such a useless tosser after all.
So, where was I? Oh yes, Charlie. After his brothers found love and decided that the honeymoon bliss takes priority over the issue of their birth, they handed over the clues they have found so far to Charlie and told him to finish up what they had started. They aren't being callous, if you ask me, as the problem is mostly Charlie's, and he had been sitting on his rear end doing nothing of particular significance in the last two books. His brother Gerard had traced the blackmail letters to one Hiram Scott in Frome, somewhere south of Bath. He is looking for a way to be introduced to that man when he discovers that the exasperating Tessa Neville has an appointment to meet that man. If she thinks of him as an indolent man, well, he can charm her into letting him meet that fellow and confirm for himself whether Hiram is the blackmailer. How hard can it be? He knows women, after all.
This book is in many ways the polar opposite of the previous book Blame It On Bath. While the previous book started out fine but lost its momentum as the story progressed, this one starts out slow but really picks up steam late in the story. In fact, the last few chapters are fantastic as the pages practically sizzle with romantic energy. Those chapters are just so adorable as they are moving and hilarious all at once.
But the romance itself is hard for me to warm up to, mostly because of the characterization of Tessa. I like that she's smart and logical, and I adore how Charlie loves her for this. He's not threatened by her brainpower at all - in fact, it's one of the main reasons he's attracted to her in the first place. Seriously, Charlie is that guy who will happily and proudly wear a T-shirt that says "My wife can kick your ass in 100 ways!", and ask every passer-by to read the words on that T-shirt. He's also that guy who crams as many photos of his kids as possible into his wallet. What? Tessa? Who's that again? Oh yes, the heroine.
The thing is, Tessa is very prickly and confrontational at the early parts of this story, so much so that I have no idea why he can fall in love with her. I can believe why she thinks that she's in love with him - his acceptance of her for what she is is the catalyst for her discovery of her own self worth and her ability to open up her heart again after a man did her wrong in the past. But on his part, he's the one who's constantly doing the pursuing. I need to see how big this love he has for Tessa is, because this love is supposed to fuel his epiphany that his past feelings for a woman he wanted to marry - a relationship that led to his estrangement with his father - were actually infatuation rather than true love. If the author wants to tell me that what he and Tessa has is true love, she should show me that this love is really that amazing. And yet, I don't see it.
I'm also confused by the reasons driving Tessa to throw herself at Charlie after refusing his advances in often overwrought displays of melodrama. Maybe she's that kind of woman who gets unbearably randy when she encounters a setback in her plans, how cute. I'm also not sure about how Charlie is hunky dory with what his dead father did to him after learning some things about the woman he wanted to marry when he was younger. The late Duke of Durham could be a nasty piece of work, from what I could see, so I don't know. Then again, that man is dead, so maybe there's no point in carrying a grudge any longer.
The mystery of the Duke of Durham's first marriage is wrapped up here in a low key manner, but I like that this mystery ultimately helps Charlie become a wiser and more mellow man. While I ordinarily would roll up my eyes at the "sex can really screw up your life" sentiment permeating every word in this story, this very same sentiment actually adds weight to the reformation of Charlie from rake to straight arrow. I mean, if he is genuinely remorseful about sleeping indiscriminately with women and what not, then his fidelity to Tessa will seem more believable.
All things considered, The Way To A Duke's Heart is a pretty good read. The slow burn of the romance makes the early parts of this book hard to get into, but the hero is adorable! What seals the deal, though, is how the later parts of the book are so marvelously romantic, so much so that I can barely remember why I have problems getting into the book in the first place. So, while I won't consider this a keeper, I won't be surprised if one day I find myself reading it again just for re-experience these last few chapters
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