From the desk of Pamela Mingle:
Romance, mystery, and a most intriguing hero and heroine are what you’ll find in Who Wants to Marry a Duke. This is the third entry by Sabrina Jeffries in the Duke Dynasty series and can also be read as a standalone.
We first meet young Marlowe Drake, the Duke of Thornstock, at a ball, where his older half-brother Grey—Duke of Greycourt—warns him about the marriage-minded mamas lurking about. Ignoring this wise advice, Thorn quickly finds himself caught in a compromising position with a young lady.
The lady in question is Miss Olivia Norley. She offers to clean a wine stain from Thorn’s waistcoat and afterward, Thorn steals a kiss. They are seen by Olivia’s stepmother, who unbeknownst to Olivia, blackmails Thorn into offering Olivia marriage by threatening to reveal a secret about his father.
The following morning, Thorn proposes to Olivia with barely disguised contempt. He looked “…like a thief being dragged to the gallows,” so she declines. He doesn’t want to marry her, but her refusal stings, nonetheless. He believes Olivia was party to the blackmail and can’t understand why she would then reject him.
Fast forward nine years. Using a false identity, Thorn has become a playwright, and Olivia, a chemist. (No wonder she knew how to remove that stain!) At a ball hosted by his family, Thorn spots Olivia. He intends to have her thrown out, but relents when he learns that his half-brother Grey has asked her to investigate the suspicious death of his father by testing his remains for arsenic.
Thorn asks Olivia to dance and challenges her on her motives for performing the tests. All she really wants is to establish a reputation for herself. Olivia prefers chemicals to people because they act in predictable ways. The two adjourn to the garden to speak privately, and Olivia reveals she wants to publish the results of her tests. Thorn is horrified. Dukes don’t wish to have their scandals aired in public.
Olivia has fought hard over the years to put Thorn out of her mind and is irritated that she still feels an attraction to him. The inevitable happens, and this time Olivia thinks his kisses “…were as combustible as sweet oil of vitriol and nearly as dangerous.” Again, they’re almost caught, but Olivia dashes from their hiding place and pretends she was merely enjoying the heady scents of the garden.
Later, Thorn accompanies Olivia and Grey to his estate, Carymount, to help supervise the tests on the remains. During the journey, our hero and heroine find they have something in common. They both love the theater. Thorn is surprised, and pleased, that his own plays are her favorites. But he’s also worried, because two of the comic characters, Lady Grasping and Lady Slyboots, are modeled after Lady Norley and Olivia. He knows Olivia would be terribly hurt if she realized this. Upon reflection, he can’t understand why this disturbs him. Thorn finds her company “stimulating” and her love of humor “endearing.” For her part, Olivia wants love and marriage with Thorn, though she can barely admit it to herself.
Things begin to change when Thorn helps Olivia set up her lab. While doing so, he admits he no longer suspects her of anything nefarious. They surrender to their physical attraction, and if Thorn hadn’t accidentally knocked a toxic chemical off the table in his ardor, things may have gone further. Later, Thorn tells Olivia that her stepmother blackmailed him. She convinces him she played no part in that. Now there’s more than a physical attraction between them; there is trust and a mutual respect. Thorn, however, remains resistant when it comes to marriage.
Early on, I believed the book was going to be simply another marriage of convenience story. But with Olivia’s refusal of Thorn’s first offer of marriage, Jeffries flips that trope on its ear. Olivia refuses to settle for a man who’s being forced to marry her, even though she finds Thorn attractive and amusing. I loved the fact that Olivia was a chemist (and all the chemical similes the author employed!). Regency authors try hard to find meaningful work for their heroines, and Olivia’s was the most unique I’ve encountered. And Thorn’s career as a playwright, even though he had to keep it a secret, humanized him, made him something more than an arrogant duke.
The mystery, a big part of the story, is a bit hard to follow—it involves the possible murder of three dukes, including Thorn’s own father. Thorn’s ongoing suspicions of Olivia’s motives for testing the remains of Grey’s father seem irrational and contrived at times.
Who Wants to Marry a Duke is a story of love and commitment, risk and vulnerability, and ultimately, the courage to trust. Its sparkling banter, unique hero and heroine, and intriguing mystery make it irresistible.
5 out of 5 Stars
Who Wants to Marry a Duke: (Duke Dynasty Book 3), by Sabrina Jeffries
Zebra Books (August 25, 2020)
Mass Market Paperback, Ebook, & audiobook (352) pages
Cover image courtesy of Zebra Books © 2020; text Pamela Mingle © 2020, Austenprose.com