Decadent Dukes, Book 1
Heat Factor: Whew…Let me put down this fan…
Character Chemistry: I am buying what Hunter is selling
Plot: Family feud, revenge, romance
This one checks all the boxes for me:
- Strong-willed, independent, non-naive heroine
- Strong-willed, reserved, arrogant hero with all the problems
- Romantic angst that isn’t totally stupid
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I must build my defense against Holly’s eye-roll trebuchet. I don’t know why she wouldn’t like this book, but I have thought that before and been crushed (crushed, I say!) that she did not agree with my raptures. Ah, well. There’s something out there for everyone, isn’t there? Arrogant dukes are my kryptonite.
The heroine: Clara (what a great name!) is the daughter of the Earl of Marwood. She’s on the shelf at 24 and, thanks to her father’s bequest, is independently wealthy. She’s got her own level of arrogance going on because of her station, yes, but also because her grandmother is a dragon and Clara has the backbone to stand up to her. As the story begins, she’s simply going about her business of secretly publishing a woman’s journal. There’s no doubt she’s a match for our hero.
The hero: Adam inherited the dukedom of Stratton after his father committed suicide because he was being accused of treason. Not outright, just through social whispers specific enough to come from somewhere real. Stratton’s mother is French, and not of the French aristocracy, so society is ready to believe there’s sympathy in his family for Napoleon’s cause.
As the story begins, Adam meets with the young Earl and Dowager Countess of Marwood to discuss an alliance between their families. He’s been in France for the five years since his father’s death. Rumors about his father and his family’s honor followed him to France, where he was forced into several duels. Naturally he killed his man. (Honor is so inconvenient.) The Marwoods are concerned for the young Earl’s life, ostensibly because of the generations old feud between the families. Stratton thinks it’s more to do with his father’s death. He’s convinced the late Earl is at least in part responsible for the rumors that caused his father to kill himself, and he’s back for answers… And maybe revenge.
The story: This could so easily have been about a young woman who was used for her family connections in a quest for revenge. Thank you Ms. Hunter for not going that direction. Stratton is captivated by Clara at the outset because she wants nothing to do with him. He also knows that she’s old enough to have been out in society when his father died. His interest in her is a mixture of sincere interest and mercenary exploitation. I think more interest than exploitation, because he doesn’t push all that hard to get information from her or to use her against her family. He’s definitely assertive and sometimes uses situations to his own advantage, but if Clara says don’t he doesn’t.
For her part, Clara wonders if Stratton’s interest is sincere or if he’s using her, but she’s independent and has decided she doesn’t care right now. There are points at which she’s like, “That was fantastically unattractive and you need to be nice to me,” which I enjoyed because she took the time to understand Stratton but also set expectations for how she should be treated. And Stratton was like, “I get that. And I’m sorry.” So adult. I just watched Love Between the Covers, and there’s a moment when Beverly Jenkins says something along the lines of, “I want a heroine who’s got her life together and the man is just the cherry on the top of the whipped cream.” That’s Clara.
So Stratton is dealing with his angst and Clara is adulting like a champ and they’re having fun doing it. That being said, the tone of this book is dark. Stratton is all kinds of broody. There is some real conflict between the families that trickles into the relationship, and considering we’re dealing with suicide and treason the dark tone is understandable. Both Stratton and Clara are not particularly emotive or effusive. They know what they want and they go for it, although it takes Clara a little while to come around. No need for drama when their families bring all the drama. It’s so nice when adults behave like adults.
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