Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Duke by Gaelen Foley *****

I read this book because it's on the AAR Top 100 of 2007 and I have a quest to read them all. To be perfectly honest, about 1/3 of the way in, I was thinking this was a 3-star/average read. Frankly, the writing style wasn't particularly stellar, the way I like 5 star reads to be. If another character crossed his arms over his chest, I was gonna scream. I was envisioning all these people with their hands on their opposite shoulders - how else does one cross one's arms over one's chest??

And also, there was the idea that a gentlewoman who had been raped once could become a worldly courtesan in just a few weeks - and still not have had sex any other time than the brutal rape - and yet she was highly sought after, with no experience whatsoever. She must have been quite an actress, is all I can say. It just stretched my personal credibility somewhat.

Of course, the author finished the story with such a bang, that by the time she was done, I had already decided to go up to 4 stars and then maybe even 4.5. Since I don't use 1/2 star ratings here, I just went ahead and gave it 5 stars and can totally understand that some feel it's a true keeper. (I did not put it in my keeper shelf, however.)

To be honest, although the story blurbs indicate it is a story about a duke and a courtesan, it's very important to realize that Belinda Hamilton didn't start out a courtesan, and indeed did not want to be a courtesan. She felt that was her very last resort - at a suggestion of a lowly prostitute, who told her she was beautiful enough to be one. She was penniless, having been abandoned by her boyfriend, and her father had been thrown in jail by another titled gentleman (Dolph) who was obssessed with having her, and so sought to ruin her so he could.

The Paragon Duke of Hawkscliffe was for all intents and purposes a saint. He had raised his younger siblings, of whom only 1 was fully related, the other 3 were by-blows from his mother's affairs. He had one true love who died young, married to another, that he only loved from afar. He was a Tory by birth but felt personally responsible for righting injustices that were really only espoused by the rival party, the Whigs. Nary a scandal was associated with Hawk... until...

His lady love's widower, the elderly Earl of Coldfell, led Hawk to believe the young woman was murdered - and by his nephew, Dolph. Yes, the same Dolph who is also besotted with Belinda, enough to ruin her so she would be in his clutches. He's an evil, evil man!! Allegedly anyway.

As revenge, Hawk presents Bel with a proposition: he will be her protector for 2 months for some enormous sum; she will go along with the ruse to help him get a confession from Dolph; Hawk will not require her services in bed. WTF?? Well, as it turns out, it's the perfect arrangement for Bel since she is all but a virgin, and scared of men to boot. And he's such a paragon - how could he press her for sex?

As time goes by, they do grow a serious attraction one for the other, and Bel - harlot that she is - does step up the intimacies without actually getting a home run for a while, if you catch my drift. Hawk is totally, deeply falling in love with her BUT he is still conflicted, and part of him still sees her as a money-grubbing social-climbing high-priced whore. And face it: he's a duke and cannot marry someone of her station, either as the poor gentlewoman or the high-priced courtesan.

Eventually he realizes he must marry elsewhere, and he must break it to Bel. At this point, she's regained her self-esteem and sense of worth. Plus she did make one rule when she became a courtesan - she would not have a married man as her protector. Keep in mind, she's only had sex with 2 men - the rapist, and Hawk by this point, so she's still pretty inexperienced except for her lessons in Hawk's bed.

This is when it really started to tug on my heartstrings in a big way. He was so fully besotted but still had his honor and could not imagine marrying Bel or not marrying at all either. She stuck to her principles, though, and when she learned he was to marry, she left him. (this was after confronting Dolph about the alleged murder of Coldfell's wife)

There were a couple more plot twists which I had figured out pretty early on, and then not only a HEA but a major grand gesture that was really quite heartwarming. Yes, Lord Hawk groveled like the worm he was.

As it turns out, this is the first book in a long series - which I started to suspect as we met various of Hawk's siblings and they were introduced as if we might learn their story later. Plus it fits the Spring 2009 Challenge as a book from the AAR Top 100. 5 stars.

1 comment:

Kristie (J) said...

I've read all the books in this series except the last one which was a DNF for me and although this is the favourite of many, I didn't care for it as much as some of the others in the series. I think my favourite was Lady of Desire followed by Lord of Fire.