Publication date: June 18, 2013
Publisher: Pocket BooksSeries: The Duke's Men #1
This is the first in Jeffries's new series, The Duke's Men, and features our eponymous duke, Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons.
Max became the heir to the dukedom after a report claiming the death of his kidnapped older brother, Peter. He has long mourned his brother's death, until he gets a mysterious note from Tristan Bonnaud, whom he met only briefly, claiming that his brother is alive. However, when Tristan failed to show up at their arranged meeting, Max decided to storm Tristan's half-brother, Dominick Manton's, residence in search for answers.
Lisette Bonnaud was insulted when the angry duke who forced entry in her half-brother's residence thought she was Dom's mistress. Lisette had been helping Dom's private investigations for a while, and knowing that Tristan would willingly never return to England, manipulated the duke into taking her to find Tristan in France, delaying him from calling the authorities to have her family arrested. Thus began a journey from England to France of two lonely strangers who assumed the guise of married gentry, both carrying family secrets, soon to gave in to the blazing desire between them and bare all secrets of the heart.
The majority of the book is focused on characterizations of Max and Lisette. Both are wonderfully complex characters who have endured much at the hands of their own loving yet erring families. Max bears one of the greatest burdens of any hero I've read, that of fearing he will succumb to madness that overtook the males of his family. He was not the favored child of his family, and naturally he felt even more distance from his parents after his brother's abduction and death. What's more, having seen his mother crumpling down in the last years of his father's illness left him unwilling to marry for love, in order to spare another the same grief of attending him as he eventually succumbs to madness. Max's painful struggle to push Lisette away from him, despite wanting her comfort, tugs at my heart throughout most of the story, until he becomes a foolishly stubborn duke and hurts Lisette.
Lisette is by far my favorite Jeffries heroine. She is the illegitimate daughter of a viscount who promised loved her mother but could not give her marriage before his death. Her father's heir, George, detests Lisette and Tristan, and turned them to poverty before accusing Tristan of a crime. From a young age, she became strong and took care of herself, vowing never to marry or become anyone's mistress. What truly captured my heart is how she so easily saw the hurt in Max, and very unconditionally gave her love to him. Her later refusal to marry him unless he allowed her to care for him when he becomes mad is another sign of her incredibly caring nature, something that I feel makes Max almost unworthy of her.
The plot of the story is fast-paced and engaging, fraught with intrigue and dangers, but still with a focus on characterization. I was ready to give this book 5 stars until the last bit of the story, in which a HUGE amount of family secrets came tumbling out, making the story very rushed and almost unbelievable. It was then that Max did something stupidly selfish and hurt Lisette, and I was only able to forgive him slightly at the end. Suffice it to say, despite the twists and turns at the end, this is a great read with engaging characters. This book has a darker tone than most of Jeffries's other books, but lacks not in its rich scenery descriptions, intense emotional and sexual attraction, and endearing characters.
Having had a glimpse of one future pairing, I highly anticipate the next addition to The Duke's Men and hope that fans of Sabrina Jeffries will pick up this series right away.
*I received an ARC from the publisher via edelweiss
Rating: 4 tulips