Series: Unlikely Duchesses, #1
on December 31st 2018
Genres: Regency Romance
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
First love is always the sweetest.
For years, Abigail Linton devoted herself to caring for her aging parents and the children of her siblings. Now, eager to make her own life, she takes a position as governess on the neighboring estate. It shouldn’t matter that her absentee employer is Maxwell Bryce, the Duke of Rothwell, the infamous rake who once broke her youthful heart. Surely he’s forgotten her, for he hasn’t set foot on his estate for fifteen years. At least, that is, until he arrives unexpectedly.
Max is incensed to meet his sister’s new governess. But why does Abby appear just as displeased to see him when it was she who’d rejected him all those years ago? Why is he so drawn to the independent spinster she has become? And why is there a sparkle in her beautiful blue eyes that suggests they might have a second chance at love?
Award-winning author Olivia Drake begins her new Unlikely Duchesses series with THE DUKE I ONCE KNEW. With compelling characters and skillful plot twists, Drake’s latest novel will take your breath away.
The Duke I Once Knew is a delightful introduction to author Olivia Drake and I’m thrilled to find she has a vast catalog from which to explore. But first to share my thoughts on this story about young love, miss communication and missed opportunities between near spinster Abby Linton and the apparent libertine Maxwell Bryce.
When Abby finds herself tired of living the life prescribed by her family, she strikes out on her own to become the governess to the neighboring Duke of Rothwell’s young sister, Lady Gwendolyn. She fears not that her once upon a time beloved Maxwell Brice (said Duke Rothwell) would return to this estate as he hasn’t been there for years. But fate has other things in mind for Abby and Max and circumstances throw the two together again. The story is rich with interfering companions made up of friends and also would be lovers who are spiteful and at times villainous.
I loved the tension brought on by the “what ifs” that both Abby and Max share. Their history is complicated by traditional social standings and propriety but Abby is independent and a bold thinker. Despite this, her misgivings for Max bear weight:
“Tears overflowing her eyes, she sank back onto the bed and buried her face in her hands. It was best to face the truth. Maxwell Bryce, the Duke of Rothwell, did not love her. Nor would he ever. He would always be an incorrigible rake.”
He doesn’t deny his rakish way, but Max is also very broken and distrustful and the fact he surrounds himself with nefarious people does nothing to endear himself to Abby. Nevertheless Max is a redeemable character and I held out hope that he’s see his way understanding what he always knew and now denies, his love for Abby. He proves himself a romantic and I felt myself swoon at his grand gesture to secure Abby’s trust.
The Duke I Once Knew is another example of why I love reading Regency romance and Olivia Drake has found a new fan in me. I’m excited to read her earlier works but most to have found her at the beginning of this series. I very much look forward to the future books in this series. 5 Stars and recommendation!
~Review by Cyndi
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The sounds of cooing and kissing mortified her. Good heavens, would they never stop? Anyone might walk into the library! They ought to have the decency to take their amorous activities upstairs to a bedchamber.
But, of course, Rothwell did not possess a shred of de- cency. It made her cringe to recall that she herself had once fallen prey to his allure.
She risked another look over the edge of the table. Her eyes goggled.
The duke was delving beneath the hem of his par- amour’s gown, sliding his hand up her ankle and out of sight. The ladybird squirmed and squealed in a frisky at- tempt at evasion. He leaned down and silenced her play- ful protests with a masterful kiss.
Abby sank back down again. Her pulse pounded and a blush heated her inside and out. She oughtn’t be so scan- dalized. Rothwell had a reputation as a notorious rake. Over the years, she had heard many a tale whispered among the neighbors of his disgraceful doings. Yet it was one thing to listen to idle gossip and quite another to actu- ally witness him in the throes of depravity.
And here she was, trapped. What was she to do?
If she made her presence known, the duke would find out that Miss Abigail Linton was the new governess. She could not be absolutely certain that he had forgotten her. And if he did remember, he surely would dismiss her on the spot, for he wanted nothing to do with her.
Her spirits fell into a fit of the dismals. That would mark the end of her little adventure out into the world. Oh, she could apply for a position elsewhere, but who would hire her if she’d been summarily discharged from her previous post? She would be forced to return to her brother’s house and resume her predictable life as the maiden aunt, grow- ing withered and gray, shuttled between relatives, with no real say in her future.
The very thought was suffocating.
Nevertheless, she could not continue to crouch here while the two lovers were smooching and whispering. What if their intimate activities escalated? What if they did the deed right here, right now?
The horrid prospect spurred Abby to action. She must try to sneak out of the library unobserved. It was her only hope.
Dropping to her hands and knees, she crept along the carpet, weaving a path between the tables. Her long skirts hampered her progress, forcing her to inch along at a snail’s pace. Rothwell’s black boots were visible through a forest of chair legs. At least he was too distracted to notice her, judging by the amorous sounds emanating from across the room. To be safe, she made a wide berth around the couple. Feverish plans raced through her head. If only she could reach the door and slip out, then all might be well. Per- haps she could convince Lady Gwendolyn not to mention the new governess to her brother. And what of Lady Hes- ter? Was there a chance that she could be persuaded to bide her tongue, too? Should Abby confess the truth and en- list her help? Was it possible to stay out of sight until he departed the Court?
Sweet heaven, how long did he intend to stay?
In the midst of her meditations, she couldn’t help over- hearing the syrupy drivel of their tête-à-tête.
“Your Grace, you are too bold! Such a naughty boy you are!”
“I left boyhood behind long ago. Shall I demonstrate?” “Mm, no. You mustn’t . . . ah, yes. Yes!”
Abby grimaced under a tide of acute embarrassment. As she crawled closer to the door, she glared in the di- rection of the lovers. She could just see Rothwell’s legs pressed against a froth of cream skirts. Blast him and his debauchery! He was the worst of rogues, the king of scoundrels. A more wicked man had never been born—! Too caught up in remonstrations to watch where she was going, Abby bumped her hip hard against a mahog- any pedestal. A little squeak escaped before she could clap her hand to her mouth. At the same instant, a faint clank-ing noise drew her attention upward.
The globe atop the pedestal wobbled precariously. As she watched in horror, the sphere toppled from its perch and clunked onto the floor, where it rolled straight past the chairs and tables to land at Rothwell’s heels.
“What the devil—!”
Frozen in concealment, Abby watched wide-eyed through the maze of table legs as his boots shifted around. A large male hand flashed down to stop the spinning of the globe. Any faint hope that he might assume it had fallen of its own accord vanished in a millisecond.
Rothwell strode forward, his footfalls sharp and deci- sive. He came straight to her. To her great consternation, she found herself gazing at the polished black leather of his boots only a few inches away.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing in here?”
Abby raised her chin only slightly, keeping her face averted. It was best that he didn’t gaze fully at her—or hear the normal pitch of her voice lest it trigger his memory. “I’m just a servant,” she whispered, “tending to my duties.” “Speak up! Why did you not make your presence known at once?”
His dictatorial tone shredded her better judgment. “I was trying to leave discreetly,” she flared. “It didn’t strike me as wise to interrupt your tryst.” She paused, then added in a more servile tone, “I do beg your pardon, Your Grace.” She felt his gaze boring down like a physical force that threatened to smother her. She wanted badly to look up, to glare into his face and tell him in no uncertain terms exactly what she thought of him.
But that would be highly imprudent.
With lightning swiftness, he clamped his hands around her upper arms and hauled Abby to her feet. She found herself staring up into a pair of wintry gray eyes set in a face of unabashed masculinity. Although a dissipated life had hardened his expression and etched faint lines on either side of his mouth, he was more disturbingly hand- some than ever. He also seemed taller and tougher, his chest broader and his shoulders wider.
She hated that he still had the power to make the breath catch in her throat. Worse, she hated that he had the au- thority to dismiss her with a snap of his arrogant fingers. As she racked her beleaguered brain for a way to convince him not to do so, something flickered in those icy eyes.