The Duke Next Door

Celeste Bradley
April 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
St. Martin's, $6.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312939698
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

The Duke Next Door features one of the most infuriating heroes I’ve ever come across. That’s also not to say I disliked the book - or the hero, really. To tell you the truth, I quite liked him.

Calder Marbrook, the Marquis of Brookhaven, was just left at the alter. His first wife died in mysterious, almost scandalous, circumstances and the other left him at the alter in favor of his younger brother. His bad luck with women is now legendary.

Deirdre Cantor will become the heiress of her grandfather’s fortune if she lands herself a duke, or in this case, one who will eventually become a duke. Secretly she’s had Calder in mind for years, ever since the inquest into his wife’s death when she observed his handsome but lonely countenance. When her cousin left him for another (his younger illegitimate brother no less), she sees it as her perfect opportunity. She knows now is the time to propose to Calder, to catch him while he’s down.

From the moment Calder brings Deirdre back to his London home, his infuriating, impractical commands begin. First he introduces her to his never before mentioned daughter, then he commands that she rear the child and threatens her with social banishment and no new gowns if she refuses. This is only the beginning of his bad behavior. Deirdre, who’s always been a fighter, digs in her heels and is just as stubborn. She’s convinced that through manipulation, she can bring Calder around, introduce love into his life, and make him a good father and husband.

Obviously both Deirdre and Calder have some major hurdles to jump. The mistakes that both (mainly Calder) make along the way are practically a comedy of errors. To throw another monkey wrench into the plot, the men who have held Deirdre’s grandfather’s fortune in trust, desperately need to keep it, and one of them is willing to go to extreme measures to do so.

To be honest, this story is a true wallpaper historical. The plot is nothing new and many of the secondary characters are quite typical of Regency romances. However, what I really enjoyed most about this book were the characters, including the infuriating Calder, who is one hundred and eighty degrees away from the quintessential Regency rake. Matter of fact, I don’t remember reading about a more awkward romance hero. However, what made him somehow endearing and redeemable to me was the fact that when he bungles, he's instantly aware of it, regrets his actions, but is too romantically inept to maneuver his way out of it. He is a man who has been isolated most of his life, trained to be the next duke, and above most social interactions. His first wife, unbeknownst to him, hated him, was in love with another man, all of which he was completely unaware. He simply has never had love and doesn’t know how to give love in return, even to his own daughter.

The other characters are an interesting mix. Deirdre has her own demons. Through Calder she seeks the love that has been absent in her life since her father’s death and her upbringing at the hands of a cruel, abusive step-mother. She’s a survivor who's carried a torch for Calder for a long time and is convinced that she can force him to love her. Calder’s daughter and butler round out the other characters who enrich the story.

There was one moment where I simply had to put the book down and walk away for a while. It comes near the resolution and involves Calder’s daughter and a rescue attempt that is simply ridiculous. I had to force my way through the scene when I managed to come back to it. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me, but I did gnash some teeth.

While The Duke Next Door wasn’t anything new in terms of plot, it was an interesting study of characters. I look forward to reading the last edition to the Heiress Brides series, The Duke Most Wanted, in May.

-- Heather Brooks

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