Reviewed by Mandi
Meredith Duran is an author that has quietly become a favorite historical author of mine. I’ve read almost all of her books and have rated all of them favorably so it’s a fun time when she has a new release.
I have a weakness for cold, broken, tortured heroes and the duke of Marwick, Alastair de Grey’s demeanor wooed me from the beginning. Once happily married, or so he thought, his wife died and then he discovers her numerous affairs. Not only were men visiting her bed, but she was giving away political secrets that Alastair had confided. This sends Alastair into a huge downward spiral. If you read the previous book, That Scandalous Summer, you meet Alastair and his behavior is quite shocking (you don’t need to read That Scandalous Summer to enjoy this book, although it is a good book). He is so angry, that he locks himself in his room so he doesn’t take to the streets and murder the men that betrayed him. His staff is now terrified of him, and without any supervision, have become quite lax in their duties. This brings us to our heroine.
Olivia Mather almost died in a ditch, at the hands of an assassin. A political man named Bertram has become obsessed with her and hires someone to kill her. She ends up surviving and decides to stop running from him and to get revenge. How?
The disarray of this household would work to her advantage. Her aim was to rifle the duke’s belongings, for his late wife’s letters suggested that he kept files on his political colleagues, dossiers that evidenced their crimes. If this was true, Olivia needed to find the files. There was a certain man she very much needed to blackmail.
That man is Bertram and Olivia decides to go about this by getting hired as Alastair’s housekeeper. A secretary by training, his staff is in such disarray, she easily gets hired and access to him. But I don’t think she is remotely ready for the true state of Alastair’s despair:
But there had been no mystery, no injustice, in her death: her own stupid vice had caused it. Likewise, it would be no injustice if her lovers died. No mystery either. It would be murder. It would be murder if Alastair left this house.
So he does not leave this house. He does not even leave this room.
He looks into his palms. His eyes have grown accustomed to the dark he has made for himself, behind these curtains that never open. He sees clearly his lifelines, supposed harbingers of fortune: another lie, as much a lie as honor or ideals. He curls his lip. Fuck these lies.
Olivia has a lot of spirit and is stubborn. She every so slowly forces her way into Alastair’s room, and brings him out. Gives him a reason to leave the house (even if that reason is that she made him mad). And together they finally realize they have the same enemy in common.
The first 20% of this book is a little slow. It takes awhile to get a clear picture of Alastair’s unorganized staff and to learn about Olivia’s reasons for wanting to steal Alastair’s documents. But around the 20% mark, things start to pick up. We get to see more of Alastair and I found his brutish behavior quite intriguing. Duran writes a very good broken hero. There is one scene when Olivia walks in and he has a gun on the floor and he is kind of holding his head in hands over it, that really portrays just how low he is. It also shows a brave side to Olivia, and I think Alastair gains respect for her in this scene.
It’s not total devastation though. Olivia and Alastair have some really fun banter, as he is extremely grumpy, and she refuses to play along with his woes. There is also some very nice sexual tension – in particular when Olivia gives Alastair a hair cut.
He was staring at her.
She could feel his attention like a hot brand against her cheek. She would not let herself look, but she could envision his eyes, so intensely blue, like subsuming oceans. His breath coasted over her arm, hot, soft. As she leaned in, her wrist brushed against his cheek, and she felt the roughness of his beard. Her mouth went dry.
No. This was not happening. She snipped as quickly as she dared. This close, she could smell the soap on his skin. A clean, fresh musk. Her heart was tripping now; she could not quite manage a steady breath.
Although I liked the sexual tension, when Alastair first kisses Olivia I remember thinking – hmmm…that seems a little out of place. And while I did get into their romance, I ended the book not 100% convinced they would be happy together forever. I think Duran writes him so damaged and angry at the world, I needed to see him a little more at peace before the end of the book. Maybe an epilogue would have helped this. I like that once Alastair leaves his room, he isn’t suddenly changed and happy and everything is rainbows. I like that he stays angry, but I needed a little better balance with a happier duke. Despite that, I still enjoyed this one.