Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “Thank you for the lesson in county etiquette. Whatever would I do without you, Ives? No doubt just bumble along, embarrassing myself.”
Lancelot (lance) Hemingford, Duke of Aylesbury, has been languishing away at the family estate for nine months. Suspected of murdering his brother, his remaining siblings felt it best for him to stay out of sight and trouble until the inquiry is complete. A chance meeting with a young woman stirs his attentions but it’s not until he is offered complete exoneration in exchange for taking her hand in marriage does Lance begin to think that maybe he has a chance at freedom.
Marianne Radley and her mother are dependant on her uncle for their very livelihood. Forced back into his home, Marianne only agrees to do so in order to be closer to her cousin, Nora. When her uncle commands her to marry the Duke, Marianne bulks at marrying a confirmed rake and possible murderer. Given a choice of marriage or poverty for her family, Marianne agrees to the marriage.
Lance and Marianne are virtual strangers but they have one thing in common, a growing passion. However, Marianne has a secret. A secret that could destroy her marriage and growing romance should her new husband discover the role she has played in his demise.
The Wicked Duke is the third and final installment in Hunter’s Wicked trilogy. A lush, emotional, witty, and intriguing trilogy that follows a trio of brothers as they find love while trying to deal with the death of their older and disliked brother. While each book is a standalone in terms of main characters and romance, there an ongoing storyline that flows and expands with each brother’s story.
Lance Hemingford is considered a very wicked man, rumored to have engaged in some very, very naughty activities only spoken in whispers amongst the more experienced. Yet for all his supposed debauchery, he isn’t cruel or one to assume his title makes him infallible. He doesn’t take what is not offered and stays away from the innocent and inexperienced. He cares very much for his family and shows a soft heart for the misfortunate.
Marianne Radley is innocent but not ignorant of the world around her. She has known poverty and is very in tune with her circumstances in the world. She is a champion for her cousin, Nora, who suffered a traumatic experience as a teenager. Marianne’s devotion to Nora is so strong she engages in some activities that would be frowned upon by her family and society as a whole. She stands firmly against injustice, risking her own perilous place in life to ensure the people she loves stay safe.
Slow to start, Hunter takes her time setting the scene while introducing the heroine and her background. Using two well known classic historical tropes- a libertine who falls for an innocent lady and a marriage of convenience- Hunter makes it her own by adding some twists, turns, and witty narrative.
“When you said you would call on me and demand a carriage ride, I did not think you meant it,” she said. “As you can see, Nora is not grateful for the opportunity.”
“I am sorry she was obligated to join us. I would have been glad for your company alone.”
Such subtle flirtation did not come naturally to him. Since she did not so much as blush, he must have been very subtle indeed.
Lance’s flirtation towards Marianne starts out as a way to alleviate boredom with a pretty woman but soon he finds his attraction is true. They dance around one another, fencing with words, flirting lightly towards a purpose. When Marianne’s uncle decides to intervene, determined to make Lance pay for a perceived crime against his family and essentially blackmails Lance, Lance doesn’t seem to mind as much as one would have thought. He is ready to settle and he genuinely likes Marianne. It is at this time the story begins to pick up it’s pace, giving us clues towards the arc and giving our protagonists the means in which push forward with the romance.
“I have decided to propose,” he said.
“Marriage. I am asking you to marry me.”
What an astounding thing for him to say. “Why?”
“That is not how you are supposed to reply.”
“It is the only response I have. After all, you are a duke. You can marry anyone. And while we have a little friendship of sorts, neither one of us is in love with the other, so unless there is a good reason why, I have to wonder if you are toying with me in a different, crueler way.”
“I am not that bad, or that unkind. As for why—”
She waited. He did not seem to have an answer.
“You amuse me,” he said, proving he had at least one.
“We get on well enough too.”
“Your requirements are not very high if ‘well enough’ satisfies you.”
I will be honest in that found this one to be rather tame in comparison to the last two. Especially when you consider that the hero was heralded as the worse of the brothers in terms of behavior. I expected to see more passion, fire, and frankly, attitude. Both characters are rather quiet. Not to say they didn’t object to some of the paths that were forced upon them but after some expected resistance, they both fell into line pretty easily. Again, it is the witty narrative and banter between Lance and Marianne that kept my attention engaged.
I did enjoy divulging deeper into Lance’s persona and background, learning why he acts the way he does however I never warmed up to Marianne as an individual or as his HEA. Lance’s childhood was not pleasant. Percy, his older brother, was a spoiled man who felt his status as heir to the title entitled him to anything or anyone he wanted. Lance was often ignored by his parents and tortured by Percy. His way of seeking attention was to act out.
Marianne had a rather average childhood. Her father and brother’s passing left her family’s home in the hands of her uncle. She and her mother were shuffled off to small cottage and given just enough to live on. It wasn’t bliss but Marianne seems not to have minded. She has a particular air of self-righteousness and a judgemental attitude that was hard to ignore. She claims not to like gossip but is sure to avail herself to it at every opportunity. I did not like that she instantly believed the worse about Lance ( a user and abuser) on just hearsay. She is more the user in this relationship when she chooses to go out of her way to use his misfortunes as a stepping stone in her own plans. She also blames him indirectly for her attraction to him. There was one scene that didn’t set well with me.
The romance itself was a lovely interlude. Lance and Marianne do have chemistry between them. I adored that Lance takes his time wooing her and introducing her to the joys of the marriage bed, taking into consideration her innocence and fears.
We do meet some new characters while past characters (Lance’s brothers and their wives, along with Gareth’s mother) make appearances. I continue to love the frank and witty speech between Lance and his family. They truly care for one another and are not concerned with how society views them. I enjoyed their scenes together. Nora, Marianne’s cousin, has a unique way of viewing the world and I liked that we are left feeling she also gets her happily ever after. Marianne’s mother was quite entertaining in her ability to capitalize on any situation.
The main conflict resolves itself thoroughly though with little fan fair. Hunter pulls in a ringer to help tie it all together and we are left knowing justice has been served. Though not my favorite of the trilogy, it is a fair ending to an overall enjoyable series.