I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Collin "Cole" Talmage is now the Duke of Trenwyth after the death of his mother, father, and older brother. The crown still has need of him and his spy capabilities but for one night at a brothel, he's going to forget it all in the arms of a raven haired woman.
Imogene spends her days as a nurse and nights as "Ginny”, a barkeep in a brothel. When Cole and his soldiers walk in, he instantly captures her attention. Their one night together will never be forgotten but the next two years will shake up both their worlds.
Cole and Imogene now live next door to one another but will pain and pride keep them miles apart?
The man had been scoundrel and saint. Heathen and hero. A dangerous man and a deferential lover.
Fourth in the Victorian Rebels series, The Duke, could be read as a standalone. The couples from the previous books all make extended appearances but while readers of the series will enjoy getting glimpses of favorites, newcomers will enjoy how they help to fill out the world the author has created; you might wonder how some relationships were formed but you won't be lost here. The author's talent of creating strong characters with dark pasts continues but I felt this one was a little slower paced. The sometimes leaning toward purple prose and tendency to wax poetic stood out a bit more in fault because of the slowness. The repetitive comparing of the hero to a beast also became redundant and left me wanting more emotional and interaction scenes instead of lines of telling me what the hero looked like.
"You haven't any idea the strength it takes to be a woman."
I really enjoyed the premise of the story, Cole and Imogene sharing one night, circumstances keep them apart, hidden identities, danger, and then coming together. This is somewhat of an enemies-to-lovers trope story, however, Cole doesn't recognize Imogene but she knows who he is the whole time. Cole's story of being captured, tortured, and then shutting himself off from the world isn't anything new to the romance genre. Yet, he's a little different because we don't usually see our heroes be on the snobby side of classism, which he is. He never crosses an unredeemable line, and is in fact probably more historically accurate, but you might want to throw your sherry in his face a time or two. Imogene also follows some trope lines but again, feels slightly different. She has to work in a brothel to work off money her father owed, deals with a sexist doctor as a nurse, and becomes a bit of a Cinderella by marrying a patient. Anstruther is Imogene's elderly patient, an earl, and ends up marrying her to save her. The glimpses we get of him here have me wanting a novella of him and his former wife Sarah; he was so kind and funny.
She was a woman of desire, of spirit and determination.
Cole and Imogene have fire and emotion but after their initial meeting, it takes a while to get there. Cole is an extremely bitter person after his capture and torture with the Ottomans and persists on being fairly rude to Imogene for more than half of the story. I think having him discover her as his "Ginny" earlier on, would have given me more of the loving time I craved between the two. I really enjoyed Imogene as a character from her strength to her compassion but I feel like we missed some parts of her by never really seeing her family. It felt extremely odd to show her working in a brothel for her mother and sister and never getting to meet them (we briefly glimpse the sister). The family dynamic would have added more emotional dimension to her character.
The ending felt extremely rushed with the reveal and wrap-up of the villain almost giving me whiplash. I really enjoy this author's writing but the execution felt a little off here with too much focus on overwriting Cole's physical stature, a meandering middle, and not enough love between our couple. However, even when this author uses tropes, she still manages to put a spin that have them feeling new and intriguing. Plus, if you're missing all your favorite couples from previous books, their appearances here will have you smiling. I'll still be anticipating books from this series, especially a certain Inspector as he seems to have some secrets to tell.