The Duke’s Perfect Wife
By Jennifer Ashley
Release Date: April 3, 2012
In The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (2009), the book that introduced readers to Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie brothers, Ian says, “All of us are mad in some way. . . . I have a memory that won’t let go of details. Hart is obsessed with politics and money. Cameron is a genius with horses, and Mac paints like a god. . . . We all have our madness. Mine is just the most obvious.” In The Duke’s Perfect Wife, the “madness” of Hart Mackenzie, Duke of Kilmorgan is revealed. As the eldest of the brothers, Hart fought to protect his brothers from their father’s brutality, and the consequences of his assuming this responsibility are heavy guilt for the times he failed to protect them and an obsessive need to control everyone and everything around him. This need fuels his political ambition, his well-intentioned interference in his brothers’ lives, and his dark secrets.
Lady Eleanor Ramsay was betrothed to Hart more than a decade ago but broke off the relationship. Since then, Eleanor has lived in genteel poverty in Aberdeen, and her contact with Hart has been minimal. But when Eleanor receives a photograph that could prove damaging to Hart’s political plan, she follows her instinct to go to London and share the information with Hart. She knows Hart in ways that no one else does. Not even to his brothers has Hart disclosed the self he shared with Eleanor. She understands the motives underlying his controlling ways:
That was what Hart Mackenzie always wanted, she realized. For others to surrender to him, to let him be their master. Not because he wanted to punish them, or to have his own way, but for their own good, because he wanted to take care of them. Those who didn't understand that dashed themselves to bits on him.
What Eleanor doesn’t know is that Hart has already determined that Eleanor is the perfect wife for him. He will not lose her again. She stirs his passion more powerfully than any other woman, but beyond that, he needs her warmth and openness. The chemistry between them has lost not of its potency, and Hart finds proof that Eleanor has never stopped caring for him. She loves the younger Hart of her memories, a man whose darkness is tempered by joy and hope and vitality; she loves the controlled, obsessive, wounded man he has become. But can her trust in him be restored? Can he protect her from the darkest part of himself?
Like much of the romance-reading world, I fell in love with Ashley’s Mackenzies when I read Ian’s book, which proved to be my top read of 2009. I eagerly read Mac’s book (Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage) and Cam’s book (The Many Sins of Lord Cameron) and waited impatiently to see Hart achieve his HEA. I finished The Duke’s Perfect Wife believing that Eleanor was Hart’s ideal match and imagining their enjoying a long, happy life together.
The reunion story is my favorite trope, and I expected this one to be a favorite after I read the teaser chapter. My expectations were realized. Eleanor is Hart’s opposite in personality and experience, but she is his equal in tenacity and strength of will. Their passion for one another is hot enough to scorch the pages, but their emotional connection is just as powerful. Hart maintains his imperious, impervious façade relentlessly, but Eleanor sees the loneliness and the fear beneath. Her love is strong enough to heal his brokenness. Ashley affirms Eleanor’s role as Hart’s healer throughout the novel. Hart looks at her and thinks “She held out a salve, with a smile, offering peace.” Later, he realizes that “Eleanor’s smile wiped out the cloud of memory.” And yet later: “Warm, sweet Eleanor. He wanted to bathe in her and cleanse himself of all the things he’d done and all the things he would do in the name of making himself prime minister.” But despite the prevalence of such imagery, Eleanor is no saccharine saint. The term “alpha hero” is used too loosely in my opinion, frequently applied to tortured loners who are as far from leaders as one can get. But Hart is a true alpha, relishing his power but using it to protect and advance the interests of his “pack.” Eleanor is an independent, stubborn, passionate woman who is aware of but not intimidated by his alphaness.
Another of the joys of this book is the presence of the rest of the Mackenzies, who now include three wives and half a dozen children. Ian particularly plays a significant role in the story. My favorite character in the series and one of the most brilliantly conceived characters in romance fiction, Ian is happy with Beth and their children, but he continues to march to his own drum.
Readers anticipating full disclosure of Hart’s dark desires may be disappointed in the revelations of this book. Other than some mild bondage, the revelations are couched in general terms about trust and surrender. I was bothered more by the delay of details about Eleanor and Hart’s shared past. I know the bias against prologues is entrenched, but this is one book where I would have liked a prologue that allowed me to see the younger Eleanor and Hart. Nevertheless, The Duke’s Perfect Wife is another Ashley keeper for me. It was a satisfying conclusion to the tales of the brothers Mackenzie, and I’m delighted that at least two more books will allow me to visit their world again.
Today is another Super Tuesday in Romancelandia. In addition to The Duke’s Perfect Wife, I also highly recommend the following books being released today:
Paris in Love by Eloisa James, definitely one of my top reads of 2012.See my review here and reviews by Terri O at Romance Writers Revenge here and by Andrea at The Romance Dish here.
About That Night by Julie James, a romantic comedy about adults with great characters and lots of sizzle. See my review here.
Just Down the Road by Jodi Thomas, a new Harmony book with another unconventional H/H. See my review here.
April 3 releases added to my TBR collection include:
- On His Honor (Deep in the Heart/MacAllisters #7) by Jean Brashear
- Deadly Dance (A-Tac #5) by Dee Davis
- Betrayal (Scarlet Deception #3) by Christina Dodd
- How to Ravish a Duke (How to Book #3) by Vickie Dreiling
- The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck
- The Call of Bravery (A Brotrher’s Word #3) by Janice Kay Johnson
- If I Fall by Kate Noble
- The Princess and the Peer (Princess Brides #1) by Tracey Anne Warren
What April 3 releases are you most anticipating?