When the Duke Was Wicked
By Lorraine Heath
February 25, 2014
Lady Grace Mabry is one of the successes of the London season with her dance card filled at every ball and suitors too numerous to count. But Grace is troubled by her inability to detect which suitors are interested in her and which are interested only in the large dowry that is hers as the daughter of a wealthy, powerful duke. The unhappy marriages of friends who thought they were marrying men who loved them have made her even more reluctant to trust her feelings about her suitors. Because of their parents’ long friendship, Grace has known Henry Stanford, Duke of Lovingdon, all her life. He came to her rescue when she was a child, and she has faith that he will help her now. She asks him to use his greater knowledge of love to help her separate the fortune hunters from the men whose affections are sincere.
Lovingdon is no longer the man who was young Grace’s hero. The death of his wife and daughter of typhus two years early has left him filled with grief, anger, guilt, and a determination never to allow himself to be vulnerable to such wrenching pain again. Since the deaths of Juliette and Margaret, Lovingdon has blocked thoughts of the happiness he once knew and withdrawn from the life he had shared with family and friends. He has devoted himself to a life of debauchery, indulging his carnal appetites to the fullest but refusing to feel anything beyond physical pleasure. He answers Grace’s question about what it is like to experience a great love:
“You laugh, you smile. You have secrets to which no one else is privy. You can communicate without words. You know what each other is thinking. There is a sense of euphoria. But it all comes with a price, Grace. Losing it can destroy you, turn you into little more than a hollow shell.”
But he refuses to help her sort out her suitors.
Grace is persistent, however, and Lovingdon soon finds himself forced to recognize that Grace is no longer a child. He thinks of her far more often than he is comfortable doing, and even as he insists he will never love a woman other than his late wife, he hates the idea of Grace with another man. It takes a near tragedy to teach him that real love is worth risking the pain of loss.
Maybe it’s the influence of all those sweeping family sagas I read when I was young, but whatever the reason, I love series that continue into a second generation. So I was delighted that Heath’s newest series is connected to her five-book Scoundrels of St. James series. Lovingdon is the son of Olivia Stanton and the ward of Jack Dodger, the heroine and hero of (Between the Devil and Desire), and Grace is the daughter of Frannie Darling and Sterling Mabry, the 8th Duke of Greystone (Surrender to the Devil). I loved seeing characters from the earlier series make appearances in this book. But even without the connection to other beloved stories, this is an emotional, riveting read.
At her best, Heath can take a standard plot and add captivating characters and emotional richness to produce a story that fully engages her readers. This is exactly what she does in When the Duke Was Wicked. There is nothing new in the tortured hero or in friends to lovers or in the girl child turned tempting woman, but the characters prevent these elements from becoming mere familiar tropes. Grace is an unconventional heroine in her interests and in her actions, but qualities that would be unconvincing in a typical heroine of the period seem perfectly appropriate in the daughter of Frannie Darling. And Grace’s secret adds a poignancy and a reality that aim straight for readers’ hearts. Readers familiar with the earlier books may have a more difficult time seeing young Henry in Lovingdon, but whether or not one sees a seamless connection between the boy and the man, Lovingdon’s journey from desolation and detachment to a new love and a new involvement in life is compelling.
While I think readers of the Scoundrels of St. James series will take particular pleasure in being introduced to a new generation, new readers will find the novel satisfying even without the contexts of the earlier books. I recommend this novel.
How do you feel about books that give you second generation stories?