Title: What the Duke Desires
Author: Sabrina Jeffries
Series: Duke’s Men
Genre: Historical Romance
Rating: 4 1/2 stars
What the Duke Desires is the first title in Sabrina Jeffries’ new series Duke’s Men, and if the first one is any indication, it could be my favorite series by her yet!
Lisette Bonnaud is the illegitimate daughter of an English viscount and his long-time French mistress. After her father’s unexpected death, George, his eldest son and heir, turned Lisette, her mother, and older brother Tristan out of their home. The three are forced to leave for the continent when Tristan steals a horse from the new viscount that may or may not have been left to him by their father–George had burned the last-minute codicil their father had added to his will. Dominick, the second (legitimate) son became estranged from his elder brother as well when he stood up for them against George. Twelve years later, Lisette’s mother is dead, and she has moved back to England to help Dom with his business, Manton Investigations…not as she’d like, as a full-fledged investigator, but more as an office manager. Tristan is still in France, working for the secret police, and not writing to his sister weekly, as he’d promised to do.
Enter Maximillian Cale, the Duke of Lyons. Max was born a second son, but became first in line for the title when his elder brother, kidnapped as a young child, was proven to have died in a fire years later. Max’s parents also died relatively young, his father from a form of madness that Max is sure must be genetic and his mother soon afterwards. Max shows up on the doorstep of Manton Investigations late one night, angrily demanding to see Dom, who had just left for Scotland on a case. Max is livid because he’d gotten a letter–presumably from Tristan–claiming that he might have proof that Max’s elder brother Peter wasn’t dead at all and when Max showed up for their meeting, Tristan didn’t. Max is sure that Tristan, and possibly Dom as well, are trying to pull an elaborate scam on him. Lisette, sure that her brothers would do no such thing, manages to convince Max to go with her on a trip to the continent to find out the truth. Instead of travelling as a duke and the illegitimate daughter of a peer, however, they pose as a regular (newly) married couple.
What follows is, of course, fairly predictable given the genre, but entertainingly written by Jeffries. I definitely do enjoy her writing style and voice. What I really liked about this one, though, is that so many aspects of the story were outside the norm. Max’s reasons for not wanting to marry for love made a bit more sense (while still being utterly ridiculous, of course. But at least he had good intentions at heart) than the usual Regency romance hero’s. Lisette was a heroine after my own heart, wanting to be an investigator when she was so clearly not at all suited to be one. I’ve wanted to be a spy since I watched my first episode of Scarecrow and Mrs. King back in the 80s, but someone as oblivious to their surroundings as I tend to be clearly would never make it–Lisette and I are clearly kindred spirits. But hey! I totally called the source of the madness in his family, so points for me. I liked the way Jeffries wrapped up the loose ends in this one–the mysteries in Max’s family’s past, where Tristan had disappeared to, and just who it was that he had found were all believable but not immediately obvious plot twists.
The only sticking point in the book is that George come off as a rather two-dimensional villain. He clearly will have a recurring role in the series, though, so perhaps future installments will flesh his character out a bit more to give us more justification for his actions. There’s a ghost of a set-up for future books in the series here, but none of the elaborate “here’s where the future books are going to go” bits that have been taking up so much space in the other series books I’ve been reading lately. (Honestly. Spend more time on the current H/h and less on setting up future books, please! If we like the current ones, we’ll buy the next in the series–I promise. No need to hit us over the head with premature details.)
In a nutshell: What the Duke Desires has a likable hero and heroine, believable but not obvious plot twists, and is a solid start to her new series. 4 1/2 out of five stars.