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Duke of Sin by Adele Ashworth
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-06-052840-0
***
This story has some interesting plot lines, some intriguing and sexy interactions, a few twists and unfortunately, a slow drawn out set up. The first 100 pages drag, followed by a nicely paced and interesting section with a rather uneven yet satisfying ending. Duke of Sin is not Adele Ashworth's best Regency historical, but it is still better than many others.

The Duke of the title is William of Trent. He is holed up in Cornwall on his estate, essentially in hiding after being acquitted of his wife's murder. Her family accused him and only the help of his best friends, who are duke's themselves, saved him. No one really knows the story, but he has become a recluse, so the gossips of the ton believe he must have really been guilty. He avoids them at all costs.

Vivian Rael-Lamont is a lovely woman of thirty-five, living modestly on her estate, maintaining a living growing and selling flowers to the locals for weddings and their homes. She often delivers flowers to the home of the Duke, although she has not met him. Vivian was born into the peerage, but an unfortunate marriage forced her to move to Cornwall and live in relative isolation to keep her family from scandal. It seems that Vivian is passing herself off as a widow, when in reality her husband is alive and living in France. Due to a strange circumstance, Vivian has an agreement of separation, but it is a well-kept secret. And this secret is now about to be revealed unless she convinces the Duke to sell her a magnificent original sonnet written and signed by William Shakespeare.

Vivian approaches the Duke, only to have him give her a proposal. He will give her the manuscript if she provides him "companionship." She agrees, knowing that while blackmail is ugly, she must protect her secret to preserve her life. William hires an investigator to find out why she really wants the sonnet and how she even found out he owned it. His motives are not completely understood at first, but he slowly invades her space and life because he is intrigued by Vivian. She is one of the first women he has met since his wife's death who doesn't seem to fear him.

William and Vivian begin to spend time together and each reveals parts of their lives and characters that they have not shared with anyone for many years. And as they spend time together they grow fond of each other and their mutual attraction grows. William holds off consummating their relationship, knowing that once done, Vivian will expect him to hand over the prize. And he has more he wants to discover.

The intrigue falls into place as the real blackmailer is revealed. William's past comes back to haunt him and the blackmail scheme turns into a kidnapping scheme. Through all this Vivian and William discover their love, but realize they can never be together due to Vivian's past. The story is very slow to develop. I have trouble at points continuing to open up the book once I put it down. When enough of the mystery was revealed to make sense, including the intricacies of both of their past lives, then the pace picked up. The middle section involving the sinister plot was entertaining and at times, page turning. The sexual build-up was good and the actual interludes were highly erotic and full of verbal interplay. Not all readers will enjoy this type of romance and explicit conversation.

William is a caring man, yet was so understated at times; it was hard to really get a feel for his value as a hero. He was inconsistent. One minute he was alpha talking with sexual innuendo and pushing Vivian to succumb to his manly will and tell him her secrets. The next minute he was filled with self-doubt, certain she was playing him for a fool. He came to her rescue when he had to and at the end, he was all male. The author actually provided more insight into his thoughts and motivations than she did for Vivian. Even when showing contradictory behaviors, he was likable.

Vivian is a strong heroine, having lived on her own so long. Yet she had so many secrets and was so untrusting that it seemed a little incongruous when she finally broke down and told all. Throughout it all, the fact that she was still married and was essentially carrying on as a married woman was in the back of my mind and left me feeling unsettled. I could never fully support her love of William for that reason.

Duke of Sin is an uneven reading experience, but eventually everything works out as it should in romance land. The ride is bumpy, and I think the hero deserves a bit better but the destination is ultimately reached in a satisfactory manner.

--Shirley Lyons


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