The Imposter

The Pretender

Seducing the Spy

Surrender to a Wicked Spy

The Spy

To Wed a Scandalous Spy

Desperately Seeking a Duke
by Celeste Bradley
(St. Martin’s, $6.99, R) ISBN 0312-93968-X
I so desperately wanted to give this story a four heart rating…and up until the last 100 pages, I was ready to. There is a twist at the end that almost pushes me back to it…but it was just not enough. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale however, until the heroine lost her backbone.

Phoebe Millbury is Desperately Seeking A Duke because of a clause in her grandfather’s will that his estate be held in trust until a female heir marries a Duke. The first generation failed. Phoebe is one of three cousins who have a chance. There are a few oddities in the will though - the family must not tell anyone about their quest and the lawyers have complete control over the payout.

Phoebe came to London with her homely cousin Sophie and her beautiful cousin Deirdre. Deirdre’s stepmother is acting as their chaperone and it is her hope that Deirdre wins out; her plan is to make it so. Phoebe is the daughter of a vicar. When she was fifteen, the Vicar attempted to ensure she was taught everything she needed to win the heart of a duke. But Phoebe is a free spirit and in fact, she tried to run away with her dancing master who, of course, hightailed it out of town when he realized he might have to marry her. Ever since then, Phoebe has tried to hide her true self in order to keep scandal from her name and gain some sign of approval from her prudish father.

At her first ball, she meets Rafe Marbrook, the bastard son of the Duke of Brookhaven. She falls under his rakish spell. But more importantly, Rafe falls under her spell. Phoebe sees beneath the rake to the man underneath and Rafe sees the free spirit behind the mask of proper behavior. Rafe decides he is going to court Phoebe but makes the mistake of pointing her out to his brother, a marquis.

The Marquis is Calder Marbrook, who is not only the legitimate son, but the son favored by their father. Calder and Rafe have always had a love-hate relationship. While they have been boyhood companions (with Rafe arriving after his mother’s death at age 8), they have also been rivals. Underneath it all was the knowledge that Calder would inherit, despite the fact that he had a fascination with factories and machines, not the land and estates. Rafe tended the land and truly hoped that Calder would let him run the estates. When it became clear that would never happen, Rafe became a rake, with an incorrigible reputation. Even now, when he has cleaned up his act and aches for land of his own, Calder is impervious to that need.

So when Rafe points out Phoebe, it is Calder who sends a proposal to her doorstep. Not being aware of the existence of the brother, Phoebe gladly accepts, thinking she is accepting Rafe. When she discovers it is Calder, she also discovers he is going to be a duke. Her loyalty shifts to her family, especially since she has garnered her father’s long-sought-after approval.

So Rafe and Phoebe fight their feelings as the wedding looms closer. Tune in to see how it is all resolved. Suffice it to say that Phoebe disappoints when she succumbs to pressure at the first sign of trouble. Then she shows some gumption, only to fall back into cowering to pressure. It is this cowardice when she had just convinced this reader that she had backbone that was most disheartening. Her inconsistency doomed the higher rating.

Rafe and Calder are intriguing and there is much depth to their relationship and their psyches. Rafe is suave, charming and multi-dimensional. Calder starts off being the antagonist, but as his character develops he is easier to like. I have a feeling Calder will have a prominent role in Deirdre’s story, which is next to be released. Sophie and Deirdre are interesting and the stage is set for their stories too.

Despite my discontent, this is a good tale and I look forward to the rest of the series. Bradley has a reputation for writing strong heroines and I can only hope that Deirdre lives up to that reputation.

--Shirley Lyons

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