An impoverished noblewoman takes to petty crime until a handsome duke shows interest in marrying her. But does she even want a fairy-tale ending?
In a romance novel, where the story almost always ends with a loving marriage, it can be difficult for authors to surprise their readers. But Maxwell (The Match of the Century, 2015, etc.) manages just that, keeping the reader in suspense about which gentleman will win the lady for at least the first half of the novel. This second installment in her Marrying the Duke series tells the story of Lady Charlene Blanchard, the orphaned daughter of a profligate gambler who is now living with her mother’s sister, an actress and playwright. When Char’s uncle stops sending money, she secretly dresses as a boy and learns to pick pockets, running afoul of a local gang of street-hardened boys in the process. Then a family friend secures an introduction to Gavin Whitridge, the Duke of Baynton, who is rumored to be looking for a wife. Char acquiesces. Her aunt wants to see Char returned to a higher station in life, but Char herself is more interested in making a good marriage so she can provide her aunt with a measure of security. When the street gang gets wind of Char’s new suitor, they threaten to expose her criminal activities, and Char turns to the duke’s handsome brother, Jack Whitridge, for help. Conflict between the duke and his brother makes a friendship between Char and Jack challenging, and the secrets Char is keeping from the duke expand. Maxwell’s signature skill at depicting complicated family relationships is one of the novel’s strongest features. Even secondary characters display unusual depth under Maxwell’s deft hand.
Both lively and thought-provoking, this book is well worth reading.