A minor aristocrat is living in the slums of Regency London when he learns he has inherited the ducal title of a distant relative.
Raphe Matthews has been taking care of his younger sisters since their mother ran off and their father died when he was only 8. He works as a dockyard laborer by day and a bare-knuckle boxer by night to pay off his father’s debts and put a few meager turnips in the family pot. When he finds out he’s the new Duke of Huntley he is none too thrilled, since the only aristocrat he’s ever known was his faithless mother, who abandoned her family long ago. But for his sisters’ sake, he moves into the ducal mansion in Mayfair. His new next-door neighbor, amateur entomologist Lady Gabriella Radcliffe, is trying hard to behave herself and marry the insufferable earl her parents have chosen for her. They want her to restore the family’s reputation after her sister made a muddle of her own marriage prospects. But Gabriella finds the new duke even more fascinating than her beloved insects. She secretly helps Raphe to prepare his sisters for presentation at court. It’s hard to understand how such a closely guarded young woman could manage to spend so many hours a day unchaperoned with her scandalous neighbor, but it’s just one of the ways Barnes (His Scandalous Kiss, 2016, etc.) could have done with a more exacting editor in the first novel of her Diamonds in the Rough series. It’s hard to write dialogue in an uneducated accent, and Barnes doesn’t quite pull it off, but fortunately Raphe and his sisters master polished speech after the first hundred pages or so and the reader is spared further torment.
A mildly entertaining tale.