There’s something so delectable about a really juicy secret. The right kind of mystery or surprise hits a story like an earthquake, rattling things off the shelves and leaving everyone scrambling for stable footing. A secret can bring a story to life, lighting a fire under the characters and forcing them to decide what they truly value and how far they’ll go to protect themselves and their loved ones.
A HOUSE OF SCANDAL
Thomas Powell, heir to the Duke of Northfield and hero of Eva Leigh’s Dare to Love a Duke, is rich, handsome, capable, privileged, spoiled, dissolute and so bored with it all that the reader half expects him to run off to join the circus just to do something new. He believes he’s seen it all, until a friend takes him to a masked, equal opportunity sex club straight out of Eyes Wide Shut. Yet even when he’s surrounded by carnality in every imaginable combination, the only person to catch his eye is the beautiful and mysterious manager of the Orchid Club, Lucia Marini. Thomas’ pursuit of her is halted when his father unexpectedly dies, leaving him the title, the estate, a heavy load of responsibilities on his shoulders—and the absolutely stunning discovery that his staid, conservative father was the owner of the Orchid Club.
The club scenes are so sensually described by Leigh that they might have overshadowed the main plot if the characters were any less engaging and dynamic than Lucia and Tom. As it is, the wanton adventurousness of the club can’t hold a candle to the heat and tension that sparks between our hero and heroine, whether they’re dressed or not. The same passion they bring to the bedroom is reflected in all the aspects of their lives, as Tom grapples with how to balance his conscience and his sense of duty, and Lucia struggles to build a legacy she can be proud of in spite of a troubled past. Their road to happily ever after isn’t smooth or easy (where would be the fun in that?), but it leads to a fun and quite satisfying ride.
A HIDDEN PAST
By contrast, the heroine in Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not the Duke’s Darling seems like a perfectly respectable lady’s companion—as long as you aren’t aware of the spy work Freya de Moray secretly performs for the order of Wise Women, or the dark scandal in her past. But all her secrets risk exposure during at a house party where she’s targeted by witch hunters and in turn forced to interact with the man she blames for destroying her family. When Freya recognizes Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, she vows that she won’t waste this opportunity for revenge. The chemistry flaring between them is just the fiery passion of her hatred, right? Surely, it couldn’t be anything else . . .
There are so many secrets and scandals in this story that what I’ve written so far barely scratches the surface. (Are you looking for a neighbor who might be hiding matrimonial murder? This book has it. How about a secret affair with compromising letters leading to blackmail? Yep, they’re here, too.) There’s never a dull moment in Not the Duke’s Darling, and many of the truths revealed are genuinely shocking. But the biggest surprise may be how naturally the relationship between the characters grows from animosity, to attraction, to compassion, to respect. Falling in love with the “enemy” can be a hard sell, but Hoyt masters it beautifully. Most interestingly, the biggest obstacle between the two ends up being the future, rather than the past. In a period when wives were treated as not-very-bright pets rather than partners, Freya has trouble imagining giving up her independence. It takes a leap of faith to realize that Christopher truly sees her the way she wants to be seen, and intends to build a life with her as equals. Talk about shocking!