This romance may be set in 1860s England, a time of Victorian propriety, but scandal sits just below its surface—and military-hero-turned-spy Adam Drummond is determined to uncover it. Positioned undercover by the War Office in the home of the late Duke of Marsley, Adam uses his role as majordomo to search the house for proof that the duke betrayed the British troops under his command during a campaign in India. But Adam’s single-minded focus on his mission starts to shift as he finds himself captivated by Suzanne Whitcomb, the duke’s beautiful, broken-hearted widow. She lives in a state of deep, relentless mourning, not for the duke, but for their young son who died at the same time. Nothing has moved her in the time since her loss, until Adam is thrown very dramatically in her path.
A love between them is impossible, of course. It’s not just the chasm between their stations, though that would be reason enough. There’s also the deception he used to enter her life in the first place, and the fact that succeeding in his mission would mean dragging her deceased husband’s name through the mud. There’s some strong, deep-seated anger in the mix, too. Adam served in India under the duke’s command and he was one of only a handful to survive. His wife, who was stationed there with him, perished. The host of obstacles Ranney places in Adam and Suzanne’s path results in a rich emotional struggle as they find themselves drawn together in spite of it all.
To Love a Duchess is Ranney’s first book in a new trilogy entitled All for Love, and her writing beautifully shows how love can triumph over pain, fear, anger and blame. The physical attraction between the characters is strong, but the emotional connection is just as powerful as they both work through their grief and help each other heal. It’s empowering as a reader to see Suzanne come out of her shell and start living again, instead of just existing.
The author takes time for social commentary as well, highlighting the terrible treatment of girls in the working class when they, willingly or not, became pregnant outside of marriage. Ranney paints a heartbreaking image of the struggles they faced, but it feels a touch removed as none of the women in that situation have dialogue in To Love a Duchess. Their stories are told for them, while they don’t speak at all. Perhaps that will change in the next book in the series, and Ranney will highlight the ways that love and understanding can heal those wounds too.