Forever My Duke by Olivia Drake
A promise to her dying best friend has led Natalie Fanshawe to England, in a desperate attempt to reunite an orphaned boy with the only family he has left. An American with no reason at all to respect the English class system, her back is quickly put up by Hadrian, Duke of Clayton, even if he has done her a great service by helping her find Leo when her charge runs away. Finding out that the duke is heading to the same destination, Natalie has little choice but to accept his assistance. Soon, it turns out he might be the only ally she has in the Earl of Godwin’s household… even if he is meant to be marrying the earl’s teenage daughter.
I just want to address that issue briefly; Hadrian is 29 and the Lady Ellen is 18, and that was absolutely a thing that happened in the Regency era regularly, and with much bigger age gaps too, and nobody looked sideways at it at all. Hadrian really didn’t know Ellen at all, hadn’t seen her since she was a child, but his father had wanted a family alliance so he went to meet her to give her consideration. On meeting her, however, especially in comparison with Natalie who’s 25, he realizes she’s far too young for him and quickly backs out, which made me like him a whole lot more than I did at the beginning.
The author does seem a little undecided about what sort of story she wants this to be; Natalie’s quite judgemental, pious and disapproving of the aristocracy’s licentious ways, and then is very much the instigator of an affair with Hadrian. The sex didn’t seem to fit the tone of the characters, and honestly it could have been dispensed with altogether and had no effect on the overall story. I’m not keen on what seems to be the latest trend of compulsory sex scenes in historical novels; this would have been equally as good a read without it.
I wasn’t all that keen on Natalie’s gung-ho Americanism, either; particularly in the immediate aftermath of a war, she seemed intent on burning bridges rather than mending fences. Hadrian practically bent over backwards to accommodate her and she barely seemed able to say thank you, let alone able to make allowances for the differences in his upbringing and position and consider how those affected his actions. I think we were supposed to respect and admire her for her determination and refusal to accept anyone as her ‘betters’, but her sanctimonious and superior attitude made it hard to even like her a lot of the time. Because of this, I’m afraid that despite overall very good writing, I can’t say I really liked this, and therefore I’m giving it three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.