Nobody's Duke by Scarlett Scott
Set in 1882, Nobody’s Duke follows the widowed Duchess of Burghly as she tries to rebuild her life after her husband was murdered by Fenian (Irish) rebels. Forerunners of the IRA, these 19th century terrorists set off bombs and murdered English aristocrats and politicians, and yes, they did go after women and children as well.
Ara and her young son are assigned protection, but the man assigned to protect them is the last man Ara wants anywhere near them, because she’s hiding a secret from Clayton Ludlow, a secret she needs to keep.
In fact, Ara’s been keeping secrets for years, because she was a beard for her gay husband and his long-time lover, Sir Percy, who was a bit of a disappointment in this book. Ara’s dead husband was a Plot Point, but Sir Percy was obviously a big part of Ara and her son’s lives, and he never actually got to appear in the plot. It was a golden opportunity to have him be an actual gay person appearing in a historical romance, and I was disappointed that he was relegated to a Plot Point too. One dead gay man and one who’s only mentioned in passing doesn’t count as representation, I’m afraid.
There was quite a lot of angst and drama going on, though it was never precisely clear just why the Fenians were so set on killing Ara. And while the original grievance between Clay and Ara was caused by outside interference, Clay really didn’t have to be so aggressively nasty to her until he found out the truth - and then fail to actually apologize afterwards.
I liked Ara very much, and felt very sorry for what she suffered through, as well as respecting her emotional fortitude in any number of difficult situations. Blaming herself for not letting Clay know the truth when she had no way to tell him just irritated me, though, because it felt contrived to make her look bad when she was actually blameless. Clay didn’t get the scolding he so richly deserved and he didn’t show proper remorse for his autocratic, even brutal behaviour, and so despite the inevitable happy ending, I just didn’t quite believe in it.
This one had some good historical research backing it up, unlike some of the other historical romances I’ve read lately, but unfortunately the hero’s character failings and the manufactured drama of the plot mean I can’t give it any more than three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from NetGalley.