The Duke's Embrace by Erica Ridley
Part of Erica Ridley’s 12 Dukes of Christmas series about a small town the residents have turned into a permanent Christmas-themed tourist attraction, you don’t need to have read the rest of the series to enjoy this rather charming novella. Sébastien le Duc, French aristocrat turned blacksmith, is the hero of this one, and Miss Eve Shelling his heroine. Eve and her father run the Cressmouth Gazette, more of a promotional pamphlet extolling the town’s virtues than an actual newspaper, but Eve dreams of being an actual journalist. When Bastien asks for her help writing an article to paint the smithy in a favourable light for a potential buyer as he and his brother have plans to return to France, Eve’s willing to oblige.
When she uncovers the truth about how the le Ducs have reversed their fortunes, however, she has a decision to make. Tell the truth and destroy Bastien and his family, or pass up the greatest chance she’ll ever have to make her name as a serious journalist?
This is a romance, so you can probably guess how it turns out. It’s also a fairly short novella so the author doesn’t really do much of a deep dive into the ethics of smuggling, making it feel just a little shallow in execution. Bastien and Luc as gentlemen blacksmiths didn’t really ring true either; they just wouldn’t have been on a social level with Eve despite their backgrounds once they started engaging in trade at that hands-on level.
I’ve really enjoyed other books in this series, and though this one has its moments, it just didn’t quite click for me. Eve and Bastien went from not liking each other much to intimacy really quickly, and I wanted more interaction with Eve’s cute dog Duenna, who didn’t get nearly enough of the spotlight. Important things like Eve’s moral dilemma got rushed over, and I think the novella length did this particular story no favours. It needed to be about twice as long to explore all the nuances. I’m giving it three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.