Mastered by Love by Stephanie Laurens
Royce Varisey, also known as Dalziel, is the newly minted Duke of Wolverstone and is quite wary of returning to his ancestral home as he and his family have been estranged for nearly two decades. When Royce decided to run a spy ring to stop Napoleon his family was very disappointed in him taking up a profession. Once at home it becomes clear to him that the person really in charge of the estate, who knows the ins and outs, whom the tenants love, is Minerva Chesterton. Minerva had been taken in by his parents after her parents death when she was very young and she has been living as the chatelaine of Wolverstone for many years. It is to her that Royce finds himself turning when he needs help on how to behave, what repairs to make to the estate, and how to deal with guests and with his tenants. At his father's funeral all the important members of the ton, as well as his very extended family, take up residence in his castle and he learns that it is imperative that he find himself a bride. Apparently the prince regent is thinking of having the Dukedom revert back to the crown if a direct heir is not provided soon.
Royce knows that he is destined for a loveless marriage, as the Varisey's are incapable of love, but when forced by the grades dames to choose a bride, he realizes that he wants his bride to be Minerva and sets out to win her even if the only way is to first seduce her. Unfortunately this backfires as Minerva is a virgin and she does not want Royce to make her an offer out of obligation and refuses to believe that any proposal he makes will be tainted. So Royce decides that the best mode of attack is to continue with her seduction but also sets out to prove that the two of them work so well together and that they would make a great team together running Wolverstone. But before leaving London Royce was unable to take care of the Last Traitor- a member of the ton who had been selling secrets to the French and cost many English lives. Royce doesn't know that this traitor has followed him to his estate and just as it looks as though Minerva and Royce are about to live happily ever after, this traitor decides it's time for one more try at destroying Royce.
Anyone who claims that romance novels are formulaic, with the same plot and the same characters must have been talking about Stephanie Laurens. Literally every single one of her heroes is exactly the same. They're wealthy but have an important job working for the crown in some sort of spy type profession and they're very masculine, and possessive. There will be tons of sex (some might say too much) with liberal references to his primitive feelings and actions with some references to her submissiveness and his power. There is always a main focus on the romance but with a side plot, always involving kidnapping and it is this kidnapping that finally forces the hero to admit that, while he has always known he cares for the heroine, he is actually IN LOVE with her. At least in this one we were presented with a different heroine as I had gotten tired of her rich, titled ladies who are so heart warmingly good that they go out to improve society through charity. While I didn't like her name, Minerva was quite likable as an actual working woman (to an extent) who was genuinely important to others and was quite skilled at her job. But other than that- true to type through and through.
I almost feel that while reading Stephanie Laurens novels I can read the first 100 or so pages, get to know the characters and what makes them (slightly) individualistic and (slightly) different than their counterparts, and then just fill in the rest of the story. The Last Traitor plot really went completely unmentioned for most of the book until at the end, and it was certainly quite unimportant really. Laurens novels are all just a little too long and perhaps if she cut out one (or five) of the dozens of sex scenes (I know it's unusual for me to say that) or really the entire kidnap plot altogether with the last traitor thing the book would have fit a little more nicely. So I liked Minerva immensely- far more so than most other Laurens heroines, but I'm beginning to think it would be really nice for her to go out of her comfort zone and write about a courtesan or something. Basically someone outside the large circle she's built for her characters (partly so I wouldn't have to read about them all getting together to save the day at the end of every novel).
Rating: A typical fill in the names Stephanie Laurens novel. I want to give it a two but I actually did not enjoy it. Perhaps that's why she continues to write them this way- because they're still enjoyable-ish.