Tuesday, March 22, 2011

To Desire a Wicked Duke

To Desire a Wicked Duke by Nicole Jordan 317

Two years after her fiance, Richard, is killed in battle Tess Blanchard feels well enough to emerge back into society. She has dedicated her life to various charitable causes and one of those involves a theatre master with a penchant for ghosts who also happens to be quite the ladies man. Tess takes a chance on a kiss with him but she is discovered by her nemesis, Ian Sutherland, Duke of Rotham. Ian had fancied Tess at her come-out ball, but had gracefully stepped aside when Richard, his cousin, had staked his claim. Upon Richard's death he felt responsible for Tess and has quietly looked after her from afar for all these years, but witnessing her kiss changes everything and awakens the feelings he had suppressed long ago. Richard and Tess are passionately attracted to each other and are very quickly discovered in their own scandalous position and her godmother insists that they marry. Ian agrees to let things move at Tess's pace, but she is still not happy about having to marry a well known rake and scoundrel as she had always hoped to marry for love. This is made worse when she goes to his estate to discover a young child who bears a striking resemblance to Ian which sends Tess fleeing to his estate in Cornwall with her courtesan friend Fanny.

The estate is supposed to be haunted and it is not long before she is hearing stories about rattling chains and moans coming from within the walls. Meanwhile Ian has followed Tess and Fanny up to Cornwall, accompanied by his newest secretary, Fanny's beau, whom he hired at Tess's behest in the hopes that Basel will finally propose to Fanny. One night Tess senses a presence in her room and goes to Ian for comfort and that marks a turning point in their relationship as they come to rely on each other and help each other try to solve the ghost mystery. Tess has always maintained their distance by constantly needling each other and she continues to believe that the only way to keep herself from becoming to emotionally involved and falling in love. An ex-soldier proves to be their mystery ghost and tells them about a vast conspiracy of thieves and smugglers and it is up to Ian and Tess to stop them. But even when that is solved, it does not mean that everything between Ian and Tess are cleared up and she goes searching for the truth about Ian's character and about his young ward. Ian knows that he loves Tess, but wants her to discover on her own that he is worthy and that he is someone she could love and live happily ever after with.

Tess was a slight deviation from a typical romance novel character because I really got the sense that her charitable works are genuine and not merely an attempt to feel better about her own immense wealth. She really was a giver and a caring person, which made her blind spot and loathing of Ian all the more confusing and frustrating. I like the idea that Ian has secretly wanted Tess for so long but did the noble thing by stepping aside for his cousin. Despite his reputation as a rake, Ian has actually been quite noble throughout his acquaintance with Tess, with various donations to her causes and by keeping an eye on her, and generally not really living up to his rogue-ish reputation. I could not figure out why all of his good deeds had to be kept a secret from Tess and served as a really unnecessary block in their relationship that I didn't like.  I did like the angst that arose for Ian when he feared that Tess was still in love with his cousin because it seemed like something reasonable for a man in his position to fear and because it showed some vulnerability in this otherwise strong man. There was some decent sex here, pretty hot, but I know that Jordan has done better, and after the strong sexy start I was really expecting more from this book.

A little more than halfway through this book devolved into the romance novel staple of having both protagonists waiting for the other to admit to love first. Saying those three words became a sign of weakness and vulnerability and both feared admitting to the feeling. This is so common that it took  me awhile to realize how obnoxious it is and it comes across as just a way for the author to extend the book when every other problem has been solved. am having difficulty deciding if I liked having the mystery solved about halfway through the book; on the one hand it made the book kind of anti-climatic and did rather drag on, but on the other hand it left a significant portion of the book for Tess and Ian to focus completely on their relationship and on falling in love. The mystery was very fun and was a great opportunity for Jordan to show how well the characters fit together, even if it did lead to some sassy heroics on Tess's part that rather irritated me. It wasn't a big page turner, but it did not blow up into something crazy and involve kidnappings and murder plots, but was a nice addition to a romance novel. For the majority of the novel, Jordan managed to avoid bringing in all the happily ever afters from previous books, but by the end it was a big giant reunion and I was a tad annoyed.

Rating: An enjoyable and fun romance with a nice little mystery to accompany it, but there were some very frustrating aspects of the book and it was really nothing special.

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