Dear Ms. Jeffries:
You are one of the few romance authors that I’ve continued to read over the years. When I began reading romances years ago, I ate your books up like candy, inhaling any I could get my hands on. I dropped off reading your books for a little while but picked up your newest series, The Duke’s Men, and have thoroughly enjoyed each installment. Your books are like a pan of brownies: simple, tasty and comforting. You won’t find anything overly complicated in your books—which is a good thing. They’re entertaining and fun and romantic, and sometimes all I want is the romance novel equivalent of brownies.
How the Scoundrel Seduces, the third in The Duke’s Men series, focuses on private investigator and half-English, half-French Tristan Bonnaud and Lady Zoe Keane. Tristan’s family tree is a little complicated, but here’s a run-down: his father was Viscount Rathmoor and his French mother his father’s mistress, thus making both Tristan and his sister Lisette (heroine of the first book What the Duke Desires) illegitimate. They also have two half-brothers: George Manton, the current Viscount Rathmoor, and Dominick. George hates his half-siblings, while Dominick takes their side after the death of their father. Confused yet? Well, the family tree gets a little dicey, but you do a nice job of differentiating each sibling to avoid too much confusion from the get-go.
Tristan fled England with his mother and sister Lisette at the age of seventeen after the death of their father. Their brother George burned a codicil to their father’s will, completely negating any support their father tried to provide his illegitimate children on his deathbed. In a fit of both pique and desperation, Tristan sells the horse his father promised to him but is seen taking the animal. Charged with horse theft by his half-brother George, Tristan cannot return to England until years later. Once he returns to England, Tristan continues to seek revenge against his half-brother while working as a semi-private investigator with his other half-brother Dominick.
Lady Zoe Keane is one of those rare ladies who will inherit her father’s title regardless of her gender, as she will be the Countess of Olivier and heir to a grand estate. Raised in a happy home, Zoe becomes suspicious of her true parentage after her Aunt Flo (I admit to giggling at this name) drops hints that her mother was not her true mother and that she may have been sold to her parents by a Romany woman. Fearful that her title and estate may be in jeopardy if her true parentage is revealed while desiring to know the truth regardless, Zoe turns to the Duke’s Men to investigate as her father will not speak of the matter. She’s quickly paired with Tristan, as he can speak Romany and is the best resource for searching for answers within the Romany community.
Tristan and Zoe butt heads from the beginning, as Tristan finds Zoe to be a spoiled, pampered aristocrat and Zoe thinks he’s a womanizer without any scruples. Their attraction proves fiery from the beginning as they circle each other, trying to ignore their desires while also figuring out the mystery behind Zoe’s parentage. I enjoyed their bickering and teasing. Although, perhaps, slightly cliché in terms of romantic relationships, their fighting never devolves into viciousness and is used to reveal hidden parts of their characters. In one particular moment, Tristan tries to rile Zoe, but realizing what Tristan is doing, Zoe calls him out on his behavior:
“You always do that.”
“Say provoking things to cover up the fact that you inadvertently allowed me a glimpse of the real you.”
As the story progresses, you add layers to both Tristan and Zoe’s characters, allowing them to be not just the rake or the lady but characters with their own hopes and desires unique to them.
I also appreciated how you represented the Romany people. From the very beginning, Tristan decries the notion that a Romany mother would sell her baby and even refuses to countenance Zoe’s farfetched tale until Dominick convinces him otherwise. Secrets are revealed as the narrative goes on while also showing the Romany as normal people living their lives as best they can in a country where they face great discrimination.
I do, however, have a few quibbles with this novel that keep me from giving it an A: one, Tristan, due to his father never marrying his mother and thus sentencing him to illegitimacy, cannot believe in love. Heroes who think love is stupid and pointless are innumerable in romances for whatever reason, and I’m rather tired of the trope, especially since it’s almost always linked to something a parent did or did not do. Decrying love entirely because your father was a jerk seems extreme to me, yet it’s so common in romances.
Second quibble is with the villain and half-brother George, who is not just evil, he’s what I term EEEEEEEVIL. I was surprised he isn’t twirling his mustache while cackling maniacally in every scene. Couple that with the reasoning behind George’s EEEEEEEVIL behavior and you had me rolling my eyes.
Despite those quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed this third book in The Duke’s Men series and am definitely looking forward to Dominick’s story next.