REVIEW: The Desperate Duke by Sheri Cobb South
A duke in disguise . . . a damsel in distress . . . a match made in—Manchester?
When 23-year-old Theodore Radney becomes the Duke of Reddington after his father dies, the weight of his new responsibilities is enough to send him into a panic. Theo soon accumulates a pile of debts—and discovers he can’t touch his inheritance until his father’s will is probated. His brother-in-law, mill owner Ethan Brundy, lends him the money, with one caveat: Theo will repay the loan by working in the mill.
Daphne Drinkard and her mother have fallen on hard times, and are now reduced to taking in boarders. When a Parliamentary candidate hires the dining room for a series of political meetings, Daphne knows he might be her last chance for an advantageous marriage. Still, she’s far more intrigued by the boardinghouse’s newest resident. Mr. Tisdale is obviously a gentleman—but why would a gentleman be working in a cotton mill?
Dear Ms. Cobb South,
I was tickled to death when you contacted me about a new book in the “Weaver series.” Honestly, I’d forgotten that Teddy, Lady ‘elen’s younger brother, hadn’t inherited or met his lady love yet. But with the “help” of his working class brother-in-law, Sir Ethan Brundy, he’s going to find her and maybe become a better man.
The old Duke of Reddington is failing fast and the family has gathered ’round. Lady ‘elen and Ethan arrive from Lancaster to find her younger brother, Teddy, Lord Tisdale, already there. Irascible to the end, the Duke passes on his wishes and will to Ethan who has been named as executor. Teddy is a bit stunned by it all – he’d always been quiet in the face of his father’s temper – and adrift. Returning to London he discovers some hard truths about his mistress and the amount of money he has access to until the will is probated.
It’s been a recent Radney tradition to turn to rich, mill owner Ethan to pull them out of the river Tick and Teddy is miffed when Ethan refuses to advance him money from his inheritance to cover his immediate debts. Instead, Ethan will loan Teddy the money – but at a cost. Until the will is probated, Teddy will have to work in Ethan’s mill. With Ethan and ‘elen in London working on Ethan’s campaign to stand for Parliament, Teddy arrives in Lancaster alone.
Since he doesn’t want anyone to know who he is or that he’s related by marriage to Ethan, Teddy takes a room at the boardinghouse owned by a genteel family who have come down financially in the world. It was only after Daphne Drinkard’s father died that his serious gambling was exposed as well as the fact that he left his widow and only child near destitute. Now they take in boarders and pinch farthings. But perhaps things are looking up as a candidate for MP wants to rent the Drinkard dining room for some political meetings. If Daphne can secure the interest of Sir Valerian Wadsworth, perhaps the family can regain their lost social status.
Daphne finds herself attracted to plain Mr. Tisdale though and he returns the favor. The handsome young man has presented himself as a gentleman who is down on his luck. She likes that he doesn’t complain about the long days and hard work at the mill and helps out a bit at their house. He also teaches Daphne some useful self defense tactics when he finds another boarder bothering her.
Though Teddy likes Daphne, it takes him a while to finally admit his true feelings for her. But before he can take advantage of the fact that the will has finally been probated, things take a dark turn at the meetings Sir Wadsworth is holding. With Ethan not having responded to the urgent letter Teddy sent him about the situation, it’s up to Teddy to try and save the mill and the day.
At times in “The Weaver Takes a Wife,” Teddy doesn’t come off so well. But in my review of that book I said that he “shows signs of being salvageable.” Here we see him changing and becoming the man he can be. Oh, he starts out still fumbling with his responsibilities and defaulting to relying on Ethan but then his own father hadn’t done much to either show Teddy how to act as a responsible man or a Duke. It’s going to take a little tough love and who better to administer it than a man who earned what he has through hard work and treating others with respect.
Daphne and the other residents of the boarding house are individual characters and drawn – in some cases – with thumbnail precision that shows them to us with spare economy. Daphne and Mrs. Drinkhard struggle at times with the hand that Mr. Drinkhard has dealt them. Daphne’s dreams of a London Season and good match are gone while Mrs. Drinkhard longs to act as a gentlewoman again. It’s understandable that they – to varying degrees – eye Sir Wadsworth as their possible financial salvation. Yet, Daphne notices Mr. Tisdale who is a bit adrift and takes the time to be kind to him.
Their awareness of each other and love grows slowly and where once Teddy might have dismissed the type of people around him, he comes to know them and see them with all their strengths and foibles. I enjoyed the slow burn of the story even if it’s maybe not quite as humorous as Ethan and ‘elen’s story – though it’s delightful to see them settling into happy married/parental life. By the time Teddy declares himself – after following all the dictates of etiquette – and manages to convince Daphne of his good intentions, I’m quite happy with their HEA. I am, however, a little bewildered by the epilogue. It does give a nice “and they lived happily ever after” feel but are these people going to have their own story? Just curious. B