Sometimes the burden of being proper, perfect and demure is a grueling chore. Compound that pressure with a harping and judgmental mother and grandmother who are determined to choose her life and make her decisions for her that it’s not a wonder that the heroine, Thea, snaps and lashes out in the only way she can; she runs. What happens afterwards is pure entertainment for readers.
I’d read How the Duke Was Won,the first book in The Disgraceful Dukes series and thought that one to be clever and unique so I was really looking forward to If I Only Had a Duke in hopes I’d be equally engaged and amused. I was, completely. This is a 100% standalone read so a new fan can read this one first and not feel left out. This novel is strictly about Thea and Dalton. Charlene, Thea’s half-sister shows up later, but as a secondary character to the events and a sweet touch since they are family.
There are quite a few plot conflicts running simultaneously yet Ms. Bell juggled them with aplomb. I grew to have great respect for Thea and her goals to be free of the yoke of perfection. I admired Dalton’s quest for vengeance and retribution and I liked how Con, Dalton’s friend and co-conspirator, always had the hero’s back, except when it came to Thea. With the heroine, Con acted more like a gruff Cupid combined with a devilish Loki, with an Irish brogue – truly delightful. I giggled quite frequently with the dialogue, both internal and between Thea and Dalton. One of my favorite lines what when she labeled him “The Great Wall of Duke”. I snickered as I typed that. You’ll have to read it to understand why it’s so funny – it’s a cumulative effect.
One of my favorite parts, and there are quite a few, is when Thea stood up to the main harridan; the results are miraculous! Another shocker is the revelation of what truly happened to Dalton’s little brother. I’ve read enough romance stories to guess the real answer but not the whole picture or what happens after that knowledge is gained. I really wanted to hug Dalton at that point. Poor guy – he’s gone through so much already and he’s being hunted on top of it! That underlying bit of suspense always seemed to lurk and pop up when I least expected it. It made for great reading.
The happy ever after is just overwhelmingly wonderful. It’s like Thea’s personality – her refusal to give up, to break or be cowed – just inspired everyone around her to dream bigger, fight harder and not take the first answer as gospel. No one gave up or gave in, well, the good guys at least. The dark characters get their just desserts although the author as a bit light in the details – not that I mind, I found it rather amusing. It was just how Ms. Bell did it.
Yes, If I Only Had a Duke is a whopper of a good tale told with a crisp and engaging style that brings Thea and Dalton to life for readers to enjoy. The sexy shenanigans are saucy, seductive and well-written but I was more entertained with the dialogue, Thea’s opinions and Dalton’s reactions to them. There’s just enough drama and fisticuffs to keep the pages turning, and amusing and silly antics to inspire a reader to grin. I fervently hope that Alice, the secondary character with the most amusingly toxic TMI or waxing poetic about the most obscure scientific gobbledygook, gets her happy ever after too. She wasn’t quite as strong a presence in this story, but Ms. Bell included her just at the right time to remind me how much I thought her amusing. Yes, she’d be an interesting character to match with a duke. I wonder who it will be? I can’t wait until the next book!
Editor's note: This article was originally published at Long and Short Reviews. It has been republished with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.