Format: Print (purchased)
Release Date: November 28, 2000
Driven to uncover the truth about the mysterious death of his ladylove, the Duke of Hawkscliffe will go to any lengths to unmask a murderer. Even if it means jeopardizing his reputation by engaging in a scandalous affair with London's most provocative courtesan--the desirable but aloof Belinda Hamilton.
Bel has used her intelligence and wit to charm the city's titled gentlemen, while struggling to put the pieces of her life back together. She needs a protector, so she accepts Hawk's invitation to become his mistress in name only. He asks nothing of her body, but seeks her help in snaring the same man who shattered her virtue. Together they tempt the unforgiving wrath of society--until their risky charade turns into a dangerous attraction, and Bel must make a devastating decision that could ruin her last chance at love.
Robert Knight, the Duke of Hawkscliffe comes from a rather scandalous family. His mother, Georgiana, was known as the Hawkscliffe Harlot and it is common knowledge in society that out of the six Knight children, only Robert and Jacinda are the true children of the previous Duke of Hawkscliffe. The rest are offspring of Georgiana and her various lovers and the duke had no other choice but to claim them as his own. Aside from Robert and Jacinda, there are the twins, Lucien and Damien, Alec the youngest son and Jack, the black sheep of the family. There is also Elizabeth Carlisle, the ward of the family who is treated more as an adopted sister (Confused? There's a lovely family tree on Gaelen Foley's site that explains it all).
The Duke begins with Robert desperately searching for the person responsible for murdering a woman he secretly cared for. Unfortunately for him, that woman had been married to an old family friend. While searching for clues to prove his suspicions, Robert meets Belinda Hamilton, a seemingly aloof courtesan with secrets of her own. When he realizes Belinda's connection to his suspect, Robert decides to use Belinda to lure the suspect into admitting his crime. As Robert and Belinda spend more time together they realize that there is an undeniable attraction between them and though they give into that attraction, secrets, scandals, and society forbids them from ever being more than lovers.
When I first read The Duke I was befuddled. A powerful duke and a courtesan? How was that going to work out? I'm no historian, nor am I overly picky about romantic FICTION, but I do know that back in Regency England, powerful men rarely married courtesans. So just how was this romance going to play out?
Apparently with bittersweet passion and plenty of angst filled moments between Robert and Belinda.
What I found interesting is that despite their places in society (Robert a duke and Belinda a courtesan), the two characters behaved in ways that did not match their positions in life. Robert is a duke and one that is considered a "paragon" of sorts, yet he lusted after another man's wife and planned to avenge her by killing her murderer. Not very admirable for someone society believed was above typical human behavior. Ironically it is Belinda, a courtesan who displays more honor, fairness and understanding of others' plights than the duke. Not to say that Robert isn't a good man, he is, but for being someone that is held in high esteem for his impeccable behavior, he seems to break a lot of moral and ethical codes.
I loved Belinda, absolutely adored her and I don't say that about many female characters, I may like them but it's the heroes that get most of my attention. However, I admired Belinda, she survived something horrible, something that many women today still unfortunately experience, yet she refuses to let that define who she is. She didn't allow that horrible incident to change who she was on the inside, even if she had to change who she was on the outside. Belinda remained a kind, caring, vulnerable soul but experience added a tough layer to hide those traits. She is simply put, a true survivor.
Gaelen Foley can create difficult emotional situations for her characters using the rules of the time period but somehow she always finds a believable solution for the hero and heroine. It's one of the things I love most about her books.
While The Duke can at times feel like a hopeless romance, there are plenty of lighter moments to be had, particularly when Lady Jacinda Knight and her friend Elizabeth Carlisle are involved. This book made me laugh and feel sorry for the characters the first time I read it five years ago, and those same sentiments are still present today. The Duke provides a wonderful introduction to an unconventional but loving family in Regency England, so one of the Knight siblings is bound to be YOUR favorite.