How to Forget a Duke by Vivienne Lorret

How to Forget a Duke is a delightfully tropey Regency featuring a hero who goes from loveable curmudgeon to joyfully in love. It was a lovely departure from some of the truly awful heroes I’ve been encountering lately. So how tropey is it, you ask? We’ve got enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity, matchmaking,  and–hell yeah–amnesia. All of it works, and honestly, this romance is just so fun that it made my day.

Jacinda Bourne and her sisters run a matchmaking agency that allows them to earn an income while still being part of the upper class. Actually they pretend their uncle runs it, but they do all the work. You see, the Bourne sisters were laid low when it turned out their father had been keeping another family. Their mother sunk into a deep depression and ultimately died of a broken heart, leaving the girls to fend for themselves with few resources and stained reputations.

When the book opens the Bourne Matrimonial Agency has just landed it’s biggest client yet, one that could get their agency more high society clients and make them a success. Crispin, the Duke of Rydstrom, is looking for the perfect duchess. Jacinda is puzzled as to why he needs a matchmaking agency at all; the guy is a handsome duke so he should have his pick of ladies.

She’s determined not to put another woman in a heartbreaking situation like her mother was, so she disguises herself as a maid and breaks into Crispin’s office and discovers that he’s super broke. His aunt will gift him some money on his wedding that might allow him to turn his circumstances around. She also finds a letter stating that someone named Sybil is waiting for him back at his dilapidated, cliffside estate.

Crispin catches Jacinda snooping through his things:

“A professional busybody,” the duke said with fractious scorn. “Have you no shame, no thought of conscience for your machinations?”

“Of course I have a conscience,” she said with unflinching certainty, hiking up her chin. “When the circumstance warrants such feelings, it is the first to rear at me. This morning, however, you are the only one rearing, which tells me you are prone to exaggerated emotions. This is something I must note for your file. If you’ll excuse me.”

Picking up her book from the desk, she held it against her like a shield. She had every intention of walking out the door. The only problem was, he was still blocking the way. Not only that, but she still had his letter beneath her slipper. Bother.

“I will not excuse you, Miss Bourne. You are trespassing in my home, disguised as a servant, and–”

“Aren’t we all servants to one another, sir, each in our own way?” She’d heard these very words from the reverend this past Sunday.

Fortunately, her impassioned piousness stopped whatever diatribe the duke had been proceeding to inflict upon her. However, unfortunately, it also made him take two hard steps toward her.

The carpeted floor bumped beneath her feet, resonating a warning up her body. He is not one to trifle with, her inner voice of reason whispered. Jacinda did not doubt the truth of it for an instant.

It was a shame that she had yet to heed the advice of that voice.

Standing at the corner of the desk, he loomed over her, the scent of cedar rising from his clothes, his eyes turning dark as a forest at midnight. Indeed, he was a lean-bodied tree of a man, all shoulders, and arms as thick as branches. A jagged vein streaked across his forehead, looking like a gnarled twig beneath the surface of his skin. His nostrils flared as his mouth compressed to a firm white-edged line. “They say even the devil can quote scripture, and I imagine that applies to Sunday sermons as well.”

Devil, indeed.

The reason I gave this book a B instead of an A is that I found it hard to believe Crispin didn’t fire The Bourne Matrimonial Agency right there and then. Instead he tells Jacinda that he’ll keep her breaking and entering a secret so long as she finds him his desired duchess. I also found it hard to believe that he can’t procure a wife on his own. But let’s be honest: there’s a lot of substantial reality that must be suspended for this story to work.

Anyway, Jacinda can’t keep well enough alone. She’s concerned about who Sybil is, and she wants to make sure the duke isn’t keeping another wife in his attic or something (IT HAPPENS OK?). So she heads for his family estate to snoop some more (I know) except her carriage goes over a cliffside. She survives, but she’s washed ashore with no memory of who she is.

Crispin finds out that Jacinda knows about Sybil and rushes home to stop her. Sybil is actually his illegitimate sister, a young mute girl that he’s taken on his ward, telling people she is the relation of his housekeeper. He doesn’t want anyone to know that his late father had an illegitimate child as he’s hoping to keep Sybil’s reputation untarnished and provide her with good prospects in life.

So he returns home and finds Jacinda soaking wet with no idea who she is or what’s going on. A local doctor declares that she has a head injury and that Crispin should put her up at his family home while she recovers. Here Crispin and Jacinda are at the beach, arguing about it:

Exhaling his frustration, Crispin strode through the sand to Miss Bourne’s side and offered his arm. “If I may.”

“You needn’t trouble yourself,” she said with a lift of her pert chin, her eyes reflecting a flash of lightning. A warning growl of thunder followed, foretelling the near arrival of the storm. “Contrary to what you might believe of my injuries, my vision is healthy, and I can see your reluctance quite clearly.”

Not having time or patience to deal with a feminine snit, Crispin clenched his teeth. “My only concern at present is to leave this beach and seek shelter before either one of us is struck by lightning. And since I am the taller of us, no doubt the bolt would find me. Now, if you would give me your arm.”

“I don’t think I shall. I am perfectly capable of walking unassisted.”

She busied herself with tucking the cloth wrapping around her book, the tip of an ear peeking out from beneath a curtain of wavy burnished hair. His fingers twitched with the unmistakable desire to tuck those loose locks out of the way so he could see the delicate half-heart shape of it.

He grew irritated, betrayed by the unwelcome urges or his mind and body. “And I am perfectly capable of tossing you over my shoulder like a coil of fisherman’s rope.”

Her gaze whipped up to meet his. “What a brutish thing to say, especially to one you found in such a helpless state.”

“Miss Bourne,” he began, his voice low and deceptively calm. “I believe I can say this with the utmost confidence–there isn’t an ounce of helplessness in you. Certain types of people are determined to survive no matter what odds they face. In fact I suspect that the sea was getting tired of fighting against you and simply tossed you onto the shore as a means of self-preservation.”

Jacinda does stay with Crispin and of course she meets Sybil and strikes up a friendship. Then Crispin’s servants try their hand at matchmaking because they love Jacinda too.

The thing that I really, really loved about this book was the slow progression from Crispin and Jacinda hissing and spitting at each other, to finding common ground and friendship, to falling in love. While there’s obviously attraction between them, they don’t get there by pants feelings alone. It’s a gentle progression from irritation to respect to affection.

The other thing I loved was how Crispin thawed out from being a curmudgeon to being a man in love. Once he realizes he’s in love with Jacinda, he doesn’t rail against it. He’s in it all the way. He goes from the icy diatribes above to softly calling her “darling” at every opportunity, and I love to see a hero who is melted by his feelings. It felt genuine and sweet, and I found it heartwarming.

Some of the plot felt a little unrealistic to me, but I was overlooked it because the dynamic between the hero and heroine of How to Forget a Duke was so delicious, and because I really love a tropey historical. This was the read I needed to brighten up my week.

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How to Forget a Duke by Vivienne Lorret

May 29, 2018


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