Denying the Duke- Callie Hutton
Scandalous: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Release Date: July 10, 2017
Rating (out of 5)
Synopsis: Four years ago, Alex, a second son, had planned a life together with Lady Patience. However, when Patience was betrothed to his brother, the heir, Alex left his family's estate and joined the military.
Alex returns to assume the title Duke of Bedford when his brother unexpectedly dies. He is unprepared for both his new responsibilities and the reunion with Patience. The horrors of war are a heavy burden, and when he learns that Patience never married his brother, he is stunned.
Patience withstood the bullying of her fiancé and her father for four long years. She refuses to marry Alex just because he's the duke, especially if he no longer loves her. How would that be better than what she has already endured? Promises made in their youth are not enough to overcome the changes life has wrought for them but love can grow and transform, if only Patience could believe that.
Four years ago Alex was a second son, ignored by his parents and bullied by his older brother. Meeting the 16 year old Lady Patience, Alex feels seen for the first time. Patience has seen how miserable her mother is in marriage and hopes for better things- things she thinks she has found in Alex. But when their fathers announce her betrothal to Alex's elder brother Cyrus, their young plans fall apart. Alex leaves home, joins the military, and doesn't come back until he is summoned four years later. Both his father and brother are dead and he is now the Duke of Bedford. To his surprise, Patience had not yet married Cyrus. But four years can change people, and neither are who they once were, Can they find their way back to love, or has their chance passed forever?
Although I'm not generally a fan of second-chance romance, the idea for this book really intrigued me. What if the second chance was not because the two lovers messed up and drove each other apart, but because their parents did? How could you overcome the obstacles caused by others to reach a happily-ever-after? Unfortunately, Denying the Duke didn't deliver good answers for me.
Most of my problem was with Alex. The ignored second son who goes off to war and comes back a changed and hardened man. So far so good, that's all believable and makes for good character building. He's bitter towards his whole family, partly for how they always treated him and partly for engaging his older brother to the girl he's falling in love with. I might point out that he could have tried to fight for her, but he was young, so I'm still ok with him. Then he returns home and he loses me. He ignores Patience at Cyrus' funeral, thinking she's his brother's widow, then finds out from friends that she hadn't married Cyrus. Patience's title-hungry father immediately suggests Alex marry Patience. Alex goes from complete refusal to thinking maybe it would be convenient to marry her so he doesn't have to search the Marriage Mart for a wife. He's in lust with her but, rather like his behavior at the funeral, he rarely tries to see Patience or who she is now. Until he completely messes up a 'proposal' and she refuses, then she's a challenge. Even after they get married and start getting to know each other, he refuses to explain himself, his actions, or share anything with her- while expecting her to do all of that with him.
I liked Patience- she had a miserable home life with a bullying and abusive father (then add on a fiancé who was even worse) and spent most of her life not being consulted about any aspect of her life. By the time she and Alex meet again she has managed to hold on to a kind and generous spirit, but she's also sick of being bullied by men and wants to have her own say in her life. She doesn't actually figure out how to do that until she's married to Alex. Then she decides she deserves courting and tells Alex she won't go to bed with him until he's wooed her and they are friends again. Alex does agree she deserves some romance, but works to seduce her at the same time.
Just when you think there's a chance they can get things right, a traitor from the past starts stalking them. Alex knows the villain will probably try to get to him through his wife, so he and his friends make sure she's never out of sight. The one thing they don't do to protect her is to tell Patience what's happening. I was willing to look past Alex's past jerky behavior once he and Patience started finding their footing and it was clear he was somewhat willing to try and be a good husband, but this blew it for me. Patience figures out pretty fast that she's being watched every second and when Alex won't explain why what is she to think but that he doesn't trust her?
There were plenty of things where a deeper exploration could have improved the plot and the characters. I would have loved to see more between Alex and his family. Was Alex, the intelligent, serious, polite and kind son, very unlike his father and that was why they couldn't get along? The glimpses you get of Cyrus, even at a young age, certainly suggest he wasn't going to be a good duke- so why didn't their parents train Alex to handle estate affairs for his brother? Were his parents literally so stupid and shallow that they only preferred the older brother because he was the heir by accident of birth and ignored Alex until he was the Duke? Did his mother care for nothing but the title, not the man who held it, as Alex asks at one point? When we discover the blackmail Patience's father held over the old duke, there's plenty of room to find out more about the duke, as well as Patience's mother. But we only get glimpses. We get glimpses of some of Alex's time at war that could help explain why he does some things, and it could have been expanded to better cover why he doesn't tell Patience about the danger she's in. But we are left unsatisfied with what we get, and my impression of Alex suffers as a result.
I think one of my big problems with Denying the Duke (besides a completely unlikable make lead) was that it tried to be too many things at once, and so things that could have been explored and made for deeper characters were dropped. Is this a second-chance romance, a marriage of convenience trope, the redemption of a man haunted by war, a woman finding herself, a spy thriller? Most books can pull off two or even three of these in the same storyline. A rare few can possibly put them all together into a compelling, deep, and enjoyable storyline, full of engaging characters you like or come to like and cheer towards a happy ending. Denying the Duke manages to be none of the above, and a rather disappointing read.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.