by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Fifth Avenue Rebels #4
Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: January 24, 2023
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
By beloved USA Today bestselling author Joanna Shupe, the fourth installment in the Fifth Avenue Rebels series about a secret affair between a free-spirited heiress and an uptight duke which turns more passionate than either could have imagined.
A rebellious heiress.
A duke in dire straits.
An anonymous midnight tryst.
To escape the shackles of marriage, Nellie Young purposely ruined her reputation a long time ago. Now she dedicates herself to hedonistic pleasures only, like kissing a handsome stranger in the ocean under the moonlight...
To save his estate, the proper Duke of Lockwood must marry the perfect bride--wealthy, with an unblemished reputation. While in New York he's the perfect gentleman, and no one knows he's suppressing his darkest desires. The last thing he needs is another scandal.
Except Nellie sees through Lockwood's charade, straight to the real man underneath. This uptight duke is far more than he lets on, and she can't resist him. Their secret affair turns scorching, far more than either expected. And when his beautiful rebel finds an unconventional cause, Lockwood has to decide if he's willing to sacrifice everything to keep her.
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I don’t read as much historical romance as I used to, but when I saw the blurb, I couldn’t resist. While this is the fourth in a series, I read it as a standalone. There were cameos from previous couples that I suppose would have had more emotional heft if I was familiar with their stories, but the central story worked well for me.
Nellie and the Duke of Lockwood may have a scandalous first meeting, but it’s the next day at a society party where the battle lines are drawn. Lockwood, an English duke of an impoverished estate, needs to marry well and while rich heiress Nellie may fit that part of his requirements, her scandalous reputation doesn’t. But they can’t help getting under each others skin or the attraction that comes with it. One time to get it out of their systems can’t hurt, right?
Nellie is the apple of her father’s eye and as as his heiress, she doesn’t need a husband to support herself. She’s never had any interest in giving up her freedom for some man, so she deliberately “ruined” herself and has continued to cultivate a scandalous reputation. But with her friends partnered off and about to start families, she feels adrift and abandoned. Besides tending her late mother’s garden, she has no idea what to do next. But whatever she wants to do with her life, it’s certainly not becoming a duchess and moving to England.
After inheriting the estate his father mismanaged, Lockwood’s worked hard to fulfill all of the duties and responsibilities of his position, though finding a nice rich duchess (and a quickly produced heir) has proven harder than most. Unlike the bumper crop of unusually fit dukes we see in historicals, Lockwood has a good reason for the amount of exercise (specifically swimming) he does. The navigation around his diagnosis – and his prognosis – was handled skillfully, from his resistance to seeing yet another doctor to his grim acceptance.
An unexpected anonymous meeting in the ocean at night kickstarts their chemistry. Perhaps it’s that first meeting that makes it so easy for Nellie to see through Lockwood’s mask that he puts on for society, the dutiful duke who dances with debutantes. And in return, as Lockwood comes to love her, he sees her clearly as well. Lockwood quickly realizes that Nellie is the one for him, but knows that springing that on her will not go well.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so much of the plot revolves around choice. There’s a subplot about Nellie’s work supplying contraceptives to bypass the Comstock Act, but it’s also part of the characters. Lockwood has never been free to do what he wants, while Nellie has always been able to. It’s just that now she’s not sure what that is. When Lockwood finally makes the choice to pursue Nellie, she’s stuck being unable to chose what she wants – after she eventually admits it, of course. Sure, some of it is that she knows Lockwood needs a wife with a spotless reputation, but a large part of that is fear, as well. Sometimes it’s easier to continue with the life you’ve known rather than upend everything you know in the search for happiness.
One of my favorite parts of romance novels is the banter, and wow, this book delivers. Nellie is fierce and unwilling to back down and Lockwood meets her step for step. They absolutely lit up the page, and well, steamed it up, too. Neither Nellie nor Lockwood are as vanilla as society would expect, and they’re as much a perfect match in bed as they are in banter. I also loved Nellie’s Irish family, especially her aunt who acted like a surrogate mother for her.
Overall, absolutely delightful! I’ve already added the first in the series to my TBR list and can’t wait to read it!
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