"She Tempts the Duke" is a tale of friendship and love. It begins with small children... the three young Lords of Pembrook on the day of their father's death. Their uncle locks them in a tower and their neighbor, and close friend of the heir Sebastian, comes to rescue them. Mary manages to knock out a full grown guard, steal his key and takes the boys to safety.
The children all make a pact to return to an old abbey in a decade or so.. which ends up being more like 12 years from then. Reunited, the now-adult men are together again to reclaim their home and birthright and take down their evil uncle.
When Sebastian returns home, Mary is engaged to a nice-enough young man who is intrigued by her dowry. But of course, chemistry still tingles between Sebastian and herself. He, however, is determined NOT to have her. Most of the center of the novel circles around these two resisting each other, despite their history, chemistry and mutual respect.
I loved the first quarter of the novel despite it's silliness. Meaning, some of the plot points are anachronous or ridiculous.. I, too, was turned off that Mary ended up in a CONVENT of all places. This being late century Victorian England ... why didn't her father just send her to a boarding school?! They obviously have money as he's given her a healthy dowry. And the very idea that he left her in the convent until she was 23 years old seemed a little absurd in addition.
I also found it hard to believe that the boys separated as children. Sebastian gives the explanation that they had to be apart in case they didn't survive so that at least one of them could claim the title... which I didn't see as realistic coming from a fourteen year old. Sebastian is riddled with guilt because he sold one brother to a ship and the other he left in a poorhouse. Despite the incredible odds of ANYone becoming wealthy from poverty in a class-based, non-capitalist society... ALL three boys grow into wealthy successful men without the aid of title or inheritance.
But overlooking all of that silliness, I still liked the novel and the concept. However, about half through it was beginning to lag. I remembered checking my percentage read and was shocked that I was at only 39%. With the bulk of the plot being centered around Sebastian and Mary resisting their very obvious love for each other, I started to get a little bored.
Sebastian would verbally say aloud and then think to himself that he needs a wife fairly soon so he can make an heir, but somehow the idea of marrying Mary is a silly notion to him. It's all very exasperating. They use the excuse of Mary being engaged as a huge obstacle, but it's really just not an obstacle. Further, Sebastian has a disfigurement from war (scarred face, missing an eye) and he uses THAT as a means to push her away.. but it's very clear she's not turned off by it. (I kept thinking... ok if you're afraid even SHE can't handle it... how will you ever find a wife period?) The two go round and round this issue of not being in love and resisting each other and it is pretty much the whole center of the novel... and it felt like beating a dead horse.
Overall the book was good and I will absolutely will read the next two. I really liked the brothers and I'm especially intrigued by Rafe, the youngest and the owner of a gaming hall.
"She Tempts the Duke" wasn't bad... but it also wasn't stellar. I doubt I would reread it as there isn't much of a plot to it. But it was a great read for a chilly, autumn Sunday night, curled up with a blanket.