Years ago, the Duke of Greyland gave his heart—and a princely sum of money—to a charming, destitute widow with unparalleled beauty. But after one passionate night, she slipped from his bed and vanished without a trace. And just when he’s given up hope of ever seeing her again, Greyland finds her managing a gaming hell. He’s desperate to have her… until he discovers everything about his long-lost lover was a lie.
In truth, Cassandra Blake grew up on the streets, picking pockets to survive. Greyland was a mark—to be fleeced and forgotten—but her feelings for the duke became all too real. Once he learns of her deception, however, the heat in his eyes turns to ice. When her business partner absconds with the gaming hell proceeds—leaving unsavory investors out for blood—Cassandra must beg the man she betrayed for help.
Greyland wants compensation, too, and he’ll assist her under one condition: she doesn’t leave his sight until her debts are paid. But it’s not long before the real Cassandra—the smart, streetwise criminal—is stealing his heart all over again.
Publisher and Release Date: Avon, May 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1817
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Caz
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about other books by this author is the way she manages to create strong, intelligent heroines who are assertive and independent while still continuing to function in a society that essentially thought women were lesser beings and wanted to shove them into a corner marked “seen, not heard”. It’s a difficult line to tread; if you go too far, your heroine is shrewish and difficult to like, if you don’t go far enough, your heroine may be too much of a doormat to appeal to a modern audience. But Eva Leigh manages to get the balance just about right, mostly because she writes about women who are not just decorative ornaments; her heroines often have to make their own livings and have learned the hard way that the one person they can always rely on (until they meet their hero, that is!) is themselves – and she does this without making them so modern as to require too much suspension of disbelief that they could exist in Regency England. Cassandra Blake, her heroine in From Duke Till Dawn is one of those women, someone who has used her wits and intelligence to make a life for herself in a hostile world.
Alexander Lewis, Duke of Greyland has been brought up to be perfect. The perfect duke. The perfect gentleman. The perfect… everything. Even at thirty-eight, he still hears his father’s booming strictures about the importance of duty and responsibility, and he has done everything possible to live up to his sire’s expectations. But he’s hit a snag in terms of fulfilling one of the most important duties to his dukedom in that the demure and very eligible young lady to whom he had betrothed himself has just run off to Gretna Green with the another man. While there’s nothing Alex would rather do than slope off home to lick his wounds in solitude, he knows he has to put on a brave face and be seen out in society to show that the young woman’s actions have not affected him. In truth, they haven’t much – Alex wasn’t in love with the girl, he’s just annoyed and embarrassed at being jilted.
He’s in this morose state when his two best friends find him and insist on taking him to the newest gambling den in London. Alex’s heart isn’t in it, but he goes anyway – and is astonished when he hears a voice he’d thought never to hear again, the voice of the woman he’s nicknamed his Lost Queen. Two years earlier while in Cheltenham, Alex met and fell for a lovely widow named Cassandra Blair, a woman possessed of a quick mind as well as great beauty, and felt a intensely strong connection to her. She disappeared after their one night together, and although he never expected to see her again, Alex has never forgotten her. Yet now, here she is, as beautiful and poised as ever and Alex is smitten all over again.
Cassandra Blake is shocked at seeing the Duke of Greyland again and berates herself for returning to London where she’d known she would run the risk of meeting him again. But when her old mentor, Martin Hughes, offered her a job in which she could earn enough money to leave her life of swindling behind her and go legitimate, she couldn’t turn it down. She’s tired of the constant dishonesty and wants to live honestly – but first needs to be able to afford to do so.
Alex was supposed to have simply been a mark, a rich man she could take for a few hundred pounds, yet their brief time together meant something to Cassandra, so she falls back into her role of the beleaguered widow and makes up a story to account for the fact she left Alex so precipitately. Naturally, however, secrets such as these will out, and when Alex overhears Hughes suggesting that Cassandra try to fleece him again, he is furious and hurt by her betrayal, swearing to make her pay for her crimes.
Cassandra is completely unprepared for the visceral hurt she experiences at the disgust and betrayal in Alex’s eyes, but she has done what she has done in order to survive and doesn’t back down in the face of his angry accusations. She can’t help being afraid of his threats of retribution; but when she discovers that Hughes has done a bunk with all their money, she has more pressing concerns to face. Hughes borrowed a lot of money from a lot of shady characters in order to set up the club, and the moment news of his disappearance gets out, Cassandra knows her life will be worth less than nothing if she remains alone and unprotected. Terrified, she realises that she knows only one person in London she can trust absolutely – but he hates her and may well decide to leave her to her fate.
Alex is astonished when Cassandra arrives at his home begging for his help and has half a mind to have her thrown out – but then he realises that she is genuinely distressed, and while he is still deeply hurt by her deception, he certainly doesn’t want her dead. Believing that now he knows the truth he will be able to stop himself falling for her all over again, he agrees to help her to find Hughes, and in the process, discovers much about himself and the sort of man he really is and wants to be. I loved this aspect of the story and watching Alex gradually become his own man in truth, shedding much of his reserve and preoccupation with propriety and perfection, while retaining the parts of his character that make him a truly wonderful and memorable romantic hero.
Cassandra, too, finds her perceptions changing, her mentor’s betrayal finally opening her eyes to the truth about the hurt she must have caused those she had targeted and stolen from in the past. More than that, though, now that she is no longer part of the underground criminal community, she is forced to deal with her mistakes and face the consequences rather than running from them and jumping into the next con.
Ms. Leigh’s depiction of London’s criminal underworld is one of the book’s many strong points. Once Alex agrees to help Cassandra, he is plunged into a world he had never really known existed, one which has its own rules and pecking order, where morality is fluid and where nothing is ever black and white. It’s a real eye-opener for Alex, who soon discovers that he has to set aside some of his most deeply entrenched beliefs if he is to protect Cassandra, and ends up asking himself some difficult questions about what is truly important to him as a man versus the Greyland title.
Alex and Cassandra’s romance is imbued with sensuality and a palpable longing which builds deliciously to a fever pitch and some nicely steamy love scenes. But their emotional connection is strong, too, with both of them gradually lowering their defences to allow the other to see them as they truly are. There’s a real sense of honesty between them once they start to work together, with Alex even coming to respect and understand some of Cassandra’s choices while she recognises this new blossoming of trust for the gift it is.
From Duke Till Dawn is a terrific read, and one I’m happy to recommend most strongly. I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through the London Underground, and I’m eagerly looking forward to more.
A woman laughed, and Alexander Lewis, Duke of Greyland felt the sound like a gunshot to his chest.
It was a very pleasant laugh, low and musical rather than shrill and forced, yet it sounded like The Lost Queen’s laugh. Alex could not resist the urge to glance over his shoulder as he left the Eagle chophouse. He’d fancifully taken to calling her The Lost Queen, though she was most assuredly a mortal woman. Had she somehow appeared on a busy London street at dusk? The last time he’d seen her had been two years ago, in the spa town of Cheltenham, in his bed, asleep and naked.
The owner of the laugh turned out to be a completely different woman—brunette rather than blonde, petite and round rather than lithe and willowy. She caught Alex staring and raised her eyebrows. He bowed gravely in response, then continued toward the curb.
Night came on in indigo waves, but the shops spilled golden light in radiant patches onto the street.
The hardworking citizens of London continued to toil as the upper echelons began their evening revelries. Crowds thronged the sidewalk, while wagons, carriages, and people on horseback crammed the streets. A handful of pedestrians recognized Alex and politely curtsied or tipped their hats, murmuring, “Good evening, Your Grace.” Though he was in no mood for politeness, responsibility and virtue were his constant companions—had been his whole life—and so rather than snapping, “Go to the devil, damn you!” he merely nodded in greeting.
He’d done his duty. He’d been seen in public, rather than disappearing into the cavernous chambers of his Mayfair mansion, where he could lick his wounds in peace.
The trouble with being a duke was that he always had to do his duty. “You are the pinnacle of British Society,” his father had often said to him. “The world looks to you for guidance. So you must lead by example. Be their True North.”
This evening, before dining, Alex had taken a very conspicuous turn up and down Bond Street, making certain that he was seen by many consequential—and loose-lipped— figures in the ton. Word would soon spread that the Duke of Greyland was not holed up, sulking in seclusion. His honor as one of Society’s bulwarks would not be felled by something as insignificant as his failed marriage suit to Lady Emmeline Birks. The Dukes of Greyland had stood strong against Roundheads, Jacobites, and countless other threats against Britain. One girl barely out of the schoolroom could hardly damage Alex’s ducal armor.
But that armor had been dented by The Lost Queen. Far deeper than he would have expected.
Standing on the curb, he signaled for his carriage, which pulled out of the mews. He tugged on his spotless gloves as he waited and adjusted the brim of his black beaver hat to make certain it sat properly on his head. “Always maintain a faultless appearance,” his father had reminded him again and again. “The slightest bit of disorder in your dress can lead to rampant speculation about the stability of your affairs. This, we cannot tolerate. The nation demands nothing less than perfection.”
Alex’s father had been dead for ten years, but that didn’t keep the serious, sober man’s voice from his mind. It was part of him now—his role as one of the most powerful men in England and the responsibilities that role carried with it. Not once did he ever let frivolities distract him from his duties.
Except for one time . . .
Forcing the thought from his mind, Alex looked impatiently for his carriage. Just as the vehicle pulled up, however, two men appeared and grabbed his arms on each side.
Alex stiffened—he did not care for being touched without giving someone express permission to do so. People on the street also did not normally seize each other. Was it a robbery? A kidnapping attempt? His hands curled instinctively into fists, ready to give his accosters a beating.
“What’s this?” one of the younger men exclaimed with mock horror. “Have I grabbed hold of a thundercloud?”
“Don’t know about you,” the other man said drily, “but I seem to have attached myself to an enormous bar of iron. How else to explain its inflexibility?” He tried to shake Alex, to little avail. When he wanted to be, Alex was absolutely immovable.
Alex’s fingers loosened. He tugged his arms free and growled, “That’s enough, you donkeys.”
Thomas Powell, the Earl of Langdon and heir to the Duke of Northfield, grinned, a flash of white in his slightly unshaven face. “Come now, Greyland,” he chided. A hint of an Irish accent made his voice musical, evidence of Langdon’s early years spent in his mother’s native County Kerry. “Is that any way to speak to your oldest and dearest friends?”
“I’ll let you know when they get here.” Alex scowled at Langdon, then at Christopher Ellingsworth, who only smirked in response.
Alex took a step toward his carriage, but Ellingsworth deftly moved to block his path, displaying the speed and skill that had served him well when he’d fought on the Peninsula.
“Where are you running off to with such indecorous haste?” Ellingsworth pressed. He held up a finger. “Ah, never tell me. You’re running back to the shelter of your Mayfair cave, to growl and brood like some big black bear in a cravat.”
“You know nothing,” Alex returned, despite the fact that Ellingsworth had outlined his exact plans for the rest of the night.
Ellingsworth looked at Langdon with exaggerated pity. “Poor chap. The young Lady Emmeline has utterly shattered his heart.”
Alex shouldered past Ellingsworth, only to have Langdon move to stand in his way.
“My heart is not shattered because of Lady Emmeline,” Alex snapped. At least that much was the truth.
“But why shouldn’t your heart be strewn in pieces throughout Regent’s Park?” Langdon mused. “You courted the young lady for several months, and you told Ellingsworth and I that you’d already received her father’s grateful acceptance of a marriage offer.”
“She never agreed to anything,” Alex said flatly.
“A modest girl, that Lady Emmeline.” Ellingsworth nodded with approval. “She wouldn’t have said yes right away. They never do. Nothing to be alarmed by.”
“How would you know?” Alex’s voice was edged. Ellingsworth had little experience with offering for ladies’ hands, committed as he was to a life of reckless pleasure.
Langdon added, “It’d be unseemly for an earl’s daughter to eagerly snap up a marriage proposal the moment it was offered.”
Alex scowled. Despite the fact that, at thirty-eight, he was sixteen years her senior, they would suit well as a wedded couple. Lady Emmeline had been perfectly trained in the responsibilities of an aristocratic wife. Though he wished she stated her own opinion rather than constantly agreeing with him, there were worse faults one could find in a prospective bride.
They could marry at Christmas, eight months from now. It would be a small but elegant wedding, followed by a lavish breakfast and a wedding journey in the Lake District. And then, if everything went well, in less than a year, Alex and Lady Emmeline might welcome their first child—hopefully a boy so the line would be secure. It would’ve been precisely the sort of match Alex’s
father would have approved, considering Lady Emmeline’s faultless background and her spotless reputation.
“Look at him now, mooning away,” Langdon sighed, smugly thwarting Alex’s attempts to step around him. “He looks poorly.”
It would be bad form to knock his friend to the ground. Damn the social niceties that dictated a man couldn’t punch another without repercussions.
“Perhaps he should be bled,” Ellingsworth suggested with his habitual smirk. It was his constant companion since returning from the War, as if he refused to take anything seriously.
“I am perfectly well.” Alex looked back and forth between these two rogues whom he called friends. “No need to call for a quack.”
“He’s already had an amputation,” Langdon noted, raising a brow as he always did. “One prospective bride—gone.” He made a sawing motion at his ankle, as if cutting the shackles of matrimony.
Alex glanced down at his own lower leg, as if he could see the invisible links that might have bound him to Lady Emmeline. He’d come so close to becoming a married man and sharing the rest of his life with one woman—the faultless duke his father had bred him to be. It hardly mattered that Alex felt nothing for the gel other than a sense of distant respect. She would have made a fine duchess.
“We were at White’s yesterday when we heard about what happened,” Langdon said with disapproval. “Didn’t even tell your two closest friends that Lady Emmeline had run off with a cavalry officer. No, we had to hear it from Lord Ruthven, of all people.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eva Leigh is the pen name of a RITA® Award-nominated romance author who writes novels chock-full of smart women and sexy men. She enjoys baking, Tweeting about boots, and listening to music from the ’80s. Eva and her husband live in Southern California.
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