Freya de Moray was born a lady, but now she's little more than the disgraced daughter of nobility. She works as a spy for a secretive organization known as the Wise Women, doing whatever she can to help out other women in need, while working undercover as a companion under an assumed name. Her latest assignment with the Wise Women takes her to a house party where she is tasked with finding incriminating evidence that can be used as leverage against a member of Parliament who is about to introduce a bill to make witch-hunting legal again. While there she runs into the Duke of Harlowe whom she had a crush on as a girl, but now holds responsible for the downfall of her family and her brother's crippled state. Not in a mood to forgive, she begins to plot her revenge, never expecting to develop feelings for the man she's hated for years.
Christopher Renshaw is being blackmailed. He reluctantly agrees to attend the house party to meet with his extortionist, while planning to make the man pay for his sins. Then he recognizes Freya and realizes that he may be in even more trouble. The fiery beauty stirs something inside him that no other woman ever has, but getting her to forgive him for his long-ago mistakes that have haunted him ever since could prove challenging. When Christopher discovers that Freya's life may be endangered by her mission, he wants nothing more than to protect her, but the fiercely independent lady rejects both his help and his romantic suit. Can Christopher find a way to make Freya understand that he loves her as she is and has no interest in changing her, and can he get her to trust him with both her life and her heart?
Patience for Christmas by Grace Burrowes - bonus novella.
Not the Duke's Darling is the first book in Elizabeth Hoyt's promising new Greycourt series. It follows the exploits of our heroine, Freya, who is part of a secret order known as the Wise Women. These women live in a commune-like environment in northern Scotland. They're well-educated in many different traditional areas, as well as learning the ways of their foremothers in the healing arts. They're also very independent and forward-thinking, always trying to protect their fellow women in need in an era when women's rights were virtually non-existent. Freya is paired with Christopher, a duke, who unexpectedly inherited his title from a distant relative. The two were acquainted in childhood with Christopher being Freya's brother, Rand's best friend. Freya had a huge crush on Christopher as a girl, but ever since a scandalous tragedy involving both their families, they haven't seen each other for fifteen years until a chance meeting in which Freya all but throws herself and a woman and child she's trying to save into his coach during a daring escape. Then they have a later second meeting at a house party they're both attending, which leads to a rekindling of their friendship and a whole lot more.
Freya is the daughter of a duke, but when she was twelve years old, her older brother, Rand, was accused of a heinous crime and severely beaten for it by the men of the father of the woman he'd supposedly wronged. Of course, none of it was true, but her brother was left permanently maimed as a result and now lives in seclusion. Not long after the scandal, her father died as well, leaving her ill brother, who was only eighteen at the time, as new duke. Since Rand was unable to care for Freya and her younger sisters, an older, maiden aunt came to take them to live with her and the Wise Women who taught them all they knew. As a result, Freya is now a fiercely independent spitfire, who has worked as the Macha (or spy) of the group for the past five years, saving many women who might otherwise have perished or been horribly abused. She lives under the assumed identity of a companion and chaperon to a lady and her two daughters, but she's been tasked by the Wise Women to find dirt on a lord who is about to introduce legislation to make witch-hunting legal again. Since the Wise Women are often accused of witchcraft, this would be a terrible turn events for them. As it happens, the house party Freya is to attend with her charges is being held at an estate next-door to the lord she needs to investigate. Also in attendance at the party is Christopher, who Freya blames for Rand's condition, so she vows to get vengeance on him at the same time. But she didn't expect to discover that Christopher is actually a decent guy and then find herself falling in love with him.
Freya is a very liberated woman, possibly too much so for some readers given that this is a historical romance. This might be why the book has lower ratings than most of Elizabeth Hoyt's works, but since I haven't read any reviews yet, I'm not sure. Given the context of her upbringing, though, I was able to set aside any skepticism. I'm not really sure if Wise Women like what are portrayed here actually existed at the time, but it at least seemed plausible to me. Freya is, however, tough as nails and doesn't believe that she needs a man in her life at all, something that becomes a sticking point in her burgeoning relationship with Christoper. I often have difficulty with heroines who are as stubborn and independent as Freya is, but somehow she made sense to me. Perhaps it's because she vacillates between her fiercely independent streaks and softer, more vulnerable moments. I loved how she comforted Christopher when they were locked in a small space and he was panicking. I also like how she took charge to some extent during the love scenes, but was always so giving of herself at the same time. In addition, she could be reasonable and forgiving when faced with the truth of what Christoper's life has been like since that scandalous night. I'll admit that Freya did come close to tweaking my buttons when she kept refusing Christopher's proposals, but in the end, I think she was just afraid of losing herself and her autonomy in their relationship, which is a valid concern that many strong-willed women like her have.
Christopher is haunted by that scandalous night and regrets not taking action to help his friend before things went too far. Simply because he had been involved, he ended up paying a steep price, not just to his psyche, but in his life. His father forced him into an arranged marriage with a woman he'd only met twice, then basically exiled him to India, where his wife died, something he also holds himself responsible for. It wasn't until a distant relative died without heirs, leaving him as the next duke that he returned to England. When Christopher meets up with Freya again, he realizes she's everything he's longed for in a wife and partner, and the exact opposite of his former wife. He loves Freya's fiery nature and the way she argues and debates with him. She challenges him at every turn, but he finds it all arousing and intriguing. However, the independent lady keeps refusing his suit, as well as his help, even when investigating a potentially dangerous enemy. I absolutely adored Christopher. He's a kind, caring man, completely accepting of Freya as she is and never expecting her to change into a meek and submissive wife. What he wants is an equal partner and he respects her intellectual abilities. He's also very patient, never badgering her to accept his proposal. Even though a part of him wants to, he bides his time, allowing her to come to terms with the decision on her own without stifling her autonomy, even if it means possibly losing her.
Overall, Not the Duke's Darling was another great read from the pen of Elizabeth Hoyt. It boasts some great secondary characters, including Freya's former best friend, Messalina, another player from that fateful night, with whom she reconnects. Messalina gets several of her own POV scenes, and we also get a brief introduction to Gideon Hawthorne, the man I'm pretty sure will become her hero in the next book of the series, A Rogue Meets His Match. There were a number of other characters that could also make great future heroes and heroines, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Christopher's loyal dog, Tess, who's always by his side. In addition to the wonderful characters, there's plenty of action and intrigue, enough for me to categorize this book as romantic suspense. There are multiple mysteries afoot to figure out, including what happened that night fifteen years ago, why someone is blackmailing Christopher, and what happened to the wife of the lord Freya is investigating. I have to say I wasn't the least disappointed with any of these reveals. The only thing that wasn't entirely solved is what happened to Messalina's sister, which is a mystery that I assume will be explored further in future books of the Greycourt series. But for now, Not the Duke's Darling was an awesome start to this new series that has me eagerly awaiting the next one, which is expected to be released this summer (2019).
Patience for Christmas by Grace Burrowes - bonus novella that's found in the back of Not the Duke's Darling.
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