Twenty years ago, when he was only a youth, Maximus Batten, the Duke of Wakefield, witnessed the brutal murder of his parents in the London slum of St. Giles. Prior to that, he'd been a typical mischievous boy, but after, he became very serious-minded. The only thing that mattered to him was bringing honor to the title he'd inherited and tracking down his parents' killer. To accomplish the latter, Maximus eventually took up the mantle of the Ghost of St. Giles, prowling the streets at night, seeking justice. As to the former, he has decided to take a wife and stubbornly clings to the notion that she must be a lady perfectly bred for the position of his duchess. However, Maximus didn't count on the lovely companion of the lady he has in mind beguiling and bewitching him until he can think of no one else.
Artemis Greaves was born a gently bred lady, but after the death of her parents and her twin brother, Apollo, being sent to Bedlam for a crime he didn't commit, she found herself penniless and alone. She was taken in by a distant cousin who set her up as his daughter's companion. While she is appreciative of their generosity, she can't help feeling trapped by her position. Artemis also loves and adores her brother. She is the only person who believes in his innocence and would do anything to see him freed. When Artemis figures out that Maximus is the Ghost, she attempts to blackmail him into using the power of his position to have Apollo released, but the stubborn man won't cooperate until a near-tragedy leaves her pleading with him for her brother's life. Deeply attracted to the Duke and grateful for him saving her brother's life, Artemis offers herself to him even though he can promise her nothing in return except his passion. Can Artemis accept a life only as Maximus's mistress or will the dashing Duke finally come to his senses and realize that the perfect woman for him is already in his arms?
Elizabeth Hoyt never ceases to amaze me with her beautiful romantic tales, and Duke of Midnight is no exception. I didn't find the first half or so of the book to be quite as engaging as the last three in the Maiden Lane series, which is the main reason I knocked of the half star, but it was still a great story. The characters were likable, and I always felt like I understood them. The author continues her tradition of a fairy tale that mirrors the main story, excerpts of which begin each chapter. The writing was strong as usual, and the romance, while not quite as swoon-worthy as the previous three books, was still quite lovely once the hero and heroine really started getting to know one another. The love scenes were intense and steamy too. All in all, Duke of Midnight was another wonderful addition to this already wonderful series.
Maximus is a man who embodies a brooding intensity. He's extremely reserved and deeply introverted, treasuring his morning walks with only his dogs as companions. He also takes everything he does quite seriously, whether it's his work in Parliament, finding a suitable wife, or haunting the streets of St. Giles at night as the Ghost. However, we quickly discover that his graveness is fueled primarily by having borne witness to his parent's murders when he was only fourteen. Prior to that time, he was a typical mischievous boy, but after, he viewed it as his sworn duty to uphold their memory by not only finding their murderer and bringing him to justice, but also by doing everything as perfectly as he could to bring honor to his father's Dukedom. Maximus is a very pragmatic man who begins his pursuit of the heroine's cousin, Penelope, mainly because she's perfect for him on paper and he believes it is his responsibility as a Duke to marry. He thinks it's quite normal to enter into that commitment with someone he doesn't love. Of course, from the moment he meets Penelope's companion, Artemis, he is drawn to her and feels protective toward her. He recognizes and admires Artemis's inner strength, and enjoys her company when she joins him on his early morning walks. He finds that he can talk to her about deeper things that he could never discuss with Penelope. Despite that, he is devoted to doing what he thinks is the right thing for the Dukedom, which means that the only way he can entertain the notion of being with Artemis is with her as his mistress. In his mind, her family history of madness and her lowly position as a lady's companion make her unsuitable as anything more, yet it's obvious in his actions and the way he makes love to her that he cares for her fiercely. As I expected from his introduction in his sister, Hero's book, Maximus is a man of strong principles coupled with an underlying devotion that can be easy to miss, and he turns that passion on Artemis with an explosive effect. In spite of his take-no-prisoners attitude, Artemis effectively becomes his Achilles heel. It was so sweet that he thought of her as his goddess, and he couldn't bear to see her unhappy. Her honest pleading and tears for her brother did far more for her cause than her previously determined coercion.
For four years, Artemis has been living the life of the poor relation. After her parents died and her twin brother, Apollo, was wrongly accused of murder and committed to Bedlam, she had no one to turn to except her distant cousins. They were kind enough to take her in and give her a position as companion to Penelope, but the girl can be pretty self-centered. Artemis appreciates their generosity, but has little to call her own and feels like she's going to be stuck in the role of servant, at Penelope's beck and call, for the rest of her life. During this time, she has never doubted Apollo's innocence and visits him in the asylum every chance she gets. She is completely loyal to her brother and would literally do anything for him, especially if it means possibly getting him released from his prison. I did have a few reservations about her attempting to blackmail Maximus, but I understood why she was doing it. While Maximus did get angry about it, on some level, I think he also realized that it was something completely out of character for her to do and that it was an act borne out of desperation. Artemis appreciates him taking the time to listen to and speak with her which is something a woman of her low station rarely experiences. She recognizes the feral tiger buried beneath Maximus's cool facade and relishes engaging that part of him. Unlike most young women of the era, she doesn't have any maidenly fears, and in fact, fully enjoys giving herself to Maximus even when their love making is fierce and raw and even though it means she's become a fallen woman. Artemis loves Maximus so much, that a part of her is willing to accept any part of him she can get, even if it means only being his mistress. However, it doesn't stop her from feeling guilty about loving the man meant for her cousin. This leads her to make a very tough choice between becoming his kept woman and letting him go to prevent others from being hurt.
Together, Maximus and Artemis make a somewhat more reserved couple than others in the Maiden Lane series, but that's not to say they weren't appealing in their own way. I enjoyed the ease with which they can talk to one another. It created a nice connection, but I found that they weren't sharing a great deal of personal information about themselves, in the beginning, especially Maximus. Artemis was intelligent enough to discern on her own that Maximus was the Ghost, but he didn't offer much in the way of explanations about his endeavors until near the end of the story. On the flip side, Maximus had investigated Artemis as part of his thoroughness in searching for a wife, so he already knew a fair bit about her. With this being the case, I don't think there was quite as much room for getting-to-know-you moments as there could have been, which may have been why I didn't really start feeling the connection between them until later in the story. Also, between him playing it close to the vest, and her blackmailing him, it created some tension in their relationship that somewhat stifled the romance early on. Once he rescues Apollo and she expresses her appreciation by giving herself freely to him, things gradually start to change, but it's still a slow burn that required an explosive climax for Maximus to fully realize how much Artemis had come to mean to him and that she was worth risking everything for.
Duke of Midnight also boasts a number of well-drawn secondary characters. Many previous Maiden Lane cast members return in cameos or small supporting roles. Penelope of course, is front and center, being courted not only by Maximus but also by another much older duke. I have to admit I like the way the other man handled the sometimes spoiled heiress and was slightly disappointed that there was no solid resolution to their relationship. Asa, the black sheep of the Makepeace family, finally puts in an appearance in the epilogue as a friend of Apollo. Artemis acts as a temporary companion to Maximus's younger sister, Phoebe, whose eyesight continues to fail. Best of all though, was Apollo who is very protective of his sister. Every time she comes to visit him in Bedlam, he tries to put on a brave face so she won't worry about him, and he's concerned for her well-being when he begins to suspect that Maximus has seduced her. Apollo also has a noble streak in him, trying to rescue another poor unfortunate inmate in Bedlam from being raped, and ended up paying a high price for his bravery. I'm already enamored of his character, and since he played such a prominent role in this book, I can't help wondering if he might become the hero of the next one and who his heroine might be. No word on this yet, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Duke of Midnight was another engaging read in this series, and I can't wait to continue it when the next book comes out, hopefully in the spring of 2014.
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