Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is a widower, a father, and the illegitimate son of the King. He's worked as a spy for the Crown and is now being sent to identify and infiltrate the members of the Lords of Chaos with the intent of bringing them to justice. While in the midst of his investigation, Kyle is accosted in a dark alley by some ruffians who clearly intend to murder him. But as luck would have it, he's saved by a masked stranger, who has great skill with a blade, who bears the unmistakable curves of a woman, and who dares to kiss him following the battle, leaving Hugh desperate for more and to uncover the identity of this beguiling creature.
Alf has survived for years on the mean streets of St. Giles by disguising her gender. By day, she's the street urchin boy, Alf, who is the best purveyor of information in London; by night, she masquerades as the infamous vigilante known as the Ghost of St. Giles. She's lived in these undercover personae for so long, she hardly knows who she is anymore. Having chanced to meet Kyle before and being deeply attracted to him, she can't resist coming to his aid when he's attacked by assassins and then giving in to her desire to kiss him afterward. But she knows nothing more can come of it.
When Kyle hires Alf in her daylight persona to track down dirt of the Lords of Chaos, her two worlds begin to collide. She longs for a child of her own, and being around Kyle's two young sons, not to mention the man himself, is sweet torment. When Kyle discovers her secret identity, can she find the courage to become the woman she is and that he desires before the Lords of Chaos destroy both them and their burgeoning love?
I seem to keep saying the same thing every time Elizabeth Hoyt releases a new book, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, she's done it again. Duke of Pleasure, the latest volume in her Maiden Lane series, is just as entrancing as all the previous ones. It features Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle paired with Alf (just Alf :-)), the street urchin who has been posing as a boy and making a living as the best purveyor of information in St. Giles. I can't recall which book she was introduced in (it might have been all the way back in book #4, Thief of Shadows), but she's been around for a long while, working with various other series' characters, passing information to them, and acting as a spy. I've been hoping that she would eventually find her match, and I'm so glad that she finally got a much-deserved HEA. The romance between Alf and Hugh is very sweet and heartfelt. We also get a bit of mystery and action as they work to take down the Lords of Chaos. So overall, I felt that it was a very well-rounded story that kept me engaged throughout.
Hugh is the illegitimate, but recognized, son of the King. As such, he's been afforded a dukedom and he also works with the Crown as a spy, often cleaning up various problems that arise. In this book, he's been tasked with taking down the Lords of Chaos, but he's finding it difficult to identify the members of the group and get enough dirt on them to make an arrest, which is partially where Alf comes in. Hugh is also a widower with two young sons. He and his wife experienced a passionate, whirlwind love-match that turned in a contentious marriage after they were wed. He also eventually realized that his wife was taking other lovers, and as a result, Hugh buried himself in his work and was out of the country for an extended period of time. He only returned upon her death, which was believed to be a riding accident, but found that he didn't even know his children anymore. His youngest suffers from debilitating nightmares and temper tantrums, while the oldest is sullen and angry with him. I loved Hugh for his patience with his boys and for being an incredible father, even though he didn't exactly have much of a role model for that. He's always there for his boys and regrets that his unhappy marriage kept them apart and affected their relationship. He'd do anything for them, including giving his life, and eventually his love and gentleness toward them is rewarded. I also loved Hugh for the way he treats Alf as his equal. He never looks down on her, because he's a duke and she's a nobody. He first fell for her in her guise as the Ghost of St. Giles, and his admiration for her only grew as he realized what a fierce and courageous young woman she is. When he starts feeling the same way about Alf as he did with his first wife prior to marrying her, I'm glad that he didn't allow his fears and uncertainties to get the best of him for long, before realizing how much he loved Alf and couldn't live without her.
By day, Alf is the street urchin informant; by night, she's taken up the mantle of the Ghost of St. Giles under the tutelage of former Ghost, Godric St. John (Lord of Darkness). Alf had a brief, inauspicious meeting with Hugh in the previous book of the series. Despite running from him then, she finds him quite attractive, so when she comes upon him in her guise as the Ghost, being attacked by assassins, she comes to his rescue. Once they've fought off the ne'er-do-wells, she can't help stealing a kiss. Then the next day, Hugh hires Alf the informant to help him figure out who attacked him and keeps her on his payroll while looking for the fabled membership list of the Lords of Chaos. I'm glad it didn't take long for Hugh to figure out that Alf's two personae were one and the same person. With everything out in the open, it made the development of their romance much smoother. However, when Hugh calls upon Alf to become the woman she is in their search for information, she realistically struggles with what it means to be a woman. She's spent so many years pretending to be a boy to protect herself that she's deeply buried much of her feminine side. She hasn't put it all to rest, though, because she very much enjoys being around Hugh's boys and is a great influence on them, as well as her visits with two little girls at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, both of which stir her motherly instincts. She also knows she's attracted to Hugh and that she wants to be with him in an intimate way and learn more of her womanly sexual side. Alf was a nice mixture of innocent girl, who's never been with a man intimately, and worldly woman, who knows far more of the seedier side of life than gently bred young ladies her age would. She's a very brave, courageous young woman who's made her way in the world alone, but when presented with the opportunity to share her life with someone she loves, she doesn't hesitate to take it.
Duke of Pleasure also has some notable secondary characters. Iris, Lady Jordan, was best friends with Hugh's wife and consequently was very well-acquainted with his sons. Since their mother's passing, she's been making regular visits to them and has become a friend to Hugh as well. There's an unspoken understanding between them that they'll eventually marry, but it would be nothing more than an arrangement. I'm glad that Iris turned out to be a wonderful person. Although she loved Hugh's wife like a sister, she recognized the other woman's faults, and although she liked Hugh and adored his sons, she wasn't overly attached to the idea of marrying him, especially after she saw the loving looks passing between him and Alf. Iris is a very smart woman who was instrumental in helping bring down the Lords of Chaos and who knows she wants more than a marriage of convenience. Lucky for her, she's already caught the eye of the scarred, brooding, and devilish Duke of Dyemore. We get the barest of introductions to him, but what an introduction it is. He may or may not have connections to the Lords of Chaos, but regardless, he already intrigues me and I look forward to learning more about him. These two become the hero and heroine of the next book, Duke of Desire, due for release next summer (2017). Hugh's two sons, Christopher and Peter, are cute little boys with their own unique personalities. I loved both of these kids. Hugh's men, who've been with him since his time in the military, are loyal to a fault and always there to lend a helping hand.
Overall, Duke of Pleasure was a thoroughly fun and enjoyable read. One of the things I love so much about Ms. Hoyt's Maiden Lane series is that the stories aren't just about the upper crust. Sometimes the characters get down and dirty in St. Giles, one of the worst slums in Georgian London, rather than always being seen in genteel drawing rooms and ballrooms. Also, many of the characters are not aristocrats, but often they're matched with some of the aristocracy, which makes the couples all the more interesting. Nothing showcases that more than this story, in which a Duke, and the son of the King no less, falls in love with a young woman who's spent nearly her entire life on the streets, fighting for her survival. Theirs was a great story of true love at its finest, and never once did it disappoint me. I don't know how much longer Ms. Hoyt intends to continue the series, but I'll be there with her until she decides to end it, although I'll be sad when that time comes. I know there's at least two more stories, one novel and one novella, coming out in 2017, and I can't wait to read them.
Note: The love scenes in the book are steamy, though not frequent. However, they do employ some explicitly sensual language and there's one scene of public intimacy that give it a little more erotic feel.
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