As a refined widowed lady and a kind, intelligent person with no known enemies, Iris Daniels, Lady Jordan is rather shocked to find herself the victim of a diabolical kidnapping instigated by the evil Lords of Chaos. As it turns out, they mistakenly believe her to be the new Duchess of Kyle and have taken her in retaliation for the Duke of Kyle's routing of their group that nearly ended them. In reality she was merely attending the Duke's wedding and was on her way home when she was abducted. Now she finds herself at a frightening revel surrounded by nude masked men, and their nefarious intentions toward her couldn't be more clear... until one of their number steps in to whisk her away to his carriage. Thinking he still means her harm, she shoots the man only to discover that he was really trying to save her. Now she must put to use all her skills learned while following her soldier husband on the continent to save the man's life.
Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, came home from exile in Corsica upon his father's death to take up the title and make the Lords of Chaos pay for the havoc they wrought in his young life. To seek his revenge, he's infiltrated their ranks, hoping to discover the identity of their new leader, but instead he finds it necessary to save the life and virtue of an innocent lady. Unfortunately misunderstanding his actions, Iris left him incapacitated and unable to whisk her away as he would have liked. With the Lords breathing down his neck to end her life and his own death possibly imminent, he can think of no other way to keep her safe but to marry her immediately. Once recovered from his wounds, Raphael quickly discovers that his new wife is intent on taking an active part in his life - and his bed. He vowed long ago to end the family line with himself to prevent any possibility of passing on the evil perpetrated by his father, but he finds the lady increasingly difficult to resist. However, his first priority is to end the Lords of Chaos once and for all, and if he must die accomplishing his goal, so be it. As Iris continues to press him, Raphael finds himself revealing much more of his dark past than he'd intended and with her light to guide him, finally finding a reason to live. But can he really put aside his vendetta to give Iris her heart's desire? And what will happen when the Lords of Chaos once again threaten her life?
Duke of Desire is the twelfth and final full-length novel of Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, so I'm starting to become sad that the series is winding down. There are two more novellas to be released before the end of 2017 that I'm very much looking forward to reading, but I'm not looking forward to this ride being over. I've fallen in love with all the characters from the series and thoroughly enjoyed reading each of their stories in turn. Duke of Desire was no exception, and if the series had to end, this book sends it out on a high note for me. It was quite possibly the darkest book of the series with plenty of angst and drama, just the way I like my romance reads, and we finally get to see the dissolution of the evil Lords of Chaos once and for all. In the previous book, Duke of Pleasure, Hugh thought he'd rooted them all out, but as it turns out, enough of them still remained to reform, as vile and heinous as ever. But now a new hero, Raphael de Chartres, has returned from exile with a vendetta against the Lords and is prepared to die if necessary to see them all destroyed. He just didn't expect to fall in love with a feisty, headstrong beauty and find something worth living for along the way.
Raphael is right up there along with some of the most tortured romance heroes I've ever read. He's the son of the previous Duke of Dyemore who also happened to be the former Dionysus, the ring-leader of the Lords of Chaos. With his father now dead, Raphael has returned to England from his home in Corsica to take up the title and see justice served. As it happens, the Lords hold their revels on his land, so between that and his connection to the former Dionysus, he has no problem infiltrating their ranks in hopes of figuring out the identity of the new Dionysus and taking him down along with everyone else involved. However, Raphael considers this to be his fight, and his alone, so he really has no one backing him up besides the accomplished fighters he brought back with him from Corsica. His hatred for the Lords stems from childhood abuse relating to the revels. I won't give away the details so as to not reveal spoilers, but if you've read Eve's (Sweetest Scoundrel) or Val's (Duke of Sin) books, you'll have a pretty good idea of what happened to Raphael. He also has a deep scar down one side of his face that makes him look fierce and which no one really knows how he acquired. But trust me when I say that when you find out the story behind it, it'll rip your heart out. Raphael is so psychologically damaged, he's determined to end the family line with himself so as to not pass on his father's evil to his children. He just didn't count on an equally determined woman getting under his skin and becoming irresistible to him. Raphael is one of those heroes I want to wrap up in my arms and give him all the love and comfort he was denied. He's one of those people who is truly beautiful inside but who doesn't recognize it because of the terrible things that happened to him. I'm so glad he found Iris, because she does see it and was his perfect match.
I loved Iris in the previous book of the series, because she showed that she's a very intelligent woman. She's a widow who didn't have a particularly fulfilling first marriage. Her husband was a good man, but he was nearly twice her age and very aloof, so when he died, she vowed that if she ever married again, it would be for love or at the very least for affection and friendship. That's why she'd been prepared to marry Hugh even though it wouldn't have been a love match. However, she was never broken up about him marrying Alf, because she realized how much they loved one another. But due to her close relationship with Hugh and the scandalous nature of him marrying a woman so far beneath his station, they allowed the public to temporarily believe that Iris was one marrying him after all. This led to her kidnapping at the hands of the Lords of Chaos who were trying to strike back against Hugh for daring to take them down. This is where she finds herself at the beginning of the story, at a Lords of Chaos revel at which she's the main course, so to speak. She had previously met Raphael at a ball, where there was definite chemistry between them, so he rescues her from the Lord's clutches and spirits her away. The only problem is he goes about it in such a way as to not blow his cover, which leaves her thinking that he's still a bad guy, so she shoots him. She soon finds out otherwise, but at that point, he believes marrying her immediately is the only way to keep her safe from the Lords, who are expecting him to kill her.
Iris was a wonderful heroine in so many ways. She traveled on the Continent with her husband who was in the military, so she has some experience with nursing a wounded man which she puts to use saving Raphael's life. She's not put off by his scar and still finds him attractive despite it. Even though Raphael is reticent in more ways than one, she keeps gently prodding to get him to open up to her and to see things differently. Iris is curious and headstrong, not really listening to Raphael, except when it counts. She may have had to marry him under duress, but she decides to make the best of it and and try to make it work. Despite being a widow, she still has a sweetness and innocence about her. Yet because of her best friend who took many lovers, all of whom she told Iris about in detail, Iris got an unusual education in the sexual arts, which she boldly puts into action with Raphael. She wants more than anything to simply love a man and have him love her in return, as well as to become a mother and have a family with him. But it takes some determination on her part to make that happen with her new husband. Most of all, though, I loved her for loving Raphael, no matter what new horror he revealed or how determined he was to never have children. She just gave all of herself to him unconditionally. It's no wonder Raphael called her his light in the darkness, and he felt he couldn't live without her.
The only secondary characters of note were Raphael's Corsicans, who are fierce and loyal to a fault, and his loving maternal aunt, who took him away at the age of twelve and finished raising him. If not for her, I think his life would have turned out very differently. Then on the villainous side were the Lords of Chaos, whose depraved and perverted rituals make my skin crawl. I'm so glad that they're finished for good this time. Hugh (Duke of Pleasure), as Iris's good friend, put in a couple of appearances, but he was the only common character from the series to show up. This is probably because Raphael's and Iris's stories didn't really intersect with any of the other main characters except Alf. Not to mention, the bulk of this book is all about Raphael and Iris building a relationship after marrying out of necessity, as well as him overcoming his abusive past and doing what he needed to do to root out the Lords of Chaos.
Overall, Duke of Desire was an incredible wrap-up to the main books of the series. I loved both Raphael and Iris, and thought they were perfect for each other. Her lightness and positivity balances out his darkness and pain. Their strength and determination combined makes them a formidable pair. I love that Raphael gets to a point where he simply can't resist Iris anymore even though he thinks he should. I also love that Iris never gives up on helping him heal from the past and on making a real life with him. It's her love, loyalty, and tenacity that gradually wins over her dark, brooding duke. I love a good tortured hero, and they don't get much more tortured that Raphael. I adored these two together and wouldn't have minded the story being a bit longer to read more about them, but at the same time, it was a great book as is. Now it's on to the final two novellas of the series before saying farewell to Maiden Lane for a while, but I have no doubt that I'll come back at some point to reread Duke of Desire and the entire series.
Note: The love scenes in this book are fairly hot and steamy, though content-wise not quite erotic. However, the author uses some explicit language which gives them a more erotic feel. Also there is one explicit scene at a Lords of Chaos revel (basically an orgy) that is described in some detail. Sensitive readers should also be aware that this book contains descriptions of child abuse, including a sketchbook that is the equivalent of 18th century child porn.
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