Friday, February 12, 2016

Surprising Lord Jack - Sally MacKenzie (Zebra - Mar 2013)

Series: Duchess of Love (Book 2)


Frances Hadley has managed her family’s estate for years. So why can’t she request her own dowry? She’ll have to go to London herself and knock some sense into the men interfering in her life. With the nonsense she’s dealt with lately, though, there’s no way she’s going as a woman. A pair of breeches and a quick chop of her red curls, and she’ll have much less to worry about…

Jack Valentine, third son of the famous Duchess of Love, is through being pursued by pushy young ladies. One particularly determined miss has run him out of his own house party. Luckily the inn has one bed left -- Jack just has to share with a rather entertaining red-headed youth. Perhaps the two of them should ride to London together. It will make a pleasant escape from his mother’s matchmaking melodrama!

Another fun book in the Duchess of Love series. Now that his brother Ned (Bedding Lord Ned) is engaged to be married, Jack's mother has set her sights on finding a wife for him. Desperate to escape the young ladies at his mother's Valentine's ball, Jack sets off for London. Caught in a storm, he stops at an inn where he ends up sharing the bed with a youth who has his own reasons to run.

Frances and her twin brother have been raised mostly by their aunt. Their father is a known rake who abandoned their mother. Frances's brother Frederick left the estate several years earlier and hasn't been back, preferring to live his life in London. Frances has had enough of people telling her what to do. The latest is finding out that her aunt has been scheming with a man to force Frances into marriage with him. So she is going to go to London to see her brother, get the money from her dowry and find a place of her own where she can live as she wants. She knows she can't travel alone as she is, so she cuts her hair and dresses as a boy to make the journey. Trouble comes when her horse goes lame and she ends up having to stay at an inn overnight. She wakes up the next morning with a strange man in bed with her.

This is when the fun begins. Frances actually keeps her head and doesn't panic when she wakes to find Jack there with her. An overzealous innkeeper's wife talks Jack into taking Frances with him on his way to London, despite her objections, meaning that Frances has to find a way to keep up the masquerade. Even worse, she runs into a man who knows her brother, and appears to see through her disguise. Arriving in London, there is more bad news. Her brother is no longer at his last known address, Jack finds an abandoned baby, and there is an encounter with another unpleasant man in a whorehouse. Taking the baby to a place of refuge shows Frances an unexpected side to Jack. Another encounter with the obnoxious Pettigrew opens Jack's eyes to the fact that his traveling companion is not what he thought.

Though Jack has carefully cultivated the reputation of a rake, he is actually a very honorable man. Being caught in a compromising situation with a young woman is not something he wants, as that could force a marriage he doesn't want. At twenty-six, he feels he's still too young and has too much else going on. Besides, the argumentative young woman next to him is nothing like the type of woman he has in mind. As soon as he gets to his house, he'll write to his mother, who he's sure will find a way to fix the dilemma.

Frances is equally horrified at the idea of being forced into marriage. She has no intention of ever getting married. Thanks to the influence of her aunt, and the knowledge of her father's failings, she has a very poor opinion of all men, and she has no problem saying so. Knowing Jack's reputation gives her even more of a reason to resist the idea of marrying him.

Once his mother, the Duchess of Love, arrives, she takes over management of the scandal. There aren't too many people who will go against a Duchess when it comes to social conventions. She also investigates Frances's background and finds that she has more family who would be thrilled to get to know her. Their combined efforts mitigate the scandal somewhat, and suddenly Frances is thrust into an entirely different life.

I loved seeing the way that Jack and Frances's opinions of each other began to change. Jack became more sensitive to the reasons why Frances has the opinions she does. It was rather sweet to see the way that he tried to comfort her when she was upset. It was also funny to see how he went from looking at her as the girl who tried to look like a boy to a desirable woman. He wasn't quite sure how to deal with his changing feelings. Frances was a bit obnoxious at the beginning with her all men are evil attitude. Discovering who Jack was and being aware of his reputation set her against him at once, but almost immediately she saw things that contradicted that reputation. I loved seeing her slowly begin to realize that she wants more from life and that Jack is a big part of that.

Throughout the book is the mystery of who is behind the killings of prostitutes and noblewomen of tarnished reputation. Jack is determined to find out who it is and stop him. When he gets involved with Frances he fears that the scandal will make her a target of this killer. There are several possible suspects and each one is shown to have the capability. When the final confrontation comes, Frances is in the middle of it, thanks to a stupid move on her part. I really liked the way it was resolved by something a little different than the man riding to the rescue. It also served as the final push needed to get Jack and Frances together.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the Duchess and the emphasis she placed on the importance of family. I loved seeing her bring Frances and her mother's family together and the change it made in Frances's life. I also liked the Duchess's protectiveness toward Jack and her realistic withholding of approval of Frances until she was sure that Jack wouldn't be hurt. I loved seeing her loving relationship with her husband, and the final scene with them had me laughing out loud.

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