Long, Julie Ann. After Dark with the Duke. (Palace of Rogues #4).Avon, 2021. ISBN 978-0063045095 384 pp. $8.99
Marianna Wylde had pulled herself up from by her high-heeled bootstraps to pursue a career in the opera, but scandal forces her into hiding when perceived lovers engage in a duel over her, and one emerges quite wounded. Fallen from grace, called a harlot in the papers, and facing a growing mob outside her apartment, she escapes and finds refuge at The Grand Palace on the Thames, where the celebrated war hero and widow General James Duncan Blackmore the Duke of Valkirk has retired to write his memoirs (and half-heartedly look for a new wife).
Based on preconceived notions, the two butt heads until their insults reach a peak that results in the hostesses forcing an apology from the Duke. He also agrees to make amends by teaching Italian to Marianna, who until now has only learned it by ear for her productions. They get to know one another’s histories and traumas, catch feelings, and of course, finally give in to their simmering passions and a series of late-night trysts ensue.
Marianna is also planning a one-night only benefit concert to pay for her accomodations and thank her generous benefactors, but as on the outs with society as she is, it’s unclear if anyone will purchase tickets and attend. Meanwhile, she is also seeking her next gig (a subplot about whether she is to play a lobster or a mermaid for an open in Paris is delightful). The duke, convinced they come from two different worlds, asks her to allow him to make “arrangements” for her (translation: be his mistress, with all expenses covered, which for Marianna translates to sex for money) and a rift occurs, just before the concert. Will they resolve things and get a HEA?
Set in the Regency period, the writing is luscious–beautifully detailed, with period allusions and vocabulary and turns of phrase. The description of the concert is particularly excellent, from the detailed set to the maid arranging the guests by color and moving them around to fit her fancy, while they wonder if it’s due to some unknown social hierarchy. Supporting characters such as Dot the maid come to life off the page. The flirtation that takes place across two languages is rich and wonderful, and the love scenes are sensual, consensual and unapologetically shameless. Themes of honor, reputation, and judgement carry through the story.
This is the fourth book in the Palace of Rogues series, and while past incidents are alluded to, reading in order is not required.
I received an advance reader’s review copy of #AfterDarkWithTheDuke from#NetGalley