Dukes, Actually is the latest installment in Erica Ridley’s 12 Dukes of Christmas series. Adam Farland, the shy Duke of Azureford visiting his cabin in the village of Christmas (Cressmouth), asks extroverted socializer Miss Carole Quincy for help with his lack of conversational skills and the design of his new billiard room. The story is short and sweet, with the usual quirky cast of characters you can expect in a 12 Dukes book.
Carole has many passions, but the ones that burn most brightly are architecture and her commitment to her father’s well-being. Her commitment to caring for her absent (yet present) father is pretty extreme, and little by little you see her shed the mantle of caretaker that she never should have taken up in the first place. Adam nurturing her other interests helps her to gain the freedom of choice she was missing.
Adam seems aloof on the surface, but is so shy that he pretends to be detached. It isn’t until he sets aside his year-round dedication to Parliament and spends time talking about his real self that he learns to shed this fear—at least around Carole. He’s a bit hardheaded in his view of what his duchess should be (as are most dukes in historical romances), but nuances like his list of qualities modeled off of Carole are endearing and lead to Adam realizing that he doesn’t need perfection, but instead, the right person.
After losing her sketchbook in Adam’s library during a house party, the two are brought together as Carole insists on searching for it while he packs up his books for donations. Adam discovers her architectural talent, and the two find themselves in each other’s company for weeks as she directs the design of a new billiard room in Adam’s cabin. Though this is the premise that throws the two together, it’s the connections they make that seals the deal.
The town of Cressmouth/Christmas is as quirky as ever, with a spookily-accurate fortune teller, the never-ending feast at the castle, and familiar faces from the previous stories. Carole’s maid and Adam’s butler have a side romance going on as well, adding some hilarity to the book.
This is a witty and fun story that proves Paula Abdul’s assertion that opposites attract. The only drawback for me was that the ending felt rushed, especially after all the build-up that went into their relationship. It was a bit too easily resolved, but still gives a satisfying conclusion.
An excerpt from Dukes, Actually:
She tilted her head. “What do you want?”
“To comply with my ducal duties with a woman I like.” His expression was beseeching. “Wouldn’t you?”
“I have no ducal duties and I’m never getting married,” she replied evenly. “But we’re not talking about me. Let’s get you sorted first. How are you currently searching for a bride?”
“I visit Almack’s.” He gave a self-deprecating scoff. “And then stand there like a marble column.”
She winced. “That might be the problem. I can show you how to flirt with the ladies.”
“In return,” he said slowly, his expressive eyes not leaving hers, “I will help you.”
“I’m not looking for a husband,” she said carefully.
“Who said anything about marriage?” His brown eyes were serious. “Just because I must select a Society wife doesn’t mean you have to give up your freedom.”
“Ha.” She pulled a face. If only that was a luxury she possessed. “Freedom to what?”
“To enjoy yourself.” He stepped closer. “Like you said, I’m limited to future duchesses. You can do as you please.”
Her throat went dry. Perhaps he, too, despised the thought of her promising herself to someone else. Perhaps he, too, wished they could ignore their divergent futures, just for a moment. Even if it could never be more than make-believe.
She licked her lips. “What would you do if you could do anything you want?”
His gaze fell to her parted lips. “Do you want me to tell you or show you?”
“Show me.” Her heart pounded defiantly but she didn’t glance away.
Satisfaction glinted in his eyes. “With pleasure.”
Then his hands cupped her cheeks and his lips covered hers.
Marble column? He was big and hard and strong, but there the comparison ended. His lips were warm on hers, gentle but firm. His thumb stroked her cheek so lightly she doubted he even realized he was doing so. Yet every caress sent flutters of desire through her belly.
When she opened her mouth to tell him so, to confess she was one mere kiss away from throwing all caution to the wind, his tongue swept inside to claim her. An electrifying bolt of desire shot through her. She felt every nudge, every lick, throughout her entire body.
She pressed herself against him to muffle the arousal tickling her skin, but the opposite occurred. With her bosom against his chest and his hands deep in her hair, their kiss was no longer tentative but a tidal wave of emotion that had just been waiting to be released.
All the times she’d glanced over at him beneath her eyelashes and wondered what it would be like to taste him? She was tasting him now. Gorging herself on his kisses. All the times his hand had brushed hers, all the brief “accidental” touches, all the times he had almost kissed her but held himself back? He wasn’t holding back now. He was taking, demanding, giving, pleading. Two souls caught in a tug-of-war between we shouldn’t be doing this and I never want to stop.
When she gasped for breath, his thumb stroked her cheek.
“Do you want me to stop?” His lips brushed hers.
She wrapped her hands about his neck. “Aren’t you supposed to disregard what I want, shove me against the closest wall, and have your wicked way?”
He nibbled her lip. “Why would that work? No one wants to slam into a wall.”
“You’re the one who reads gothic novels,” she reminded him between kisses. “Why would exposing my bosom by ripping open my bodice ever work? Stays are lined with whalebone.”
“Are you saying I wouldn’t win a fight against a whale?” He ran his hands down her back and splayed his fingers against her ribs.
She wished his fingers would keep exploring. “I’m saying no one has ever won a fight with a corset.”
“Then you should definitely stop wearing them.” He picked her up and swung her over to the sofa, tumbling backward so that she was the one on top. The one in control of whatever happened next…
About the Author
Erica Ridley is a USA Today and New York Times best-selling author of historical romance novels.
When not reading or writing romances, Erica can be found riding camels in Africa, zip-lining through rainforests in Costa Rica, or getting hopelessly lost in the middle of Budapest.
Photo courtesy of Erica Ridley
Dukes, Actually will release on October 22, 2019 and is available in eBook and paperback formats.
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.