Review: A Duke Like No Other

Title: A Duke Like No Other
Author: Valerie Bowman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: May 2018
Length: 355 pages
Series?: Playful Brides #9
Genre: Historical, Romance

General Mark Grimaldi is devoted to his service for the Crown, risking his life and giving up everything for his career. The political promotion he’s always wanted is now within his reach, but he needs to convince his estranged wife to return to England and play the role of happy bride in order for him to get the position.

Nicole Huntington Grimaldi has spent the past ten years in France, not having seen her husband since she left England. But now he’s on her doorstep, asking her to return with him, and Nicole sees the opportunity to get something out of this deal. So she agrees, on one condition: she wants a baby.

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

This book isn’t quite like other Valerie Bowman novels. This one really pulled heartstrings more so than most for kind-hearted Nicole. She has suffered so much, for no real known reason.

After a short marriage full of love and bliss, her soldier husband bent on becoming a high-up official essentially bans and abandons her in England. Left to figure out life on her own, with her own “career” with the War Office, she travels to France, where she’s remained all this time, a decade later.

Mark is the product of a noblewoman and mister. His mother’s family disowned her for her choices, and he has steadfastly held on to the promise he made his father upon his death. He will have nothing to do with them. He does do his research and finds them, but he remains devoid of familial bonds. And he wants ALL of it to be a secret. No one can know! NO ONE!

Now a general and aiming for Home Secretary, Mark is prodded by those in charge that he needs to be a family man. Whaaaaat?! He gave up everything for his country, to climb the military ladder, to be at this exact point. NOW he needs to have a family? Well, good for him he already has a wife. Now he just needs to get her to England.

Quietly living a low-key life, visiting and supporting the local orphanage as well as the local police, Nicole’s friends know she is lonely. She never thought she’d see Mark again. They’d just live out their lives like nothing had ever happened. Except he shows up in France for a favor. A big one.

She must return to England and play the dutiful wife for a few months so that Mark can get his new role. Then she can return to France and continue her life. If Mark is going to get what he wants out of this bargain, she has her own condition. In exchange for getting him this promotion, Nicole wants a child. A child of her own to love and love her back. Talk about a man struck! That was the last thing Mark thought.

It was really hard to like Mark. Really, really hard. At some point, I found myself softening to him, but I still didn’t like him a lot. I thought he was very cold, callous, heartless, and selfish. As much as Nicole has obvious and perceived freedom and choices, I felt like for a large part of the first half or so of the book he domineered her and she could never fully get the misunderstandings cleared. Maybe that’s just how it was supposed to be. I mean, I wouldn’t be inclined to try to fix or understand anything with a man who did what Mark did to her.

Enter a whole other plot line, drama, and – gasp! – Mark’s family. There is a murder, the question of the heir, and Mark and Nicole are in the thick of it. My heart broke again for Nicole after they solved the murder and she overhears a conversation where Mark will once again rid himself of her.

I did like the changes I started seeing in Mark, the breakthrough to the good of him. He was supportive of Nicole’s work – always had been – an infinitely proud of her. Now, a decade later working on this murder case together, despite their strained marriage and new intimacy, they worked well together. There was some reconnection and reconciliation like breadcrumbs, but overall it did feel rushed and tied up with a shiny bow.

I also found everything about Nicole’s ties to Bow Street and the War Office highly improbable because she was nobility. A woman of noble standing would not be able to fully act as she did for them without raising questions and drawing suspicion to her outings and goings-on. Not to mention, Mark seemed pretty daft at times, like in the beginning while in France. He could not take the big hints that Nicole’s friend was dropping that were obvious.


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