Title: Duke with Benefits
Author: Manda Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: June 2017
Length: 320 pages
Series?: Studies in Scandal #2
Genre: Historical Romance
LADY + DUKE = TRUE LOVE?
Lady Daphne Forsyth is a brilliant mathematician with a burning passion for puzzles. When she learns that the library belonging to her benefactress houses the legendary Cameron Cipher―an encrypted message that, once solved, holds the key to great riches―Daphne is on the case. Unfortunately, her race to unlock the cipher’s code is continually thwarted by a deliciously handsome distraction she hadn’t counted on. . .and cannot resist.
Dalton Beauchamp, the Duke of Maitland, is curious as to why Daphne is spending so much time snooping around his aunt’s bookshelves. He’s even more intrigued by her bold yet calculating manner: She is unapologetic about her secret quest. . .and the fiery attraction that develops between them both. But how can they concentrate on solving a perplexing enigma once the prospect of true love enters the equation?
Lady Daphne Forsyth is a mathematical genius of her time. She is incredibly intelligent but suffers severely in social situations. She and three other young women were named heirs of Lady Celeste, a woman known in her own right for own scholarly accomplishments. She wanted to leave her extensive library and Beauchamp House to female scholars who would put them to good use. Each lady is intelligent and independent and has their own subject of study. Combined, they are an incredible powerhouse of knowledge. Lady Celest left instructions for the women to reside at Beauchamp House for a year. She also left a letter for each woman.
Daphne’s letter contained a riddle she must work out. Puzzles and codes are one of the things Daphne is the best at. Lady Celest left Daphne to find the notorious Cameron Cipher, which Daphne believes is housed somewhere in the Beauchamp House library. Not only does she need to find the cipher, Daphne needs to solve it. The Cameron Cipher leads to gold the Cameron clan hid after the uprising.
Lady Celeste also encouraged Daphne to use the assistance of her nephew, Dalton Beauchamp, the Duke of Maitland, who is enamored of Daphne upon meeting her. Since Daphne has secrets of her own, she keeps her letter and challenge to herself. When Nigel Sommersby, her childhood tutor’s son, pops up nearby and makes mention of the Cameron Cipher, she must reveal the secret in Lady Celeste’s letter. Everyone at Beauchamp House is willing to help her, but Daphne wants to go it alone…until Sommersby is found dead in the library and someone takes a shot at Daphne there in the dark. Under the suspicion of murder, the Beauchamp House residents are all on the hunt for the murderer and the Cipher.
Lady Daphne Forsyth
Miss Sophia Hastings – one of the heiresses
Miss Gemma Hastings – one of the heiresses
Miss Ivy Wareham – one of the heiresses; affianced to Lord Kerr
Lady Serena – the chaperone for the ladies; she is Dalton’s sister
Dalton Beauchamp – the Duke of Maitland and Lady Celeste’s nephew
Lord Kerr – the Marquess of Kerr and Ivy’s fiance
“As it was the first time I’d seen a dead body, sir,” she said with her usual forthrightness, “it was indeed most disturbing. I do not recommend it.”
The Highs and Lows
- Beauchamp House. Lady Celest, a strong-willed female scholar, is determined to have her heirs follow her wishes. She has selected four young female scholars and left a letter for each of them. For Lady Daphne, hers included the challenge to find and solve the Cameron Cipher. All of the ladies are residing at Beauchamp House, which is rumored to house the cipher. The Cameron Cipher is not only known to Daphne. While she is on the hunt for it, so are others. That is when things begin to go drastically wrong and people from her past start popping up.
- Daphne’s Background. Daphne is a highly intelligent woman, specifically with numbers and codes. Growing up her father used her abilities for his own gain to cheat at cards in the clubs and at other social events attended by the ton. Her father could not survive without her, so as a young teen, she uses that to her advantage to blackmail him for a tutor. She wanted to learn, she wanted to use her talents to their fullest extent. Given the time period, this was highly unusual for a female. In order to preserve his lifestyle and livelihood by exploiting his daughter, her lowlife father agrees to hire a tutor who can truly teach her and help her further her studies. The tutor brought his son with him.
- Daphne’s Struggle. Always Daphne has been extremely smart but highly ineffective and awkward in social settings. The niceties and conventions of society are beyond comprehension to Daphne. She doesn’t know why you’d waste time talking about the weather just to be polite. She is never comfortable in social settings and will try to hedge or avoid them if possible. She is very forthright and forthcoming in conversation. Based on what Daphne shares with the other ladies and with Dalton, it is fairly obvious she suffers greatly from anxiety and seems like a classic case of the most high-functioning end of the Asperger’s spectrum. That’s why she propositions Dalton.
- Dalton. He is an honorable man who has a strong ethical compass. He believes in what is right. Witnessing his father’s treatment of women throughout his life, Dalton chooses to live his life differently. He suddenly becomes protective of Daphne and wants to see her through the events unfolding. He understood and accepted Daphne just as she was, gaining Daphne’s trust. He respected Daphne as a woman, as an intelligent being, and with the anxiety and ineptitude she harbored for social settings.
- Daphne’s Secret. When Sommersby’s body is found, leading to an investigation, Daphne reveals the secrets contained in her letter from Lady Celeste, but there are more secrets that she has been keeping for years. Ever since Sommersby and his father resided in her home. While the other ladies of the household don’t wish to push Daphne to fully reveal the extent of her shame. She does later reveal it to Dalton. Before the rest of the story comes out, it is just more kindling for the fire of Daphne being investigated for the murder. When Daphne’s wretched father makes a sudden appearance, demanding she return home with him, Dalton steps in and announces their engagement. Even though she is shocked by Dalton’s claim, it has the power to protect her. Never would her father make these ridiculous demands if she were to marry a duke.
The ladies of Beachump House have growing relationships and are darling. They are true friends and supporters, just as Lord Kerr and Dalton are. Together they all help Daphne realize her full potential as an individual and help her grow and learn more about herself. They care for her, trust her, and keep her safe. Daphne has a rich and unique history and as a result, she is a very flawed character. Her anxiety (and Asperger’s IMO) helps explain the consequence of her father’s treatment of her and her fear of people in general. I was fascinated with the treasure hunt for the Cameron Cipher (and the actual treasure, of course), but the death of Sommersby is what ratcheted the plot to a different level with more intensity.
Manda Collins spent her teen years wishing she’d been born a couple of centuries earlier, preferably in the English countryside. Time travel being what it is, she resigned herself to life with electricity and indoor plumbing, and read lots of books. An affinity for books led to a graduate degree in English, followed by another in Librarianship. By day, she works as an academic librarian at a small liberal arts college, where she teaches college students how to navigate the tangled world of academic research. A native of coastal Alabama, Manda lives in the house her mother grew up in with two cats, sometimes a dog, sometimes her sister, and always lots of books.