Title: Noble Secrets
Author: Cecilia Dominic
Release Date: March 2016
Length: 122 pages
Series?: Aether Psychics #.5
Genre: Historical Steampunk
A dangerous man from her past.
A handsome duke in her present.
Secrets that threaten their future.
After tragedy hits and danger moves in, Pauline Donahue flees London, searching for sanctuary and a way to start over. A job at a small university provides the escape she needs. Keeping recalcitrant professor Edward Bailey on task after a shattered heart renders him broken and destroyed becomes her daily routine. But when the same vicious man from her past sets his malicious sights on Pauline, her safe haven comes crashing down.
Duke of Waltham, Christopher Bailey, never counted on the gentle commoner, Miss Donahue, to save his brother–and himself–from broken pasts and a lifetime of mistakes. But she does just that. As their love blossoms, danger closes in, threatening Pauline and Christopher’s lives. Together, they are forced to face their biggest fears, revealing secrets that could ruin them both.
This is the prequel to the series and starts in 1862. Pauline is simply a secretary – who wants to learn, something taboo – and winds up being hired by the Duke (and ultimately his mother) to watch over the Duke’s brother, Edward, after suffering a devastating end to his engagement. They are concerned with his “mental welfare.” Since this is the beginning of Edward’s work with the aether project for the university, they are very interested in it being completed, so they agree to allow Pauline to change roles and act as Edward’s personal assistant.
Meanwhile, Christopher does not agree to his mother’s meddling in his marriage – or lack thereof. A ball to host all of the most eligible ladies of the land will be thrown, and as the date draws nearer, Christopher finds every means of escaping it. Even if that means checking in more frequently on his brother and his pretty secretary.
Pauline is working her tush off to pay for her accommodations at a boarding house, a place where she is safe from the goon who attacked her. Previously she worked as a maid to the prostitutes in another town, another place, another life. This is also the place where her mother entertained and eventually lost her life “at the hands of a jealous man.” After that, she ran away.
But there have been murders – of women very much resembling Pauline. And now someone is looking for her…
Pauline – a young woman on the run from her past
Edward – a young professor working in an entirely new department, recently heartbroken and not faring well
Christopher – Edward’s older brother, the Duke; he hires Pauline to look after Edward while
Johann – Edward’s friend, a violinist at the university
Duchess – a stronghold of a woman in a fragile state of health; insists on Christopher marrying (and encouraged by the housekeeper on this topic)
Horace – Christopher’s townhouse butler, very opposed to Pauline’s presence in the Duke’s life
Inspector Davidson – a London detective investigating Pauline’s mother’s murder
If only her mother’s murderer hadn’t been wearing a mask. He had been someone important, and the madam had humored his desire to keep is identity obscured. He had visited her for months, and rumors swirled around him, some that he was the crown prince himself.
Either way, it was the same. Wed or bed, women didn’t see him, only his title.
The Highs and Lows
- Pauline. Poor Pauline has been running ever since that fateful night when she lost her mother. Little did she know she’d wind up in the best and the worst of situations. Hovington is a good enough place, small but still has a constant flow of people due to the university. She’s hired on and then given special duties to watch over the Duke of Waltham’s younger brother, aiding him along in his project work for the university. However, the life she’s lived she can’t outrun. Although she’s avoided the murderer these few years, she can’t outrun him forever. Now there is someone around circulating flyers looking for her. Her land lady puts her in a terribly bad position – spiked rent or a sure bet the madman will find her.
- Social Station. Given the era, the social standing of the Christopher and Pauline play a very big part in the book. While the Duchess is pushing him to marry, he can’t just marry anyone. He must, of course, marry someone of his station. And it is getting more convoluted for him trying to discern the truth of Pauline’s background. While she claims to be from the city, small things continually indicated that she is from the lower class. Due to the mystery surrounding her heritage, Christopher makes some inquiries. It’s not entirely impossible for noblemen to marry commoners, as long as they come from reputable families.
- The Strange Neighbor. After hiring Pauline to act as Edward’s babysitter, a strange man moves in next door to Christopher’s townhouse. Christopher thought it still under renovation, and nothing is known of this new neighbor. Indeed, it’s rumored he is of the peerage, but that is all. Christopher, though, takes an odd interest in the odd neighbor who is keen on sticking to the shadows and hiding in the alley, avoiding Inspector Davidson.
- The Duchess. She surprised me. Although she is pushing strongly for Christopher to marry, when he reveals what little he’s learned of Pauline, he is shocked by his mother’s suggestion. Other arrangements could be made, as he is very taken with Pauline, just as his father was taken with another. His mother seemed so stodgy and pretentious, I never expected to see that coming.
- Edward. He is so oblivious to anything besides his work. Unless, of course, you count that stupid Lily who crushed him. While danger is afoot and tension runs high for both Christopher, his mother, and Pauline, Edward is just happy as a clam once his work shows progress.
- The Twist. There is twist so unexpected that I had to really work to piece things together properly. It explains all the reasons why Pauline can’t answer any of Inspector Davidson’s questions about her family when he inquires. Who doesn’t know if their parents were even married? Pauline. The Duchess once made the comment that Pauline looked familiar, and it all wraps up nicely with the twist. Of course, involving the killer.
I loved Pauline’s attitude throughout the book. She is bent on making a little niche for herself and staying afloat while outrunning her mother’s killer. There are a few moments with both Christopher and Edward that she has to be strong and firm – in different respects – as well as with the Duchess and Horace. I don’t think I would be as kind or thoughtful if a killer was after me. I mean, it’s only a matter of time and she already suspects someone nearby. I would be on high alert.
Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip?
Borrow. This installment isn’t intregal to the series, but it does explain Christopher’s ties to the storyline, as well as the beginning of Edward’s aether work.
Cecilia Dominic wrote her first story when she was two years old and has always had a much more interesting life inside her head than outside of it. She became a clinical psychologist because she’s fascinated by people and their stories, but she couldn’t stop writing fiction. The first draft of her dissertation, while not fiction, was still criticized by her major professor for being written in too entertaining a style. She made it through graduate school and got her PhD, started her own practice, and by day, she helps people cure their insomnia without using medication. By night, she blogs about wine and writes fiction she hopes will keep her readers turning the pages all night. Yes, she recognizes the conflict of interest between her two careers, so she writes and blogs under a pen name. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with one husband and two cats, which, she’s been told, is a good number of each. She also enjoys putting her psychological expertise to good use helping other authors through her Characters on the Couch blog post series.