Opening up Sarah MacLean's No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, I was fully prepared to dislike the heroine, Mara. After all, she implicates our hero, Temple, in a murder (her own) and ruins his life. More significantly she was relatively unrepentant about the fact. She was a woman who needed to survive and survive, she did, at any cost. But as the book beings, she must re-emerge from her self-inflicted exile to save her brother from certain ruin at the hands of Temple.
This is a romance, so of course the two develop feelings for one another—both against their better judgment. I spent half of the book screaming (in my head, mostly) for the two to just tell the truth. But too many years and too many lies stand between them. When they finally acknowledge their attraction, what begins as a lustful and hopeful encounter leads to an explosive confrontation:
“Please. Let me explain—“
“No.” He turned to her, hand slashing through the air.
“No,” he repeated. “I am tired of it. Of your lies. Of your games. I am tired of wanting to believe them. No more.
She pulled her dress around her, knowing that she deserved this. Knowing that, for twelve years, her life had been heading for this. For the day when she faced this man and told him the truth, and suffered the repercussions.
But it had never occurred to her that the pain would come from losing him. From hurting him That she might care for him.
Care for him.
What a silly tepid phrase in comparison to the emotion that coursed through her now, as she watched this remarkable man battle his demons. Demons she had sent after him.
“I don’t care what your reasons are, or how well you’ve fabricated them. I am done. How much was this worth? This afternoon?”
The words were a blow. He couldn’t believe she would ask to be paid for— Of course he could. It was the arrangement they’d made.
She shook her head.
“And now you are too high for our agreement?”
She didn’t want it now. She didn’t want any of it. She only wanted him.
And, like that—like a sharp, wicked blow, she understood.
She loved him.
And if that was not bad enough, he would never believe it.
But still, she tried. “William. Please. If you’ll just—“
“Don’t.” The word cut through the air, frigid and frightening. And she realized that now, here, she faced Temple, the greatest fighter London had ever seen. “Don’t you ever call met that again. You don’t have the right.”
Of course she didn’t. She’d stolen the name from him when she’d stolen his life. Tears threatened, and she swallowed them back, not wanting to think them fabricated. She nodded. “Of course.”
He was cold and unmoving, and she couldn’t look at him any longer. She wrapped her arms about herself as he took his final shot. As he ended it. “Tomorrow, this is over. You show your face, you restore my name. I’ll give you your money. And then you get the hell out of my world.”
He left her there, at the center of his ring, in the heart of his club.
It was only once the door to his rooms was closed and the lock thrown that she dressed, and allowed the tears to come.
Both Temple and Mara make huge, borderline unforgivable, mistakes during their journey. However, love does prevail in a poignant and realistic union.
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt. She works for Heroes and Heartbreakers and Criminal Element.