The Scandalous Duke Takes a Bride
St. Martin's Press / February 25, 2014 / $7.99 print & digital
As a wealthy young widow, Lady Jessica Heyer must endure the closest of scrutiny and most wicked of rumors from society gossips. Their whispers would be utterly unbearable if it weren’t for her oldest friend, the Duke of Alsborough. Jessica knows she can always count on Hayden. What she never could have expected, however, is that he is deeply, madly in love with her…
For years, Hayden has kept his longing for his beautiful friend Jessica a secret. But now that she’s finally free to remarry, will she be willing to take their relationship to a more intimate level? He’ll get his answer soon—at a glittering masquerade, where identities are hidden, hearts are open, and true love is unmasked…in a single, shameless act of passion.
The third leg of Tiffany Clare's intertwined Dangerous Rogues series, The Scandalous Duke Takes a Bride, finally gives us the friends-to-lovers story we were waiting for, and this is the best book yet. Hayden, the Duke of Alsborough, is a beta hero who's known what he wants—his best friend Jessica —for a long time, and now that she's free from the hand of an evilly cruel husband, he's following his heart. With a reputation as black as sin, holding secrets that have just been hinted at, Jessica could easily have been unsympathetic or, at worst, an outrageous caricature, but she's a finely balanced strong-yet-sensitive heroine. Both are fully deserving of the story that's been building throughout the series to finally bring them together.
Besides the fact that Hayden and Jessica spend the majority of the scenes together—especially refreshing as their relationship changes from friends to something significantly more—there's no time wasted in the clear objective to move them toward each other romantically. Hayden is selfless and loving; he'd lay down his life for Jess, and she's coming out of a difficult time when she needs his support, even before she fully understands his true feelings.
“What am I going to do with you?”
She lowered her arm and turned to look at him. “There's nothing to be done, Hayden.” She took his hand and gave it a friendly squeeze. The cool press of her fingers could not keep the desires within him banked for long. “Trust that I'll work out my problems on my own. You can't always save the day when one of us makes a mess of our lives.”
She referred to their other friends, Leo and Tristan, not just herself. And it was true; he usually had all the answers... except, it seemed, when it came to Jez. That didn't mean he wouldn't try to fix what was currently wrong in her life.
“It's something I have to do. I'll always want the best for you.”
“I know.” She smiled, the contentment reaching her blue eyes this time. “You're the best friend anyone could ask for.”
And there was the crux of it; in her eyes he would always be just a friend. She really did make him believe that opposites attracted for there was nothing similar of their characters yet he wanted her to himself. She'd always been brazen and daring, him steadfast and cautious. Yet, he still wanted to protect and cherish her as his own. And he would.
And Hayden strikes this perfect accord between gently escalating persistence and waiting for Jess to see what he's known for years: they're meant to be more than friends. What follows are chemistry-laden moments of awakening romance, and a risque masquerade-turned-orgy is just the place for Jess to get a jolt of the new feelings brewing between them.
“What's stopping you from doing so with me, Jez?”
Her head tilted back and the tip of her tongue dashed out to lick at her powdered lips.
There was some type of madness ensnaring him, one that wouldn't let go until he did what he had always wanted to do to this particular woman. If she wanted to live scandalously, then he'd give her scandal. If she wanted to live on the edge of propriety, he'd throw them both over that line.
There were a million things he could have done in that moment, a hundred things that would preserve their long friendship. He didn't want to play this safe, for there was nothing safe about Jez. There never had been, and that was part of what drew him to her like that hapless moth to the flame she'd likened him to.
He brushed his thumb over her lips again, liking how soft they were beneath his touch.
“What are you doing?” she asked quietly.
Hayden and Jessica's story is not only an offering of everything the friends-to-lovers theme should be, it's also the sexiest of the series, as the passion increases steadily but in a way that respects the already solid bond between them. The way this changes who they are as individuals and who they are becoming together is what makes this trope so special, and that transition is seen here so well.
She could do no more than surrender to the moment, allowing her desires to supersede everything her mind was telling her not to do because this—whatever this was—was beyond right.
Closing her eyes, she nuzzled the side of her face into his open palm. The warmth surrounded her dissipating the nerves and reservations she'd felt moments ago.
He bent at the knees and lifted her, carrying her toward the bed. Her arms were around his shoulders, their eyes locked together.
He sat her on the edge of the bed and went about removing his shoes so he could join her. When he faced her again, she inched backward on the soft covers, moving toward the mountain of pillows stacked at the headboard. He followed on his knees, each move that brought him closer she countered, until they could go no farther.
“What do you want from me, Hayden?”
“Nothing,” he whispered. “Everything.”
But even though there aren't any silly internal obstacles thrown in to deter them, that doesn't mean there aren't some very real things to be worked out. Jessica's coming from a long-suffering marriage of abuse, and still dealing with messes left behind from her old life, which provides a bit of intrigue along the way. There are those who would destroy and tear them down, but the external conflict wisely drives them toward each other.
Hayden did need to come up with a plan. The only problem with his idea for salvaging Jessica's reputation was that she didn't seem to want to discuss his offer of marriage.
“Jez has to stop avoiding what's right in front of her,” he said suddenly.
“We both know that's simply her nature.”
His friend couldn't possibly understand what he was referring to, so he drank down his last bit of tea and stood from the table. He needed to see Jessica before this went any farther.
“You want to know how we solve this problem? What it all comes down to?”
Tristan looked amused as he leaned back in his chair, elbow hooked over the high back. “And what is your plan?”
“It's bloody well time I took a wife.”
So though at times Hayden has his work cut out for him, this is a romance that can't be long denied, and it's a beautiful one. Clare's world of Victorian England is a bit less formal but plenty fun as gossip and social cues still dictate the masses, and the way she's slowly filled in the blanks in the overlapping stories reveals more with little repetition, giving each couple their due. It all comes together here, and Hayden and Jessica's story is the pinnacle.
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Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.