My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Wendy LaCapra's triumphant return to the HR writing is a lovely story full of love and yearning. Her Duke At Daybreak, is a novella and the first in her new Historical Romance series, Mythic Dukes.
It’s been 2 yrs. since I’ve read and loved Wendy’s debut the Furies series. So when I recently learned of the upcoming release of a new novella, I was beyond thrilled. I’d say the wait was worth it. Wendy didn’t disappoint cause I loved it to bits! :) I generally have what I like to term as “the novella syndrome” with a short story, where it feels like something is missing or everything is rushing fast towards the end. Very few authors can pack any type of emotional punch in those short few chapters, let alone build any satisfactory connection between the main characters. Even though I would've loved a few more chapters just to enjoy Ash and Alicia together, IMO Her Duke at Daybreak was perfect as it was.
Duke of Ashbey is our typical ‘angsty’ Duke. He lives mostly as a recluse because of a so-called curse and the bad name on his family due to a murder that happened years ago. Ashbey, whose nick name is not known (at least I can’t remember he was called anything other than Ash) always wears a façade of dark and somber. Even his mistresses would leave unsatisfactory even if he was a generous benefactor. Not because he was bad in bed, quite the opposite in fact, but because they thought he’s incapable of any emotional attachment. Not even a little bit of affection. His long deceased wife Rachel would vouch for it cause she seemingly couldn’t stand his presence. A MOC, Ash wasn’t married for long before his marriage was in shambles. Rachel judged him based on the bad name attached to his family, believing in the curse. She made sure he knew how much she despised him before dying in a fire that killed his father too. Another reason why Ash believed himself cursed without any salvation.
Lady Alicia Stone, recently widowed, hasn’t had the best of marriages. In fact, as far as marriage goes, hers was rotten with an adulterous husband who chose his mistress over Alicia, dumping pretty much since the liaison. Alicia was brought up in a Caribbean island her Englishman father. The famous Admiral Octavius Stone was there at a time when she was alone and needed help. Octavius wooed the beautiful and young Alicia, married her and brought her back to England. She was even happy for the first few years of her marriage. There was no child but Alicia could’ve lived happily knowing she had married the man she *thought* she loved; someone who returned her affections. But oh how wrong she was! Octavious found love with The Countess, a widow known for her beauty and charm, made her his mistress and forgot about Alicia. They even had a child, a girl, whom he lovingly named after himself. Alicia’s torment was complete, knowing there was no way she’d ever have her errant husband back. After a few years, I don’t think she wanted him back either. I mean who would, after such a travesty of a marriage?
The author’s note will explain what inspired Wendy to write about this love triangle but I wished there was more background to Alicia’s marriage. Maybe it was for the best that there wasn’t. I’d be heartbroken for her. I don’t care that Octavius found love, or how he and the Countess were devoted to each-other. He trampled another woman’s feelings to get what he wanted, and they both ruined her life. It was simply selfish; not a light offense in my eyes.
When the story begins, a few years have passed since then and Octavius recently passed away in a battle. It seems though, whatever Alicia had felt or how hurt or humiliated she’d been, she hadn’t really hated her husband. Neither could she hate the Countess who, by all intents and purpose, is a nice and kind lady. Their lovestory was a legendary tale. No one remembered Alicia. And if they did, as she’d find out later, it was with contempt. Why didn’t she die and let the Admiral marry the love of his life? *SMH* Don’t know what to say, it was that horrible. Alicia had resented how Octavius treated her but she had nowhere to go. She was still living with his aunt and had communications with his younger brother, Simon, the new heir to Octavius’s legacy. Alicia could only imagine how her life would be from now on. Would she ever find a little peace? A little happiness unmarred by such misery?
One day, one of Ash’s long lost buddies return. Chev or Cheverley is also a Duke but he had been MIA for quite a few years and everyone thought him dead. I’m still not quite clear about his background, but he seems to be in the Navy as well. We also are introduced to Ash’s other friend, the other Duke, Hurtheven. Whereas Ash seemingly has no feelings or interest in anything, Chev is quite serious about everything. And Hurtheven seems like a jolly fellow with a biting sarcastic trait. I really liked them both, most especially how they made joke of Ash’s ‘angsty’ state and wanted him to go out with them and have fun. To make him realize that life isn’t as gloomy and sad as he makes it out to be. But his childhood (there’s a backstory that you get to learn later) made a profound impact on Ash, and the collective effect of how his life has been so far always made him see things through a veil of unhappiness and despair. I’d say he was quite depressed, would also drink when he couldn’t cope with it.
When his life was in such disarray, Ash couldn’t ignore that call of the siren, namely to check out an angelic widow. Chev had talked about her with such deep reverence that Ash felt this visceral need to seek her out, grab her and run somewhere, where he can thoroughly debauch her. Blacken her angelic aura with his own dark shadows. He knew a bit of Alicia’s ruined marriage but he’d never meet her in person. Then he gets a glimpse of her, which pretty much strikes him down right there. On spot. He was totally, utterly besotted with Lady Stone and he wanted her like he’d never wanted anything before. He’d do anything to gain her favor, even if for a short period of time. Even if it was for 3 heavenly days. But would someone so prim and proper like Lady Stone would even consider his offer, let alone grant him his most fervent wishes?
Well, Ash was pretty desperate so he makes certain Alicia was in his debt and couldn’t refuse. She, on the other hand, had no idea at first. Only that she was extremely attracted to the Duke, have been since the very day saw a glimpse of each-other. They had a moment and she wanted it back. ‘Him’ back (she didn’t know who Ash was then). So when he, quite straightforwardly, lets her know he wants her in his bed, Alicia had a difficult choice to make. She wanted to be with Ash, but she was already burned by a man thoroughly. She was also not used to having affairs so there was that. And if she agrees, and when it was over, would she be able to come out of this liaison emotionally alive? Because the Duke made it quite clear it’ll be a business deal of 3 days and nights. Yet how could she turn him down when he promised a lifetime of fidelity even when they aren’t together anymore? Alicia wanted to feel alive after years in a broken marriage where she was so totally unwanted that she forget she could be wanted by someone, even in a purely physical sense. It was an offer just too tempting...
I’d say the moment they saw each-other marked their fate. Ash knew it wasn’t simple lust he felt because he felt he was hers from then on. Alicia was in doubt, and I can understand why she felt that way but she was the first to acknowledge her feelings for Ash even if secretly. Personally, I’d go as far as to say it was love at first sight, just not your typical flowers and sunshine. All they needed was to acknowledge this feeling through a physical, and emotional, connection that neither of them had experienced with another partner. If I read his monologues correctly, Ash had some specific sexual needs that he was comfortable exploring only with his mistresses. Not surprised cause the hints of that made his wife disgusted. Nothing untoward or too perversive but he needed total control in lovemaking. He was worried how Alicia was going to react to this side of him, her being a proper widow and all that. So there were concerns on both sides. When they turned out to be compatible in bed, there were misunderstandings that kept them apart for a while.
But fear not, it was nothing too melodramatic that’d make you want to tear your hair out in frustration. I loved how everything came together in the end that made me grin from ear-to-ear. I mean, I had no doubt Ash and Alicia were meant to be together and their chemistry super hot. I also know I’m rambling along but I just had to express how much I loved this story and can’t freakin’ wait to read Chev and Hurtheven’s! The only thing I mourned when the story ended was the fact that the next installments will be out in 2018 and 2019. :( Long wait ahead of me. Sigh.
But don’t let it keep you from trying The Duke at Daybreak out now! Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.
ARC received from the author, thanks Wendy! x