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All the good things must come to an end. :( Every year for the past 7yrs. I’ve eagerly waited for a new Maiden Lane book. It’ll be so difficult to not have to wait for another new installment, even if the storyline veered away from the original characters. Even if Ms. Hoyt is writing a new series out later this year; even if I’m really excited about it. Duke of Desire marks the 12th installment, the final one, bidding adieu to our much beloved series. Though I still have 2 short stories to read, this is the last full-length novel.
Before I get into my review, starting with quite a bit of discussion on the backstory and how the characters are connected—because trust me they are connected through each-other and through ongoing events—I need to talk about the following...
I came to learn about Ms. Hoyt’s books a few years after I discovered Romance as a genre and was binging through some popular authors’ backlists. I don’t exactly remember why I picked up her books but so glad I did! Ms. Hoyt was still a bit of newbie, with 2 short series under her belt but making quite the splash. The first installment of Maiden Lane, Wicked Intentions, was out and waiting for the second installment. But before I could finish the first two series of hers, second book, Notorious Pleasures was out as well. By then I was SO hooked in her writing style and her stories that I was more in the lines of ‘oh goodie! gimme gimme!’ LOL I promptly began the reading of book 1 of Maiden Lane, which also prompted my love affair with this series.
I have since come to divide this series into 2 parts. The first 5 novels I mark as the ‘original’ where the Makepeace siblings are featured. The second part is made of 2 different storylines. And then there was the Legend of the Man in the Harlequin Mask AKA the Ghost of St. Giles. Maiden Lane, in fact, was based in the Georgian-era St. Giles and revolved around this famous shadowy character who always hid his identity behind that mask. He was a legend among the locals; some thought him a friend, while others thought him the bad guy. But no one really knew who he was and what the hell he was doing, running in the dark alleyways of St. Giles every night, evading the law enforcement send out to catch him. The ‘original’ 4 Makepeace siblings were Temperance, Asa, Silence and Winter. They had 2 other elder siblings, Concord and Verity already married and living separately with their families. Temperance, Winter and Silence used to run an orphanage badly in need of financial help, passed down to them by their deceased sire. The Makepeace siblings had their stories told in the first installments— Wicked Intentions (Temperance and Lazarus, Lord Caire - #1), Scandalous Desires (Silence and Charming Mickey, the river pirate - #3) and Thief of Shadows (Winter and Lady Isabella - #4). Concord and Verity weren’t a large part of the series in any way but they made their appearances here and there. Asa had made a few cameos too but he was always the mysterious one, until things started getting unraveled by book 6. Then Asa had his own story, FINALLY, in book 9 Sweetest Scoundrel, with Eve Dinwoody as his match.
The middle books center around various secondary characters still connected to this series some way or the other; whom you will still see even after their HEAs. The Makepeace siblings still make appearances, though over the years, as the story veered away from them and jumped years in narration, their presence became irregular. It’s something I miss terribly, so when there’s one of those family short stories/freebies are publish with little updates on their lives, I gobble them down, trying to catch a bit of glimpse of my favorite characters. Unfortunately, Ms. Hoyt never made a big update on Silence and Mickey, who were, and still are, my favorite couple of the story.
I also have to mention this: contrary to what we first thought, there were 3 Ghost of St. Giles; one taking over when the previous retired. And they didn’t know each-other either at first. The details of how these ‘Ghosts’ came to be in St. Giles, their backstory with the original mentor who since long passed, and their motto is revealed in their own books. Since this is the last book I won’t talk about the Ghosts of St. Giles much, so I’d recommend you begin from the first installment and get into this series ASAP to find out more!
By book 7, Darling Beast, though there was another storyline emerging. After Asa’s book, issues regarding his Pleasure Garden is resolved but we met another character. Book 10, Duke of Sin, tells us the story of the whimsical (some beg to differ and call him ‘insane’) Duke of Montgomery AKA Dear Val (as I called him :P). He used to be quite the shadowy character until the revelations in Sweetest Scoundrel. And through him we came to learn about the shenanigans of the Lords of Chaos, a cult-like secret club full of debauched men and all sorts of nasty things that often included children. That’s all I’ll tell you about them. Val’s pervert of a father was the chosen leader until his death and they wanted Val to be the leader. Well, Val was having none of it, his plan to destroy the Lords.
Unfortunately, when he isn’t entirely successful, Prinny’s bastard son, The Duke of Kyle Hugh Fitzroy steps in. He was summoned by his errant father (‘dragged in’ would be more precise) from the mourning of his recently dead wife, leaving his 2 little sons at home, to come investigate this new ‘thing’ that was giving Prinny the hives. The Lords knew secrets about the Royals that no one should know...ever. As if Hugh already didn’t have enough on his plate. -_- Thus begins book 11, Duke of Pleasure. The h of the story, Alf, had been an on and off feature of this series since book 3 or 4, when she was young. Someone who grew up in the dirty alleyways of Maiden Lane disguising herself as a man. She’d always been a mysterious character, and remains so even in her book. Since I didn’t know much about her I was never really invested in her. I enjoyed book 11 but it felt something missing because Alf remains… just Alf. No backstory of her life, nothing. And I failed to find any chemistry between her and Hugh. Well, Hugh was hot IMO but the whole thing wasn’t working for me.
Iris Jordan was introduced in book 11 as Hugh’s intended. Somewhat intended? She was Hugh’s first wife’s friend and a childless widow. She loved her friend, as much she’d loved Katherine’s two boys. And she liked Hugh and regarded him quite highly. After Katherine’s passing, they sought consolation in each-other’s company and became friends. They had an understanding of marriage since Hugh needed a mother for his boys and they loved Iris. There was no physical relationship between them though, because it was obvious that their connection never went deeper than that of a good friend. Neither wanted to acknowledge it for the sake of a future together. Kind ironic but that’s how it was.
So when Hugh got involved with Alf and Iris found out, there was no bitterness. It’s as if Iris knew this was never meant to be. Can’t blame her, her first marriage was utter crap and she was miserable throughout. She’d hoped for a kind, decent man and found it all in Hugh. However, she admitted they didn’t share the chemistry she’d secretly hoped they’d have. Now it was clear that Hugh felt the same. So rather than becoming the nasty OW, Iris does the most logical thing. She steps aside for Alf, wishing them all the best. I admired her already, this upped my regard of her even more.
Now, I do remember reading about an aging Duke of Dyemore in Duke of Sin. He was killed later in the story and I’m afraid I never paid him much attention seeing he was the cult leader and kinda forgettable. :/ Now I wish I had, because when I read the H of this installment, Duke of Desire, is his son, I was rather flabbergasted. I was like...uh, huh? O.O
Raphael de Chartres was introduced in book 11 briefly, who saw Iris at a ball and wanted her on spot. However with his scarred face and grim demeanor, he was far from the catch any matchmaking mama would consider for her marriageable daughter. Even with all the money he had people were just... scared of him. It was more of that shock of experiencing the extreme discord of an exceptionally beautiful face having been horrendously marred on the side, in a way, that simply leaves you speechless in awe, in horror. Maybe in pity too. But Raphael could care less. He was a recluse and people leaving him alone suited him just fine. Only that Iris’s blonde beauty and the aura of goodness she exuded wouldn’t leave him alone. He wanted her like he’d never wanted anyone before. But he knew he couldn’t have her. At first, it was because she was known to be Hugh’s intended. Then it was because Raphael had his own issues.
Then Iris gets kidnapped by The Lords of Chaos, who were already after Hugh for his part in largely destroying and scattering them all over the country. They were out for blood, and the idiots thought Iris would be the best bet to lure Hugh in. This is where Duke of Desire begins where Raphael saves Iris from their clutches. The Lords of Chaos were reunited, even if a small bunch of what was left, with a plan to rebuilt and destroy whoever tried to harm their cult. Raphael, being the son of the previous leader, was already a favorite. Up to that time he was living abroad, having only returned to London recently. Obviously he had no communication with his father, his mother having died very young. But he has heard of The Lords of Chaos. He knew what they were capable of first hand. His absence didn’t deter those men to want him back and join the ‘new’ club. Raphael did join them; even let them use the same place on his property where his father used to invite them in, with an ultimate plan in mind. Like Val, he wanted to destroy them too. Like Val, he also had personal vendetta against them. And that was how Raphael was present the day Iris was brought it. He rescues her, drags her back in a way that the idiot Lords thought he’d simply use and ‘discard’ her. By that I mean kill her to remain silent forever of what she’d witnessed. Well Raphael had other plans in mind, and killing Iris wasn’t one of them.
I really liked this story cause it was rather fast paced. Not a whole lot was going on but still the story was fluid and engaging. I was simply happy to witness Iris and Raphael’s relationship unfold. Iris was never disgusted or horrified by Raphael’s face. She felt a twinge of pity but she also felt sadness. A whole lot of it. Raphael and she married hastily, one: to keep her safe from the Lords for the time being and two: to save whatever was left of her reputation. Iris wasn’t in love with the idea cause she only saw him once too, in that same ball where they shared a dance. She didn’t know him and was distressing that she wouldn’t have the type of marriage she’d dreamed of all her life. It becomes especially an issue when Raphael, who seemed more virile than anyone she’d come across, refuses to consummate the marriage. Even when it was certain he wanted her and did not, uh, fancy men. Iris was not only baffled, she was rather irritated. Why would the man not want to have sex when she’s willing? HE’s willing?! At least bodily willing. She knew they were attracted to one another and she wanted to have a normal marriage, with children if they’re so blessed with some. Then WHY?
I’ve discovered through other reviews that many have found Iris’s nosy behavior and badgering of Raphael annoying. Personally, I thought she was doing fabulous! Something to bring him out of his shell. After all, he married her then without any explanation refuses to do anything about it. She definitely deserved answers. Plus Raphael needed a savior so badly that it was simply heartbreaking. Inside he was begging her to be near, yet for his own issues that I mentioned earlier, couldn’t let her be close. He had a dark, horrible secret that stunted his feelings about certain things, and certain smells made him extremely ill cause he’d have, what I will call, PTSD from the trauma he’d endure. But to him, it was so so shameful that he wouldn’t have ever told anyone. And he wanted Iris to be in his life, not leave him in his darkness, disgusted.
I felt so heartbroken for Raphael that I thought Iris was the perfect match for his reclusive, stubborn butt. Someone needed to grab him by his balls and drag him up from the quagmire he was drowning in. Besides, if nothing else, he was pretty sure that he’d die while fighting to eliminate the Lords...I know his reasoning was pretty f-ed up but I don’t think he started thinking clearly until much later in the story, when he realized Iris would love him no matter what. And that he’d loved her from the day he’d set his eyes on her. That there are things in this world that matters more than vengeance; that they’re worth living for. How can that be a bad thing?
I found the ending quite satisfying. Loved this story and felt instantly sad that it’s the end of Maiden Lane. But I hope it’s not the full stop where the series is concerned, and that we get to revisit our favorite characters through short stories etc. from time to time. I had hoped that they’d be featured on the new series Ms. Hoyt is writing but I think the time-frame is different. Sigh. 4 stars.