Before beginning my review, would like to mention a **trigger warning** here. There is mention of sexual abuse at the beginning of the book. Not graphic mind you, but enough to turn your stomach so it had taken me quite aback. But the whole scene was handled pretty well by the author so kudos to her.
How To Love a Duke In Ten Days is book 1 of the newest series by Kerrigan Byrne titled Devil You Know. TBH, I was waiting for the latest in her other series, Victorian Rebels, which is a series I’ve come to love over the years. So this new venture left me a bit intrigued. Of course, I was going to check it out no matter what and so glad that I did! Just how do two fools fall in love in 10 days? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out. Devil You Know is also based in the Victorian-era England, much like Victorian Rebels, though I didn’t think there’s any connection between the two. Not yet at least.
When the story opens up, we find our heroine, Alexandra, studying in a school for females named de Chardonne. Located in Switzerland, de Chardonne seemed to be a famous educational institution for the young and affluent females, daughters and such, of the peerage. Alexandra came to be here because of the same. Even if her family’s financial situation was quite dire, as it was mired in deep debts, they still wanted her to be ready for the world. This school would educate her to navigate the world of peerage and such, though Alexandra knew that if her family’s secret is out in the world, she would not be welcomed by the Ton.
Mostly an introvert, Alexandra found friends in two other girls who come from somewhat similarly odd family backgrounds. Cecelia, a tall, pleasantly plump girl who could compete with any valkyrie in her stature. She was gorgeous in her own way but had no idea of her appeal; the bookish sort who sported glasses and saw goodness in everyone. She also had sad family secret that made her life miserable while at home. In de Chardonne, she found friends in Alexandra and Francesca, who, on the other hand, was tall, statuesque and undoubtedly striking. Her family background was a little too complicated, and since it played no big part in this story, I’ll refrain from mentioning it too.
But among the three, Alexandra was, as far as I could discern, the most beautiful one. Or at least if short, petite but well-proportioned girls are your thing. She had brown hair and eyes, but had this air of vulnerability around her. Or maybe that’s just how I found her to be after I read about.....the incident that takes place right at the beginning of the book. Alexandra called to the headmaster’s office and then attacked by that lecherous a$$hole even before she knew what was happening to her. Life wouldn’t be the same for her and her 2 friends after what they’ve since referred to as ‘the incident’.
Alexandra, Cecelia and Francesca had formed a group of sort where they shortened their names to a male form (Alex, Cecil and Frances). They were just 3 teenagers having fun, largely innocent fun at that, to alley the boredom between the classes and other activities. It was a secret group, though I don’t know how the hell they went to that secret, dark basement (?) of de Chardonne in the middle of the night, without anyone knowing so they could do their usual shenanigans. But keep in mind that the narration of their life at de Chardonne ceased pretty much after chapter 1, when the story jumps into the future. From there it’s mainly their own monologue when they thought back to that dreadful night...when Alexandra was found by her 2 friends, dazed and bloodied, but whatever blood found on her wasn’t her own. It took her a while to take in what’s happened. That she’d also killed that SOB. At that time, she could only think of getting the world rid of that monster. With the help of a kindly old gardener, a close confidante to Cecilia, the corpse was taken care of. But the deep, bloody marks it left in their memories, especially for Alexandra, would not heal. Not so soon. Not that easily.
10 yrs. on and we find that even though they’d ardently hoped that was the end of ‘the incident’, that really wasn’t the case for Alexandra. Someone knew and had been blackmailing her ever since. Though Alexandra had finished her studies and became a world-renowned archeologist, her financial situation was still not stellar. She was brilliant in her job, earned her own living as her family coffers have now dwindled into pretty much nothing. Despite all of that, a chunk of what she earned had to be send to the blackmailer to keep him/her shut. Alexandra was so ashamed, mortified of her ‘past’ that she didn’t dare share it with anyone, even with Cecelia and Francesca, both of whom since inherited good amount of money—Francesca being a countess herself—and could help. But Alexandra, in her despair, thought the burden was hers to carry. Only hers. She didn’t want her friends to be in danger of any sort. I can’t imagine her living like that for so long and carrying all these within herself. Poor girl. :(
That wasn’t also just it, of course. Alexandra was scared of men. Any male contact, especially males that weren’t a part of her family. She’d always find a way to make certain she wasn’t alone with any man, even those from her field that she worked with and respected greatly. And can you blame her? From that nightmarish night, the only thing Alexandra was grateful for was the fact that it hadn’t resulted into a child. She couldn’t even imagine the implication of such a thing.
But for today, Alexandra is traveling to the Duke of Redmayne’s estate in Devonshire. Francesca’s urgent letter to visit her there was quite the surprise. Apparently, she recently found out that she’s engaged to the Duke whom neither of them have ever met. The strong-willed Francesca was having none of it though so she wanted her friends here to discuss this matter thoroughly and decide on the next step. When she reached her destination Alexandra found that Cecelia’s traveling coach hasn’t arrived yet. While she was waiting for it, suddenly a series of incidents are put into motion one after another and somehow she found herself soothing a big hulk of a stallion. It was raining and the animal was scared of thunder so he bolted out of the wagon he was being transported in. Everyone on its path moved away cause...well, they didn’t want to die. However, Alexandra had a way with horses. Then, as sudden as it began, she was snatched by another big, hulking creature; this time a man, who began checking her, apparently for injuries. Alexandra was... stunned, mortified... uneasy and scared. But most of all, as she looked into the face of the man, she found herself to be quite aroused. Something that never, ever, ever happened to her. It’s not that he was the most beautiful man on earth. His face, it may have been extremely attractive once with its dark, bold features, now marked with a cut slashed through his cheek, very narrowly missing his eyes. He was tall, dark and oh so big! Even though Alexandra didn’t know who she was looking at, I kind of knew. So to be precise, it was her destiny.
Piers, the Duke of Redmayne, had been a wild adventurer until very recently. He wasn’t one of your run-of-the-mill Dukes who simply became one because it was their inheritance. Piers is well-travelled, visited some of the most dangerous places on earth. In fact, he loved traveling even more than his so-called inheritance and would keep on doing it. Yet, after his latest rendezvous with death, he knew it was time to be serious. After all, he has a duty to the Dukedom. After his return though, Piers found his fiancée had almost broke her nails and a leg in a hurry to marry his cousin who was next to succeed should anything happened to Piers sans any heirs. There were rumors that he’d perished wherever in the world he was traveling at that time...you get my drift. To say that he was angry was an understatement. Here he thought they were in love! Her betrayal struck Piers pretty badly.
It’s been quite a few months, and despite his thoughts about doing his duty to the dukedom, Piers hasn’t forgotten it; a deluge of anger alongside his deep seated distrust of women coming to forefront. Piers’ mother has never been the stellar example of virtuous womanhood. She slept through England and Europe, having always had a lover until she passed away. His elder brother Cassius could vouch for that since he wasn’t legitimate; born off an affair with a Scottish laird. His father, who was thoroughly besotted with his adulterous wife, had taken his own life after finally figuring out that she’ll never really be his. All these had left its mark on him and Piers knew he had issues. He also knew that whoever he married would be someone he won’t be falling in love with. Not again. It’ll be a MOC in every sense of the word; be together until the heir and the spare are born then go their own way etc. etc. In that accord, Lady Francesca was, to him, a perfect match. Not only she was smart, he found her to be attractive which was a bonus. However, I do think, deep inside Piers knew he really didn’t want that type of a marriage. It became even more obvious when he met Alexandra. He kept thinking of the girl that he’s saved from being trampled by Mercury. Small stature, with those vulnerable eyes… there was something about her that Piers couldn’t deny. And she could handle his oaf of a horse that everyone was scared of, so there was that. He was already impressed.
Alexandra and Piers’ first ‘official’ meeting was fun because they both genuinely had no idea who they were until they did. I’m gonna note here that I found Francesca’s odd banters with Piers funny, as few as those were. In my mind, I could see them as a couple. But I was also kind of glad that they weren’t cause Piers and Alexandra’s crazy chemistry was about to take off! I loved seeing it grow. Alexandra didn’t become a ‘siren’ overnight but her insecurities were portrayed well enough despite her unconscious fear of men. It really pained me to know she had no counseling of any sort. Yet she handled it quite well… until it began to become too much. The blackmailer upped his/her ante by asking for more money than she could afford. She didn’t know how long it is until she is arrested for murder and taken to the gallows! Who will save her if that happens? If it was only her, Alexandra would take it but her friends would also be arrested for their part in this and she couldn’t let that happen.
But Alexandra didn’t know that she’d completely consumed Piers’ mind within these few days since they met. He instinctively sought her out no matter what. He’d also realized pretty fast that a match with Francesca wouldn’t do for him, though he tried his best at first to see it through. Then there was an attempted murder, a very cryptic message that Piers retrieves from the attacker and his goal in life changes. The attacker wanted someone with red hair, and all three girls had various shades of red in theirs. Piers was duly worried, but always a little more for Alexandra. She seemed like a meek little thing, but Piers already knew of her brilliance. He’d also noticed that she was always on alert and seemed uncomfortable in his presence. It seemed like she wanted to stay away, then found it difficult to do so. As if despite her discomfort, even fear, she was extremely attracted to him. Piers though had no idea what to think of it but he knew he wanted her quite madly and a marriage between them began to look like the best thing at the moment.
The opportunity would present itself with Francesca’s announcement that she and Piers won’t suit, hence there won’t be a marriage. With the pressure of the blackmailer in mind, and now a murder attempt she thought was definitely for her, Alexandra had become super desperate to obtain the money she needed. Also protection—of someone. Someone who can shelter her from all the harm. But, a man? So be it. Alexandra’s eyes would only seek one man, though she had no idea what he’d think of the idea of a marriage. Now that Francesca didn’t want to marry him, could she offer herself up? Even if it means living with him? Being in his bed? As reluctant as it was, deep inside her own mind, Alexandra knew it to be an all resounding ‘yes’.
Piers was at first taken aback by Alexandra’s very straight forward proposal, but he was totally game. He’s come to hate his ex-fiancée’s stalking him day and night; everywhere in his home down to his bedroom (they had a history of that sort, which Piers now regrets to its fullest). He would like to marry ASAP to send her a message that she was history to him. Not that she takes the hints but Piers would certainly try his best! He wanted Alexandra enough to say ‘yes’ right away. Whether the marriage was a good idea remained to be seen but Piers was pretty sure they’d suit in bed, and that was enough. Even if she cross checked a few ‘things’ with him before marriage regarding their marital relations. Piers found those funnily adorable (and weird) but he marked those down as nerve of a virgin mind. He’d, of course, do his best to change her mind after marriage. If only he knew the fear that lurked inside of Alexandra’s mind. :(
Piers and Alexandra marry very soon afterwards but their wedding doesn’t have a smooth beginning. I didn’t think it would. Piers could be an oaf but Alexandra was also… I don’t know, could be rather dumb at times. She never told Piers about her past in fear that he wouldn’t want her. Or worse, have her arrested for murder. I personally thought he had right to know. And then, on their wedding night, he found out the inevitable. An inevitable Alexandra didn’t even think through—her virginity. He was extremely mad, feeling betrayed, and this time deeply hurt. As annoyed as I was at his outburst, couldn’t blame him at all. He wouldn’t even give Alexandra a chance to explain and she wasn’t ready to tell him everything just yet. You can only imagine the mess that was about to ensue! Here they were visiting a place in Normandy to find the grave of Piers’ famous ancient ancestor as a part of their honeymoon, he all confident of winning her over. He thought it was the fitting gift for his bride who was, as expected, beyond happy for the opportunity! How the hell his immaculate planning of excavation and seduction has come to this?! All I could do was SMDH at these two.
After that, the story had its own ups and downs. While it took Piers a few more days to finally to put two and two together and figure out where the oddity of Alexandra’s behavior stemmed from. But when he finally did, he was livid with anger. He was mad at the man who has harmed her, wanting to rip him apart if he could track him down. He was mad at himself for being a dunce and not really seeing it for what it was—abject horror of men that lurks in her eyes. The way she ran from his ardent advances like the hounds of hell were after her. Piers suddenly realized that despite all his planning, he’d already fallen in love so deeply and madly that he’d do anything for Alexandra. Anything.
But for the object of his adoration, it took a near fatal crash at the dig of the grave site, where Piers could’ve been killed. The last push that Alexandra needed to acknowledge her feelings. Did she really think that trying to deny the inevitable would work? Piers had always been good to her, had always listened to her despite her ‘odd’ behavior and demands. That he later accepted that if she wanted, their marriage would be name only and that he’d be faithful to her no matter what...How could she not fall in love with this guy? She already had a long time ago.
And despite Alexandra’s one last foolishness where she tries to finally meet her blackmailer, alone, in the middle of the night—which made me SMH so vigorously, I almost got cross-eyed— I loved this book. Loved seeing them falling for each-other, their romance budding into something so unequivocally strong and true. However, I did find a few things odd; one would be the fact that we never really get to meet Alexandra’s family. They were mentioned a few times but no one ever made any appearance. I doubt they knew what happened to her either or the extent of what she went through.
But all in all, this was a great beginning to a new series. I’m eagerly looking forward to book 2, which will be Cecelia and Cassius’s. 4.25 stars and highly recommended, especially if you’re a Kerrigan Byrne fan to begin with.