THE DUKE – Kerrigan Byrne
Victorian Rebels Series, Book 4
St. Martin's Paperbacks
London, 1876, Victorian Era
Since her father's death, Imogen Pritchard has been trying to take care of her mother and her younger sister, but that has also meant trying to pay off her father's gambling debts. The owner of those debts runs the Bare Kitten, a tavern and prostitution house, but by agreement, Imogen, disguised as Ginny, works off the debt as a serving maid. Only Jeremy Carson, the bar tender, is friendly to her. The other women, who are prostitutes, don't like her much. When an opportunity arrives, her boss sells her virginity to the new Duke of Trewyth, a tall and exceedingly handsome man, for the small fortune of twenty pounds. Collin is a famous soldier and rumored spy who asks her to call him ‘Cole.' The night was far more than Imogen expected, and remembered long afterward. A year later, during her day job as a nurse at St. Margaret's Royal Hospital, she is surprised to find herself assigned to Cole, returned from imprisonment in the Ottoman Empire and suffering from typhus. The assignment is made because she is the only nurse who had recovered from the contagious disease, so immune.
Collin Talmage had been grieving. He had lost his father, mother, and older brother in an accident that made him Duke of Trewyth, a position he never aspired to have. His night with Ginny was filled with passion, and her compassionate words had soothed his wounded soul. Now, three years since that night, he still recovers from a year marked by betrayal, followed by imprisonment and torture, loss of his left hand, and nearly dying in a London hospital. Since his recovery he has searched for Ginny. Instead he finds himself looking down from his study window to watch the young widow of his septuagenarian neighbor, a man Collin had respected and loved. Furthermore, she is a woman whose desire to save those from the cesspool of the lowest class of society threatens the reputation and safety of his upper-class neighborhood.
THE DUKE tells Collin's and Imogen's tale of dark and terrifying pasts, lost dreams, and their growth into very different people from their first encounter. There is violence, anger, and sex, and the romance is anything but smooth, but their story is very moving and compelling. The Victorian setting is portrayed as a savage and violent time in a very realistic way, but also as a time of change. Author Byrne's use of very evocative wording enhances the reader's sense of setting and sympathy for these two very unusual characters. This is the fourth book in this series, and characters from the previous stories have strong supporting roles in this novel, although this does not impinge on the understanding of THE DUKE. Previous books include THE HIGHWAYMAN, THE HIGHLANDER, and THE HUNTER.