THE WAY TO A DUKE'S HEART – Caroline Linden
The Truth About the Duke , Book 3
When the late Duke of Durham was a very young man, he made a foolish mistake by marrying an actress in a rather dubious manner. They weren't long together before going their separate ways. But then—years later—the no longer young man unexpectedly inherited the dukedom from a distant relative and felt obliged to marry and produce an heir or two…blithely ignoring that youthful mistake. He kept his secret until he was near death and someone attempted to blackmail him. He then wrote a letter to his three sons that was delivered only after his death. If the marriage was true and the woman still alive when the duke married his duchess, the boys are bastards and the present heir, the Earl of Gresham, is no longer eligible to inherit, nor are the others.
One by one the three brothers set out to solve what came to be known as the Durham Dilemma. First to try was Edward de Lacey, the responsible middle son who capably managed the estates. The next was Gerard de Lacey, Captain in His Majesty's Army. These two made some slight progress before being distracted by Cupid's arrows. Now it is Gresham's turn to try to keep his title and estates. For various reasons, Charlie was estranged from his father for the last ten years and spent that time on wine, women, and gambling. He needs to find proof of his claim to the title and all that goes with it...for his brothers' sakes as well as his own. He starts in Bath where the last blackmailing letter came from and has a name of the person who mailed it, one Hiram Scott.
Tessa Neville's brother William, a country viscount of no great note, is content to let Tessa, a willing and capable widow, keep the books and advise him. He's been asked to invest in a new canal near Bath. Tessa and her companion, Eugenie Bates, are checking in at Bath's York Hotel when an annoying disturbance occurs. The help leaves them standing to usher in a person of note, the Earl of Gresham, whom Tessa quickly judges to be an indolent fellow. Always one to speak her mind, Tessa gives her opinion just a tad too loud. Not an auspicious beginning, to say the least.
It's not long before Gresham learns something that lets him know the peevish woman has dealings with Hiram Scott. He sets out to use his famous charm on the older woman to learn all he can about this Mrs. Neville. He succeeds in making Tessa's acquaintance and in accompanying the women out of town to meet with Scott about the canal. From then on he uses her and the canal as cover to get next to Scott.
Tessa is an interesting person whose background is only gradually revealed. She's bright and logical, and has no use for Society or men…a wholly odd woman for the times. Gresham as heir was spoiled when young, yet greatly undervalued by his father. Ms. Linden makes him sympathetic at the start and allows him to grow and evolve.
The plot carries on where the earlier books, ONE NIGHT IN LONDON (Richard) and BLAME IT ON BATH (Gerard), leave off. THE WAY TO A DUKE'S HEART slows down a bit in the middle where the author tells about Gresham's and Tessa's feelings, but it picks up again as they get nearer the solution to the problem. Once that is done, do the two of them fit? Is a country bluestocking any match for a powerful duke?
While BLAME IT ON BATH is my favorite of the three, I highly recommend the whole series as original and very entertaining.