"A Most Unlikely Duke" Is The Romance Most Likely To Melt Your Heart

Title:  A Most Unlikely Duke
Series: Diamonds In The Rough #1
Author:  Sophie Barnes
Format:  Kindle ARC
Publisher:  Avon Books
Rating:  5 Stars

He never thought he'd become a duke, or that the secrets of his past would cost him his greatest love... 

Raphe Matthews hasn’t stepped foot in polite circles since a tragedy left his once-noble family impoverished and in debt. The bare-knuckle boxer has spent the last fifteen years eking out an existence for himself and his two sisters. But when a stunning reversal of fortune lands Raphe the title of Duke of Huntley, he’s determined to make a go of becoming a proper lord, but he’ll need a little help, and his captivating neighbor might be just the woman for the job…

After her sister’s scandalous match, Lady Gabriella knows the ton’s eyes are on her. Agreeing to tutor the brutish new duke can only lead to ruin. Although she tries to control her irresistible attraction to Raphe, every day she spends with him only deepens her realization that this may be the one man she cannot do without. And as scandal threatens to envelop them both, she must decide if she can risk everything for love with a most unlikely duke.

Read An Exclusive Excerpt of
A Most Unlikely Duke

It was past eleven o’clock in the evening by the time
Raphe returned home, his knuckles tender and his body still sore from the fight. Glad to get out of the cold, he closed the door on the rain that now poured from a thunderous sky, shrugged out of his coat and hung it on a hook behind the door just as his sister Amelia entered from an adjoining room that served as a small parlor.
“Good evenin’.” She yawned, leaning against the door frame. Squinting through the darkness, Raphe echoed her salutation. “I thought ye would be asleep by now.”
Stepping past her, he entered their tiny kitchen and snatched up the tinder box.
“I was,” Amelia said, following him into the chilly room. A threadbare shawl was draped across her shoulders, and as she pulled it tighter with pale and trembling fingers, Raphe felt his heart lurch. This wasn’t right. His sister did not deserve to live like this. None of them did. Pushing aside such fruitless ponderings, he found a candle, struck a flint and held it to the wick until a flame began to bloom, driving the darkness toward the walls where it struggled against the light.
“If it makes any difference, Juliette’s safely tucked into bed.” Amelia said, referring to their younger sister, whose weaker disposition was a constant cause for unease. When Raphe lifted the lid of a nearby pot and peered inside, Amelia added, “I made soup for dinner.”
“Smells delicious,” he dutifully told her.
“We both know ‘ow untrue that is, bu’ I appreciate yer optimism.”
Meeting her gaze, Raphe made a deliberate effort to smile. “Per’aps I can manage some meat for us tomorrow.” It would certainly be a welcome change from the potatoes and turnips they’d been eating for what seemed like forever. Christ, he was so tired of having a sore belly all the time, and his sisters . . . they never complained, but he knew they needed better nourishment than what they were getting.
“That’d be nice,” Amelia said. Her tone, however, suggested that she doubted his ability to manage such a feat. Bothered by her lack of faith in him, he grabbed a chunk of bread and tore off a large piece. “A chicken ought to be possible. If we make it last a few days.”
Amelia simply nodded. Grabbing a cup, she filled it with water and placed it before him. “I miss the smell of a bustlin’ kitchen.”
The comment threw him for a second. “Wha’?”
“Meat roastin’ on the fire, bread bakin’ in the oven.” She shook her head wistfully. “It’s funny. I
can’t picture Mama, but I remember Cook—plump cheeks an’ a kind smile. I remember bein’ ‘appy in the kitchen back ‘ome.”
The sentimental thought made Raphe weary. He didn’t bother to point out that she’d only been seven when they’d lost their parents and there’d been nothing left for Raphe to do but turn his back on the house in which they’d spent the early years of their childhoods and walk away, taking his siblings with him. He’d been no more than eight years old and with a mighty burden weighing on his shoulders. “I know this isn’t the sor’ of life that any of us ever imagined.”
Feeling his temper begin to rise at the memory of what their parents had done to them all, he added, “Hopefully, in time, things’ll get better.”
“I’m sure ye’re right.” Could she possibly sound any more unconvinced?
He ate a spoonful of soup, the bland flavor just a touch better than plain hot water. Amelia took a step forward. “The reason I didn’t retire with Juliette earlier is ’cause of this letter.” She waved a piece of paper in his direction. “It arrived for ye today while ye were out.”
Frowning, Raphe stared at her. “Do ye know who sent it?” He couldn’t even recall the last time he’d received a letter. Nobody ever wrote to him or his sisters.
“The sender’s name’s smudged. So’s the address. It’s a miracle it arrived here at all.” Handing the letter to Raphe, she watched as he turned it over and studied the penmanship. Sure enough, the only legible part of the address, which even appeared to have been altered once or twice, was his name: Mister Raphael Matthews.

My Review
This story of "the duke from the wrong side of the tracks," is one that makes readers believe in the spirit of the underdog almost from page one.
Raphe Matthews and his sisters may have been born to life in the gilded halls of Mayfair.  But a series of disastrous events in their childhoods, coupled with the loss of their parents, has left the three fending for themselves in the slums of St. Giles.
A place where the genteel breeding so prized by the aristocracy has no value.
Where a man is made or broken not by the coin in his pocket, but by the strength of both his back and his word.
A place where Raphe Matthews has not only managed to live, but to thrive.  On the strength of both his word and his fists.

By contrast...
Lady Gabriella Radcliffe leads a life for which the words "gilded cage" can serve as the only fitting descriptor.  As the only "socially acceptable" daughter left to the Earl and Countess of Warwick; after a most scandalous elopement by their firstborn daughter, Victoria.
Gabriella's parents are doing all they can to ensure that they hold on to both their her, and their battered family reputation.
Until an advantageous but worthy match can be secured.

Neither the cossetted Gabriella, nor the newly minted Duke of Huntly, have any way of knowing that a chance meeting on the day that Raphe and his sisters come to claim the ducal residence, will change the lives of all involved forever.
The question...
Will those changes be for the better?

Though there are a great many things about this story which make it book a stellar first book, as well as a wonderful read in its own right.
The sheer amount of well placed inclusiveness found here.  In areas such as backstory, supporting cast, continuity, and character development, presents readers with a rich and multilayered read.  Allowing them to come to know the book's players on a very personal level by book's end.
Aiding readers still further in their quest for connection with their characters.  The slowness with which the romance between the young duke and his lady unfolds.
There is no rush to "wed her and bed her here".
The romance is sweet, honest, hard won, and profound.

Furthermore, the more that one comes to understand both Raphe's and Gabriella's situations.  The more that one comes to realize that they each mirror the other in many ways.
Because while they both are granted lives of untold privilege.  The prices exacted by those lives both singularly and collectively are quite high.
As they are both in some way paying for the past actions of others.
Gabriella for those of her sister.
Raphe for those of his parents.
Making the road to social acceptability among the ton, a very hard one indeed.
But one that their proximity as neighbors and Gabriella's promise to secretly tutor his sisters in all things etiquette, will ensure that they traverse together.
No matter the odds.

This story of "the outsiders who find there places".  Is one that will resonate with any reader who has ever felt "out of place".  Letting them know that there is "no out of place" in the heart of 
 the one who loves you.

About Sophie

Sophie BarnesBorn in Denmark, Sophie Barnes spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She's lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish and Romanian. She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor's degree from Parsons. But, most impressive of all, she's been married to the same man three times—in three different countries and in three different dresses.

While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion: writing. When she's not busy dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading. She currently lives on the East Coast.

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