Title: Daring And The Duke
Series: The Bareknuckle Brawlers #3
Author: Sarah MacLean
Length: 384 pages
Expected Date of Publication: 6/30/20
Publisher: Avon Books
Rating: 4 Stars
New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean returns with the much-anticipated final book in her Bareknuckle Bastards series, featuring a scoundrel duke and the powerful woman who brings him to his knees.
Grace Condry has spent a lifetime running from her past. Betrayed as a child by her only love and raised on the streets, she now hides in plain sight as queen of London’s darkest corners. Grace has a sharp mind and a powerful right hook and has never met an enemy she could not best...until the man she once loved returns.
Single-minded and ruthless, Ewan, Duke of Marwick, has spent a decade searching for the woman he never stopped loving. A long-ago gamble may have lost her forever, but Ewan will go to any lengths to win Grace back…and make her his duchess.
Reconciliation is the last thing Grace desires. Unable to forgive the past, she vows to take her revenge. But revenge requires keeping Ewan close, and soon her enemy seems to be something else altogether—something she can’t resist, even as he threatens the world she's built, the life she's claimed…and the heart she swore he'd never steal again.
Please enjoy this excerpt from...
Daring And The Duke
From Sarah MacLean and Avon Books
Daring and the Duke, by Sarah MacLean
Seat of the Dukedom of Marwick
There was nothing in the wide world like his laugh.
It didn’t matter that she was unqualified to speak of the wide world. She’d never strayed far from this enormous manor house, tucked into the quiet Essex countryside two days’ walk northeast of London, where rolling green hills turned to wheat as autumn crept across the land.
It didn’t matter that she didn’t know the sounds of the city or the smell of the ocean. Or that she’d never heard a language other than English, or seen a play, or listened to an orchestra.
It didn’t matter that her world had been limited to the three thousand acres of fertile land boasting fluffy white sheep and massive hay bales and a community of people with whom she was not allowed to speak—to whom she was virtually invisible—because she was a secret that was to be kept at all costs.
A girl, baptized the heir to the Dukedom of Marwick. Swaddled in the rich lace reserved for a long line of dukes, anointed with oils reserved for the most privileged of Burghsey House residents. Given a boy’s name and title before God even as the man who was not her father paid servants and priests for silence and falsified documents and laid plans to replace her mother’s bastard daughter with one of his own bastard sons, born on the same day as she—to women who were not his duchess—offering him a single path to a ducal legacy . . . theft.
Offering that useless girl, the mewling babe in nurse’s arms, nothing more than a half life, full of the aching loneliness that came from a world so large and so small, all at once.
And then he’d arrived, one year earlier. Twelve years old and full of fire and strength and the world beyond. Tall and lean and already so clever and cunning and the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen, blond hair too long over bright amber eyes that held a thousand secrets, and a quiet, barely ever heard laugh—so rare that when it came, it felt like a gift.
No, there was nothing in the wide world like his laugh. She knew it, even if the wide world was so far beyond her reach she couldn’t even imagine where it began.
He loved to tell her about it. Which was what he did that afternoon, one of their precious, stolen moments between the duke’s machinations and manipulations—a thieved day before a night when the man who held their future might return to revel in tormenting his three sons. But today, in that quiet afternoon, while the duke was away in London, doing whatever it was that dukes did, the quartet took happiness where they could find it—out on the wild, meandering land that made up the estate.
Her favorite place was on the western edge of the land, far enough away from the manor house that it might be forgotten before it could be remembered. A magnificent copse of trees soaring into the sky, lined on one side with a small, bubbling stream, less stream than brook, if a body were honest, but one that had given her hours, days, weeks of chattering company when she’d been younger and conversation with the water had been all she could hope for.
But here, now, she was not lonely. She was inside the trees, where dappled sunshine flooded the ground where she lay on her back—collapsed after racing across the land, taking great breaths of air heavy with the scent of wild thyme.
He sat next to her, his hip to hers, his own chest rising and falling with heavy breath as he stared down into her face, his ever-lengthening legs stretched past her head. “Why do we always come here?”
“I like it here,” she said simply, turning her face up to the sunlight, the tattoo of her heartbeat calming as she stared through the canopy to the sky playing hide-and-seek beyond. “And so would you if you weren’t so serious all the time.”
The air in the quiet place shifted, thickening with the truth—that they were not ordinary children, thirteen and without care. Care was how they survived. Seriousness was how they survived.
She didn’t want that now. Not while the last of the summer butterflies danced in rays of light above, filling the whole place with magic that kept the worst at bay. So she changed the subject.
“Tell me about it.”
He didn’t ask her to clarify. He didn’t need to. “Again?”
He swiveled around, and she moved her skirts so he could lie next to her, as he had dozens of times before. Hundreds of them. Once he was settled on his back, his hands stacked behind his head, he spoke to the canopy. “It’s never quiet there.”
“Because of the carts on the cobblestones.”
He nodded. “The wooden wheels make a racket, but it’s more than that. It’s the shouts from the taverns and the hawkers in the market square. The dogs barking in the warehouses. The brawls in the streets. I used to stand on the roof of the place I lived and bet on the brawls.”
“That’s why you’re so good at fighting.”
He lifted a shoulder in a tiny shrug. “I always thought it would be the best way to help my ma. Until . . .”
He trailed off, but she heard the rest. Until she’d taken ill, and the duke had dangled a title and a fortune in front of a son who would have done anything to help. She turned to look at him, his face drawn tight, resolutely staring up at the sky, jaw set.
“Tell me about the cursing,” she prodded.
He let out a little surprised laugh. “A riot of foul language. You like that bit.”
“I didn’t even know cursing existed before you three.” Boys who came into her life like a riot themselves, rough and tumble and foul-mouthed and wonderful.
“Before Devil, you mean.” Devil, christened Devon—one of his two half brothers—raised in a boys’ orphanage and with the mouth to prove it. “He’s proved very useful.”
“Yes. The cursing. Especially on the docks. No one swears like a sailor.”
“Tell me the best one you’ve ever heard.”
He cut her a sly look. “No.”
She’d ask Devil later. “Tell me about the rain.”
“It’s London. It rains all the time.”
She nudged him with her shoulder. “Tell me the good bit.”
He smiled, and she matched it, loving the way he humored her. “The rain turns the stones on the street slick and shiny.”
“And at night, it turns them gold, because of the lights from the taverns,” she filled in.
“Not just the taverns. The theaters on Drury Lane. The lamps that hang outside the bawdy houses.” Bawdy houses where his mother had landed after the duke had refused to keep her when she’d chosen to have his son. Where that son had been born.
“To keep the dark at bay,” she said softly.
“The dark ain’t so bad,” he said. “It’s just that the people in it haven’t a choice but to fight for what they need.”
“And do they get it? What they need?”
“No. They don’t get what they need, and not what they deserve, neither.” He paused, then whispered to the canopy, like it really was magic. “But we’re going to change all that.”
She didn’t miss the we. Not just him. All of them. A foursome that had made a pact when the boys had been brought here for this mad competition—whoever won would keep them all safe. And then they’d escape this place that had imprisoned them all in a battle of wits and weapons that would give his father what the older man wanted: an heir worthy of a dukedom.
“Once you’re duke,” she said, softly.
He turned to look at her. “Once one of us is duke.”
She shook her head, meeting his glittering amber gaze, so like his brothers’. So like his father’s. “You’re going to win.”
He watched her for a long moment and said, “How do you know?”
She pressed her lips together. “I just know.” The old duke’s machinations grew more challenging by the day. Devil was like his name, too much fire and fury. And Whit—he was too small. Too kind.
“And if I don’t want it?”
A preposterous idea. “Of course you want it.”
“It should be yours.”
She couldn’t help the little, wild laugh. “Girls don’t get to be dukes.”
“And here you are, an heir, nonetheless.”
But she wasn’t. Not really. She was the product of her mother’s extramarital affair, a gamble designed to deliver a bastard heir to a monstrous husband, forever tainting his precious familial line—the only thing he’d ever cared for. But instead of a boy, the duchess had produced a girl, and so she was not heir. She was a placeholder. A bookmark in an ancient copy of Burke’s Peerage. And they all knew it.
She ignored the words and said, “It doesn’t matter.”
And it didn’t. Ewan would win. He would become duke. And it would change everything.
“When I am duke, then.” The words were a whisper, as though if he spoke them in truth, he’d curse them all. “When I am duke, I shall keep us all safe. Us and all of the Garden. I shall take his money. His power. His name. And I shall walk away and never look back.” The words circled around them, reverberating off the trees for a long moment before he corrected himself. “Not his name,” he whispered. “Yours.”
Robert Matthew Carrick, Earl Sumner, heir to the Dukedom of Marwick.
She ignored the thread of emotion winding through her and lightened her tone. “You might as well have the name. It’s proper new. I’ve never used it.” She might have been baptized the heir, but she didn’t have access to the name.
“Over the years, when she’d been anything at all, she’d been girl, the girl, or young lady. Once, for a heartbeat when she was eight, there was a housemaid who called her luv, and she’d rather enjoyed that. But the maid had left after a few months, and the girl had been back to being nobody.
Until they’d arrived—a trio of boys who saw her—and this one, who seemed not only to see her, but also to understand her. And they called her a hundred things, Run for the way she tore across the fields, and Red for the flame in her hair, and Riot for the way she fumed at their father. And she answered to all of them, knowing that none was her name, but not caring so much once they’d arrived. Because maybe they were enough.
Because to them, she was not nobody.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He meant it.
To him, she was somebody.
They stayed that way for a heartbeat, gazes locked, truth like a blanket around them, until he cleared his throat and looked away, breaking the connection and rolling onto his back, returning his attention to the trees above, and saying, “Anyway, my mum used to say she loved the rain, because it was the only time she ever saw jewels in Covent Garden.”
“Promise to take me when you leave,” she whispered into the quiet.
His lips set into a firm line, his promise written in the lines of his face, older than it should be. Younger than it would have to become. He nodded once. Firm. Certain. “And I’ll make sure you have jewels.”
She rolled onto her own back, her skirts haphazard in the grass. “See that you do,” she jested. “And gold thread for all my gowns.”
“I shall keep you in spools of it.”
“Yes, please,” she said. “And a lady’s maid with a particular skill for hair.”
“You’re very demanding for a country girl,” he teased.
She turned a grin on him. “I’ve had a lifetime to prepare my requirements.”
“Do you think you’re ready for London, country girl?”
The smile faded into a mock scowl. “I think I shall do just fine, city boy.”
He laughed, and the rare sound filled the space around them, warming her. And in that moment, something happened. Something strange and unsettling and wonderful and weird. That sound, like nothing in the wide world, unlocked her.
Suddenly, she could feel him. Not simply the warmth of him along her side, where they touched from shoulder to hip. Not only the place where his elbow rested beside her ear. Not just the feel of his touch in her curls as he extracted a leaf from them. All of him. The even rise and fall of his breath. His sure stillness. And that laugh . . . his laugh.
“Whatever happens, promise you won’t forget me,” she said quietly.
“I shan’t be able to. We’ll be together.”
She shook her head. “People leave.”
His brow furrowed and she could hear the force in his words. “I don’t. I won’t.”
She nodded. But still, “Sometimes you don’t choose it. Sometimes people just . . .”
His gaze softened with understanding and he heard the reference to her mother in the trail of her words. He rolled toward her, and they were facing each other now, cheeks on their bent arms, close enough for secrets. “She would have stayed if she could,” he said, firmly.
“You don’t know that,” she whispered, hating the sting of the words behind the bridge of her nose. “I was born and she died, and she left me with a man who was not my father, who gave me a name that is not my own, and I’ll never know what would have happened if she’d lived. I’ll never know if . . .”
He waited. Ever patient, as though he would wait for her for a lifetime.
“I’ll never know if she would have loved me.”
“She would have loved you.” The answer was instant.
She shook her head, closing her eyes. Wanting to believe him. “She didn’t even name me.”
“She would have. She would have named you, and it would have been something beautiful.”
The certainty in his words had her meeting his gaze, sure and unyielding. “Not Robert, then?”
He didn’t smile. Didn’t laugh. “She would have named you for what you were. For what you deserved. She would have given you the title.”
And then he whispered, “Just as I would do.”
Everything stopped. The rustle of leaves in the canopy, the shouts of his brothers in the stream beyond, the slow creep of the afternoon, and she knew, in that moment, that he was about to give her a gift that she’d never imagined she’d receive.
She smiled at him, her heart pounding in her chest. “Tell me.”
She wanted it on his lips, in his voice, in her ears. She wanted it from him, knowing it would make it impossible for her to ever forget him, even after he left her behind.
He gave it to her.
Grace and Ewan's story is one that readers can't help salivating over. If for no other reason than that of there having been so much effort in villianizing the now Duke of Marwick and deifying of Grace in previous books. That one is almost compelled to read this third story in the Bareknuckle Bastards series. Just to see if the reality of Grace and Ewan stands up to their legends. Both separately, and as a couple.
Queries which, in the estimations of this reviewer may be answered with a resounding...
Ewan is the perfect tortured soul. Coming to do penance for all the wrongs that he has committed against both Grace and his brothers. While under the influence of his now dead father. The former Duke of Marwick.
And though Devil, Beast, and Dahlia, as Grace is now known. Are a far cry form the small, frightened children forced to flee their father's tyranny with nothing but their lives.
Old hurts still sting
And there are a great many questions that need answers.
And he plans to answer each one.
If he can manage to stay alive long enough. that is.
As for Grace.
She has managed to make quite the name for herself on the streets and rooftops of Covent Gardens.
First, as a child fighter. And now as the proprietress of an exclusive women's cub and brothel.
In effect crowning her Queen of Covent Garden.
And a warrior queen to boot.
But one look, one touch, and one stolen night of passion with the one man that her heart could never manage to forget. Could be enough to destroy all that she has built?
Or could it?
This second chance love story was in essence one long trip down memory lane. With Ewan returning to the place where he was born. A duke.
To find the girl who was raised the heir apparent to the self same dukedom. A reigning queen of its underworld ruling in concert with his brothers.
Leaving him the unwanted outsider to their self-made lives.
Admittedly, the grudges and forays into the past used to justify the present on all counts do get a bit tedious. But only just. Because there is enough going on in the present. With Grace's business, raids, and the 'cat and mouse' romance between Grace and Ewan. That there was a sort of balance between past and preset that came into being over time.
Ewan just seemed to go through a lot more than seemed necessary to prove himself worth of being accepted by Grace and his brothers.
A fact that becomes glaringly obvious to readers and everyone else in to book long before it does to Grace and Ewan.
But we will just chalk that up to the "nothing like watching the worm squirm" school of thought that seems to rule the day here.
The sex was a little juvenile here too. With there being a lot more manual and oral sex than one would expect from two people who supposedly had all that unspent passion built up for each other for so many years.
And the ending "solution" / "white knight styled grand gesture" was bizarre. To say the least.
It worked for them.
All things considered though...
Daring And The Duke only offers a good ending to an otherwise great series.
New York Times, Washington Post & USA Today bestseller Sarah MacLean is the author of historical romance novels that have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Sarah is a leading advocate for the romance genre, speaking widely on its place at the nexus of gender and cultural studies. A romance columnist and co-host of the weekly romance novel podcast, Fated Mates, her work in support of romance and the women who read it earned her a place on Jezebel.com's Sheroes list and led Entertainment Weekly to call her "the elegantly fuming, utterly intoxicating queen of historical romance." Sarah is a graduate of Smith College & Harvard University. She lives in New York City.
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