Title: The Duke Starts A Scandal
Series: The Duke Hunt #4
Author: Sophie Jordan
Length: 352 pages
Expected Date Of Publication: October 24, 2023
Rating: 5 Stars
Lucian, the newly minted Duke of Penning, has much to prove-- to himself, his family and the ton. Craving spotless respectability, he must find an aristocratic wife. Unfortunately, he can't keep his eyes--and thoughts--off his deliciously distracting housekeeper. Such a dalliance can only mar the facade he's constructed to protect his sisters' future from the demons of his past...but this fiery passion is a temptation he cannot resist. While Susanna may not the bride he needs, she is everything he desires.
As the housekeeper to one of the grandest estates in England, Susanna Lockhart has worked determinedly to become all that is proper and efficient, and she never steps over the line. Romance is an indulgence for the upper class, not for her--and most especially not with her employer. But every smoldering glance from the surly, handsome duke calls to the long-buried reckless wanton inside Susanna. A love between them can never be, but will Lucian and Susanna risk being together...
Even if it starts a scandal...
Please enjoy the exclusive excerpt from
The Duke Starts A Scandal
It was her own fault, she supposed. She should have known better than to be caught out in the countryside after dark amid a storm. She was no green girl. No untested maid. Susanna Lockhart was the Duke of Penning’s housekeeper, and she held herself higher than such foolish behavior. Susanna minded her steps in the falling darkness. She knew these lands well. Every well-trod path, every pasture, every field of wildflowers was known to her like the back of her hand. Still, in the fast-fading light, one could not be too careful and she had no wish to turn an ankle. The last thing she needed was to be relegated to her bed. How would she serve Penning Hall then? Her boots plodded along cautiously over the ground, for all that she was eager to reach the warmth and safety of the hall. She was envisioning the cozy fire in the kitchens, a bowl of Cook’s heavenly pottage waiting for her, the fragrant steam wafting to her nose as she filled her stomach with the thick, savory broth. Susanna shook her head in disgust. She should have returned hours ago. She had spent far too long in the village. At least the basket she held was now empty and lighter for it. It swung easily looped around her arm. The vicar and Mr. Gupta had been most grateful for the baked goods she brought them today. The Penning cook was renowned in these parts, and Susanna made certain to spread the wealth of her culinary talents to the good people of Shropshire. The storm had rolled in suddenly, darkening the skies prematurely. She should have had another hour of light. The rain started with a few fat drops, landing on her nose, cheek, hair. Then the skies opened in a heavy deluge. She was soaked immediately. Her steps grew labored, the wet, spongy ground sucking at her boots. The familiar path curved and she stopped, breathing heavily, looking down the hill to the grand residence of the Duke of Penning spread out in sprawling splendor below. Lights twinkled in the many windows, beckoning her. Home. It should not have been to a woman of such humble birth, but it was more home to her than the one she left behind so many years ago. Almost there. Dry clothes, a warm fire and a hearty meal are only a short away. She heard the horse and rider before she saw him. The pounding of hooves rang like thunder, rivaling the loud rumblings in the sky. The staccato thuds increased, growing closer. She turned, whirled around just as beast and man rounded the path, straight for her. Her scream was lost in the air, swallowed up by rain and the clap of thunder and the horse’s panicked neigh. She flung up an arm in front of her as though that would stop the violent impact. As though that would shield her—save her from imminent collision. As terror seized her, so, too, did a sense of mortification. Regret coupled with a sense of shame that she should die this way and not in her bed at a ripe old age. Indeed not. Trampled to death. That would be her ignominious end. The horse reared. Hooves clawed the air overhead in a wild frenzy and she fell back, landing hard on the wet ground in her attempt to scramble out of the way. She bit the inside of her cheek and the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. She turned her face and jammed her eyes tightly shut, recoiling, shrinking inside herself as she waited for the sensation of steel hooves to come down, to cut into her flesh and bones and smash her apart, leaving her broken in the mud. They never came. There was no pain. No breaking of her body. Instead a litany of stinging curses burned her ears and the earth shook as the horse came down near her head, shuddering the ground, spraying her with fresh mud. Near her head, though. Not on her head. A body landed not far with an oompf. A long groan followed. She could not move at first, breathless and stunned, gazing up at the water-soaked night. She pressed a hand over her chest. Her heart felt like it might burst through her rib cage. “What in bloody hell is wrong with you?”The hard voice tore through the storm raging around them. She blinked against the falling rain, sitting up slowly and looking around, finding the rider inches away, unmoving on his back. Her lips parted, moving without making a sound. Her voice was lodged in her throat. In the gloom, she could see very little of his face, but she could hear the heavy huff of his breaths . . . and, of course, his cruelly biting words: “Are you trying to kill yourself, lass? Or just me?”She scowled, finding her voice finally. “You’re talking, aren’t you?”He grunted. “Then you are not dead,”she added succinctly. “No, thanks to you.”With another grunt, he sat up. “It was no easy trick, but I avoided you.”He hauled himself to his feet, his hand going to his side, rubbing at some invisible ache with a hiss of breath. “Even if that meant flinging myself off my horse.”“So heroic,”she tsked, even though she allowed, to herself, at any rate, that it was quite the feat. “You should not have been riding so recklessly,”she charged. “Me? Reckless?”he scoffed with a wide wave of his arm. “What do you call someone strolling about the countryside in the dark in a storm?”Disliking how vulnerable she felt sitting at his feet, she lifted herself up, slipping on the slick ground but managing to catch and balance herself. That was little better. Goodness, he was big. On her feet again, she could see at once that he still towered over her. His shadowed figure moved, cloak whipping around him as he inspected his horse for injuries—all the while grumbling beneath his breath. “This is private property. Who are you?”she demanded. He continued attending to his horse, ignoring her as though she were so very . . . ignorable. “Do you not hear me? This is the Duke of Penning’s estate,”she pressed. “I am certain he would not approve of you tearing about at night on his lands like some, some wild—”He whirled around to face her. Rain fell between them like needles, but he fixed his attention on her, no longer ignoring her. “I am the Duke of Penning.”She hesitated only a moment before letting loose a laugh. “No. You are not.”She knew the duke. She was his housekeeper, after all. “Oh, yes. I am.”He pronounced this with such complete confidence that her laughter faded. A small current of apprehension trembled through her. Then her certainty reasserted itself. The newly minted Duke of Penning and his son had been in residence for months now. This man was lying. He was a liar. He was a lying liar. Doubtlessly he thought she was someone who did not know any better and would not question him on the matter. Her chin went up and she lifted her voice over the increasing pound of rain. “You lie.”“I lie?”He snorted. “Yes. You’re lying . . . a liar,”she added at the end as though she wanted there to be no confusion about it. “I do not know what game you are playing at, sirrah, but the Duke of Penning is down that hill, cozily ensconced in his drawing room.”The stranger took his mount’s reins in hand, and moved then, gingerly. Evidently his tumble had not been the easiest of falls and was not without physical cost to himself. He stopped in front of her and she had to crane her neck to look up at him. In the falling rain, she was granted a shadowy view of his features. Deep-set eyes. Thick, slashing eyebrows. A patrician nose. A wide mouth that now moved, over-enunciating his words as though to encourage her understanding, as though she were somehow slow to comprehend what he was telling her—or perhaps he wished to simply be heard over the storm. “I play no game. I am the Duke of Penning, and I am here to claim what is mine.”He nodded in the direction of the manor house, water streaming from the brim of his hat. “That man down there is a pretender. A fraud . . . cozily ensconced in my drawing room.”She flinched at the echo of her own words hurled back at her, but she forced a mirthless laugh. Nervously. Awkwardly. Shaking her head, she spit out, “No . . .”She could say nothing more than that. It was all she could manage as doubt took hold of her, creeping in and sinking deep. He countered with a simple: “Yes.”Lightning lit the sky, illuminating his face and she gasped. He was handsome. Young. And angry. Very angry. She saw that at once. Recognized it. He continued, “I am the legitimate heir to the dukedom with agents of the estate traveling in a carriage behind me to prove it. That man—”He nodded down the hill to the house. “—is an imposter.”Water glinted in his lashes as he looked her drenched person up and down like she was something unsavory, and in her present state, she was certain she looked it. “And who are you?”“I am . . .”The duke’s housekeeper. Your housekeeper? She gave her head a hard shake. After this bit of awkwardness, she hoped she still was. The corners of his wide lips pulled down in a frown. “Are you unwell? Did you hit your head, lass?”She felt as though she had. She felt as though she had suffered a great blow and didn’t know what to think. For weeks now she had been serving two very nice men who claimed to be the duke and his son and now this rude, ill-tempered man was telling her she had been duped—that he was the true Penning, that he was her employer. With a grunt of disdain, he moved ahead of her, leading his horse back onto the path and in the direction of the hall. “You coming?”he called over his shoulder. Another flash of lightning lit the night sky. With little choice, she picked up her basket and followed him.
Susanna and Lucian's story is less one of upstairs/downstairs. With her being the housekeeper. To his newly minted Duke of Penning. More upstairs meets downstairs on a midway landing.
As both the maid and the master are trying their best to out live pasts that if discovered would see them each disgraced.
There is a very inconvenient attraction that try as they might, both find it hard to ignore.
And as fate does...it sets about doing its best to see that they spend as much time exploring said attraction as possible.
This book is a different take in plot expression.
Seeing as there is little to no sex for the majority of the story.
Giving both readers and each the other time to come to know the things that endear, entice, and enchant.
A most Herculean task indeed.
Seeing as most of the time. The two main characters spend most of their time trying to out run their unfortunate pasts and each other.
Lucian coming off as a very lovable and lost lead in the process.
A great help to the legitimization of Susanna and Lucian's relationship comes unexpectedly by way of the discovery of Lucian's sister in the arms of his valet.
By book's end. Readers are routing for the success of not one, but two romances.
Both built on love, respect, desire, and understanding.
The Duke Starts A Scandal is the fourth and last book in the Duke Hunt series. As such, it may be read either as a stand-alone or as part of its intended series.
Thanks to Netgalley and Avon Books for providing the review copy on which my honest critique is based.
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