Author Sharon Cullen never fails to disappoint. In the Victorian Romance “The Reluctant Duchess”, Cullen reintroduces Lady Sara Emerson, a minor character from the book “His Saving Grace”. Sara is still grieving the loss of her charismatic cousin, Meredith, who was brutally murdered two years earlier. Now she is in London waiting for Gabriel Ferguson, the intimidating Duke of Rossmoyne, Meredith’s former fiancé, who pledged to provide help if needed. Ross has spent the past two years in India fleeing from the aftermath of Meredith’s gruesome death. Upon awakening on the morning after his return to London, the Duke discovers a distraught Sara needing his assistance in discovering who is behind the bizarre letters she has been receiving. Unsure if these letters are a prank or a real threat, Ross insists that Sara take up residence in his home so he can keep her safe. With the help of his close friend Sir William Montgomery (the inspector from Scotland Yard who was in charge of Meredith’s case), Ross and Sara set out to discover the truth behind the letters as well as the identity of Meredith’s deranged killer. Ross’ mother, Lady Elizabeth, acts as chaperone, but not even her eagle eye can keep her son and Sara apart or prevent them from behaving inappropriately. Sara, anxious in social situations, is the opposite of her outgoing cousin, even though they were raised as sisters after her parents’ death. Due to Sara’s shy demeanor and Ross’ reputation as a charmer, nobody believes that the two would suit. Still, they are inexplicably drawn together, bringing out the best qualities in one another. Sara insists she will never marry due to the needs of her grieving father who has been abandoned by his wife, while Ross won’t fully compromise the girl he delights in kissing unless they wed, but that leaves a lot of room for experimentation without actually doing “the act”. The romantic scenes stir the heart, and the danger is very real. Although the villain becomes obvious halfway through the novel, that doesn’t make the climax any less exciting. Cullen moves back and forth between the introspection of the two protagonists. My only complaint is that their constant worries over a possible future together and the reasons it can’t happen were a tad repetitious, but otherwise the dialogue was witty and the action moved the story along at a decent pace. In addition, while the secondary characters were intriguing, they could have been fleshed out a bit more, but providing a glimpse of Grace and Michael from “His Saving Grace” was a nice touch for the loyal readers who collect all of Cullen’s novels.
Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Loveswept Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.