Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Review: Desperately Seeking a Duchess by Christi Caldwell

What happens when an impoverished duke with a reputation for being a rogue collides with a strong-willed heiress who wants to explore the world? An unlikely friendship...and unexpected passion. 


Series: All the Duke's Sins #2
Publication date: May 24, 2022
Published by: Berkley Romance
Genre: historical romance

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Cailin Audley doesn't fit in with Polite Society. A life spent among the working class taught her to value her independence in a way no newfound fortune or glittering ballroom could ever erase. When a major misstep sees the new heiress whisked away to the English countryside, Cailin soon realizes the vexing lengths her family will go to see her settled. But having risked her heart once before, Cailin has no interest in the men of the ton--especially not the frustratingly charming Duke of St. James.

Courtland Balfour, the Duke of St. James, devoted brother and notorious rogue, despises what he must become--a fortune hunter. But with the ducal coffers drained by his late, spendthrift of a father, Courtland knows his duty lies at the altar and he will do anything to ensure a future for his siblings. Just his luck that the one lady who could make this new fate bearable, who enflames him like no other, is the one woman who wants nothing to do with him or his title.

But when an act of desperation inadvertently lands he and Cailin at the heart of another scandal, Courtland knows better than to waste his chance. Surely he can convince Cailin to love him?

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Praise for Christi Caldwell:

“Packed with familial warmth and peppered with humor…An endearing romance.”—Kirkus

“Ribboned with subtleties about gender roles and class expectations that make this novel both thoughtful and delightful all at once.”—Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author 
"Christi Caldwell's crisp, sparkling writing is infused with emotion, passion, and a belief in the healing power of love. This is terrific Regency romance!"—Amanda Quick, New York Times bestselling author

"Emotional, funny, and filled with passion—everything I want in a romance.”—Lorraine Heath, New York Times bestselling author of The Duchess Hunt

“What historical romance is meant to be. I devoured every word. Christi Caldwell has become one of my favorite authors.”—Laura Lee Guhrke, New York Times bestselling author

"A charming, romantic love story that shows Regency romance isn't just about dukes and duchesses and love isn't just for the upper classes."—Maya Rodale, USA Today bestselling author


Photo credit: Kimberly Rocha

USA TODAY Bestselling author CHRISTI CALDWELL blames Judith McNaught's "Whitney, My Love!" for luring her into the world of historical romance. While sitting in her graduate school apartment at the University of Connecticut, Christi decided to set aside her notes and pick up her laptop to try her hand at romance. She believes the most perfect heroes and heroines have imperfections, and she rather enjoys torturing them before crafting them a well deserved happily ever after! 

Christi makes her home in Charlotte, North Carolina where she spends her time writing her own enchanting historical romances, and baking surprisingly good cakes (almost 2 years in lockdown will do that) with her courageous son and twin daughters, each who with their daily antics provides limitless source material.

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Courtland gave his head a wistful shake, as for the first time since he'd arrived, he felt a frisson of . . . guilt, about asking anyone to give up the comfort of obscurity here for the garish opulence that was the Town.


Ace whinnied noisily, and Courtland absently stroked the loyal creature between the eyes. His nostrils flaring, Ace arched his head back into that favorite-of-his touch.


From the corner of his eye, Courtland caught a faint flutter, and he swung his attention to find a person watching him.


The less-than-furtive figure in the cottage pressed her forehead against the glass.


"It appears we have company," he murmured, patting Ace once more. "Which isn't terrible, as it means the sooner I finish, the sooner we're free to return to London."


Ace gave a toss of his head in clear equine disapproval.


"It appears we are of like opinions then, on that score," Courtland said, winking at his horse.


Once again, those curtains parted slightly, and a young woman peeked through the crack in the fabric.


Enormous, saucer-sized blue eyes, filled with mistrust, met Courtland's gaze.


The sister, then.


He grinned. "Good afternoon," he called, and sketched a bow. "I'm here to speak with Mr. Audley."


Judging by the stretch of silence to follow, the young woman was anything but impressed. Alas, while he was on the other side of a doorway, without a line of sight to his quarry, she was afforded an unhindered view that put Courtland at a distinct disadvantage.


Giving Ace another pat, Courtland started down the walkway.


"Stop there!" she shouted, a healthy dose of anger and suspicion freezing him halfway down the path.


Anger and suspicion, both of which, as a duke, he was unaccustomed to being greeted with.


"What do you want?" she called, her voice muffled by the oak panel.


What did he want? Or what did he need?


A fortune.




His siblings settled.


All of which indirectly accounted for his being here.


Bringing himself back to the matter at hand, Courtland offered another smile and held his empty palms up. "I want nothing more than to speak with your brothers . . . or you," he cajoled, using soothing tones meant to bring her outside.


At last, the wood panel swung wide, affording him his first full, unobstructed view. And Courtland went absolutely motionless.


Oh, hell.


The young woman, with her full, ivory-hued cheeks and golden blond hair, had the height of a child, but the hardened stare of a woman some three decades her elder. Unfortunately for Courtland, that flinty stare was leveled at him.


Along with her ancient-looking firearm.


Reflexively, Courtland's palms went flying up in surrender.


The late summer sun glinted off the end of the barrel. That enormous weapon looked all the more enormous when held as it was by one of her spritely size.


He swallowed hard and cursed long and harder inside his head.


The young woman flicked a derisive glance over Courtland's person, before settling it upon his face, her gaze bored; and his ears went hot, as for the first time in his life he knew what it was to have a woman find him lacking.


"Why does it not surprise me at all that a fancy London fellow like you would come here issuing orders to me?" she drawled, the lyrical, lilting quality of her voice in almost farcical juxtaposition to the threat hanging on her words, and the very real threat of murder she directed his way.


Courtland kept his smile firmly affixed, and when he spoke, did so in the careful, placating tones he used with his easily riled younger sisters. "Perhaps had you taken a moment to hear me out and discuss the business that brought me here, then I wouldn't have had to issue them, Miss Audley."


Her flaxen eyebrows went shooting up. "Are you . . . challenging me?" The rifle wavered on her arm.


Oh, bloody hell. He was usually better at speaking to the fairer sex. Much better. It should so happen that the one time he failed to charm would likely land him a bullet in the chest-and a swift end to his miserable existence.


"Well?" she demanded, dipping slightly and adjusting the weapon on her arm.


He winced. "I believe you've already determined that I was challenging you, and as such, it hardly seems necessary to confirm with a verbal statement, Miss Audley." He bit out each syllable, giving up on the gentle warmth he'd previously attempted.


She lowered the rifle slowly, and he took heart. "Now," he said, taking a step forward. "If you would be so good as to lower your weapon all the-"


A loud report thundered in the afternoon quiet, cutting off the remainder of his words, and he flew back, hitting the ground so hard the air was sucked from his lungs.


Bloody hell. This was how he would end his short reign as duke-by taking a bullet straight to the chest.


Excerpted from Desperately Seeking a Duchess by Christi Caldwell Copyright © 2022 by Christi Caldwell. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Desperately Seeking a Duchess (All the Duke's Sins, #2)Desperately Seeking a Duchess by Christi Caldwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

   His was the manner of embrace that consumed: 
a spark that kindled into a fire until a woman was 
set ablaze in the happiest of conflagrations, 
which left one feeling born anew of the ashes 
of past heartbreaks and regrets.

Christi Caldwell has written some of my favorite five star historical romance books. She was one of my go-to authors in the genre a few years back, but I haven't picked up one of her stories in quite some time. I was very interested to see if I could recapture some of the old magic. I'm happy to report that Desperately Seeking a Duchess was a resounding success; in fact, I will be catching myself up to date on this series by reading book one in the near future. Rafe and Edwina, the couple from the previous book, play a strong supporting role here, as do the other siblings of the main couple. All of the secondary characters were brought to life so well that I can envision myself one-clicking any of their books in the future. That's not really that much of a surprise to me, knowing this author's talent for characterization in her previous titles.

Lord Courtland, the Duke of St. James shows up on Cailin Audley's doorstep in the hopes of convincing the Audley siblings to come to London at their father, the Duke of Bentley's request. Bentley fathered them but only recently learned of their existence. He wishes for them to be a part of his life and join his social life in the upper class. However, Cailin and her three brothers live a quiet life in a country mining town and a quite content with their humble working class station. They want nothing more than to be left alone, especially when it comes to their absent father. I enjoyed the fact that these siblings were not moved by his wealth and status. These brothers and sisters are a strong, loyal, family unit that would lay down their lives for each other. The love they have for their mother and her memory makes them very antagonistic towards the idea of ever allowing their father into their lives (With the exception of Rafe. Rafe met and married a woman named Edwina in the first book and they are now happily married.)

When Courtland arrives at Cailin's home, it is in the guise of his identical twin brother Keir. Keir works for Cailin's father, but is socially awkward so they agree to switching places for the day so that Courtland can wield his smolder and charm to their advantage. His charm was no match for the woman who greets him with a shotgun. Cailin is a no-nonsense, petite spitfire who turns the tables on him and immediately charms the man without even trying. There was shooting, flirting, and a bit of smooching. Followed by a little bit of bloodshed. This was no common meet cute-it was a meet shoot and so much more funny and entertaining. Although Courtland's visit was a flat out fail by anyone's standards, he did manage to plant a seed in her mind about the wonders of London. Her thirst for scientific knowledge and experiencing new things finally convinces her to give her father's world a chance. It doesn't take her long to figure out that "Polite Society" was incredibly hard to navigate and very unwelcoming towards an illegitimate child of an aristocrat.

   She’d come here wanting to explore a world different from her own. 
Only to discover her smaller, less grand world had proven greater in ways.

Courtland is such a cheeky, fun hero. He's described as a bit of a rogue, but he's 1000% committed to the safety and well-being of his family. He isn't one of those self-absorbed jerks who only cares for his own pleasure at the expense of everyone around him. Not only was his father that way, but he was also emotionally abusive to him and all of his siblings. The last thing he would ever do would be to follow in his father's footsteps. He is however, forced to step into his father's shoes, and that means taking on the massive debt the late duke acquired. If he doesn't come up with a plan to remedy their dire financial straits soon, he will most likely be sent to debtor's prison and his brothers and sisters will be left to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, due to his disaster of a day switching identities with his brother, they are even worse off than before.

Keir was fired when Courtland's actions were discovered and he may be backed into a matrimonial corner to save them all. Courtland is emphatically against fortune hunting, but he's not sure if there's any other course of action open to him that will save them all from ruin. And how could he possibly imagine a loveless marriage when he can't get the fascinating Cailin out of his head? I loved how drawn he was to her-not despite her unique qualities but because of them. She didn't fit into his world at all, but then again, neither do his sisters. He loves each one just as they are.

   He’d had relationships and dealings with 
all manner of women through the years. 
Many of them actresses. 
Some opera singers and ballet dancers. 
Others, widows. 
They’d been sexually inventive and brazen.
None of that overt sexuality, however, could hold a proverbial candle 
to the seductive sight of a woman wholly enthralled by a book in her hands.

Cailin and Courtland's personalities were so different but they fit so wonderfully together. She saw his fiercely protective and loving side and appreciated his fast wit. He saw her for the strong, independent female that she was and encouraged her to pursue her unconventional interests in science. She gave him the courage to seek happiness for himself while still working to provide the best life for his family. They don't have to be mutually exclusive if you allow your family to share some of the burden with you. This was a hard lesson for him to learn because of his strong protectiveness, but his siblings adore him and his sisters in particular have him wrapped around their little fingers. I just loved seeing the tight family dynamic on both sides. His sisters really cracked me up and I'm really excited to read about their HEAs in the future.

I enjoyed this one very much! There were lots of funny moments, the conflicts felt organic and well-paced, and the romance was highly engaging and full of chemistry. I can't wait to read more about these families in the future. I highly recommend this one if you're looking for a fresh, fairly new historical series to get hooked on.


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