Part of a charming series called the Cinderella Spinsterhood, The Duke I Once Knew tells the story of a pair of innocent teenagers forced apart by circumstances and denied the comfort even of friendship. Abigail is left behind with her family, needed to be a support to her mother after a disabling fall, while Max is swept off to London with his ducal father.
Fast forward fifteen years and Abigail is trapped in an endless cycle between relatives, needed to be a support to siblings and their children of various ages. When the opportunity arises to become a governess to the Duke of Rothwell’s teenage sister, she jumps at it, safe in the knowledge that Max himself hasn’t set foot in Hampshire since that long-ago summer.
She’s barely been in the house a few days when Max arrives, though… with his latest paramour and a group of less-than-reputable friends! Abigail can’t abandon Lady Gwen in the face of such company, and soon the old fire is sparking to life between her and Max again.
Anyone who’s ever chafed under the weight of family duty will feel sympathy for Abby, who was essentially cheated of a chance to marry by years spent caring for her parents, and feel anger at her siblings who not only permitted it but perpetuated it with their expectations that she continue her position as unpaid assistant to the family.
As a rake, Max’s behaviour was both reprehensible and hypocritical, but to his credit being confronted with the truth of his actions and his feelings for Abigail made him realize the error of his ways. It was fairly hilarious when Abby turned the tables on him after a passionate interlude, treating him to a taste of his own medicine and making him see how badly he’d behaved.
This was a very enjoyable story, though I did spot a few anachronisms such as a Regency-era governess having a clock on her bedside table, and Lady Elise’s name mysteriously changing to Evelyn at one point, but these are errors I hope would be corrected before release of the final version for publication, since I was reading an advance release copy. I have no hesitation in awarding this five stars as an excellent read.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley at the publisher’s invitation.