The Way to a Duke’s Heart is the third book in a trilogy (The Truth About the Duke) and is best not read as a standalone. The romance is self-contained, but the B-plot is very much a continuation of a mystery that has developed over the course of the series. Mild spoilers for the prior two books may follow.
Charlie de Lacey, eldest of a trio of brothers and heir apparent to the title Duke of Durham, has a blackmail problem: someone is threatening his legitimacy as the new Duke, based on allegations that his father’s marriage to his mother was invalid. Unfortunately, his father had semi-confirmed the rumors in a letter written on his deathbed, admitting that he had been married before and that the marriage was never officially dissolved. Therefore, the de Lacey brothers had been tasked with discovering the fate of their father’s first wife, and whether she was still alive by the time the second marriage took place or any of them were born.
Charlie’s pursuit of the blackmailer takes him to Bath, where he meets Tessa Neville, a widow who appears to dislike him on principle of his being handsome and wealthy. At first merely intrigued by her, he soon discovers that she is in town to do business with the very man who was observed in Bath delivering the blackmail notices to the post, and he sees Tessa as an opportunity to be introduced to the man.
Tessa is the type of somewhat-anachronistic bluestocking heroine whom I tend to love: she acts as her brother’s “man of business” and dislikes being treated “as a woman,” recognizing that most men don’t take her seriously at first pass. She is direct and often overly literal, disinclined to read and participate in conversational subtleties that obfuscate one’s true intentions. As such, though she is intelligent, she tends to assume everyone is as straightforward as she is, and she ends up being written off or outright deceived by many men of her acquaintance. Here, Charlie is able to assist her, being more well-versed in aristocratic b.s. and “delicate” negotiation than she is.
Of course, these two end up enjoying each others’ company more than anticipated and, well, where did you think this was going? I enjoyed this book for its refreshing lack of manufactured drama and a Big Misunderstanding, both of which would have been out of character for Tessa. The resolution of the mystery was satisfying, if a bit anti-climactic, but as it was the B-plot and the romance was so satisfying, I didn’t find the book any less enjoyable for it. Overall, I recommend this series: Linden specialized in different types of “serious” heroes and heroines, no-nonsense type people that I tend to relate to in real life, who nonetheless have a wild, romantic side. There wasn’t anything groundbreaking here, but the entertainment value is unquestionably high.