This is the first book in the Mistress Trilogy, but the events occur after the prequel of ‘The Secret Mistress’ which I reviewed previously.
I think the rake in this book is more along the lines of what Lisa Kleypas was aiming for in ‘Cold Hearted Rake’. Jocelyn Dudley, the Duke of Tresham comes across very strongly in the opening chapter of this book. He’s every inch the arrogant, entitled, rakish scoundrel from the top of his head to the tips of his polished Hessians, who delights in his affairs with married women. The opening scene is a duel in which he is facing off against a husband of one of those women and he is very cold-hearted about the whole deal. As a matter of fact, this is his fourth duel over a woman, and he has every intention of walking away from it without a scratch and having breakfast.
Things don’t go according to his plan this time, however. The duelists are just about to fire when they are interrupted by a scream from a passing young woman. Tresham’s opponent is rattled, and either shoots by accident, or takes advantage of the commotion, hitting Tresham in the leg. Panic ensues, the young woman rushes into the scene, and to his astonishment, begins to berate him for the duel! In return, he is quite nasty to her, calling her wench, girl, and generally being a ducal ass. I was a little put off by his attitude, but of course, this was normal procedure for him.
What follows is that she ends up getting hired as a nurse/companion for him while he convalesces – the doctor has told him not to put weight on the leg for three weeks to make sure it heals. Tresham does his best to intimidate her, but she isn’t having any part of that. Jane Ingleby is a determined young woman, with some secrets about her identity that she would prefer to keep hidden. Taking this position is a good way to keep a low profile, and to make some money at the same time…provided that she can put up with Tresham for that long.
All the while in the background is the reason for her secret identity, gnawing at her all the time. She had fled to London from the country, after fending off the advances of her cousin, determined to assault her. Her uncle is convinced she was robbing him instead, and left him for dead. Jane had nowhere to hide, no close family to shelter her, and so she made herself over and disappeared to the city. Her name is actually Sara, and she is an Earl’s daughter, though her parents are dead.
Time passes, Tresham’s leg heals, and the two of them cross words more often than not. And yet, you can see them becoming more comfortable with each other. After sharing a late night kiss, their relationship begins to take on a different complexity. Tresham sees her as a desirable woman, and Jane sees him as someone with more emotion than she thought him capable of. At the end of the three weeks, she doesn’t want to leave him and he doesn’t want to let her go. This is where the mistress part comes in.
Everything comes to light, of course, regarding Jane’s secret; Tresham discovers emotions he kept buried, and all ends well. I enjoyed the book, and the way they came together. They didn’t rush into a happily ever after, but they both were able to grow into it, and realize that they needed each other. And the rake’s cold heart grew three sizes that day…