A Duke by Default is the second volume in Alyssa Cole’s “Reluctant Royals” series. I read this series out of order by accidentally starting with the third book, A Prince on Paper, then reading the beginning, A Princess in Theory, and now have read the middle book! Each book in the series follows a different couple and this is Portia Hobbs and Tavish (Tav) McKenzie’s time to shine.
Portia is a New York socialite that has a history of drinking to find courage or drown sorrows, and it had gotten to unhealthy levels. Old Portia had meaningless sex as a form of escapism. She flitted from one interest to another, never settling into a career, and was a regular disappointment to her parents. But that was Old Portia and she is now New Improved Portia who doesn’t drink, men aren’t on the menu, and is determined to excel at her new apprenticeship in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Tav carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. He inherited a historic property in the heart of Edinburgh and is using it to grow a sword making business, Bodotria Armory, a European martial arts school, and a sort of community center for at risk youth. In his upper thirties he has already been married once and isn’t interested in a relationship. Tav is focused on growing his business and doing as much good as he can for the immigrant community. His mother was a Chilean immigrant to Scotland. His Scottish biological father has never been in the picture. Instead, Tav was raised by a loving step-father.
Portia applied for and was accepted to be Tav’s new apprentice. The two get off to a rocky start when Portia maces him, and herself accidentally, interrupting what had been self defense class and not an actual attack on a woman. Despite the awkwardness and stinging eyes, they each elicit a surge of physical desire for the other. Those coals are quickly banked as a relationship between the two of them would be entirely inappropriate. Watching Tav make swords and balance his businesses, along with the Scottish accent and foxy salt and pepper hair, has Portia twisted in knots. Tav is an incredible all around, not to be touched package. While physically attracted to Portia, Tav was initially dismissive of her skills and the value that she could bring. Overtime he becomes aroused by her capability and watching her work. Keeping his hands off Portia gets more and more difficult.
While fleshing out a new website for the armory, Portia dug into the history of the building that houses Tav’s businesses. She is bowled over with surprise when she learns Tav is the illegitimate son of the previous Duke of Edinburgh! Tav is gobsmacked by the news. Their worlds are about to become complicated and challenging as Tav presses his claim to the title of Duke. Portia puts her socialite skills to the test helping prepare Tav to navigate the peerage. All the while, sparks keep flying between them.
Overall I quite enjoyed A Duke by Default. I appreciated Portia’s portrayal of a suspected ADHD diagnosis. Her reflection on how it has affected many aspects of her life, figuring out ways of living with ADHD, and reaching out to her therapist when she realizes she needs help. I liked the smoldering between Tav and Portia and heat when they finally give in. However, I did feel the ending was a bit rushed. There is a dramatic reveal crushed together with the romantic declarations of love which makes both feel hurried. I am tempted to re-read the third book, A Prince on Paper. Now that I know who all the people are, I will probably get more out of it this time.