Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Series or Standalone: Once Upon a Dukedom #2
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
CW: physical, verbal and emotional abuse; child pornography; exploitation of a minor
After being blown away by Scoundrel of My Heart this spring, The Duchess Hunt became one of my most anticipated reads of the fall. I had incredibly high hopes for this book and somehow it managed to exceed my wildest expectations. This book!! I am fully in love with everything about it – from the characters to the romance to the plot – it’s perfect. It left me speechless and an emotional mess in the best way at the end.
Hugh Brinsley-Norton, the Duke of Kingsland, is in need of a duchess but has no desire to go through the courting game. So he does what any reasonable man would do – he puts an ad in the paper asking the woman of the ton to apply for the position. After this plan backfired last Season (see why in Scoundrel of My Heart), he decides his long-time secretary Penelope Pettypeace will select his future bride from those who apply. Unfortunately for Penelope, this is the worst task she could be asked to do as she’s been pining for King for years, yet knows nothing will come of her unrequited feelings. When they receive a letter threatening to expose hidden truths, King and Penelope have to confront the realities of their past – together.
Lorraine Heath has always been an author I enjoyed reading, but she’s creeping up there as one of my all-time favorites. No one does romances that evoke such strong feelings quite like Heath. This book was a romantic masterpiece.
My emotions were fully invested in the story and I feel like I went on this journey with Penelope and King. Their feelings were my feelings. My heart ached when theirs ached, my heart soared when theirs did, my heart broke when theirs did. I was fully swept up in the story and emotions. It was the most perfect of perfect slowburns. I even cried at the end of the epilogue as it was a beautiful expression of love over the years.
The romance in this book was everything I wanted and more. The pining and longing between Penelope and King was top-notch. I’m a sucker for books with hard-core pining and it’s been a while since I’ve read one that was so well-executed. Both Penelope and King want each other, but they both view anything happening between them as impossible given their roles and status. The reason they couldn’t be together felt totally valid. He is a Duke and her employer and worries he’d be taking advantage of her. She’s worried anything that happens between them would ruin their working relationship and potentially expose a secret from her past. Add into the fact that King’s asked Penelope to pick out his new wife, and the emotional stakes get amped up majorly. I didn’t think the romance could get any better at that point until they decide to bang it out to get each other out of their system, which we know never works. Of course, they can’t just be together once and call it day, adding even more complexity to the emotions in play in their romantic relationship. I loved watching all the twists and turns Heath took these two characters on to reach their happily ever after as they really had to go on a journey to get there. Heath also really knows how to twist the knife on the emotions which makes them finally getting the ending they deserved even better.
Both King and Penelope present themselves to society as incredibly buttoned-up, straight-laced, and level-headed. Who would guess they both have such strong emotions burning under the surface? Watching them break down that hard-exterior they present the world and fall hard for each other added another element to this story I loved. I was fascinated by King in Scoundrel of My Heart and knew there was more to him than meets the eye. Watching him get unraveled by his feelings for Penelope was amazing. I live for stories like that.
King is everything I want in a male romantic lead. He’s sexy, incredibly smart and capable, admires and treats women with respect, values consent and has a dark secret in his past. Honestly, what’s not to love?? Despite being such a button-up and seemingly unfeeling man (see how he decides to select a wife for why you might classify him as unfeeling), he still manages to see Penelope as an equal, despite her gender. There’s no one he trusts more with his business or his feeling than her as she’s the most capable person he knows. Penelope is totally deserving of his respect as well. She’s helped him make the dukedom a success and has an incredibly keen eye for investments. She’s got a strong head on her shoulders and is used to making her own way in the world. Like King, she also has a secret that could threaten everything she’s built over the years. I love these two characters so much as Heath imbued them with such depth and complexity. They’re not perfect people by any means. They have flaws and make missteps, but that made them feel so real and relatable.
Outside of the romance and the characters, I also loved the plot of this story. I felt I was kept on the edge of my toes with what was happening. I loved that we had the Kingsland ball where King would pick his new wife giving the story a sense of urgency as there was a deadline for Penelope and King’s relationship. Heath also did a great job slowly revealing King and Penelope’s secrets over the course of the book. I had accurately guessed Penelope’s secret, as there were plenty of hints as to what it might be, but King’s secret made me gasp! I thought I figured it out, but I had it wrong. Both of their secrets also tie into who these people are, which I loved. It didn’t feel like Heath threw in the secrets as a plot point, as they were an essential piece of the characters’ past that help shaped them into the people they came to be.
The Duchess Hunt is a book that has stuck with me since I read it and I’m already craving a reread of it. This book is something special – much like Scoundrel of My Heart was. These books hit every emotional beat and tick every box for me. Heath’s writing, characters and storytelling swept me up and made me forget about the world. I wouldn’t be shocked if this book ends up being my top book of the year – and I’ve read a lot of books I’ve loved.
I’m desperately hoping Heath’s not done with the characters from this series as I still want to see Marcus get a happily ever after and wouldn’t mind seeing the Chessmen get their own books. Since I fell in love with the Sins For All Season series, I cannot get enough of Heath’s work. Safe to say, I’m a total fangirl now.
Definitely pick this book up if you haven’t already – and add Scoundrel of My Heart to your TBR as well as that book is a pure delight and I loved it despite some quirks with the plot!
Thank you to Avon/Netgalley for the ARC. All thoughts, ideas and opinions expressed in this review are my own.