Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: July 26, 2022
Series or Standalone: Once Upon a Dukedom #3
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
CW: Infertility; blood; violence
I’ve been putting off writing my review for The Return of the Duke for months now. This book was my most anticipated read in 2022, and boy did it DELIVER. I’ve been waiting for Marcus’s story since Beauty Tempts the Beast and Lorraine Heath wrote the perfect tale for this mysterious lone wolf who has lingered in the shadows.
Marcus Stanwick lost everything when his father was hanged for an attempted assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Since then, Marcus has been determined to return honor to his family by exposing those who also participated in the plot but escaped justice. His efforts lead him to his father’s mistress, a woman known as the Heartless Harlot. When Marcus shows up at her door, Esme Lancaster has her own reasons for wanting to discover who was involved in the plot to assassinate the Queen. As they work together, they cannot help but fall victim to the attraction between them but must decide if giving up their heart is worth losing their shot at redemption.
Lorraine Heath has a special talent for making some of the most bonker setups work perfectly. She also knows how to deliver a one, two punch to the emotions with her books and this book was no exception on both these points. As I started this book, I had no idea how I would feel about Marcus falling in love with his father’s mistress Esme. But it was Lorriane Heath, so I trusted her to make it work, and boy did she.
From Marcus and Esme’s first interaction, there was an electric spark between them. Oh boy, the chemistry between these two could set the pages on fire! The banter between the two of them was some of my favorite as they could both give as good as they could take and didn’t shy away from the double entendres. I love these two together so much, and I literally could not wait until they got together. Luckily, Heath doesn’t make you wait too long as the relationship in this book is very hot and heavy. Those sex scenes between Marcus and Esme – woo, I needed to fan myself. And while their relationship is very physical, the emotional connection is there between these two. They both need each other, but they see barriers to being together long-term, and boy does Heath take you on a roller coaster of emotion. Honestly, I expect nothing less from Lorraine Heath, as she knows how to play with your heartstrings and make you FEEL all the things. What Esme does for Marcus at the end – UGH MY HEART. I loved every minute of reading this book.
Lorraine Heath writes such emotionally complex characters, and I love peeling back their many layers to get to the core of who they are. Esme might be one of my favorite female leads in the Once Upon a Dukedom series. She’s a badass bitch in so many ways. She’s confident, smart and strong – there is so much more to her than meets the eye. And while she presents a certain air of confidence to others, she has a lot of insecurities and fears that she keeps hidden away. She’s used to being alone for so long – and thinks that’s what she wants so she can do her job well – but Marcus makes her realize how lonely and isolating that is. Marcus is the perfect match for Esme in a lot of ways. Since his father was convicted of treason, revenge and retribution have been his singular purpose. He’s not afraid to use other people to get to his end goal, and he’s isolated himself from his family. Esme throws him for a loop and makes him question his end goal and realize he can let people into his life.
I enjoyed the spy and mystery elements in this book. I’ve been curious about why and how Marcus’ father, the Duke of Wolfford, got wrapped up in a plot to assassinate the queen since Beauty Tempts the Beast, and we FINALLY get answers to that. I found the mystery and intrigue really added an extra element of fun to this novel. I enjoyed all the action scenes and loved how Esme was wrapped up in all of it. Girl can throw a punch and hold her own. I loved the plot Esme and Marcus created to draw the traitors out of the shadows in the end. It resulted in the perfect reunion of all my favorite characters from this series and A Sins For All Seasons series.
Honestly, I could keep going on and on about this book as I absolutely adored it. Seriously, you cannot go wrong with the entire Once Upon a Dukedom series. Each book is perfect, and I swear Lorraine Heath has magical powers. While I loved this one and absolutely 100% recommend it, I still think The Duchess Hunt is my favorite of the bunch. That book just touched a special part of my soul and is currently my all-time favorite historical romance book.
While I was so sad for this book to end and Lorraine Heath ONCE AGAIN made me cry with her fabulous epilogue, I am SO EXCITED that we’re getting a spinoff series focused on the Chessmen! I’ve been hoping we’d get books for them for ages, and I cannot wait to read the first book, The Counterfeit Scoundrel, when it releases in early 2023.
Thank you to Avon/Netgalley for the ARC. All thoughts, ideas and opinions expressed in this review are my own.