Sunday, December 20, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Once Upon a Duke by Erica Ridley

 I had fun reading Forever Your Duke by Erica Ridley, so when I saw that Book One in the 12 Dukes of Christmas series was a kindle freebie, I downloaded it for a second light-hearted holiday Romance.

Once Upon a Duke introduces the northern England mountain town of Cressmouth (pronounced Christmas by the locals), the village where the spirit of Christmas lasts all year round.

Noelle Pratchett (the Christmasy cuteness does get a bit cloying) is a devoted resident of the town. Abandoned on the steps of Mr. Jacob Marlowe’s castle as a baby, Noelle has striven all her life to be useful so that she will belong, be needed, and not be abandoned again. She has taken on the position of clerk to the castle and is known for her organizational abilities. When Mr. Marlowe dies, and the whole village gathers for the reading of the will, Noelle helps to keep the village traditions running smoothly, even when an old flame arrives to turn her life upside down.

Benjamin Ward, the fifth duke of Silkridge, is Jacob Marlowe’s grandson. He learns of his grandfather’s death from his solicitor. Benjamin and his grandfather have long been estranged. Benjamin attributes that largely to the fact that his birth caused his mother’s death. His grandfather has never forgiven him for that. But more importantly, five years earlier, Marlowe invited him “home” to Cressmouth, then stole his most prized possession, a locket with a portrait of his mother. Benjamin plans to return for the reading of the will, claim the locket, and leave Cressmouth forever.

Benjamin has made his life one of duty, filling his role in Parliament with a vengeance. He has just one reservation about returning to Cressmouth: Noelle Pratchett. They had once been friends, until his visit five years earlier when he kissed her. Then his grandfather stole the locket and Benjamin fled Cressmouth without saying goodbye. That was all for the best, since he could never make a life with a nameless orphan. He’s a duke after all.

The locket is Benjamin’s only inheritance from his grandfather, but it comes with conditions. He has to finish the renovations on the castle’s aviary, install a partridge, and christen it with champagne. This means Benjamin can’t leave at once.

Naturally, during the course of his stay, he is thrown together with Noelle. Their feelings for one another reignite. 

This one was not as entertaining as Forever Your Duke. Benjamin is an unpleasant fellow for much of the book. Yes, he guards his heart closely since his parents both died and his grandfather treated him poorly. But he is a sour man living in a pity party. Noelle’s life situation was worse, but she is a ray of sunshine. Much of that, it turns out, is a need to please because of her own insecurity. I found myself growing impatient with them both. However, they do grow during the book and it achieves its happily-ever-after ending.

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