THE DUKE I ONCE KNEW – Olivia Drake
England – Nineteenth Century
Having spent her twenties caring for her aging parents, Abigail Linton wants to spread her wings now that her mother and father have passed. But her much older siblings have all sorts of ideas to “utilize” Abby. If she doesn't put her foot down and stand her ground, Abby will find herself saddled with more family obligations, and no life of her own. So, despite her brothers' and sisters' objections, she takes a position as a governess on the estate adjoining her family land. Abby will guide the young sister of her former childhood friend, Maxwell Bryce, now the Duke of Rothwell. After all, he hasn't visited the estate for fifteen years, so Abby is comfortable knowing she won't have to see him, especially since he never replied to her letters when he left all those years ago.
Max, a reputed rakehell, has avoided the memories of his father and mother by not returning to his childhood home. He sees his sister occasionally when she visits London. His time is taken up with sponsoring a boxing champion and having carefree flings with lovely women. Marriage isn't on the horizon; his young love never responded to his letters, and she is the only one he has ever cared about. Imagine Max's shock when he arrives at his estate with his boxer, several friends, and one lovely woman, and the girl he grew up with is now his sister's governess.
Abby is stunned at Max's sudden appearance. There was no notice, and she is even more annoyed to have to protect her young charge from the fact that Max obviously brought his mistress. Abby immediately confronts him with the fact that he is setting a horrible example, that his fourteen year old sister must not be allowed anywhere near his mistress, and that, furthermore, she wants nothing to do with him. But it's obvious that Lady Desmond, Max's guest, has marriage on her mind, and she is not about to let Abby interfere by stopping her from influencing Max's sister.
THE DUKE I ONCE KNEW is a sweet story of two people who experienced changes early in their lives that affected how they react to the present. Abby's life has been taken up with her family's needs, while Max took the opposite tack and stayed as far away as he could from those obligations. He cares for his sister, from afar, but the memories at his childhood home, and his supposed betrayal by Abby for not writing him, have made him embittered. Add to this the rather nasty Lady Desmond who has her own plans. What will it take to clear the air for Abby and Max?
Well written and with realistic characters and premise, THE DUKE I ONCE KNEW is a great way to start the new year.