I picked up this book reluctantly, even though Carla Kelly is one of my favorite authors. It involves a duke disguised as a chocolate merchant meeting and falling in love with a penniless lady whom he mistakenly believes is wealthy. Meh. But there were some glowing reviews, and CK has never let me down.
So I began slowly, and then I could hardly put it down. This is one of the best romances I've ever read! Carla Kelly is a genius. It is no accident that this book is a 5-star Desert Island Keeper on All About Romance.
At the request of his best friend, Benedict Nesbitt, Duke of Knaresborough, agrees to disguise himself as a chocolate merchant and travel to Kent to inspect the bride that the friend's father has picked out. He stages a carriage accident near the lady's home, but it goes awry and Nez is injured rather seriously. Libby, the intended bride, and her mentally damaged young brother rescue him and send for Anthony Cook, the local doctor. Several things quickly become apparent. Anthony is in love with Libby, but she sees him as just a sweet but clumsy and overweight neighbor. Nez is an alcoholic, who drinks to forget the horrible things he witnessed in the Peninsular Wars. Libby is not wealthy (although her cousin Lydia is). Nez falls in love with her and decides to cut out his friend and marry her himself.
I can't discuss this any more without spoilers, so if you like Carla Kelly and you haven't read this book, don't read any farther in this review. In fact, don't read any reviews. Just get the book. Right now!Here Be Spoilers.
CK has written that rarest of Regency romances: a true love triangle where the reader finds herself as torn as Libby does. Nez is handsome and flirtatious, and even disguised as a merchant he cannot completely hide his air of command. Dr. Cook personifies the Hippocratic oath. He is kind, generous, dedicated, gentle, self-effacing and determined to free Nez from his addiction. Libby aids him in this mission, sitting day after night with Nez while he suffers the awful symptoms of withdrawal. After sobering up, Nez becomes even more appealing, and Libby begins to think that perhaps a merchant would not object to her lack of a dowry. Meanwhile, we see what a remarkably wonderful man Dr. Cook is, but Libby rejects his proposal.
Inevitably, the big reveal comes. Libby and Anthony find out that Nez is a duke, and Nez discovers that Libby is the penniless offspring of a disinherited soldier and a tobacconist's daughter. Then Kelly pulls off another outrageous stunt: Nez behaves exactly as a man of his station would behave. Although he truly loves her, he immediately decides that he cannot makes this woman his duchess, so he offers to make her his mistress.
What will Libby choose? A glittering life of luxury with a man who loves her but cannot give her his name or a life of quiet dedication married to a doctor whose patients will always come first (and whose father, by the way, hates Libby and her little brother)?
This review really doesn't do justice to the story, largely because I'm not as good a writer as Carla Kelly. Not even in the same universe. There is humor and tragedy, and the horrors of war are never far from the surface. (Libby's mother followed the drum until her husband died). The characters are all beautifully drawn and totally believable. The plot hums along, and there are several curve balls that I haven't even mentioned.
Although Kelly does not write series, Nez appears in [b:One Good Turn|64917|One Good Turn|Carla Kelly|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309283023s/64917.jpg|63009]. I strongly recommend reading this one first, though.