I'm just going to start out by saying this review is very late and I meant to write it the day of my blog promo post, however, life happens and I didn't get a chance to do this until now. With that being said, I will be diving straight in to this review without further ado. This was my first introduction to the writing of Darcy Burke and I greatly enjoyed it! I found it very easy to relate to the characters and the story had great passion, angst, and a sweet ending.
Joanna Shaw is a widow currently residing with the family of her sister, after having endured an extremely unhappy marriage. Bran is a widower recently returned from Barbados with his 5 year old daughter in tow, after learning that he has inherited his family title following the death of his two older brothers. Jo's niece Becky, and Bran's daughter Evie strike up a close friendship since the two families live just down the road from each other. This brings Bran and Jo in frequent contact with each other and the sparks begin to fly. Bran knows very little about setting up a household and the proper care of his daughter. This is where Jo steps in to lend a hand, ending with her becoming Evie's governess. Both Bran and Evie are out of their element since leaving Barbados, and Jo helps both to acclimate to the strictures of England.
There is quite a bit of angst in this novel, between the two main characters. Bran proposes multiple times to Jo, but she refuses due to her belief that she is barren. She comes to this conclusion due to the fact that she was married for seven years and could not produce a child for her husband. Bran tries to convince her that this could be entirely her deceased husband, but she has been damaged by the verbal abuse she suffered in her unhappy marriage. In her mind, Jo could not in good conscience accept Bran's proposal, knowing that one of his main duties would be to produce an heir, which she could not do if she was barren. So, Bran suggests that they carry on an affair, which ends up bringing them even closer together. In the end, they both realize they have fallen in love and Bran begs Jo to marry him, saying he doesn't care if she is barren, and she finally agrees.
The passion between Jo and Bran was hot, hot, hot! Bran has a quirk where he didn't like to wear too much clothing, as it made his skin itch. When he lived in Barbados, things weren't so rigid, and he had no need to wear restrictive or layered clothing. That was not the case in England, and what cracked me up the most, was Bran disrobing at the most inappropriate times. Take for example the clip below:
"Feeling as constricted as he had in the ballroom, he shrugged out of his coat and draped it over his arm.
“Are you disrobing again?” she asked.
“You can hear that?”
“I’m afraid so. But since I can’t see you, it really doesn’t signify.”
He chuckled, pleased with her logic. “As it happens, I’d already untied my cravat before I arrived here.”
“I can’t even manage to feign shock.” Now her voice held a lilt of humor, as if she were smiling.
He laughed again, and a cool, early spring breeze wafted over him. How he missed the warmth of Barbados.
“Will you tell me about it?” she asked.
Had he said that out loud—about Barbados? Apparently so. “I could stand here all night and not manage to tell you everything.”
“Then just tell me something.”
He closed his eyes and summoned his home. “The colors there are like nothing you’ve ever seen—the blue-green water, the white-gold sand, colors that not even the rainbow can do justice to.”
“It sounds beautiful.” Her voice was soft, almost reverent. “How did you decide to go there?”
He opened his eyes but still couldn’t see her. “That was where the ship was headed. I didn’t care where I was going, so long as it wasn’t here.”
“You must have been terribly miserable.” She sounded as if she’d moved a bit closer.
“I wasn’t needed here.” Or wanted, really. His entire family had encouraged him to buy a commission or perhaps take a vicarage. He’d considered both ideas, but after his brothers had spread that vicious rumor, he’d simply walked on the first ship leaving England. And he’d never looked back.
“And now?” Her question whispered over him, lulling him with its sweet curiosity.
“Now, I’m the earl. I’m needed.”
“And your brothers are gone.”
He exhaled, as if realizing for the first time that they really were gone. That he could perhaps be here and be happy. Or at least not miserable. Still, it wasn’t home. Not yet. “I miss the blazing sun.”
“Especially right now, I’d wager.”
He heard a tremor in her voice. “Wait, are you chilled? Where are you?” He reached out with his free hand and touched her.
Stepping forward—it didn’t take much to reach her—he settled his coat on her shoulders. “Better?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
He didn’t take his hands away. “Why did you come out here?”
He heard the hesitation in her voice and felt a shiver in her body. He didn’t think that was from the night air. “You can tell me. If you want.”
“I felt…overwhelmed. As if I couldn’t breathe. I just needed to get out.”
God, he’d felt like that his entire life. “I was never able to sit still when I was younger. Or wear clothing. I often felt like I wanted to crawl out of my very skin. I used to scratch myself raw.”
“That sounds horrid. How did you stop?”
“I don’t know. Leaving here helped.”
“And now that you’re back? Things aren’t as bad as they were?”
No, he supposed they weren’t. Just as he had a few moments ago, when she’d pointed out that his brothers were indeed gone, he felt a lightness. Because of her."
The one minor issue I had with this story was the age of the two girls. They seemed very advanced for being 5-6 and instead seemed closer to 8-10. Evie and Becky never spoke like small children and some of the subjects were pretty complex for a child of that age group to understand. They also wrote plays and sewed doll clothes which seems like something children a little older would do. Despite this, they were wonderful to read about and more often than not, they stole the show and everyone's hearts!
To all my fellow historical romance novel lovers, you will love following the story of Bran and Jo, as they navigate through their trials and tribulations, to find true love with each other. The epilogue is always my favorite part of the book, and this was one of the best! Go grab your copy of The Duke of Defiance by Darcy Burke today.