Book of the Week: Her Best Friend, the Duke by Laura Martin

Heart of the Story
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Imagine if a duke and a lady could be platonic friends in the Regency, and it would be accepted by the ton with no scandalous rumors attached to them? Just imagine!

James, the Duke of Heydon, is on the wrong side of forty and adores traveling. He is gone a few months of the year exploring to his heart’s content. The other times, he is dedicated to his estates and fulfilling other ducal duties. He has been waiting patiently (and impatiently) for The One to appear in his life. In the meantime, he has perfected the art of depressing the hopes of marriage-minded mamas and their simpering daughters. The only lady’s company he freely enjoys is Caroline’s.

Caroline Yaxley (“Cara” to James) secretly hankers to travel. And Caroline even more secretly hankers after James. She has been in love with him since the beginning of their five-year friendship. But he has never had more than a warm strictly platonic regard for her. He is a reserved man, aloof even with his male friends, and it is only with Caroline that he lets down his guard and shares his thoughts and ideas. Caroline values his friendship so much — at least in this way she has him in her life — that she is afraid to even hint at her feelings and run the risk of having him dropping her like a hot potato.

James wants a marriage like the one his parents had where they were sublimely in love with each other, or at least, that is what it seemed to him from a child’s perspective. Unfortunately, he has never questioned this ideal, never thought to himself that perhaps love isn’t (only) something that strikes you like a thunderbolt, but it could be something that grows over time. There are infinite ways to be in love and to love someone, but James does not recognize that. Waiting indefinitely for that perfect moment of seeing the perfect one and having those perfect feelings is a waste of a lifetime of happiness with someone you could grow to love and who would end up being perfect for you.

Caroline considers herself too old and has been desultorily attending Season after Season alternately raising and deflating her mother’s hopes of her making a match. Finally, finally…Caroline decides that it is time she stopped pining after James and take charge of her life and find a husband. Otherwise, she will languish into spinsterhood and miss out on having children, running her own house, and enjoying married life. She has wasted her life waiting for James, and it is past time for her to move on.

I applauded Caroline’s courage and practical maturity — she has decided that she is marriageable, and she sets out to achieve her goal. Even if young handsome sprigs of fashion may deplore her advanced years (she is in her twenties), older men might appreciate that she is not an empty-headed schoolroom miss. While in her heart of hearts she yearns for James’ love, she has decided to rise above her affliction.

Life is so perverse. The moment she decides to move on and starts showing interest in other men, James starts to meddle. Is James being merely selfish because he feels he will lose her friendship when she marries, or is he starting to get interested when he sees that other men are interested in her? Martin does an excellent job of having James interrogate his mind and search his heart whether what he had thought was an irrefutable ideal can be compromised for his growing awareness of Caroline.

The twist in this story is that at one point he becomes aware that she is in love with him. Most romances would have him immediately follow suit declaring his love, but Martin doesn’t take this commonplace route. She has him continue to tussle with his conscience and with his heart for the rest of the book. This to me is the heart of the story.

Her Best Friend, the Duke, was my first Laura Martin story, and I look forward to other of her books.

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