Series: Duke's Men (Book 3)
Why is Lady Zoe Keane's father pressing her to marry a cousin she's never met? As Lord and Lady Olivier's only child, spirited Zoe will one day inherit the title of countess and their Yorkshire estate, the land she adores -- but she wants to many for love. Then an unsolved family mystery shatters her world: is it possible Zoe's birth mother was actually a Romany woman named Drina? Desperate to know her true lineage, Zoe hires the Duke's Men to search for the woman who will determine her destiny.
Tristan Bonnaud is the man for the job, and not because the roguish investigator cares about a spoiled aristocrat and her inheritance "problem." To protect himself from his villainous half brother, Tristan needs to track down a Romany friend with information about a decade-old scandal -- and this young beauty's far-fetched case is just the ticket.
But if untangling the past isn't risky enough, the sizzling attraction drawing the scoundrel to the lady is the most dangerously seductive surprise of all....
We first met Tristan in the first book, What the Duke Desires, as co-owner of Manton Investigations with his second half brother and got some of his background. Tristan and his sister are the illegitimate children of the late Viscount of Rathmoor. Tristan's father died when Tristan was seventeen, after writing out a codicil to his will that would ensure that Tristan and his family were taken care of. Unfortunately, immediately after the man breathed his last, Tristan's oldest half brother, the new viscount, threw the codicil into the fire and promised that there would be nothing for them. Tristan, being young and hotheaded, stole the horse he would have inherited and used the money from selling it to get his mother and sister out of England. Over the next years he did whatever he had to in order to support them. For the last several years he has been working as an investigator, but always with a burning need for revenge against his half brother George. He is always looking for something that he can use against George.
Lady Zoe Keane made her first appearance at the end of the second book in the series, When the Rogue Returns, when she nearly blew an investigation Tristan was working on. She and Tristan had a rather antagonistic meeting, and in promising to keep his secret, Zoe extracted the promise of a future favor from the investigators. At the beginning of this book, Zoe has come to claim that favor. She is the only child of Lord Olivier, and thanks to an unusual inheritance circumstance, will inherit her father's lands and the title of countess when he dies. Unfortunately, thanks to something her aunt has said, Zoe believes there is some question about whether she really is her parents' child. She wants the investigators to find out if it is true. Added to that stress is the arrival of her American cousin, who will inherit if Zoe does not. Her father and aunt are encouraging her to marry the man, which would keep her on the lands she loves so much, no matter what happens.
Once again, the meeting between Tristan and Zoe is contentious. Tristan thinks that Zoe is bored and making drama out of nothing. Zoe thinks that Tristan is a womanizer of the worst sort. Much to her dismay, Tristan is the best one to work on her case, as he is experienced with Gypsy culture and speaks the language. Tristan doesn't really think there's any truth to her story, but checking it out will give him the opportunity to find his Gypsy friend who bought the horse, and find out what he knows of Tristan's brother George. What neither of them counted on was the steamy attraction between them.
I liked Tristan and Zoe, though each of them had their issues. Tristan is, at heart, an honorable man who has done the things he has in order to protect the family he loves. He is also a bit of a scoundrel, in that he has quite a reputation with the ladies. But he keeps things light with them, avoiding any kind of commitment or emotional entanglement. He doesn't believe in love, having seen what havoc that supposed emotion caused in his mother's life. He also looks at the aristocracy with a cynical eye, lumping them all with his brother George. He's not happy about his attraction to Zoe for two reasons. First, it's to strong and tends to make him lose control, not something he's ever done before. Second, nothing can come of it. After all, he's illegitimate with a shady background and she's a future countess.
Zoe is a woman who has grown up knowing that her father's lands are going to be her responsibility and she doesn't mind at all. She loves the land and the people. She is devastated to learn that there is some question about who she really is and is determined to find out the truth. If she really isn't her father's daughter, she may have no choice but to marry her cousin if she wants to be able to continue to care for her people. She's also stubborn, and isn't going to just sit back and wait for Tristan's report, she plans to be involved every step of the way. But that puts her in his company far too often for her peace of mind. Her attraction to Tristan makes her realize that marriage to another man would be a miserable life.
I loved seeing them together. Tristan is excellent at pushing her buttons and they are constantly in verbal battles with each other. But those battles turn into kisses when the sparks get to be too much. They also get to know each other better and realize that there is more to each other than had been apparent in their initial impressions. I really liked seeing Zoe fall for the man Tristan is now and not letting his past affect her feelings, though she's unsure of his. Tristan realizes that Zoe isn't just a spoiled society miss, and his feelings for her continue to grow. But he's a bit insecure because of their differences, and doesn't know what her feelings for him really are. It takes surviving a dangerous situation for them both to realize that only by risking it all can they have it all.
I really enjoyed the mystery of Zoe's background. As she and Tristan get further into the search for the truth, her search and his begin to follow the same path. There is a very interesting twist to the identity of Zoe's mother and it adds to the building tension. Pursuing information about Zoe's natural father involves Tristan's Gypsy friend, and creates the possibility that a huge scandal could erupt. I loved seeing Zoe's adoptive father get involved, now that the cat is out of the bag, and his presence is vital during the final confrontation. It was quite intense as all the players came together, and I wondered how everything was going to work out. I thought it was pretty realistic, with believable actions on all parts. I enjoyed the reaction of Zoe's cousin at the end, and how everything worked out.