Who else loves to see an autocratic hero brought down a peg? My newfound delight in Juliana Gray continues with the historical romance trilogy Affairs by Moonlight, including A Lady Never Lies, A Gentleman Never Tells, and A Duke Never Yields. If you read them in order, you have two books to wait before the aforementioned peg lowering and they are a really enjoyable ride.
The Set Up: It’s 1890. Three aristocratic/aristocrat adjacent English men rent a villa in Tuscany to escape Society, explore their individual interests, and study. Three aristocratic/aristocrat adjacent English women rent the same villa in Tuscany to escape Society, explore their individual interests, and study. Neither group had anticipated the other, nor are they pleased. They divide the house down the middle and everyone fails to stay in their prescribed area thus allowing hijinks to be fruitful and multiply.
A Lady Never Lies – Finn and Alexandra
The Duke of Olympia’s acknowledged bastard son and all around smart guy, Phineas Burke is retreating to Italy to work on his automobile in anticipation of a race in Rome later in the year. Society darling, and respectable widow, Lady Alexandra Morley is pretending to be taking a year to better herself, but in reality has fled London in hopes of sorting out her finances. Their story was engaging and blissfully free of complex machinations. There’s a villain, of course, and it takes Alexandra a while to come around, but Finn is lovely and that rarest of romance novel heroes, a redhead.
Extra appreciation to Gray for a story incorporating early automobiles. I’ve read a couple of books set in this era and they are always fun.
A Gentleman Never Tells – Roland and Lilibet
This was the first book I read from Affairs by Moonlight before going back to get A Lady Never Lies from my library and following it immediately with A Duke Never Yields. In A Gentleman Never Tells, the hero is a charming, espionage-y good guy masquerading as a wastrel caught in the trap of his own seeming indolence. If I had a romance novel nickel…
Roland and Lilibet fell in love six years ago, but he was forced to abandon the relationship. Lilibet was convinced to marry another man and did her best to love him. She has fled to Italy with her son to hide from her husband. Mr. Lilibet is an absolute bastard. So much so, in fact, that the rate at which matters escalate and their intensity when he enters the story is a bit of a shock when juxtaposed with the rather fun little maguffin. (Said horrendous individual will be the hero of the next book in Gray’s current series. Talk about given yourself a writing challenge.) Roland’s heart practically Pepe-Le-Pews itself out of his chest around Lilibet. She has spent years finding what honour she can in her life, but has reached an impasse. Roland’s devotion crosses into “Really?” with some details, but their delight in each other is very sweet.
Gray’s heroes, particularly this one, say things like “Blast!”, “Dash it all,” and, “Right ho!”. My father, whom I always described as somewhat Edwardian, used these expressions his whole life. He used less savoury language as well, but even then he sounded formal.
A Duke Never Yields – Wallingford and Abigail
This was my favourite of three books, in spite of magic realism elements that were both a bit much and unnecessary. Interestingly, this subplot was minor enough in the first books that I didn’t really clue into what was being implied until I got to book three. There are ghosts and a curse. Sure.
The Duke of Wallingford is tall, autocratic, and “magnificently disagreeable”. Free-spirited Abigail has selected him as her first lover. He fits very nicely into her year-long scheme of adventure and exploration. Abigail has vowed never to marry and voluntarily removed herself from Society so that she can do fun things like bet on horse races and travel. Wallingford is a perfect fit, except that he engineered the non-fraternization policy for the castle. What Abigail does not know is that he is a self-shaming slut and attempting to be a self-reforming rake as well. The goal of his year off is to make something of himself as a person and to stop putting the make on every woman he sees. Abigail simply sees an experienced man who will meet her needs, but once her emotions become involved, she sees that his previous behaviour shows a pattern that will be dangerous to her emotional well-being. There are a lot of *cough* busy heroes in romance. This is the second novel, the first being Any Duchess Will Do, wherein the hero realises that his conduct has been repellent. But it’s fun. No really, it’s fun. Abigail ties him in knots.
The reading order for the Affairs by Moonlight series isn’t crucial as the plots are contemporaneous rather than sequential, although A Duke Never Yields will be best read last. Juliana Gray is a really good writer whom I will continue to look for. I cannot imagine how complicated it was to interweave three stories so successfully, completely, and without unnecessary repetition. Reading the books so close together one can really see how the scenes are balanced. Well done.
Also by Juliana Gray: