Title: I Spy a Duke
Series: Covert Heiresses #1
Author: Erica Monroe
Format: eBook, 255 pages
Published: October 5, 2015 by Quillfire
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Wine Glasses
In the first in an adventurous new series, USA Today Bestselling Author Erica Monroe introduces the Covert Heiresses: four women who by day are the talk of the ton, and by night England's top spies.
She wants revenge…
When bluestocking Vivian Loren becomes the governess for the wealthy Spencer family, she’s searching for clues about the murder of her brother, not a husband. But Vivian didn’t count on James Spencer, the infuriatingly handsome Duke of Abermont.
He needs a wife…
As head of Britain’s elite intelligence agency, James has no time to woo a wife. When he discovers Vivian’s quest for answers has made her a pawn in a treacherous plot, James realizes they can help each other. She’ll become his duchess, and he’ll keep her safe from one of Napoleon’s deadliest spies.
What begins as a marriage of convenience quickly becomes anything but, as they find out love is the most dangerous mission of all.
Vivian's brother was brutally murdered in Seven Dials and while the Bow Street Runners have given up, she refuses. When she receives a mysterious letter from "Sauveterre" claiming to know the killer of her brother, she desperately and blindly agrees to spy on the Duke of Abermont for him. After a few months of turning up no evidence of the Duke financing a revolution in France like Sauveterre wanted her to, his letters become more erratic and Vivian begins to fear for her life. James, the Duke of Abermont, has noticed the new governess to his brother in his peripheral but when they share a tete-a- tete, she becomes front and center. He's attracted to her but as the head of Clocktower, England's premier intelligence agency, his senses tell him she may not be all she seems. Attraction, half-truths, and danger will bring our couple together but also work to tear them apart.
This was my first book by Ms. Monroe and I was a big fan of the first half, it had a darker feel to it with Sauveterre evilly lurking on the fringes and Vivian and James having a forbidden pull to one another. There was a bit of insta-attraction with James very quickly willing to do anything for Vivian but since there was a well written underlining connection between the two, I was able to roll with it. The second half is where things slowed down quite a bit for me. James dragging out telling Vivian about his spy work and his constant self-loathing about feeling responsible for one of his sister's death was rehashed far too many times.
"How quickly the tides of her life had changed. From a viscount's ward to a governess to a criminal in a few small jumps."
Having Vivian spying on James the spy was a great way to get our couple together but the leap to him marrying her was a bit rushed, a more flushed out version may have made it feel less forced. There was a feeling of kerfuffle over Vivian's handling of the Sauveterre situation but she was overall a good strong character. There were a couple times where she was a bit too modern, her speech and then attitude in the bedroom, which threw me out of the time period of the story. I loved how James started off alluring and darkly dangerous but his character didn't have a lot of growth, he felt kind of stagnant. Feeling responsible for your sister's death would be a heavy burden but his hairshirt started to make me feel itchy after the hundredth time it was mentioned. Our couple had a compelling connection; I just wish it had been the focus of the story more.
"Because you see me." His steely gaze sent a shiver of awareness up her back in that look, she saw the emotions he held at bay, shimmering beneath the surface. "And I desperately need someone who will see the man behind the title."
The Clocktower agency is named but really only discussed through James as the front leader of the spies (he answers to a head in the government) and how all of his family members are a part of it (well, expect little brother Thomas who after Vivian stops being his governess disappears forever into the nursery). James' three sisters are all spies and we are introduced to all of them here and I assume they will be the heroines of future books in the series. One scene features James, his friend Richard, and his sister Elinor, who due to her illness can only contribute her mind and is not able to go out into the field, has me dying for Elinor's story and because of some interesting tension has me anticipating Richard as the hero. As secondary characters, they were all featured beautifully, not intrusive, added to the flavor of the story, and left me curious for their own stories. Sauveterre started off deliciously villainous but fell too much into the background for a while, essentially becoming the boogeyman until he was thrust into the story. He seemed for his brief moments in the ending scenes to be crude for the sake of being crude as a way to make him seem even darker; I ended up being a little disappointed with how his storyline eventually connected with everything.
"The most important things are true. You and me. Our marriage."
I Spy a Duke may feature the ever popular tropes of spies and Dukes but the overall feel of the story is different enough to keep it from feeling tired. There were not actually a lot of spy antics besides James training Vivian and talking about how he is responsible for everyone and besides a few "Your Graces" our couple never visits London, so James' rank isn't a central feeling either. James' self-loathing, his drawn out hemming and hawing over telling Vivian his was a spy, and the rushed feel of their attraction and why they married, were the most problematic for me. The alluring and dark feel of the story, however, hit a high note and will have me looking to this author's backlist and watching for future books in this series.
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