As the Italian half-sister to the Marquess of Ralston, Juliana Fiore is no stranger to scandal. True, her habits of bold dress and speaking her mind don't help her situation, nor does having a foreign merchant for a father. But the real scandal of her reputation has little to do with her at all - and everything to do with her mother. And her habits of running out on her children and marriages.
Unable to overcome such a shocking parentage, Juliana soon learns to stop trying to live it down. Why bother when the ton only thinks the worst of her anyway? Especially when the Duke of Leighton is around.
Except the Duke of Disdain hasn't always despised her. In fact he was once just Simon to her. Until he found out who she was, because to Leighton reputation is everything and scandal is the last thing he wants, seeks or needs. But when Juliana challenges him to a wager of passion, even this cold Duke is too human to resist.
After the Excellent Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
and the disappointing Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord
, I'll admit I was a little nervous about this final part of the St.John siblings' trilogy. Thankfully the first chapter proved me wrong. Juliana (unlike Nick) more than lives up to the promise of the fiery, spirited and slightly insecure young woman seen in the previous books. She's reckless, passionate and fun - especially when her English idioms fail her - but she's also caring and warm.
Which makes her pursuit of Simon slightly perplexing. This is not a man wearing a public mask and behaving totally different in private. He really is the Duke of Disdain, cold, judgemental and arrogant. He doesn't have a softer side - until Juliana turns his life completely upside down. Which means he spends the majority of this book being insufferable and arrogant, confused about just how Juliana keeps getting to him.
Set in the heart of the London ton there's plenty of scope for fun and farce - except this isn't the jubilant romp of Nine Ways.... Instead it's an elitist, catty place where Juliana faces more humiliation than humour. At least she has the support of sister-in-law Callie and new duchess Mariana, else this would be too bleak to bear.
Although I'm not sure what Juliana wanted to achieve with her challenge, and I'll admit I did grow bored of the constant superiority/inferiority complexes, conversations and arguments, this is a definite improvement on Ten Ways.... In all it's a fairly decent historical tale, with nothing too objectionable or memorable. Good, with hints of greatness, it just lacks the overall sparkle that MacLean is capable of. 3.5 stars.