If you're good at reading between the lines, there are SLIGHT SPOILERS near the end of the review. I tried to avoid flat-out spoilers, though.
Teddy Middleton is only the second son of a duke, but you wouldn't know it by his behavior. Because his brother Derek, the actual heir, is completely unreliable, Teddy does his job for him.
Juliette is in a similar situation with her brother Peter. Because neither he nor their mother can be trusted to take care of anything of even minor importance, Juliette takes care of everything.
Derek and Peter may be mostly useless, but the two of them do manage to plan out one thing: a marriage between Teddy and Juliette. Without consulting either of them or even letting them know what was happening in advance. The novella begins with Teddy and Juliette's disastrous wedding night. They barely know each other (cleaning up after their brothers' messes did not give them much time for socializing), and now they have to figure out how to live together. Both of them are braced for the worst...only to find, as they get to know one another, that maybe they make a good match after all.
This sat in my wishlist for ages before I finally bought it. I thought the cover image was gorgeous and eye-catching, and the excerpt seemed interesting, but I'm wary of self-published works, and I couldn't find many reviews for Second Son of Duke, beyond the customer reviews on Amazon. What ended up tipping the scales was the price. I was buying e-books during one of ARe's sales, and, even though this novella wasn't part of the sale, I decided it wouldn't hurt to add $0.99 to my total. If my purchase ended up being a bad one, lesson learned, and I would just make sure not to buy anything else by this author, no matter how pretty the cover image. I've now read Second Son of a Duke twice, and, thankfully, I don't feel the need to kick myself over my purchase. I've even bought a couple more of Hayes' works.
I enjoyed most of this novella. The beginning was fantastic, in a horrible kind of way. While the sex later on was fairly steamy, I was grateful that the wedding night was fade-to-black. It was easy to imagine how awful it must have been, though. Teddy and Juliette were awkward and stiff with each other. After having been told by her mother that women don't enjoy sex, Juliette saw her wedding night as nothing more than an unwelcome duty she wanted to get over with as quickly as possible. Since Teddy and Juliette didn't know each other well and knew that neither one of them had had a choice about their marriage, they didn't hate each other, but they also didn't expect much of each other.
That brings me to the next thing I liked about this novella: seeing Teddy and Juliette learn to relax with each other. Teddy saw his new bride as something of a mystery and was mostly concerned with figuring out how to at least make their marriage bearable. Juliette, on the other hand, was truly wary of Teddy. I'm guessing that her primary experience with men consisted of her dealings with Peter, Derek, and their friends – it wasn't surprising that she'd worry that Teddy would be yet another person she'd have to clean up after. Teddy and Juliette were two basically nice people who had had to carry a lot of weight on their shoulders, and I liked seeing things go well for them.
One thing I really didn't like about this novella, though, was the twist near the end. During my first read, the twist seemed to come completely out of the blue. During my second read, I think I caught a couple things Hayes might have intended as setup for the upcoming twist, but those things were so subtle that I still felt the twist was pretty much out of the blue. After the twist, there were things Teddy and Juliette thought about their brothers that just didn't gel with everything they had previously said and thought about their brothers.
Aside from seeming to come out of the blue, the twist also made me angry on Teddy and Juliette's behalf. Yes, things would have sucked for Peter and Derek if they had lived their lives as society had dictated they should. No, it wouldn't have been fair. So instead they decided to....secure their own happiness by dictating their siblings' lives for them? Yeah, that last bit didn't sit well with me. It was nice all around that everything worked out and Juliette and Teddy fell in love with each other, but Derek and Peter might just as easily have shackled their siblings in a loveless marriage. It was selfish, and both Teddy and Juliette had every reason to be angry with their brothers. Teddy was angry with Derek for a bit, but not, I felt, as long as Derek deserved. If Juliette was angry with Peter, Hayes chose not to show it.
For the most part, this is a solid novella. I probably would have liked it even more if Hayes had just stuck to writing about Juliette and Teddy. Because I did like the novella overall, I bought a couple of Hayes' other works that seemed like they would fit my tastes.
I didn't notice any formatting problems. I did spot 3 or 4 typos. The main reason I'm writing about typos at all is because a couple of them occurred close enough together to jar me out of the story.
Also, for those who care, the cover image you see in this post does not appear to be part of the e-book file (or, at least, my file - maybe it would be different if I had bought it from Barnes & Noble?). Instead, the cover image used in the file is a flat background with flowers and decorative swirls that are a little like those in the bottom half of the cover image in my post. It's not ugly, just boring. I'm not sure why the much prettier cover image used in ARe and on the author's own website wasn't used.
I had a hard time thinking of read-alikes (I know I've read similar works, I just can't think of them), so the list below took a good deal of effort to put together.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Promise to a Boy (book) by Mary Brady - I haven't read this one (it's a Harlequin Super Romance, by the way), but I added it to this list because it sounded like it would be a good one for those looking for another romance starring a pair of main characters who have a lot of responsibilities and worries on their shoulders.
- While You Were Sleeping (live action movie) - Okay, so this is a contemporary romance, not a historical one, and it has more humor and quirkiness than Second Son of a Duke. This movie's been on my brain lately (it's getting to be the season for it!), and I thought it might fit as a watch-alike. The main character is Lucy, a lonely woman who has no family, so of course she's stuck working during the holidays. She has a crush on Peter, a handsome stranger she sees every day, and, when she saves his life, a bit of confusion results in Peter's family thinking she's his fiancee. After Peter wakes up from his coma, Lucy has to somehow make things right, even though she's fallen in love with his family and maybe his brother. As in Second Son of a Duke, family members essentially force Lucy and Peter to be a couple, although it's Lucy and Peter's brother who are the ones to get to know one another.
- The Admiral's Penniless Bride (book) by Carla Kelly - One I've actually read! Those who'd like another historical romance in which the hero and heroine are suddenly wed (more willingly and less suddenly than Teddy and Juliette, but still) and must gradually get to know one another. I've written about this book.
- To Wed a Stranger (book) by Edith Layton - I haven't read this one. It's a historical romance involving the "marriage of convenience" trope. The heroine is a beauty who becomes ill at the beginning of her marriage. Her illness robs her of her beauty, leaving her nothing to hide behind, and she is so weak that her husband, who does not yet know her or love her, must take care of her. Those who'd like another historical romance in which the hero and heroine gradually get to know one another after they are married might want to try this.