Mastered By Love (Stephanie Laurens)

Mastered by Love
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Published: 7/28/2009
The men of the Bastion Club proved their bravery secretly fighting for their country. Now their leader faces that most dangerous mission of all: finding a bride. As the mysterious leader of the Bastion Club known as "Dalziel," Royce Varisey, 10th Duke of Wolverstone, served his country for decades, facing dangers untold. But as the holder of one of England's most august noble titles, he must now take on that gravest duty of all: marriage.…

Overall

As I was reading this, I wondered if writing about Royce and the duchy of Wolverstone is one of the reasons Stephanie Laurens decided to write her lone medieval story, Desire's Prize. They were released four years apart (2009, 2013) but there's a striking similarity between Royce & Minerva and Montisfryn & Elaine. He's a marcher lord, and she ends up under his care to take up role of chatelaine.  I actually really liked Desire's Prize, and I hope Laurens writes more of them. Her brand of hero and heroine are very well suited to medieval romances, and I am a huge sucker for that sub-genre.

Anyway, this is the last book in the Bastion Club series and wraps up the through-line of the last traitor created in Book 2, A Gentleman's Honor.  There's a lot I like about the final resolution to that plot line, but I also think that it would have benefited from spending just a little more time with the villain. I think Laurens wanted to keep him a mystery until a certain point, but I think this is the book where he should have had more of a center stage. I liked the identity of the villain and the final resolution to it all -- I just would have liked him to be a bit more present throughout the book.

The other part of the plot revolves around Royce's return to his old life and becoming duke upon the death of his father. He returns home to find the ward his parents raised grown up and functioning as the castle's chatelaine -- which was a medieval term you don't read much about in Regency time. Basically, Minerva is a step above the housekeeper and runs the household -- much like the laird's wife would in a Scottish romance, if that makes sense.

During his father's funeral, Royce is harassed beyond the point of sanity by the society grand dames to take wife because the Prince Regent is eyeing the duchy Royce only just inherited. I mean, they're obnoxious, and Royce is a hell of a lot nicer than I would be.

Of the Bastion Club members, only Christian and Leticia really play a role here. Clarice and Jack show up, but not for long. I think Penny is there, too. Thank God, there's only mentions of Jack Hendon, and Deverell is a distant memory for all of us. It makes me happy. Devil from the Cynster series has a minor supporting role with the running joke that his mother is desperate to marry him off and already using the term of Dowager to encourage him. Royce's sisters show up but there's not much to say about any of that. The supporting cast doesn't really do all that much.

I like both the leads quite a lot. Both are capable, honest, and straightforward. Royce is relatively relatable and remains the steady, arrogant, yet reasonable character we've seen in the last seven books. Minerva is a typical Laurens lead who has a strong head on her shoulders and a clear goal. I particularly liked that Royce deferred to Minerva on estate decisions.

The romance is also very good -- in fact, it's up there with Leticia & Christian (The Edge of Desire) and Jack & Clarice (A Fine Passion). I'll get into the weeds about something specific I loved in the spoiler section, but suffice to say that this romance develops really well and escalates nicely.

This is a solid and satisfying end to a better than I remembered series.

Spoilers Ahead

When Royce first meets Minerva (it's been 16 years, and she was 14 the last time he saw her), he's immediately struck with lust for her. I normally don't love that Lust at First Sight stuff, but what Royce does with that lust is what matters here.

He detects no sign that Minerva is remotely interested in him and so he  doesn't make a move. He keeps himself back, and he does such a good job hiding his own interest in her that when Royce does finally make a move--Minerva is shocked by it. Considering the fuckery that was To Distraction, this was incredibly refreshing.

I do kind of wish there had been a little more marriage talk earlier but once Royce does bring it up, Minerva's reasons for hesitation are believable.

Like I said, it was a really good romance and I was very happy that this series ended so well.

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