I have read both books in this series many years ago and recall that I liked the 2nd book in the series better and thought I much preferred Eleanor, the cousin, to Madeline, the duchess.
And I have to say that impression still is correct. I just like the cousin's character better.
Madeline, the duchess or future duchess, was born into nobility and knew that she was "better" than everyone else. She met Gabriel, a lord without a fotrune to go with his title and they fell madly in love. Madeline was the managing type because she had to with her irresponsible father and by nature she was the managing sort. Gabriel a proud man that he was did not want to be managed by his rich wife-to-be so he gambled big to win a fortune, thus gaining himself more bargaining chips in the relationship, or so he thought. Madeline hated gambling because of her father. And because of Gabriel's gambling, reason be damned, she broke off the engagement and ran off to the continent with her cousin Eleanor. 4 years later, they returned to England. And so the story begins.
Typical of Christina Dodd, or typical of how I usually view her books, I like her characters and enjoy her writing immensely, but the plots sucked big time. She created 2 headstrong characters with Madeline and Gabriel, their relationship a volatile and therefore passionate one. Both needed the control and had pride enough to fill the atlantic ocean. I appreciated that. Madeline is not my usual favorite but while being strong and opinionated, she was not a shrew. For Gabriel and Madeline, it is a battle of will. Gabriel must "conquer" Madeline and Madeline while fighting admirably and adequately, was secretly hoping to be conquered. I imagine this type of relationship is not for everyone but I at least could respect both characters. I like whenever Gabriel and Madeline were together in the book. The scenes sizzle with heat.
But the plot....the "changing places" plot on Madeline's part, and the secret revenge plan Gabriel had on a "villlain" for his brother's death were both failing attempts. They provided the backdrop for the story but did very little for the relationship. In essence, the relationship is a by-product of the plots. For a romance novel, it should be the other way around: the ultimate goal is to bring the lead characters together. And the plots are there to faciliate the relationship. I was able to skim-read the book at lightening speed because there is no need to read about the revenge or the changing place bits. They were just not relevant. And for this, the book can only be a mediocre 3 stars read. Quite a shame, knowing how easy and enjoy a read Christina Dodd can actually be, and quite a waste of a pair of good leads.