Review – Her Best Friend, the Duke by Laura Martin

About the Book:

An excellent student…

In the art of flirtation

Caroline Yaxley has always been in love with her best friend, James Dunstable, Duke of Heydon. After years of waiting for him, she’s finally admitted defeat and decided to find a husband. James suggests she practice her nonexistent flirtation skills on him, which seems like a good idea—until she must pull away to avoid a shattered heart. Their pretend attraction has begun to feel alarmingly real!

Click on title below for direct Amazon buy link:                                                      Her Best Friend, the Duke (Harlequin Historical)

My Review:

I received a complimentary copy of this book.

Caroline Yaxley and James Dunstable, the Duke of Heydon, met five years ago, when James was engaged to Caroline’s friend, Georgina.  It was to be a marriage of convenience, so when Georgina fell in love with another man, James released her without any regrets.  Since that time, James and Caroline have become the dearest of friends, though unbeknownst to James, Caroline is in love with him.  James has been a matrimonial target for so long, that he finds great joy in Caroline’s company, feeling he can be totally himself.  She sees the fun and honest side of him that he doesn’t reveal to the rest of society.  Since Caroline realizes he doesn’t return her feelings, she doesn’t put on any false airs around him, and they truly have a loving and caring friendship.

Caroline is now twenty four.  She originally thought never to marry, since she couldn’t have the man of her choice.  Yet, thoughts of decades of loneliness and childlessness have made her change her mind.  She’s decided that she’ll find a decent man this season and become a wife.  The years of rebuffing men showing any interest in her has left her unsure how to change.  When she confides her plans to James, he’s at first surprised, then suggests that she brush up her flirting skills with him.

After his initial shock in finding out that Caroline plans to wed, and showing his support, James finds the thought unsettling.  Both James and Caroline realize that her marrying will put an end to their close relationship, as no husband will tolerate it.  Over the years, James has actually given thought to marrying Caroline, but he’s held back by one very large obstacle.  James’s parents had a close and loving marriage.  They fell in love with each other at first sight, and stayed in love for the rest of their lives.  James firmly believes that he wants that same kind of love, and that he’ll know it’s right when it hits him like a ton of bricks upon first setting eyes on this paragon.  His engagement was actually an anomaly, as he was feeling the pangs of getting older without finding love, and was willing to “settle.”

As Caroline opens herself up to suitors, James begins to look at her with desire for the first time.  He tries to remain honorable and not sabotage her plans, but he can’t help but discourage other men, while finally indulging in some kisses and caresses with Caroline.  It seems that everyone in the world realizes what James is too blind, or, perhaps, too stubborn to see.  His friends encourage him to marry Caroline, but when she bluntly asks him if he loves her, he can’t lie, and she refuses him.

HER BEST FRIEND, THE DUKE, is pure catnip for me.  Friends to lovers is a favorite trope of mine, but when one of the friends is pining from unrequited love, I am a goner.  One scene near the beginning of the book is particularly poignant – James has been traveling abroad for several months.  He returns and seeks out Caroline at a ball, but not in the ballroom.  He waits until she goes outside, where he approaches her, and opens his arms to embrace her.  She walks into his arms, knowing she’s being held by the man she loves, while he feels he’s greeting a dear friend.  So heartbreaking!

James is truly a wonderful man – he’s kind, intelligent, and honorable.  He just can’t rid himself of the absurd notion that it can only be genuine love if it comes like a bolt out of the blue.  He finds Caroline beautiful, he desires her, he loves spending time with her, and he thinks she’s the best person he knows.  Yet, he doesn’t think that’s real love.  Caroline can achieve her dream by accepting his proposal, yet she doesn’t want to trap him into a marriage where he feels that he accepted second best.

HER BEST FRIEND, THE DUKE, is a wonderful and emotional read.  I think that Laura Martin did an excellent job writing both characters, as I could feel Caroline’s pain and hopelessness.  Even though I was a bit exasperated by James, I couldn’t help but love him, and I felt sympathy for his confusion and uncertainty.  The final chapter was especially sweet and rewarding, and left me feeling so happy with the outcome.  Recommended – especially if you love friends to lovers.    ~Rose

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