Rating: 4.75 stars
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Max Arrington, the Duke of Pelham, thought he had found love. But it turns out all Jonathan really wanted from Max was his money. Still stinging from the betrayal, Max vows never to lose his heart again.
Ten months later Max is still without a lover, or even a dalliance, spending all his time at his country home running his massive estate. But after a nudge from a friend looking to help Max out of his grouchy funk, he decides to try out a high end brothel that accommodates men seeking other men. From the moment he meets Tristan Walsh, Max is utterly captivated. And for his part Tristan is taken with Max as well, especially the way Max treats him as a real person and sexual partner, not just an object to be used and discarded. So when circumstances lead to Max to invite Tristan to come to his country estate under his support and protection, Tristan is eager to leave the brothel behind and spend time with Max as his only client.
Once at Arrington Park, the men settle into a routine with Max working all day, and Max and Tristan spending hot nights together. It takes Tristan some time to find his way as he is alone most of the day while Max works, but soon he makes some friends and settles in under the guise of being Max’s friend from London. And for all Max’s business and formality during the day, the nights between the two of them are just amazing. Max becomes a different person, caring and doting and determined to see to Tristan’s pleasure. Max begins to trust Tristan enough to share his interests in more kinky pursuits and the two have a warm and passionate relationship.
But Max was very clear up front that he is looking for a business arrangement only and has no intention for feelings to get involved. He is not willing to risk his heart again after Jonathan. But soon Tristan realizes that he may not be able to keep up his end of the bargain, that he is growing to love Max despite his promise to keep things formal. Now Tristan must figure out if he can still be with Max given his growing feelings for the man, and Max has to decide whether he is willing to open his heart to the man who has become a huge part of his life.
So to me Ava March is the queen of the m/m regency historical, and this book shows exactly why. It is sexy and romantic with great characters and a wonderfully developed sense of place and setting.
First off, I just loved Max and Tristan and March makes them such interesting and layered characters. Max inherited his title in his late teens and has been determined to prove his abilities ever since. He works from dawn right through until evening, managing every last detail of his complex estate by himself. He is a man consumed by responsibility, older than his years and determined to succeed on his own. He feels that anything less will let down his late father, a man he feels he disappointed enough in life. It takes Tristan to point out to Max that he can let up a little, trust others to help him and find some balance in his life. With Tristan there Max slowly learns to open up and enjoy life more. I love how we see that Max listens to Tristan, not only because Tristan is one of the few who will actually speak his mind to Max, but also that Max genuinely trusts Tristan’s opinion.
In addition to being shaped by the death of his father, Max was also wounded by the betrayal of his former lover. The pain of that event has made him determined to never risk his heart again, and he has decided that his arrangement with Tristan will be purely financial. What is interesting is that it’s clear as a reader right away how emotionally involved Max is with Tristan despite himself. The care he takes with Tristan, the protectiveness, the trust he shares with him all point to his strong feelings. Max doesn’t realize it, but he has made an emotional connection with Tristan almost from the start, he just needs that push to accept how important Tristan has become in his life.
For his part Tristan is an interesting character as well. Bad circumstances and some mistakes in the past led him to working as a prostitute without much chance of breaking free. But he is never downtrodden or opportunistic. He takes Max’s money because he needs it, but we never see a mercenary side of him. In fact, Tristan quickly develops feelings for Max, even though he knows the differences in their stations make a long-term relationship impossible. I really liked Tristan’s quiet dignity, his confidence in standing up for himself, and the way he throws himself emotionally into the relationship with Max. The two are a wonderful couple, sweet and romantic, but also incredibly sexy. March writes the most amazing, intense love scenes and the ones here are top notch. The men engage in a little kink as Max learns to trust Tristan enough to share his true interests. And these guys are steamy and fabulous together.
One of my favorite aspects of this story is the way that it all resolves. In so many books we get a big misunderstanding, or one character initiating a conflict ostensibly for the good of the couple, and with no communication between them. Then it is either resolved in minutes, or the conflict drags on forever with no one willing to talk or share feelings openly. What I loved here is the way these men are honest and talk to one another. Their conflict seems unavoidable, but both men are open about their feelings (though it does take a bit more time on Max’s end). And then they actually work on resolving their problems. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes effort on both their parts to figure out a way to make things work. But through it all they work together and they share their feelings and generally act like real people would when something like this happens. So I loved the way we see their HEA comes hard earned and after a lot of work, but also that these guys are clearly meant for one another and are willing to have the tough conversations needed work things out.
So overall I just loved All in with the Duke. It has just the right touch of Cinderella story, while giving us two men who have to work to overcome their pasts and find the way to be together. Once again March has created a fabulous romance filled with dashing heroes, lots of heat, and a great sense of time and place. I just loved this one and highly recommend it.
P.S. I am so excited to hear that this is the first of a series. I won’t spoil who the two heroes are of the next two books because one you may not guess until the end. But I can’t wait!