Strong heroines are practically a necessity in historical romance, but Diana Quincy introduces an especially memorable lady at the center of her new romance Her Night With the Duke, launching her Clandestine Affairs series. Lady Delilah Chambers knows the habits of England’s ton through and through: as the daughter of a marquis and the widow of an earl, Leela circulates among the highest of the high. But it’s not a highborn lady that Elliot Townsend, Duke of Huntington, sees in a rough roadside inn, successfully fending off men who see a woman traveling alone—especially one with darker skin than the norm--as fair game. Huntington offers the lady some dinner, which eventually turns into far more as the two give in to an overwhelming attraction. By the end of the evening, they agree to leave their relationship with that one night and both will continue on their journeys—she to her former home and the stepdaughter she left behind, he to meet the woman he intends to marry. So imagine the surprise when Leela discovers that the man her beloved stepdaughter Victoria is to marry is none other than Elliot. Awkward.
Leela’s not unused to awkwardness. Her grandfather was a Levantine merchant who immigrated to Manchester and her Palestinian and middle-class roots have long put her at a disadvantage among intolerant society, but it’s only made her stronger. Traveling on her own in the Near East and penning her experiences of the trip has made her an independent woman, and she meets the slights of society with a don’t-give-a-damn attitude. But she holds a soft spot for stepdaughter Victoria, and the possibility of the girl marrying a man that she has had a liaison with means more than scandal—it’s a true betrayal of Victoria’s happiness. Compounding the fact is the undeniable love that Huntington feels for Leela, which she cannot deny either. For a woman who has successfully turned disadvantages into strengths, Leela is now faced with the irony that what makes her strong and happy might deny love not just for herself but for Victoria.
Historical romances always run the risk of being too formulaic, but Quincy’s Leela is a wonderful change while still honoring what makes historicals so much fun. Quincy notes that her portrait of Leela is inspired by women who wrote of their travel experiences in a slightly later period than the Regency setting of the book. Leela’s strengths change how the central romance is handled, which some readers might find less satisfying. Huntington has his strengths, but he pales in comparison to Leela’s heroine, and there’s little sense of who he is or how he changes over the course of the book. The fact that the couple had an immediate connection also bucks the trend of most historical story arcs. Her Night With the Duke is recommended for readers who like strong female characters—both Leela and to a lesser extent Victoria—and historical romances that stray a bit from the expected tropes.