Duchess If You Dare (Maidens of Mayhem)
Orphaned Scarlett Wynn has found a home among the Maidens of Mayhem, a cabal of young women dedicated to aiding the oppressed in a vaguely Regency London. The knife-throwing street fighter crosses paths with the rule-abiding, very responsible Duke of Aylesford when both investigate shady goings-on at an upscale brothel, the Scarlet Rose.
It takes a while for the plot to bring the two together as Aylesford tries to clean up his brother’s mess and Scarlett looks for a vanished friend. It takes longer for the leads to break out of their entrenched tropes, helped when the heavy attraction sparked by a few accidental run-ins turns rather swiftly into a compatibility of life goals that neatly bridges their vastly different social stations. The prose is occasionally stiff and the tone heavy on righteous indignation over the exploitive nature of the sex trade, and both Scarlett and Aylesford feel a curious moral responsibility to single-handedly right the wrongs of poverty. But the theme of social justice is refreshing for a genre that typically celebrates wealth, power, and self-indulgence, and Scarlett and Aylesford are likable characters. The Maidens of Mayhem promise an entertaining series.