Alyssa Cole has presented another winner in her acclaimed Reluctant Royals series with A Duke by Default. In this third installment, New York socialite Portia Hobbs, friend of Ledi from the first novel A Princess in Theorytakes Scotland by storm apprenticing with a struggling sword maker, Tav McKenzie. Though the location of Edinburgh, Scotland and the practice of an apprenticeship are narrative choices that seem dated, the tone of the story is nothing but contemporary.

Portia is a relatable young woman who is trying to find her path in the world post college. Tav is a gruff character who cares deeply for his armory business and community, but is not the openly friendly type. For Portia, finding the chinks of good humor and character hiding behind the distant emotional shield Tav displays in their interactions is a challenge did not expect in her apprenticeship, but one she readily accepts.

Alyssa Cole is an an expert in crafting complex characters and alternating scenes that reveal their darkest doubts with instances that will make you laugh so hard you cry. Possibly in one of my favorite meet cutes of all time, Portia does not swoon into Tav’s arms at first sight of him. In fact, she physically assaults him with mace when she mistakes his friendly sparring match with his sister-in-law for an attack. As you can imagine, the two were off to a rough start. However, as the story progresses and the pair get to know each other more, their attraction to each other is undeniable.

Despite this unfortunate misunderstanding, the two are drawn to each other and must constantly remind themselves of their business relationship to take their minds off other distracting thoughts. Portia finds captivation in Tav’s passion for his work in swordmaking and sparring. A true teddy bear underneath his armor, Tav regularly teaches classes in the craft to young ones for free to keep them out of a trouble in an area it wouldn’t be hard to find. In addition to his passion for his work, Portia also finds comfort in Tav as a support system. While her family plants seeds of insecurity regularly in Porta’s career decisions, Tav trusts her judgement.

For his own part, Tav falls for Portia’s infectious motivation to update the armory and the banter they can effortlessly parry. When Portia discovers that Tav is the secret son of a duke, she uses this title to gain more publicity for the armory. Portia brings a fresh breath of calamity and change to the armory, transforming the business and shaking Tav’s rigidly set world more than he ever reckoned. A romantic Scottish armory and two unlikely characters with chemistry off the charts makes this book a rapid read.

A Duke by Default is now available to purchase. The first in the series, A Princess in Theory, will be featured as a giveaway starting Thursday the 23rd! Enter for a chance to win a book by this skilled writer for free!

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Alyssa Cole is an award-winning author of historical, contemporary, and SFF romance. Her Civil War-set espionage romance An Extraordinary Union is the winner of the American Library Association’s RUSA Best Romance for 2018. She’s contributed to publications including Shondaland, The Toast, Vulture, RT Book Reviews, and Heroes and Heartbreakers, and her books have received critical acclaim from The New York Times.