I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Second in the Duke's Den series that follows three friends who invest together, Anything But a Duke follows the one without a title, Aidan Iverson. He's been able to rise from a childhood where the mother he can't remember left him and his sister and amassed great wealth. What he can't seem to overcome is the snobbery of the ton and certain doors remain closed to him. He decides that marrying an aristocrats daughter is his gateway to all these doors.
Diana doesn't want to get married and is trying to keep her family afloat by creating an invention that members of the Duke's Den will want to invest in. Her and her mother come to an agreement that if by the end of the month, if her invention doesn't become profitable, she will have to marry. When a chance encounter has her rescuing and kissing a mystery man, who turns out to be one of the investors she's supposed to impress, her world gets shaken.
Diana Ashby drew him. She always had. Her confidence. Her fearlessness. From the moment they’d met.
Aidan's plan to marry an aristocratic, while mercenary, did work as a ploy to achieve what he wanted. For having two friends of that world, a duke and and a marquess, I thought the story thread oddly underutilized them. It is set-up so that Diana, who is not nobility but has friends of that world, gets into a deal with him to try and set him up, while his side of the bargain is to get more investors for her. It worked but was also all a little coerced. There's a second thread underlying the romance one with Aidan searching for information about his birth mother and the sister he hopes escaped an orphanage fire. I thought this was rife for some great emotion but it was pushed to the side too much for me. Even when Aidan gets the answers he was searching for, the reveal fell a bit flat as character relationships in this thread weren't explored and Diana wasn't a huge part of this thread for Aidan to share with her. I did believe in why he fell in love with Diana but again, the emotional moments where he is choosing her over his ambition, fell a bit flat.
Every moment that they shared, every detail they revealed, made her want more.
I also would have liked a bit more of Diana's family relationships explored, especially with her mother or maybe a flashback or two with her father. Her father seemed to be like an absent minded professor, except with inventing. Part of her wanting to succeed was to show her father's pursuits weren't all a waste of time. We get a pretty good feel for her relationship with her twin brother, a seemingly wastrel but sticks up for Diana but her relationship with her mother was fairly blank. We know, because of their money issues, her mother is pressuring her to get married but the mother doesn't really appear on the pages and I missed feeling that aspect of Diana's life. While I believed in why Aidan feel in love with Diana, I didn't believe in it as strongly from Diana's side. He treats her well, the biggest being he embraces her inventor side, and she finds him attractive but I just didn't get see or get a handle on Diana developing feelings for him.
“I remember our deal, Diana.” He slid his hand from hers slowly and there was such disappointment in his gaze that her breath tangled in her throat. Moving past her, he strode toward the room across the hall, but midway he stopped and glanced at her over his shoulder. “Perhaps I’m just not content with the terms anymore.”
As I mentioned, Diana and Aidan's deal, he introduces her to investors to push her vacuum prototype and she introduces him to ladies of the nobility to find a wife and if she doesn't succeed in finding him a wife she must marry him at the end of the month, was a pretty coerced story plot. At the end, there is some angst where I didn't understand at all Diana's reluctance or refusals, that made it feel even more forced. Everyone is likeable and the story is nice but not a lot new here and all pretty sedate. If looking for a quieter, tried and true formula romance, this would be a nice pick. I'll be looking forward to the third in the series coming up where Aidan's roguish marquess friend will be finding love.