I like a well-done rake hero as much as the next girl. The trick for authors is writing them convincingly (no fake-rakes please!) while still managing to make them redeemable enough so that the reader believes in the happily-ever-after. While Christine Merrill definitely delivers in the rake hero department, for pretty much this entire story I was praying that the heroine would pick up her unfashionable skirts and run as fast, and far, as she possibly could.
Miss Penelope Winthrope is a printer’s daughter. Her father’s business was wildly successful, so she has plenty of money to live comfortably, study to her heart’s content, and buy whatever books she so desires. Unfortunately, with Daddy dead, her inheritance is run by her brother, who is making a muck of the family business. Worse yet? He’s putting demands on her lifestyle, syphoning off her funds, and just being an all-around ass. Penelope figures the best way to get out of the situation is to marry a husband more tolerable than her brother. The problem being that she’s hardly a great beauty, is a bit “odd,” and is firmly on the shelf. Oh well. She’s just going to have to scare up a suitable man somewhere along the way to Gretna Green.
Good fortune smiles upon her when Adam Felkirk literally throws himself in front of her carriage. Drunk as a skunk, Adam has made a mess of the family finances and is ready to say goodbye to this cruel world when Penelope pulls him out of the mud. Before you can say “marriage of convenience,” these two are hitched. Penelope just wants privacy in order to continue her studies, and Adam needs her money to save his bacon. The fly in the ointment? Did I mention that Adam is the Duke of Bellston?
There’s really no way to sugarcoat this – Adam is an asshole. A poor harvest season and bad investments aren’t a crime, but this guy had an affair with a married woman (I know, you’re thinking, so what? What historical romance rake hasn’t?). Naturally she’s a vile shrew of a woman who just happens to be…wait for it… married to his best friend. Niiiiiice. But he’s a Duke after all, so apparently cuckolding your BFF isn’t an unforgivable sin. Everyone seems determined to forgive this guy while The Other Woman is painted with the traitorous whore brush. Boys will be boys, women will be sluts. Historically accurate? Yes. Any less annoying? No.
Penny is a nice girl, even if her logic in the beginning chapters is severely flawed. No, she doesn’t want her brother controlling her finances. But what makes her think that a perfect stranger is going to be any better? And what makes her think she’ll have any power whatsoever to have any sway with her new husband whatsoever? However, once the reader gets past this, she’s a nice, intelligent, forthright girl. A girl who adores books and scholarly endeavors. I liked her and thought she deserved a lot better than the husband she ends up saddled with, but after all, that was partly her own doing!
Where this book sings (and salvages itself) is when the couple spends time together. On the same page, away from the problematic conflict and secondary characters. These scenes sing off the page, sizzle with sexual tension, and are a joy to read since both characters display a fair amount of intellect. However a hero who dips his pen in his best friend’s ink well? Yeah, that’s just wrong, and a major stumbling block in this story. The author certainly provides a nice grovel at the end , but it’s especially dissatisfying that he’s hardly punished at all. Has the leopard changes his spots? Probably. I mean, he genuinely seems to love Penny. I’m just not convinced he deserves her love.
Dashing Duke, Bluestocking Bride!
Shy heiress Miss Penelope Winthorpe was only trying to escape her bullying brother. She didn’t mean to wed a noble lord over a blacksmith’s anvil! Adam Felkirk, Duke of Bellston, had no intention of taking a wife. But then Penelope’s plight moved him.
Now the notorious rake has a new aim – to shock and seduce his prim and proper bride. But the gorgeous Duke will be taught a lesson of his own as scholarly Miss Winthorpe becomes his seductive duchess!