|If you like going into your favorite bar or restaurant and ordering ‘the usual,’ this book might be your cup of tea.
Caroline Dutton enjoys her independent life as owner of a dress-making establishment, until the new Duke of Ryland appears on her doorstep. Drayton Mackenzie, a career military man, unexpectedly inherited the title from a distant relation and, along with it, a number of his predecessor’s obligations.
One of those obligations is to find the previous duke’s three illegitimate daughters (all of whom have been legitimized with a stroke of Queen Victoria’s pen), turn them into proper ladies and see them well married. Which is to say, married to the wealthiest and best connected men who’ll have them. Caroline is the only one currently of marriageable age. Her younger sister, Simone, is a precocious adolescent raised in a brothel, and the youngest, Fiona, is a toddler who lives with a poor aunt and uncle who think she’s mentally deficient because she does not speak.
Drayton’s motives are not entirely selfless. The ducal estates are a mess, and badly need an infusion of cash. Through one of those last-will-and-testament devices so beloved of romance authors, he will only be able to access the money he needs if he takes charge of the three young women and turns them into aristocrats.
The problem (also not unknown in romance annals) is that he finds himself lusting after his oldest ward. No wait, it isn’t a problem at all. She lusts after him, as well, and she isn’t even a virgin, so hip-hip-hooray, they can have all the sex they want, until they both find a richer victim to marry.
While Ms. LaFoy’s writing skills mean the pacing is good and the pages turn, unfortunately she has not set her characters any compelling challenges with this book. It’s readable, but it reads like many other books before it.
Caroline and Drayton and likeable enough, but their personalities don’t jump off the page. Drayton, in particular, would have been much more interesting if he’d been more focused. He wasn’t an unrepentant rake who met his comeuppance; he wasn’t wrestling with guilt over his extremely inappropriate behavior toward a young woman in his care. He was just a guy who got offered sex on a silver platter and took it, pleased to have such a hot relationship before he had to marry some rich woman he probably wouldn’t even like.
Caroline demonstrates a bit more personality as she throws herself into transforming Drayton’s stately home into the kind of place of which the nobility will approve. She’s on a tight timeline, too, as a friend of Drayton’s is bringing his dragon of a mother to teach the girls proper behavior, and they’ll shortly be hosting an aristocratic house party. But I found it incomprehensible that she might embrace several weeks of sex with her guardian without even considering the possibility of, oh, say, pregnancy.
And, frankly, there’s just nothing keeping these two apart except their own willful stupidity and the fact that everyone keeps telling them they must find wealthier, more important spouses (also not exactly the most original concepts in the romance canon). Given the fact that neither Drayton nor Caroline is to the manor born, and that neither of these independent thinkers has any use for the upper-class twits now surrounding them, it seemed more than a little contrived that they’d just accept this edict without question.
As a result, their romance is tepid and unconvincing, even when they’re tearing each other’s clothes off. Eventually, Simone (who was gone from the story for such a long time that I had to stop and think about who she was) reappears, tells Caroline she’s being a big dope, and the penny drops. Caroline doesn’t even figure it out for herself, she needs a world weary fourteen-year-old to explain it to her. I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my chair.
This book has some entertaining elements, so it may very well find favor with Ms. LaFoy’s fans. Unfortunately, it’s far too much like far too many other historical romances to be too interesting.
-- Judi McKee