Duchess for a Day

 
Potent Charms by Peggy Waide
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4694-6
**
Phoebe Rafferty misses her old life on her family’s Georgia plantation, but the death of her parents brings her to London to find a husband. If she doesn’t find one, then her mother’s fortune, including an estate and title, will be forfeit by order of her will. Phoebe is an unconventional, outspoken beauty not accustomed to 1817 English societal rules and she continually has to contend with her disapproving Aunt Hildegard. Since Phoebe wants to wed for love, the search starts to appear hopeless, until she encounters Stephen Lambert, Duke of Badrick.

Stephen, while titled, is a social outcast and a favorite subject for gossipmongers. Almost 100 years earlier, his great-grandfather was on the receiving end of a gypsy curse. The curse stated that for generations to come, the house of Badrick would beget sons, each son would marry a noble lady and each marriage would end in loneliness, misery and death. Since Stephen has already been wed twice, and each marriage ended in the exact manner stated in the curse, he has vowed never to marry again.

But Stephen’s life takes a dramatic turn when he meets the spitfire American. Immediately attracted and intrigued, he offers her a proposal -- not marriage, but for her to become his mistress. But Phoebe needs a wedding ring, and with time running short, she’s determined to change Stephen’s mind.

I did find this story very enjoyable at times. Stephen and Phoebe immediately develop a sparring relationship and have engaging verbal battles. Phoebe is no shrinking violet, and her colonial ways provide much amusement as she expresses her independent views around proper London society.

As much as I liked this initial sparring, I did have several problems with the novel that prevent me from giving it a whole-hearted recommendation. Must puzzling is this business with the will. Phoebe’s mother rebelled and eloped with an Irish man. They then raised Phoebe in America and by all accounts doted on her mercilessly -- she was pretty much allowed to do as she pleased. So why the restrictive will forcing Phoebe to marry? A very good question I never got an answer for. And while the first chapter states that the terms are in her mother’s will, her grandfather is apparently involved somehow. The whole issue was never fleshed out to my satisfaction.

Phoebe also professes in the beginning that she wants to marry for love, just like her parents. But she concedes that she may have to marry a man she can be content with to claim her inheritance. She gives up her ideals a little to quickly for my tastes.

In Phoebe’s favor, she doesn’t beat around the bush. She gives Stephen the straight story up front about her circumstances. She’s also a straight shooter, never mincing words. While arguing with Stephen about his mistress proposal she says the following:

“Your so-called alternative leaves you in control of my future and me at your beck and call. It is an alternative that allows you to discard me whenever you weary of my company, one that eliminates any possibility of my claiming my only birthright.”

A persuasive argument that won me over to her side, but that our hero completely ignores. Stephen is a perplexing hero that had me scratching my head more than once. He knows the rumors that circulate about him, and Phoebe practically begs for the true story before he reluctantly satisfies her curiosity. Why not tell her up front, without her having to pry? He’s painted as a bloodthirsty monster, what woman would consider being a mistress to such man?

While he fully believes in the curse, after all the family plot is full of Badrick wives, there’s an episode later in the book that has him disputing the existence of ghosts. Apparently, gypsy curses are perfectly legit, but not ghosts.

What started as a solid 3 Heart book, by the end I was a little weary of this romp when a perfectly innocent secondary character gets dragged into the “Be My Mistress, Be My Husband” mess. I half fell in love with this man, and felt incredibly sorry for him. I hope Waide rectifies the situation by giving him his own story. Potent Charms has some nice moments, but ultimately failed to charm me completely.

--Wendy Crutcher


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