|Edward Byron is the Duke of Clybourne and at 33, decides it is time to actually bring his fiancée to London and proceed with the wedding plans. He has only been engaged for 22 years after all. His father and Lord Edgewater signed betrothal agreements upon the birth of Claire Marsden. She has been raised knowing she will be a duchess. Edward has seen Claire exactly three times in his life – at her birth, when she was just 10 and when she was 16. During that house party, Claire met him with stars in her eyes while he still saw her as the young child she was. The encounter meant nothing to him, but to Claire, his reaction and treatment of her as a duty rather than the love of his life left her devastated, as only a 16-year-old can be.
Claire is now 22 and when she gets word that she is to come to London, she pleads with both her father and Edward to let her out of the arrangement. She is determined to remain independent and single. She does not want to love a man who feels nothing for her. She resists Edward’s seemingly rigid nature and devises plot after plot to get him to cry off. First she flirts inappropriately with a rake named Islington and is warned off by both her friend (and soon to be sister-in-law) Mallory, and then by Edward. Then she uses her newly learned carriage-driving skills to challenge a couple of men to a race, which she scandalously wins. But Edward’s reaction is to accept her rebellion and just merely tell her grooms she may no longer drive without his presence.
Claire continues with these antics as she and Edward go through the season together. He is intrigued by her, and she continues to fall deeper in love, yet Claire never realizes how much Edward is falling for her. She sees his every move as duty rather than fondness. When Edward has state business that takes him away, she is sure he is seeing a mistress and resents him more. Then she does even more outrageous things such as dressing as a man and going to a men’s club and then participating in her near-downfall by believing in Islington’s innocence.
Claire is both a naïve boob and a strong-willed woman with a determination rarely seen. She acts stupidly at times, and yet she is not afraid of Edward and longs to get him to declare that the attraction they feel is as strong for him as it is for her. She acts out of the need to protect her feelings and that is the only saving grace she has. At times, I just wanted to knock some sense into her but was so intrigued by how she would get out of her scrapes that I did end up liking her.
Edward is the more likeable of the two, and even he at times is a dunderhead. He seemed aware that Claire’s antics were a ruse, but he never took her seriously. On the one hand he was extremely lenient with her and then he would turn around and almost be condescending to her. I hated when he acted like she was a spoiled brat whom he could ignore, even if that is exactly what she was acting like. The side plot about Edward being a possible spy was vastly underplayed and could have added a great deal to the story. The author chose to leave it for the ending, which enhanced the ending but really did miss one way of adding depth to her storyline.
Luckily, the story took a twist at the end that no one saw coming. That actually saved the tale from the mediocre. The final chapters were much more engaging than the beginning, but the reader must muddle through some of the less-than-engaging antics to get to that more entertaining part of the story. At the Duke’s Pleasure is not all pleasure but it is pleasant enough.