Ten Things I Hate About the Duke: Difficult Dukes by Loretta Chase

Romance Fiction

 

This time, who’s taming whom…

Cassandra Pomfret holds strong opinions she isn’t shy about voicing. But her extremely plain speaking has caused an uproar, and her exasperated father, hoping a husband will rein her in, has ruled that her beloved sister can’t marry until Cassandra does.

Now, thanks to a certain wild-living nobleman, the last shreds of Cassandra’s reputation are about to disintegrate, taking her sister’s future and her family’s good name along with them.

The Duke of Ashmont’s looks make women swoon. His character flaws are beyond counting. He’s lost a perfectly good bride through his own carelessness. He nearly killed one of his two best friends. Still, troublemaker that he is, he knows that damaging a lady’s good name isn’t sporting.

The only way to right the wrong is to marry her…and hope she doesn’t smother him in his sleep on their wedding night.

After reading “A Duke in Shining Armor” three years ago, I along with so many others, confidently awaited the “sure to be follow-up” novels that would feature the other two Dis-Graces. We had a long wait but for me, the wait is worth it. There are things that made me gnash my teeth and snarl at my ereader that so-and-so should have known better but there is more I liked than I disliked.

As a refresher or for those who don’t know – the series centers on three young, fairly good looking Dukes, who are loaded with money but infamous for their puerile pranks and rakish ways. In the first book, some of what drove them to be this way is told and here a teeny bit of Ashmont’s family past is rehashed. I would have liked to have had this delved into a bit more.

The time is 1833. In the first book, one duke ended up married to another duke’s fiancée. The engaged duke – said to be the most dissolute of them all and, even he would agree, prone to drunkenness – challenges his friend to a duel which, as the story starts, has just occurred. The other duke, already married, is in an obvious “marriage in crisis.” Something has happened between him and his duchess though no one knows what.

Meanwhile Miss Pomfret has reached the advanced age of six and twenty without finding a suitable man who is brave enough to take her on. Now in London for her younger sister’s come out, Cassandra spends her time actually doing good works – rather than just going to meetings and drinking tea with like minded society women who then think they’ve actually done something – and reading political tracts. Her father is an MP and Cassandra enjoys loudly challenging stupidity where she finds it.

On a nice day, she sets out with her maid and tiger, driving her carriage when she meets up with Ashmont in his usual drunken state. His actions cause her horses to bolt, the carriage to turn over, the tiger to be injured, and Cassandra to be furious. Furious enough to whack him with her hat. Then throw a bucket of water on him. It’s him. Yes, him. Years ago she first met Lucius when he and the other two dukes were teens and he stood up for her against bullies. He also talked with her one memorable evening as if she was interesting and had a brain. Over the following years, she built him up in her mind as a person who could slay dragons and do something with his position and influence. Then time and time again, her heart was broken as she learned of the lifestyle he was living.

She moved nearer, and he resisted the strong and unusual temptation to retreat. She said, her voice much lower, close by his ear: “You are so intoxicated, Lucius, as to be a danger to yourself, not to mention everybody in your vicinity. Regardless of my personal feelings—and personally, I find your condition and behavior disgusting and disgraceful in the extreme—”

“Never mind the sweet talk, m’dear,” he managed to croak. “Say what’s on your mind.”

“Horrifying as the thought is, I need your help. Now. I need you to throw your weight and your money about. You must collect yourself and try, for once in your misbegotten life, to make yourself useful.”

Cassandra’s outrage plus Ashmont’s money and influence work together to get help for her tiger – a former jockey who was a legend on the track before he was badly injured and who taught Cassandra how to drive and defend herself. After Ashmont sobers up, he proposes marriage to Cassandra and sends to London for his valet. He gets a message back from his uncle informing him that he needs to remove himself posthaste in order not to ruin Cassandra’s good name. Used to obeying his uncle – most of the time – Ashmont does but before he goes, he spreads his money around to silence wagging tongues.

Lord Frederick (the uncle) informs Ashmont that yes Cassandra is a fine choice for a bride but that due to the recent events (in book one), Ashmont needs to leave her alone for a few weeks in order for the ton to move past him being jilted. Bouncing straight to Cassandra will only cause gossip. But Ashmont – intrigued by this “take no prisoners” interesting woman can’t help himself and soon he’s seeking her out. Cassandra, too, seeks Ashmont out to help her with her society ladies meeting (the society ladies who actually do good works rather than just talking about doing good works).

Ashmont finds himself getting more and more interested in Cassandra while she, having watched him be a drunk prankster and rake for years, feels that while she might still hold a bit of his memory in her heart she knows that he would eventually break her heart.

So how will Ashmont manage to learn who Cassandra has become and woo her into marrying him? How will she overcome the years of watching him drink, rake, and prank his way into notoriety to the degree that he is fairly persona non grata in London polite circles no matter that he’s an unmarried, rich, duke?

It starts with his money and how he truly regrets harming Cassandra’s tiger. His present to Keeffe might be an effort to earn forgiveness but as Cassandra’s sister Hyacinth says, for a duke to seek out a present for a servant that he also knows is something Keeffe will treasure is something that ought to be acknowledged. Ashmont also uses his deadly calm, yet truly frightening, voice to challenge an anonymous wit who calls Cassandra “Scylla.”

When Cassandra calls on Ashmont to help her, he watches her in action. In fact he takes her on as his role is to play a ruffian for her to practice – and show the other ladies –  defending herself. He sees a woman who is smart, tough, and different. While there he also gets a book recommendation from one of the other women – women who, Cassandra says  “have helped me find a way to do something worthwhile and satisfying with my intelligence and skills.” Ashmont’s eyes are opening and he comes to the realization that his actions which wrecked her carriage have taken so much from Cassandra including curtailing much of the tiny bit of freedom she, as a woman, has.

Cassandra discovers that Ashmont asks for her opinion and then unfortunately she caves to a standard romance heroine action of deciding that she’ll take advantage of the chance to kiss him when she knows she shouldn’t because when else might she get the chance. As romance readers, we know this is usually a mistake and sure enough, it is. To fend off public scandal, Cassandra invokes another romance classic – the faux engagement. Ashmont agrees to her idea to have him eventually break it – after all, it is something he would probably do – but while Cassandra might enjoy his company, she’s determined not to actually marry him. Ashmont, on the other hand, knows he’s got a short window of opportunity to change her mind.

While I generally roll my eyes at the faux engagements, Ashmont takes the time to put his plan in action and actually shows Cassandra that not only can he change, but that he is changing. He also doesn’t do this in big flashy ways but goes for subtle which actually impresses her – and the people dear to her – more. I enjoyed watching him grow and change as well.

But while much of the book focuses on how Ashmont and Cassandra negotiate their relationship, there must be a villain in most books and here there is a snake in the grass who slithers through the plot. I enjoyed watching Cassandra’s mother verbally fence with her. Then of course Cassandra has to do one final thing which is her “boombox moment” as well as being stupendously silly. ::eye roll:: It also could have boomeranged back on her family. I guess the plot needed one final conflict to overcome but for a woman who has been set up and thus far shown to be so intelligent, it was a letdown.

So I cheered to see Ashmont realize and face his shortcomings, then do something about them. Bravo that he also sees that he needs to do more than just charm Cassandra and wear down her resistance to him – he needs to discover who she really is and what is important to her. By the end of the book, he had managed to convince not only Cassandra – and her father – but me as well that he’s a changed man. Cassandra gets the man she always thought and dreamed that Ashmont could be. I just could have done without the tired romance actions that move some of the action along.

~Jayne