The Duke's Disaster
When Grace Burrowes decided to delve into the contemporary romance field, I was afraid that there might be a sabbatical from her historical romances as a result. Never fear, this prolific writer is still producing the historical romance novels that we love. While The Duke’s Disaster will not make my Best Of… list of Ms. Burrowes’ novels, it is still a solid offering by one of the current princesses of romance.
Noah Winters, the Duke of Anselm, hardly bats an aristocratic eyelash when his betrothed cries off to marry the more youthful heir to a viscount. Instead, he immediately turns his attention to his former betrothed’s companion, Lady Araminthea Collins. As he tells Thea when he proposes, he is not a nice man. However he is a pragmatic one and spending as much time with Thea as he did with her charge has given him insight to her character as well…and it prevents him from starting over in his search for a wife. Plus, Lady Thea is hardly in a position to say no. With a wastrel brother and her younger sister to launch, Thea needs money and respectability. So it surprises Noah that Thea wants a few days to think it over.
Lady Araminthea Collins is an orphan who has had to make her way in the world as a companion since she was eighteen. She is shocked when the Duke of Anselm offers for her hand in marriage. While marriage to the wealthy duke would solve all of her problems, Thea has a secret she needs to share with him first. However, Noah presses her for an answer and she agrees thinking there will be time during their courtship to come clean. But things get beyond her control and they are married within a few days’ time. It is only as the marriage is in the beginning stages of being consummated that Noah discovers her secret. Thea is no longer a virgin. Noah feels betrayed and announces that there will be no more sexual relations until her courses have begun. Noah packs them up and heads for one of his nearby estates to wait out the month.
Both Lady Thea and Noah are well drawn characters. The writing as usual is wonderful. While there is some suspense on the side, the main story is the burgeoning relationship between the hero and heroine. Burrowes establishes this relationship through the mundane, everyday things that make up living. Their morning discussions during which Noah consistently pilfers Thea’s breakfast provide the backdrop for showing their growing friendship. While Noah seemed a little too avuncular in my opinion for a memorable hero, the kindness of his character is slowly revealed through these intimate times and Thea comes to value him as a person. It is lovely until Noah draws blood with little pin prick comments about her lack of virginity. Then Thea discovers that Noah has secrets of his own
The Winters’ men have had a reputation for licentiousness that Noah is trying to live down. So when he discovers “coitus interruptus” that Thea is not a virgin, he is upset and disappointed. Even given this perfectly logical rationale, I still had a little problem with his insisting on a virgin wife. I understand the mindset of the times, the need for a duke to have a legitimate heir and the double standard that existed between the sex lives of men and women, but this is a trope that always gets on my nerves. However, it is historically accurate, so I tried not to let this interfere with my grading of this novel.
Unfortunately, Thea does not have the knowledge or the vocabulary to let him know what exactly happened to her and thus we have the Big Misunderstanding. In fact, there were two misunderstandings that were allowed to remain secret throughout most of the book and therein lies my main problem with this novel. Thea doesn’t tell Noah about her loss of virginity, but he never really gives her the chance to do so. When Thea makes an assumption about Noah, rather than correct her misimpression, he allows her to believe the worst. While Burrowes gives them the chance to fall in love in spite of their defects, I believe she allowed the misunderstandings to go on just a little too long to be believable. While this did detract from my enjoyment of the book, it was more like a buzzing gnat than a swarm of bees. The book still had most of the components of a great story told by a master storyteller, and it’s another Grace Burrowes novel fans will want to read.