Her Favorite Duke
I freely admit that I am not averse to a good dose of angst in the romances I read. Because I know that everything will turn out in the end, it’s a safe way to indulge in a bit of heightened emotion and maybe even to reach for the Kleenex while knowing there’s that safety net of the eventual HEA. So angst is fine. Continual misery, mental self-flagellation and navel-gazing? Not so much. And that is almost all that this latest book from Jess Michaels offers. Her Favorite Duke is based on the classic trope of young woman in love with her betrothed’s best friend; young man in love with his best friend’s betrothed, and oh, woe is we, for we can never be together.
Lady Margaret Rylon has been in love with her brother’s friend, Simon Green, Duke of Crestwood, for years. They are great friends, sharing many interests and a sense of humour, and even though she is only sixteen, and he three years older, she dares to hope that perhaps one day they will be able to make a life together. Her hopes are dashed, however, when her brother James arranges for her to marry another of his best friends, Graham, Duke of Northfield.
Seven years later – yes, you read that right, SEVEN years later – Meg and Graham are still not married. I’ve heard of long engagements, but that seems pretty excessive, even though Meg was only sixteen when the betrothal took place. There are no reasons given that make sense for this, and it’s hard to believe in all that time that neither Meg nor Graham ever wondered why they hadn’t set a date or that Meg’s brother – who obviously cares a great deal for her – never questioned them or asked them to set one.
But if they had married, then there would be no book – and quite honestly, I think that might have been the better option. Anyway, now we’re in chapter one, James can encourage the pair to set a date, which finally makes things real for Meg. Her friendship with Simon has become very strained and she is miserable; when she storms off during an outing, Simon can’t let her go alone and goes after her, without taking account of the vagaries of the English weather.
During the mandatory storm, they have to take shelter in the equally mandatory hut in the forest where they guiltily eye each other up once they have shed their sodden clothes and exchanged them for blankets. All that happens between them is a passionate kiss, but when, the next morning, they are found by James, Graham and one of the ton’s (and note, referring to the ‘Upper Ten Thousand’ as the author does throughout is incorrect – that term was coined in America later in the 19th century) biggest gossips – and I had rhetorically ask myself why the hell they took him along if they knew he’d blab about whatever they found – there is no alternative but for Meg and Simon to get married.
Having pined for each other for more than seven years, you think they’d be happy about that, wouldn’t you?
Alas, no. Because now, Simon is eaten up with guilt because he’s betrayed one of his closest friends (I repeat – no horizontal mambos were performed) and thinks he doesn’t deserve to be happy. He hates himself for what he’s done (which was actually just a kiss), and his failure to hide his misery from Meg makes her unhappy as well. Adding in the worry about the scandal they’ve created and how the gossip will affect the family just makes things even worse.
Simon’s self-loathing doesn’t stop him from getting Meg into bed as fast as he can after their engagement is announced, and doesn’t stop him from shagging her as often as he can after that; but as soon as the deed is done, he turns back into Mr. I-am-not-worthy, his eyes cloud over with all that guilt and self-disgust and he’s off like a shot, leaving Meg sad, worried and – eventually – angry.
Meg is, fortunately, made of much sterner stuff than her spineless new husband, and soon gets seriously annoyed by his attitude. It seems that Simon’s upbringing is largely to blame for his reluctance to fight for what he wants (although it’s a pretty lame excuse) and it’s another nail in the book’s coffin when brother James and sister-in-law Emma have to prod Simon and Meg in the right direction because they are incapable of seeing the truth for themselves.
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be ‘dull’. Or ‘dreary’, because the first three-quarters of it really are sluggish as both protagonists stew in their long drawn-out and repetitive misery. The final few chapters improve (relatively, so that isn’t much) as Meg finally takes a stand and Simon realises he must learn to fight for what he wants, but quite honestly, I was past caring at that point and just wanted the book to be over.
Before I read Her Favourite Duke, I had very recently finished another novel that has a similar premise, and in which the hero also has to come to terms with the feelings of dishonour and the scandal associated with ‘stealing’ his friend’s bride. But oh, my goodness, how different are the executions of that premise. Whereas the other book was deft, delightful and charming, reading this was like wading through vast quantities of sludge in lead-lined boots.
I wouldn’t recommend subjecting yourself to it.