How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days
First things first. Other than in the title, this book bears no relation whatsoever to the movie How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, so please don’t let the title deter you from reading this well-told, poignant and romantic story! This is the second book in Ms Guhrke’s American Heiress in London series, and features one of the secondary characters from book one, Edie, Duchess of Margrave, a lady who is quite happy about the fact that her husband left England a month after their marriage and looks set to remain in absentia for the foreseeable future.
At nineteen, Edie Jewell is one of a number of astoundingly rich American heiresses to have come to London in search of a husband. But her time is running out. If she can’t secure a match within the next three days, her father will be returning to New York and she will have no choice but to accompany him, something she is absolutely does not want to do. Returning home will mean facing gossip and worse still, the man responsible for her ruin – and she is becoming increasingly desperate.
The handsome, young Duke of Margrave has a reputation as a bit of a ladies’ man and is already making himself a name as an explorer as a result of his travels in Africa. He has recently inherited an empty title – his estates are so encumbered by the debts run up by his father and grandfather that he is practically bankrupt, and all he wants to do is leave it all behind and return to the life he has begun making for himself in Africa.
Edie knows this is her last chance to do what she came to England for, and boldly makes Margrave an offer. If he marries her, she will pay all his family’s debts, manage his estates, deal with his scrounging relatives and provide him with a generous income for the rest of his life, but only on condition that he leaves England and never comes back. The duke is, not unsurprisingly, rather taken aback at the idea of striking such an odd bargain, but having already decided to return to Africa, and having made sure she understands that once done, their marriage cannot be undone, he agrees.
But life has a way of altering the best laid of plans, and Edie is horrified when, after an absence of five years, Margrave returns to England, telling her that he wants to make a life with her. He gives his reasons eloquently and poignantly, but Edie is unmoved and refuses him outright, telling him she has no interest in a real marriage or having a family. She enjoys her independence and her life is full with managing the Margrave estates, looking after her sister, and her various charitable activities, all of which she will have to give up because she cannot stomach the idea of living with her husband. She panics, runs off to London to seek legal advice and books tickets for herself and her younger sister on the next ship to New York, which leaves in eleven days’ time.
While Margrave – Stuart – is aware that his sudden appearance and his request that he and Edie reconcile have come as a shock to her, he is surprised at the desperation he senses in her to have nothing to do with him, and sets out to find out why. He also persuades her to give him – to give them a chance – if he can get her to kiss him (i.e, initiate a kiss rather than respond to one) within the next ten days, she will abandon her request for a legal separation and will live with him as his wife. Seeing as she has absolutely no intention or desire to allow Margrave into her life, Edie thinks she may as well agree, because she knows there is no way he will be able to change her mind.
Stuart has already realised that he has taken on a task of Herculean proportions and that all the avenues he might normally have taken in order to woo a lady will all be dead ends when it comes to his wife. Instead, he decides to try to cement a friendship between them, hoping that perhaps he will be able to find a way to spark the passion he senses she is firmly keeping in check.
At first, Edie comes across as pig-headed and cold. She refuses to hear any of what Stuart is telling her or to see that he’s actually a kind, considerate man because she’s so completely focused on her own wants. But it’s not that simple. The man responsible for the nineteen-year-old Edie’s ruin didn’t merely destroy her reputation, he violated her. So it’s no wonder she is so resistant to the idea of living with a man. Fortunately, it doesn’t take Stuart too long to work out the reasons behind Edie’s fear of intimacy. Naturally he’s horrified and angry; but to Edie’s surprise, his rage is all on her behalf.
I admit that I’m always a little wary when I read a book in which one of the protagonists has suffered sexual trauma, because I’m never sure how realistic the author’s solution is going to be, and I don’t like it when serious issues are glossed over. Fortunately, I don’t think that happens here. I’m not an expert and certainly wouldn’t presume to say that what happens in one book is more realistic than what happens in another, but Ms Guhrke has definitely treated the subject with sensitivity.
The writing flows really well and the characterisation of both leads is excellent. Stuart is a terrific hero – not an alpha, not a beta, but with the best characteristics of each: self-confidence combined with sensitivity. The near-fatal injury he suffers in Africa forces him to re-evaluate his life, and while his emotional scars may not run as deep as Edie’s, he is in need of healing, too. But even so, and although he only has ten days in which to convince Edie that they should stay together, he doesn’t try to rush things, and focuses on what Edie needs rather than his own desires. I really liked the glimpses we were given of the month they spent together after their wedding, when it was clear – to the reader, if not to Edie – that Stuart was already more than half-way in love with the woman he’d married.
I enjoyed How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days very much indeed. The romance is well developed, with the protagonists forging a deep emotional connection and coming to a better understanding of each other. Stuart’s unhurried seduction is rather delicious; Ms Guhrke infuses even the slightest touch with a simmering sensuality which she never overplays, and while there are a couple of sex scenes towards the end of the book, just as much – if not more – importance is placed on the power of words, emotion and, best of all, romance.