No Dukes Allowed
In No Dukes Allowed, three widowed duchesses travel together to Brighton hoping to escape the petty gossip and claustrophobia of London. Although each woman has personal reasons for wanting to get away, each quickly realizes the problems that plagued them in Town have followed them to their seaside retreat. Fortunately, true love and plot contrivances are here in abundance, and as the anthology unfolds, each eventually finds her prince charming where they least expected it. The trio of novellas is uniformly romantic and the writing is strong, but with the exception of Ms. Bowen’s story, Pursuit of Honor, it’s also a bit dull.
Architect of My Dreams by Grace Burrowes
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
Eugenia, Dowager Duchess of Tindale, has had enough. Normally, her corner of Mayfair is a bastion of calm and quiet, but
… this was the third week of incessant racket from the construction across the street, the third week of being roused scant hours after her head hit the pillow.
So, fed up and exhausted from lack of sleep, she decides to confront the architect.
Adam Morcambe is visiting his current construction project – a gentleman’s club whose membership will be limited to commoners – when he spots a potential problem. Two fetching women in fashionable day dresses are bearing down on him, and it’s clear that one of them (probably the lady’s companion) is angry. When she launches into a complaint about the construction noise, he attempts to placate her with promises that the work will soon be done. Genie isn’t having any of it. Delivering a stinging rebuke to his condescending platitudes, she then proceeds to tell him when his workers are permitted to work before she departs for Brighton the following week. Speechless and stunned by his formidable neighbor (whom he belatedly realizes is a duchess), he agrees to her conditions. She departs and both assume they’ll never meet again – but fate and the machinations of the plot have different plans. Ms. Burrowes skips quickly past the acrimony and gets right to the love. It’s an awkward leap, but once you get past it, the novella is a delight. Adam and Genie have wonderful chemistry and their passion for each other is nice and steamy. Unfortunately, Genie has a secret that threatens to end her burgeoning love affair with Adam; finally, after he presses her for answers, Genie confesses her secret and, lo and behold, he’s familiar with the villain in her past and quickly plots how to deal with him. Of course he does! This is a romance after all.
The principal characters are lovely, the pacing of the story (after that odd transition from enemies to friends) is perfectly suited to the story length, and the romance is both swoony and sexy. I wasn’t sold on the deus ex machina that conveniently resolves all the conflict in the story – but it works anyway.
Pursuit of Honor by Kelly Bowen
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
Diana Thompson didn’t expect to find herself talking to a fern at the side of a crowded ballroom, but when her friend Hannah Burton beckons her over, she’s curious – and alarmed – by Hannah’s agitation. After a confusing conversation wherein Hannah admits she’s avoiding a gentleman in the ballroom, she’s shocked when Hannah finally confesses who it is. “It’s Oliver.”
Oliver Graham has spent a dozen years abroad making his fortune, but he’s finally returned to England to marry Hannah, the woman with whom his parents arranged a match years earlier. He’s followed her to Brighton but he’s yet to catch her at home; he’d hoped to find her at this ball, but again, she’s nowhere to be found. Distracted and anxious to begin a search for his younger sister Madeleine – his other purpose for traveling to Brighton – he’s decided it’s time to go when he slowly becomes aware of a conversation between a pair of dandies behind him. They’re discussing a nearby woman – who appears to be talking to a fern – and when Oliver turns to look at her, he can’t believe his eyes. It’s his closest childhood friend Dee, nearly unrecognizable from the girl she once was. He’s stunned by the captivating beauty Dee has become, and when she spots him staring at her, she can’t hide her smile of delight.
Sigh. These two. Via their individual PoVs it’s immediately clear that Dee loves Oliver and Oliver loves Dee… only Oliver is engaged to Hannah. So despite their intense attraction to each other, they keep each other at a distance – Oliver out of a sense of honor, and Dee because she won’t betray her friend. But it tortures them. When the pair join forces to find Oliver’s missing younger sister, they can barely keep their attraction at bay.
Pursuit of Honor is a delicious bit of torture. For years, Oliver and Dee have exchanged letters and kept abreast of each other’s lives, but once they reconnect, it’s like they’ve never been apart. Only there’s that tricky new layer to the relationship – they’re madly in love/lust with each other. Oliver’s sense of honor nearly derails this love match, but again, a convenient plot twist provides the perfect means for them to be together. With terrific principals; he’s smoking hot, smart, kind and good (but stubborn) and she’s beautiful, loyal, kind and good, seemingly insurmountable obstacles to their happily ever after, and a villain who just won’t go away, Pursuit of Honor is a treat from start to finish.
The Double Duchess by Anna Harrington
Grade: C Sensuality: Warm
Belinda Collins, dowager Duchess of Winchester, who’s taken her husband’s place on the board of the Royal Hospital (a home for war heroes), is vehemently opposed to the plan to turn it into a military academy. She’s shocked to discover Brigadier Maxwell Thorpe, the man who chose his military career over his love for her, spearheading the proposed change. Belinda embraces the surge of anger she feels when she sees Maxwell, and makes it abundantly clear she’ll do whatever she can to scuttle the plan. The two butt heads until the meeting finally comes to an end.
Unfortunately, moments after this antagonistic and bitter reunion, the author makes an abrupt change in tone. Maxwell engineers the Board’s exit so that only he and Belinda are left in the room, and then he… well, he tries to put the moves on her. Oh geez. Belinda, bewildered by his tenderness, ruthlessly suppresses her response, and rebuffs his attempt to butter her up. Time and place Maxwell, time and place. The Double Duchess unfolds as Belinda tries to resist Maxwell, Maxwell tries to win her over – and they both attempt to convince the other that their plan for the hospital is best. Belinda won’t trust Maxwell, and he’s stymied by a reluctance to reveal why he ended their previous relationship. Then he goes ahead and blurts it out anyway. A Big Misunderstanding complicates matters, but is quickly resolved, as is the question of what to do with the Royal Hospital.
I liked everything about the set-up of this second chance love story – Belinda is convinced Maxwell used her family connections to advance his career; Maxwell is gutted to realize how deeply he hurt the woman he loves – but the relationship feels forced, and the convenient plot resolutions are not nearly as clever as the author intended.
Though I liked Belinda and Maxwell as a pair, Maxwell is overly aggressive as a suitor and Belinda a bit too bitter. Both are consumed with lust whenever they’re together, and for two people who purport to be enemies, they’re awfully cozy whenever it suits.
This collection of novellas is a pleasant diversion and each story works well on its own if you’re looking for something quick between full length novels. Featuring many of Romancelandia’s favorite tropes, No Dukes Allowed is a low-angst collection of historical romance comfort food.