Put Up Your Duke
Although this is part of Ms Frampton’s current Dukes Behaving Badly series, Put Up Your Duke doesn’t seem to involve characters from previous books and can easily be read as a standalone. I was between books when the offer of a review copy reached me, and as I’m pretty much unable to resist any story in which the protagonists are forced into a marriage of convenience, it solved the problem of my temporary booklessness and did it in a most enjoyable manner.
Nicholas Smithfield knows he’s damn good at two things – pugilism and sex. As the book opens we meet him during an evening spent at a favourite house of ill repute in company with three delectable ladies, but before he can get very far his younger brother, Griff, interrupts him with some amazing news. Due to a series of completely unexpected and freakish circumstances, it turns out that Nicholas is, in fact, the rightful holder of the title and estates of the Duke of Gage. Even the pleasures to be found in the arms of three lusty ladies can’t quite top that, and Nicholas – very regretfully – departs with his brother in order to find out exactly what is going on and if he really has just become a duke.
Nicholas discovers there’s no question about it –he is the lawful duke even if the previous incumbent, usually referred to as “the duke that was” is not at all happy about being suddenly deprived of his position and threatens to make trouble. He aiso discovers that he has not only inherited a dukedom, but he has inherited a fiancée as well, Lady Isabella Sawford, the daughter of the Earl of Grosston.
Even less prepared for matrimony than “dukehood”, Nicholas is at first determined to see if he can break the betrothal – after all, the young lady was betrothed to a man, not a title. But meeting with her father, it quickly becomes apparent that the betrothal is so watertight that to break it would almost certainly ruin Nicholas – and by extention, the dukedom – financially, and he has no alternative but to honour the agreement. Upon meeting the beautiful Isabella, Nicholas decides that being married to her might not be such a bad thing after all.
Isabella has been brought up to be perfect. Beautiful, poised, demure, the model of decorum, she has been bred to be the perfect duchess by parents who see her as nothing more than a highly valuable commodity. She has spent her entire life doing as others have dictated and fulfilling their expectations, the slightest hint of resistance immediately quashed by her mother’s threatening to send away her sister, Margaret, whom she loves dearly – and whom her parents treat almost as though she doesn’t exist.
Isabella is no more enthusiastic at the prospect of being married than Nicholas, although she is relieved, upon meeting him, to discover that he is incredibly attractive and seems kind, completely unlike her previous fiancé on both counts. The wedding takes place, and both Nicholas and Isabella find themselves completely unprepared as to what to do next. Well, Nicholas knows what he would like to do next – but realising he and his bride are all but strangers, manfully decides that they should get to know each other better before consummating the marriage. It’s going to take incredible fortitude on his part to wait and he has no intention of dishonouring his wife by slaking his lust with other women, so instead, he attempts – mostly unsuccessfully – to work off his frustrations in the boxing ring.
I enjoyed the story very much. Ms Frampton displays a lovely deftness of touch and a sense of humour that reminded me of writers such as Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale, and she has created a couple of very engaging characters in her two principals. Nicholas is such a loveable rogue that he’s impossible to dislike; he is desperate to get Isabella into bed, but does the gentlemanly thing and waits until she’s comfortable with the idea, even though he is unaware that his bride is perhaps not taking his gentlemanliness in the manner in which it is intended. Isabella has grown up in a cage, albeit a gilded one, and finds it difficult to express her own wishes and desires, which makes perfect sense, given the way she has been treated by her odious parents. It’s almost as though she has been institutionalised, her own decision making tools have been taken away from her and she has learned to do and to want what is expected of her regardless of her own opinions. I liked the way Ms Frampton has addressed the idea that even the most beautiful among us can have insecurities and neuroses, and that Isabella has to learn slowly to express herself truthfully and own her own desires. Nicholas is an absolute sweetie, but he, too, has a lot to learn about marriage, never having been one for sharing his thoughts and emotions, yet he is blessed with an instinctive emotional intelligence which enables him to discern that there is more to Isabella than the icy, always proper façade she presents to the world – and I will admit to raising a small, inward cheer each time he stood up to Isabella’s parents.
Put Up Your Duke hit the spot for me; it doesn’t depend on anything other than the central romance to drive the story forward, and that romance is well put-together as Nicholas and Isabella are allowed to get to know each other before getting frisky between the sheets. That’s not to say that there is a dearth of steaminess – not at all, but the romance is paramount and, well, you know what they say about delayed gratification! If I have a complaint it’s with the fact that Nicholas is so very, VERY sex-obsessed. I know he’s determined to wait for Isabella to want him and has thus condemned himself to an indeterminate period of celibacy, but almost every internal monologue and thought he expresses has a sexual overtone which, while often quite funny, does get a bit wearing after a while.
All in all, however, Put Up Your Duke is an enjoyable, light-hearted and often humorous read which features a well-drawn secondary cast and an engaging central couple. It’s definitely a good bet for whiling away a few hours on the beach this summer.