The Duke and I
(NOTE: This novella was previously published in the Hot Winter Nights: Racy Regency collection)
Heather Boyd’s The Duke and I is a charming and spicy regency tale in which a handsome duke falls in love with his daughter’s companion.
Nicolas Westfall, Duke of Stapleton, is beside himself with concern. His middle daughter, Fanny, has offended yet another member of the aristocracy, this time by calling a duchess an old goat while rescuing one of her servants from her abuse. Nicolas is at the end of the rope with the girl; as much as he loves her, this latest incident has resulted in a flurry of gossip and some damage to his reputation, and he wants to nip that in the bud and get Jessica, the youngest of his children, well settled. His eldest daughters are happily married and have produced a large, squalling brood of grandchildren whom – even though their noise and mess often send him running for the sanctity of his study – he loves dearly.
Soft-hearted Fanny has taken in the victim of the bullying she witnessed during that scandalous incident – widowed ex-governess Mrs. Gillian Thorpe – and plans to keep her employed as a lady’s maid. Gillian impresses Nicolas immediately with her forthrightness, forcefulness and her tart tongue; she is a presence to be reckoned with. That truthful bluntness causes Nicolas to decide her talents would be better used as a companion for tantrum throwing Jessica, his youngest daughter, whose adolescent gamboling he hopes to keep close to the hearth as she stands poised on the brink of her first season.
Six months later with Christmas approaching, Gillian has tamed the fussiness of both Nicolas and Jessica and become like a member of the family having outlasted a succession of other nannies who didn’t make the grade. She admires how deeply he loves his daughters, and how careful he is to make sure they have happy, rich lives – and he is rather funny and handsome, completely unlike the man twice her age who had been her husband. While they are mildly attracted to each other, the difference in their social status keeps them from acting on their attraction. Until, that is, a friend shoves Gillian and Nicolas together under the mistletoe, thinking all Nicolas needs to loosen him up after years of chastity is, in his words “a good shag”.
Nicolas likes and admires Gillian; he loves her sense of humor and he has been incredibly lonely since losing his beloved wife, but the idea of rogering her senseless offends his propriety. A simple kiss should satisfy him, right? After all, he’s not going to put himself on the marriage market when he has two daughters yet to be settled. But one kiss between them changes everything. When the sexual conflagration leaves them both stunned, they’re faced with the question of how a romance between a paid ladies companion and a Duke could possibly work. And when it seems that Jessica’s cruel older sister plans on taking her to London for the season to live and dismiss Gillian entirely, can Gillian save her household position?
There are so many things I liked about The Duke And I. Boyd’s characters are fun and charming, from the stuffy Nicolas to the passionate Fanny and the gossipy Jessica. Within the limited page-count, the plot flows smoothly and the sex scenes are scorching, with great character chemistry. I was rooting for Gillian and Nicolas to get together ten pages in, an impressive feat.
Of the two, Nicolas is the better drawn character, though I did like Gillian’s practicality, tartness and self-respect – she’s a lively character but she also falls into the cliché of being yet another widow-who’s-never-had-an-orgasm. She won me over in the end, though, with her bravery; it’s nice to see a heroine have her Cinderella moment.
There is one imperfection that mars the book; it doesn’t pay a great deal of attention to traditional Regency mores. Nicolas is far too forward with Gillian, and vice-versa, and she makes orders and demands within minutes of landing in the duke’s household that no newly-hired lady’s maid would ever make. The conclusion of the novella also doesn’t address the social stigma that would result from Nicolas’ and Gillian’s choices.
But with that – and the fact that this is a quick, light read – in mind, if you’re somewhat less serious about historical accuracy you will enjoy this one. For a sweet and brisk read, The Duke and I is an excellent way to spend your time.