The Vagabond Duchess
Temperance Challinor is a tradeswoman who inherited her linen draper business from her father. The Plague has been bad for business, but in 1666, things are beginning to look up. Just in time for the Great London Fire.
Temperance meets John Bow, a poet and troubadour, who is singing in a tavern where she has gone to deliver some goods to a customer. Their eyes meet in one of those great moments of recognition and attraction. They have a couple of interesting and stimulating encounters, though Temperance knows she shouldn’t be lingering in her doorway with a wandering vagabond like Jack.
Jack is really John Beaufleur, the Duke of Kilverdale, who as a child had been exiled in France with King Charles II. He used the alias in order to travel freely through Europe and in truth, with his family’s lands confiscated by the Roundheads in England, he had been able to earn his keep more than once by using his musical talent. He still occasionally uses the Bow name as a respite from the toadying a duke is subjected to and the pressures of the Royal Court.
Temperance is a very forthright, no-nonsense kind of woman with a good head on her shoulders and confidence in her trade. Jack loves to shake her up and affectionately calls her “Tempest,” which she knows she shouldn’t enjoy, but does. When the fire comes, they both are able to save the other as they have several adventures before finally managing to get to safety. In relief, and unable to fight their attraction any longer, they make love. Jack leaves to scope out the situation and take care of some things, promising to return, but he doesn’t. When Temperance searches for him, she is told that he died in a sword fight.
Heartbroken and having lost her business and all her possessions in the fire, she takes a job in another merchant’s shop. When she discovers that she is pregnant, she knows she must leave London or face expulsion from her guild and perhaps be sent to the stocks for licentiousness. Temperance travels to the town Jack named as home, claiming to be his widow and hoping to find that he owned a cottage where she can live and raise their child. Instead she finds the Duchess of Kilverdale, Jack’s mother, who says he is very much alive and due home soon. Temperance awaits Jack’s return in the enormous – and intimidating – Kilverdale Hall, horrified to realize that instead of passing herself off as a musician’s wife, she has just proclaimed herself a duchess.
Jack does return and is perfectly willing to agree to her marriage story and to make it legal as well. Although he’s not thrilled to have his hand forced like this, the consequences for Temperance, should word of her impersonation leak, are dire, and there is his unborn child to consider. And of course his attraction to Temperance herself.
I liked both Jack and Temperance, and the fact that he was always unfailingly kind to her, even when she unwittingly coerced him into marriage. The London scenes were very well done and the adventures surrounding the fire interesting and exciting. But once the marriage took place, Temperance lost her confidence and spunk, instead fretting about how unfit she is to be a duchess. She does have much to learn, but her basic personality changed too much and she became a blander, and at times even timid, character, something I would not have anticipated from having gotten to know the London Temperance.
This is the last book in a trilogy and I have not read the two preceding books, though both received B grades here at AAR. All three books take place simultaneously, with overlapping time and storylines. Apparently Jack was quite involved in both of the previous books, for he would disappear at times (visiting the action in the other books) and then have to explain to Temperance what he was doing and with whom, giving us mini-synopses of the other two books. If I had read the previous two books, I’m sure I would have been interested in seeing how it all fit together, but I haven’t. Instead of piquing my interest in these other stories, I resented the intrusion of these other characters and their stories into this one.
But, ironically, when Jack returns to find his “wife” ensconced in his home and there are no more trips to other books, The Vagabond Duchess becomes less interesting and more ordinary. Readers of the series will probably want to see Jack settled down with his HEA, but for those who haven’t, this is not the place to begin.