The Wallflower Duchess
The Wallflower Duchess is a character driven romance that takes its time to develop its love story between old friends. While the underlying story of a hero in pursuit of the woman he wants is quite appealing, I can’t say that I was completely engaged by the way events unfolded.
Ever since he was a young boy, Lord Lionel understood that he was born to be a duke. As heir to one of the most respected titles in England his future was virtually mapped out for him by his parents, right up to a decision as to the identity of the future Duchess of Edgeworth. Edgeworth made it clear that he wanted Lionel to marry the youngest daughter of their neighbor Mr. Hightower, a girl still young enough to be molded into the perfect companion for a duke. Lionel had other ideas about who he would marry and secretly decided that Mr. Hightower’s more spirited eldest daughter Lily was his future duchess. No formal arrangement for either girl’s hand was ever made but Lily grew up believing that her sister was intended for her good friend Lionel and always tried to keep their relationship friendly but platonic. In Lionel’s mind Lily was always his and would become his wife when he was finally ready to marry.
Years pass and both the Edgeworth and Hightower households weather scandals that strain the close relationship between the families. Lily’s parents became fodder for local gossip when their fights and her mother’s risqué manner led to rumors that Lily was not the biological daughter of Mr. Hightower. Lionel became Duke of Edgeworth – known as Edge to those closest to him – but his father’s disturbing behavior in the years before his death delayed any plans of marriage until Edge could restore the prestige of the title. It was only when Edge was seriously hurt in an accident on his lands that Lily found herself back in his life as she assisted his mother in nursing him back to health.
Once recovered, Edge knew that the time was right to move into the next phase of his life, which meant settling down with his future duchess to start a family. Lily, still believing that Edge intended to ask for her sister’s hand is shocked when he makes it very clear that Abigail was never in his sights as a potential duchess but that he had always wanted Lily for his bride. Lily is flattered at Edge’s intent to court her but because of the possibility of her being a bastard she never intended to marry anyone, especially a man whose every action is watched and discussed. Edge, undeterred by Lily’s refusal of his suit, decides that if he can clear the rumors about her parentage it will be enough to change her mind. Little does he realize that trying to clear one skeleton from a closet can sometimes mean the discovery of several other secrets that were kept hidden for a reason.
On the surface, The Wallflower Duchess seems like a fairly straightforward story of friends realizing that they have been in love with each other for years; however author Liz Tyner adds almost too many road blocks to their relationship. Lily grew up in a dysfunctional household where her parents acted more like children than adults, and she had to mature quickly in order to protect her sister from the emotional fallout. Becoming the subject of a cruel rumor about her parentage was just another wound she received from a mother who needed constant cosseting and a father who never seemed to accept her. This all left Lily with the belief that love was a dangerous emotion and that a marriage to someone she cared for, like Edge, could only lead to suffering. It takes much too long for Lily to reconsider her opinion about marrying and once she does, another spanner gets thrown into the works with the revelation that she has inadvertently revealed a secret that devastated Edge’s family. Suddenly the courtship is off and Lily is pining for a future that only chapters before she was dead set against. This twist in the story was enough to make my head spin.
Even though the book’s title implies Lily is the most important character Edge is far more entertaining. He is the perfect model of an aristocrat and every action he takes to pursue Lily or to get in touch with the common man seems uncomfortably stiff. Rarely does an author convey just how elevated a duke is when compared with the gentry or commoners, but his status has been engrained into every aspect of Edge’s life. Lily’s refusal to marry him might be motivated by her own fears but his expectation that she will just accept the engagement when offered comes from his own sense of entitlement. It never crosses his mind that he will have to prove himself to her. Edge takes it upon himself to discover the truth about Lily’s mother by disguising himself as a working man, but right away he sticks out among the crowd just by his bearing. When he wants to make a grand gesture for Lily to show how much he’s come to love her, it’s a very awkward moment when he has to figure out how to properly use a ladder and tools, because a peer would never have the need for manual labor. I don’t normally care for heroes who seem haughty or better than everyone who surrounds him, but on Edge it works.
I guess what hurts The Wallflower Duchess the most is how long it takes for both Lily and Edge to get in touch with their more passionate sides. Since she is so afraid of her emotions and he’s been taught since infancy to keep them bottled up, even their most intimate moments together seem placid. They move towards a sexual relationship after Lily finally agrees to marry Edge; however they both seem almost removed from the experience of being together. They’re like naughty children playing a game of relationship rather than truly sharing themselves in that deeply personal act of making love. Things improve slowly as Lily begins to accept that her emotions will not lead her down a road to ruin like her mother’s did, but there’s still a sense of them both holding something back.
For those readers who have the patience to wade through pages of messy backstory and an emotionally repressed pair of main characters The Wallflower Duchess might do the trick. But I had more fun imagining a proper British nobleman confused at the idea of a ladder than thinking about his awkward courtship of the girl next door.