This Duchess of Mine
Man, I loved this book. Ms. James’s writing has gotten better and better, and this time she’s created a wistfully romantic story between an estranged married couple who overcome huge misunderstandings to find that they truly love each other after all.
Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, has been separated from her husband for nine years. She catches him with his mistress early in their marriage, and utterly distraught, leaves for Paris. Now, years later, she receives a summons from her husband to come home. He has decided he needs an heir, and he needs one now. Being unfashionably in love with her husband, even after all this time, Jemma is determined to make him love her before she consents to sleep with him. Little does she know that Elijah has been wanting to be with her for the past nine years, with only his crushing guilt stopping him. She pulls out all the stops in her plans of seduction, only to find out the truth behind her husband’s sudden need for a successor: he has developed a hereditary heart condition, and may die at any moment.
Before everyone starts groaning, let me assure you that this dying thing is handled excellently and is not contrived in the least. I am ultra-sensitive to ridiculous scenes and plot points meant to wrench emotion from readers, and Elijah’s heart problem fits well in the story without bogging it down with doom and gloom.
Jemma is one of the most endearing heroines I’ve read for a while. While she’s the toast of Paris, she is also refreshingly straightforward; she cannot flirt indiscriminately, even to make her husband jealous. She doesn’t beat around the bush, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Although she tries hard to hide her feelings for her husband, she wears her heart on her sleeve and all the servants know how much she misses him. She is infuriated by the fact that he cares more about his position in the House than her.
Elijah was a little harder to like, but I enjoyed him all the same. His yearning for Jemma is acute, and he’s incredibly jealous of his wife’s friendship with his best friend, the Duke of Villiers. My only problem is that I was really bugged by the fact that he waits so damn long to patch up their relationship. That’s the main reason why the story falls short of a DIK for me; the extended separation pushes him slightly to the “wimp” side of the board, and some of his logic in waiting is really, really faulty. Still, I loved the story, and I was actually okay with the reasoning Elijah makes for having a mistress. He was an idiot for having a mistress to begin with, as all wives must agree, but I couldn’t really blame him given his family’s past. And boy, does he learn his lesson the hard way.
This plot is one of my favorites: that of a married couple slowly discovering their love for one another. There are no earth-shattering events in this story to make them fall in love; rather, they just spend a lot of time together doing everyday things and getting to know each other. They realize that their memories of each other may not be as accurate as they thought, and see each other with new eyes. I enjoyed the fact that neither of them try to hide behind a façade; rather, they are wonderfully honest with their emotions. Under Jemma’s influence, Elijah learns to relax from his usual somber self and begins to laugh and smile, and Jemma notices the kindness and compassion in him that she didn’t see before. Misunderstandings are all aired out, and I’m glad to say that these are real, logical misunderstandings.
I realize that infidelity is a big deal-breaker for many readers. Surprisingly enough, Elijah’s infidelity was almost a non-issue for me. Without revealing too much of the story, let me just say that his having a mistress is an extremely logical step and is downright businesslike in nature, and not at all forged through loyalty or love. His is not an affair formed in betrayal or misplaced affection. Once Elijah realizes the effect it has on his wife and his marriage, he stops the relationship immediately. As someone in the book points out, in Elijah’s society it is commonplace, even somewhat expected, for a man to take a mistress. I found it very romantic to know that Elijah is good enough to his wife and honest enough with himself to realize the truth of the matter.
I loved the chess aspect of this book. I was a bit of a chess player in high school, and I was delighted to find that Elijah and Jemma are so proficient at the game that they can actually play against each other on an imagined board in their minds. While she waits for Elijah all these years, Jemma’s one true passion becomes chess, and she is truly a whiz at it. Speaking of which, there’s a really sweet scene where they play chess blindfolded in bed…I thought it was one of the cutest scenes I’ve read in a while.
I’m always wary of illnesses and death-related phobias in romances, so I was very picky when reading the story. I thought it was a little coincidental that Elijah might be on the brink of death right when they begin trying to find a cure for him, but besides that, everything is generally believable. Elijah’s nonchalant, almost brisk dismissal of his condition is such a typical masculine response that it’s funny. He’s resigned himself to the fact that he’s going to die, and it takes Jemma’s hysterics and insistent nagging to galvanize him into visiting doctors. Let me tell you, if my husband were about to die from an unknown disease, I would react exactly the way Jemma does.
Go read this book. This couple is so honest and engaging that I don’t think anyone will be disappointed by them. I loved the Georgian time period and all it encompasses, including powdered wigs, panniers and beauty patches. I can’t wait for the Duke of Villiers’s story, and will definitely be pre-ordering it. I enjoyed reading This Duchess of Mine so thoroughly that my husband even remarked that I had the goofiest smile on my face the entire time. Not the most flattering comment, but surely an honest one.