In Waking up with the Duke a married woman has an affair with her crippled husband’s best friend. Their story, beautifully written by Lorraine Heath, is a moving and lovely read. If not for an overly dramatic scene near the end of the book, it would have been a DIK for me.
The heroine of the novel, Lady Jayne Seymour, has devoted herself to caring for her husband, Lord Walfort. Three years ago, Walfort and his cousin the Duke of Ainsley were out carousing in celebration of the news of Jayne’s pregnancy. Their carriage crashed; Walfort was terribly injured and left paralyzed from the waist down. In her grief, Jayne lost their baby — her first and, due to Walfort’s impotency, what would seem to be her last. Jayne loves her husband but misses the physical relationship the two had; since the accident, Walfort doesn’t share her bed, kiss, or touch her. She’s lonely and mourns the life of wife and mother she always thought she’d have.
Ainsley is grief stricken as well. He was driving the carriage the night of the accident and blames himself for all Walfort — and Jayne – lost with the crash. He knows Jayne loathes him for his carelessness that night and makes every effort to stay out of her sight. So, when Walfort asks him to come early to the first hunt he has hosted since his accident, Ainsley wishes he could say no. He can’t, of course; Ainsley would do almost anything to pay the debt he feels he owes Walfort. When he arrives, however, Ainsley is unprepared for what Walfort asks of him. Walfort tells Ainsley his debt will be settled if he will get Jayne pregnant and allow Walfort to pass the babe off as Walfort’s own.
Neither Ainsley nor Jayne initially says yes to Walfort’s proposal. Ainsley believes that it would devastate Jayne to betray her sacred marriage vows. Both Jayne and Ainsley believe that it’s wrong for Ainsley to be the father of Walfort’s legal heir. Jayne dislikes Ainsley and can’t imagine having him touch her. Ainsley has always been profoundly drawn to Jayne and doesn’t know if, once he has had her and she is pregnant with his child, he could live without her. Walfort, though, is determined. He tells Ainsley that if Ainsley — a man who is famous for his skills as a lover — won’t impregnate Jayne, Walfort will find some far more loutish lord who will. Walfort too wears down Jayne’s objections. He tells her he loves her and he can’t be happy until she has the child she has always wanted. By the end of the hunt, Walfort has won: Jayne and Ainsley agree to spend a month together at Blackmoor Cottage, Ainsley’s isolated county house, trying to conceive.
Once at Blackmoor, Ainsley does everything in his power to make Jayne comfortable in his home and in his bed. She has asked their lovemaking be brief, they never kiss, and she take no pleasure from his touch. She is there for Walfort and makes it clear she disdains Ainsley. But as the two begin to spend all their time together, Jayne realizes her perception of Ainsley as a cad is false. He, in the way he treats her and those around him, is a good and honorable man. Ainsley “wakes” Jayne up to all that she is missing, both in the bedroom and in her heart. He never kisses her, but he pleasures her beyond anything she could have ever imagined. As the weeks too quickly pass, Jayne comes alive in Ainsley’s arms – this is a book where making love is truly that. Jayne sees now how empty her marriage was even before Walfort’s accident. With Walfort, she shared a bed and a home. With Ainsley, she shares her true self.
I treasured Jayne’s and Ainsley’s tale and, had theirs been the only love story in this novel, it would have been enough. Ms. Heath, however, gives the reader one other: That of Ainsley’s mother Tessa and her much younger lover Oliver. It is uncommon in literature to show older women, let alone grandmothers, as sexy, passionate, desirable, and vibrant. Tessa, at age 53, is all those things and the scenes with her and Oliver, an artist with a great sense of humor, were among my favorites in the book.
I also found Walfort compelling. His reasons for pushing his wife and his cousin together are complex. He has his own secrets and in many ways is the villain of the piece. Yet I couldn’t hate or truly pity him. He is refreshingly morally ambiguous and is a nice change from the unadulterated evil villains often found in historical romance.
Ms. Heath has written an excellent book with Waking up with the Duke. As I turned the pages, I wondered how she would write a viable happy ending for Jayne and Ainsley without resorting to strained plot devices. Happily, Ms. Heath, who has done her research on 19th century medicine, resolves her story in a creative and satisfying way. Waking up with the Duke might be the first romance I’ve read where the appendix at the end of the story — it explains an invention of Benjamin Franklin’s — makes a strong story significantly better.
I shan’t go into the specifics of the scene I didn’t like. Suffice to say, I felt Jayne waited too long to make a choice she clearly could and should have made sooner. This book has enough genuine pathos and drama in it and did not need the addition of over the top melodrama to give it resonance.
I’ve liked many of Ms. Heath’s books. She’s deft with plotting, creates characters with depth, infuses her love scenes with believable passion, and tempers the joy of true love with just enough angst to keep sticky sweetness at bay. Waking up with the Duke is one of her best.
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