When a Duchess Says I Do
When a Duchess Says I Do is the second book in Grace Burrowes’ Rogues to Riches series featuring the Wentworth family. Duncan Wentworth is unhappily settling into life in Berkshire at an estate owned by his cousin Quinn Wentworth, the Duke of Walden. For years, Duncan tutored Quinn’s younger brother, Stephen, but now that Stephen is grown, Quinn and his duchess fear that Duncan is lonely and in need of direction. And so they set Duncan up on an estate in Berkshire where Quinn makes him a deal – make the estate profitable in one year and Quinn will take the management of the estate back and Duncan can leave England and happily return to tutoring on the Continent. But if it’s not profitable at the end of the year, the estate stays in Duncan’s hands – whether he wants it or not.
The story opens with Duncan confronting two poachers on his land. A struggle ensues and he is momentarily thrown off balance by the thieves. A pistol-waving woman appears, the miscreants run off and Duncan and his rescuer release the snared rabbit. Duncan recognizes a lady in distress when he sees one – well-made cloak with frayed hems, missing buttons, no gloves – and feels honor-bound to help out. He insists she return home him for a meal.
A meal! Well, that is probably the only thing Matilda Wakefield can’t resist at that moment. She has been hiding in Duncan’s gatehouse, living off old apples and scraps from the garden, and although it goes against her better judgement, she joins Duncan for lunch. Duncan suspects that she may be the reason he’d seen smoke coming from the gatehouse the previous night and instructs a footman to investigate. When the footman returns during the repast with Matilda’s meager belonging, it’s clear she’s in a dire situation and that Duncan’s aid is needed.
After much debate, Matilda agrees to stay on for a while as Duncan’s secretary, transcribing his travelogues from his journeys with Stephen. Matilda, sneaking rolls into her pocket during lunch, plans to stay for only a very short while – she is on the run and does not feel safe staying in one place.. She plans to placate Duncan by agreeing to stay, but intends to be gone after a few days at the most.
Duncan and Matilda fall into a routine of sorts – she transcribing his journals, he working on the estate books – all the while slowly circling each other. They are both intelligent people beginning to enjoy each other’s company enormously – much to Matilda’s chagrin. Now is not the time for romantic entanglements and she really needs to leave. But snowstorms and a warm bed keep delaying her departure. Duncan, too, is hesitant to engage his heart. There is a mystery to Duncan Wentworth and a history with damsels-in-distress.
What follows is a slow building attraction based on camaraderie, respect and physical appeal. These two are drawn to each other’s minds and hot for each other’s bodies, but as the relationship develops, there are questions continually bubbling under the surface. Who is Matilda? What is she running from? What is she protecting Duncan from? Will she be there in the morning? In fact, the question, ‘What is Matilda running from?’ is almost like another character in the book, influencing her every move and shadowing her time with Duncan.
When a Duchess Says I Do is an engrossing read. The underlying mystery of the book is well laid-out and although we are given intriguing scenes with potential antagonists, I was undecided who the true villain was until more than three-quarters of the way through. Matilda and Duncan’s love story is mature and satisfying in the way of a good Mary Balogh book, a romance between two adults who have loved and suffered and who want to protect each other at all costs. Matilda and Duncan enjoy matching wits on the chessboard and I enjoyed the way Ms. Burrowes sprinkled chess references throughout the story. My only issue with the book was that I didn’t feel quite satisfied when the reason for Matilda’s flight was exposed. I felt like she could have confronted one of the potential villains right away and got the answers she sought. But that did not keep it from being an entertaining story.
I love it when an author throws in characters from prior novels and Ms. Burrowes does a little bit here with mentions of Percival Windham, and I enjoyed catching up with the other unconventional Wentworths. Is it better to read the previous book, My One and Only Duke, beforehand? Yes, especially if you plan to read on in the series. Necessary? No, the story can stand on its own. I’m also a sucker for a book series that follows an entire family, especially one with so many ‘bookworthy’ characters!
Fans of Ms. Burrowes and readers who enjoy mature, building romances with a bit of mystery thrown in, will enjoy When A Duchess Says I Do. I certainly did!