When a Duke Says I Do
There’s something about a deeply emotional love story that just makes me want to savor it. That’s exactly what happened as I dug into When a Duke Says I Do. I discovered one of the most sweetly emotional stories I’ve read in ages and, even if it wasn’t perfect, it was a solid read and I just loved it.
Miss Elsie Stanhope has been betrothed since childhood to the heir of a dukedom, so it would seem that her future holds little by way of uncertainty. Elsie doesn’t expect a love match, but as the story opens, she doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to flee her destiny even if she isn’t particularly excited over it either. The time to announce her wedding is at hand, and her father has hired the great muralist Desmarais to paint a mural in the family ballroom for Elsie’s birthday ball, a source of great excitement for Elsie.
The artist’s mute assistant Alexander also piques Elsie’s curiosity. Unlike many former patrons, Elsie does not simply see Alexander as part of the furniture, and she finds herself drawn both to him and his work. Afflicted since childhood with an inability to sleep in her own bed at night, Elsie often wanders the house and, while the servants are used to her, she does end up surprising Alexander. The friendship the two form ends up being very moving in itself and when it starts turning into something more romantic, I just couldn’t stop reading.
It’s hard to truly explain this book fully without giving too much away. Both characters carry with them all kinds of secrets and past sorrows and, while I suspect readers will guess more than a few of them early on, one of the delights of this book is the way in which the author sets up her plot. The pacing is such that the characters reveal themselves to one another – and to the reader – somewhat gradually. Both hero and heroine have pasts to overcome, and their struggles and trauma are sadly understandable – as opposed to the contrived issues we’re used to seeing in Romanceland. These backstories added to the emotional quality of the story, and made Elsie and Alexander feel vulnerable and real.
As the book goes on, we realize that Elsie has a preexisting betrothal and Alexander has a whole lot of secrets in his past to deal with, and this provides the story with some very believable tension. Things occasionally get just a little too precious for my tastes, but in general, the love story between Elsie and Alexander is very well done. And the revelation of secrets and the resolution of all of this turmoil in their lives ended up being satisfactory rather than over-the-top ridiculous. The author does not paint her characters with a broad brush, but instead draws then subtly and this was a story that needed that in order to work.
If you like romances that have a deep emotional quality to them, When a Duke Says I Do is a book you won’t want to miss. I’ve read historical romances that are well-written in terms of historical detail, grand adventure or just plain steaminess, but it’s gotten harder to find one that truly pulls at the heartstrings in the way that this one did. While not quite a keeper, it does come beautifully close.