Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-239101-8
Historical Romance, 2015
Falling into Bed with a Duke is the first book in Lorraine Health’s new series Hellions of Havisham, but it is also closely linked to the author’s last few books. I have not read those books, so perhaps it is my fault that I get distracted by some things here that don’t make much sense to me. And here I am, hoping that this book, allegedly the first in a new series, will allow me to start anew on my re-acquaintance with this author on a blank slate, sigh.
Minerva Dodger is the daughter of a former owner of a gentleman’s club who married a noble lady. Despite this dubious pedigree of hers, Minerva is allowed to mingle freely with dukes and earls and what not. Apparently the crème de la crème of the Ton are “intimidated” by Jack Dodger – maybe he has enough materials to blackmail them into letting her daughter access to the most exclusive levels of Society? I don’t know. Still, Minerva has spent six Seasons now without finding a hubby. Apparently she has not found a guy that pique her interest, and those guys who want to marry her are apparently fortune hunters who have lost all ability to lie, charm, and seduce. Hence the lady writing a book on how to spot fortune hunters. The joke is on her because in this one, she ends up posing for sexy photos, just for our hero Nicholas Lambert, the Duke of Ashebury, who is – ta-da! – in need of a fortune ASAP. Okay, he also needs some hot love from the lady in question, but still, let us all point a finger at Minerva and laugh.
Ashe is actually a hot lover first, fortune hunter second. He has, like, a thousand and one ex-girlfriends, but that’s okay, he has a sad childhood to keep all the STDs at bay. You see, he saw his parents die in a train accident, before he and his two brothers-at-heart of the Fellowship of Buy Our Books were shipped to a senile guardian who once rode a horse up the stairs in his large Gothic mansion. Today, he spends his time traveling the world, making the globe his playground, and when he’s in London, he is a member of the Nightingale Club, in which men pay a fee to mingle and tup masked women. It’s basically a swinger’s club and adulterers anonymous all rolled into one, a place where, if you do catch the clap, at least you can be assured that it’s finer quality clap from a lord or a lady.
Minerva decides that maybe it is time for her to experience the sexy, so off she goes to the Nightingale Club. Guess whom she bumps into. Ashe is, apparently, the first and only guy to ever make her feel like a sexy woman, but alas, she chickens out when she realizes that Ashe wants her to pose sexily on the bed and let him photograph her, before he gives her a jolly roger to remember. Ashe is intrigued by this woman, and he eventually decides that Minerva, whom he bumps into in more polite circumstances, is this “Lady V” in the Nightingale Club. Meanwhile, Ashe has dyscalculia – problems understanding and doing mathematical stuff – so apparently this causes him to make some unprofitable investments. If only that excuse can be applied to real life, some blokes formerly of Enron may still have jobs today. Do you think he will be honest to a woman whom he wants to marry, knowing that she has an irrational paranoia that every man she meets is a fortune hunter?
Of course not. The drama in the later parts of the book could have been avoided if the hero has just told her that he needs money ASAP but he wants her first and foremost because she’s as easy as ABC and she also doesn’t bore him; it must surely be love. After all, she’s letting him photograph her all sexy and such, even if it means exposing a birthmark that will identify the lady in the photos as her, because she’s really starving for a taste of the Ashe Supreme. All he has to do is to lie and touch her right there, and she’d be complete putty in his arms. It’s okay to lie to romance heroines – if they are like Minerva here, they are practically begging to be lied to because they are just so easy.
Minerva’s behavior is all over the place to me. She wants to have sex, but no, wait, she’s not sure. She’s worried that the guy may identify her and then ruin or blackmail her, but she has no problems letting herself be photographed by some guy she doesn’t fully know whether she can trust, oh my goodness. Her parents don’t care whether she marries a Duke or a rat catcher, as long as she loves that man, but she spends so long chasing after noblemen – why? The author claims that Minerva just wants to please her father, but I don’t see any evidence in this story that Jack Dodger wants his daughter to land a duke. Maybe I am missing something because I didn’t read previous books in this series, but the whole set up leading to Minerva meeting and getting it on with Ashe feel like a very obvious calculated contrivance.
Ashe is supposed to be charming, but his behavior here is more of a mix of awkward-creepy and arrogant “Let me shag you or I will blackmail you!” antics, making me wonder how any woman would find this guy amusing for more than half an hour. Then again, between the heroine finding no man that ever interests her until she meets Ashe, and Ashe finding no woman he can respect enough to wave hello to in the post-shag morning after until he meets Minerva, this is one story that operates on hyperbole. There are also some unfortunate implications in the author pushing forth at my face the notion that a good woman will only have sex with someone she cares for, because for a woman, sex is supposed to be something special, as well as in how Minerva judges the women who hang around Ashe pretty badly, but she never once thinks poorly of Ashe for hanging around these women. Oh, and of course, every woman who is a competition for Ashe is portrayed as skanky, desperate, and whorish. As opposed to a pure darling like Minerva, of course, who only has sex with Ashe out of wedlock and poses for his sexy photos – to add to his collection of undoubtedly artistic and not at all pornographic collection of photos of naked women – those are the actions of a chaste feminine darling we should all emulate.
On the bright side, the first third or so of this book is solid, riveting read, as the two play a rather amusing cat and mouse game. Both know or suspect who the other person is, and Ashe tries to get Minerva to trip and reveal herself while she tries to throw him off his suspicions. It is only when these two get intimate that the weird out-of-character drama starts to happen and the story descends into head-scratching tomfoolery. This is the rare book where the early parts are better than the later parts – the early parts are quirky, sexy, and not-so-formulaic, but the story eventually become stale as the plot begins to conform to formulaic tropes and twists. If you have read enough historical romances set in 19th century England, you will be familiar with these tropes.
Falling into Bed with a Duke starts out promisingly, only to serve up increasingly bigger doses of disappointment with each turn of the page. Still, it remains very readable throughout, and I really like the good parts. I’d suppose a three-oogie rating would be just right for this book.