Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-92608-8
Historical Romance, 2017
Ooh, now that’s a lovely cover. The color scheme is gorgeous, and the guy’s biceps look so nice, although his hands seem to be on the small side compared to the rest of his proportions. Oddly enough, he seems more concerned in checking out the heroine’s lacy thing than in the woman herself, as if he’d imagining that dress on him. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. I personally draw the line when it comes to dinosaur and unicorn costumes; there is something lovely about a hot guy in female lingerie on all fours getting his rear end worked on by a dominatrix wielding a big fat… er, where was I? Oh, right. This book.
An Innocent Maid for the Duke by Ann Lethbridge is the second standalone entry in the multi-author series The Society of Wicked Gentlemen. but unfortunately for people looking for wicked gentlemen, Jacob the Duke of Westmoor has made a vow to his father before that man croaked, to give up his naughty ways and become a responsible fellow. This one follows Christine Merrill’s A Convenient Bride for the Soldier, and interestingly enough, both have a Cinderella-like premise.
Rose Nightingale is a scullery maid working at Vitium et Virtus, the gentleman’s club co-owned by Jake and his three BFFs. Okay, one of them is supposedly dead, but the series promises four books, so I don’t think anyone will be shocked when the MIA BFF shows up alive just in time for the last book. Back to Rose, she is content working in the most debauched den filled with “virile men” (the author’s words, not mine) and “bored ladies” – once again, we have the implication that guys who frequent these STD take-out places are desirable types while their female counterparts are morally deplorable – because the pay is good and the club has rules to ensure that the female staff doesn’t get molested unless those women want to be put in such a situation. And Rose, of course, remains unmolested because she’s a romance heroine.
One evening, she is cleaning up a room – the poor girl, think of the stench and the mess she has to deal with every day – when she can’t resist putting on this lovely dress and giving herself a twirl while looking at her reflection. What do you know, Jake stumbles upon her while doing his daily melancholic angst trip, and basically forces her to dance with him. He also gets a kiss from her, and a promise from her to see him again. How will he react when he finds out that the “lady” is actually his employee?
Well, there isn’t much drama, honestly. Sure, he recognizes her at once by the sight of her rump (don’t ask), but he’s nice enough to take the opportunity to install her as a companion for his melancholic grandmother (who is still grieving her recently departed hubby). He doesn’t have any naughty intentions, mind you, he just believes that she deserves better than to be a scullery maid. But the sight of her makes him randy, so it’s going to be some trying weeks ahead for him.
Just like the previous book, there is a disconnect between the hero’s angst and the situation he is in. Jake talks a lot about wanting to keep things respectable, but he co-owns and runs what is basically an orgy den. Nowhere in this story am I shown how he reconciles these two polar opposite concepts. Also, his issues are tedious: he believes himself unworthy of a good woman’s love because (a) he didn’t hug his daddy often enough when daddy was alive and (b) he didn’t hug grandpa often enough too when the man was alive. Lots of family issues that don’t seem that bad, to be honest, but from the way he keeps carrying on and on about his angst, you’d think he’d personally stabbed every dead family member.
But the bigger problem here is Rose. Early on, I feel that the title is inaccurate because our heroine is smart enough to take precautions to ensure that there will be no unwanted baby that can result from her boinking with the duke, but as the story progresses, I have to reverse that perception. Rose is portrayed in a manner that makes her relationship with Jake a disquieting one, as she becomes more and more infantilized as I turn the page. Early on, she’s very concerned and self-conscious about the huge disparity between her position in society and that of Jake’s, but in the late stages of the book, she’s whining and wailing that Jake doesn’t love her or treat her special enough. What happened? Did all her brain cells die after the grand boinking? Also, Rose can be quite passive – when she does assert herself, it’s to indulge in grand displays of self-depreciation – while Jake can be very aggressive in pushing her into various situations that benefit him, if you know what I mean. Between that and Rose turning into an emotionally needy crybaby mess in the late stages of the story, this relationship has a power imbalance that doesn’t sit well with me.
At any rate, An Innocent Maid for the Duke pushes forth a romance with a dynamic that never feels right to me. Let me file this one under “No, thanks – pass.”.