Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-249941-7
Historical Romance, 2017
Alexander Lewis, the Duke of Greyland, is mooning after the woman he calls the Lost Queen. She was a widow who was down in her luck, besieged by evil relatives and money troubles, and I suppose his heroic instincts recognized immediately a romance heroine the moment she started to babble. They had sex, and it was so good that he was practically crushed inside when she vanished the morning after. With the money he gave her, but that’s okay, he was more concerned that there would be no more honey from her for him.
That was two years ago. Today, Alex had recently been jilted by some woman who ran off to elope with a man she loves, and when the story opens, his BFFs Buy My Book Next and Buy Mine Too drag him to this fashionable new gaming hall in town. Guess whom he bumps into while he is there. Cassandra Blair tells him a story of how she has to work there because she is once again down on her luck and… oops, he shortly after overhears her conversation with her boss and realizes that his darling damsel in distress is actually a con-woman who slept with him two years ago to fleece him of his money. And he learns this just when he is about to propose to her too! Despite the fact that he willingly gave her the money and she is still as hot as she was two years ago, all of a sudden she’s repulsive to him because she is clearly a no-pedigree ho who lied to him.
Cassandra is, I’m told by the author, a skilled con-woman who can charm anyone and everyone. Yes, that explains why she uses her real first name when she’s out to fleece a mark. And why, when her partner in crime abandons her and absconds with the money, our heroine acts like a headless chicken and flees to Alex for help. This naturally puts her in a position of even more weakness, and the rest of the story sees her – supposedly an experienced woman of the streets – depending entirely on Alex – a toff born into privilege – coming up with ideas on how they can track down the naughty Martin Hamish. Cassandra will complain about Alex’s privileged position even as she stands by and lets him throw his privilege around to get his way around the very people whom the supposedly charming heroine can’t even talk to without having those people go basically, “Who are you again? Talk to my hand, bitch.”
In other words, this is another one of those stories where the heroine’s attributes are entirely informed and are no way evident during the story. Cassandra is a damsel in distress dependent on the hero through and through, and she is also one of those unfortunate heroines who go from wanting to get out of trouble to being completely fixated on the hero once she gets the dee-dee again. You know the song and dance, I’m sure: she will tag along with him and let him do most of the work, while she will mope and whine about how much she loves him but oh, she is a horrible person because of her crimes, and she owes him so much because she loves coming up with all kinds of excuses to big up her martyrdom SO SHE WILL HAVE TO LEAVE HIM AND IT’S KILLING HER SO READERS, SHE IS NOT A SLUT SO LOVE HER AND LOVE THIS BOOK AND BUY MANY COPIES OF IT.
Now, I understand. If Cassandra behaves like an actual con lady or an actual lady born in the wrong side of the streets, she will be excoriated by a majority of romance readers. It is safer to have a heroine who is basically a Disney princess that happens to be born to unfortunate circumstances, one who spends the whole time apologizing and whipping herself for her sins. But if we want to make a living as an author, the safe way, why then come up with such a premise that will not work if we are going to make all kinds of unrealistic contrivances to make it palatable? Why not just do another romance between a spy nobleman hero and a bluestocking heroine? At least then, I won’t have my expectations set high only to have them crushed like this.
From Duke Till Dawn is all about false advertising and tampering expectations, so if you want to read this, ignore the back cover synopsis and remember instead that this is another standard story where the heroine bumbles, apologizes, and plays the martyr – and, of course, she gets abducted by the bad guy even if the bad guy doesn’t have any reason to do it at that time – while the hero does all the heavy lifting in addition to having to provide stud service to that brown mare girlfriend of his. Don’t expect much, and nobody will get hurt.