Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-239772-0
Historical Romance, 2016
How the Duke Was Won is Lenora Bell’s first published effort, it seems, so hey, fresh meat. I have to say – everything the author shouldn’t do, she does it here, and the only reason I manage to reach the last page is because huge pile-up car crashes can be fascinating in a macabre manner.
James, the new Duke of Harland, is not happy that he is saddled with money and estates, because that means responsibility in England, and he doesn’t want that. So his brilliant plan is this: he’d select four ladies, bring them over to his place, and “audition” them and pick the best wife. He’d then flee abroad to do this thing, showing up only to impregnate the wife before leaving again. The wife-to-be doesn’t know that, but who cares? All women are conniving creatures anyway, so whatever.
Charlene Beckett, our heroine, is the illegitimate daughter of an earl. She lives with her mother, who runs a brothel, but she balks at the idea of selling herself for money. Instead, she learns Japanese ninja arts (no, really) from the brothel bouncer and then does the laundry and such to make a living. She is in debt with the nasty Lord Grant, who wants her precious body, but Charlene will never do that, never. She’d do anything in her power to protect her simple younger sister from knowing what a cruel place the world is, so… she’d stay put where she is and acts like a hard-working damsel in distress while moaning that she’s running out of options. She knows kung-fu and she can’t do anything to remove herself and her sister to a better place. That makes sense – works all the time for heroines of Mary Balogh and Jo Beverley! The man will come in and sweep out the trash, while the heroine pays lip service to girl power!
Anyway, one of the girls invited by James is not available, and conveniently enough, she’s Charlene’s half-sister. The girl’s mother pays Charlene to pose as that girl, so that she will use her magic whore tricks to seduce James until James has to marry “her” – the real girl, that is. This plan will supposedly work because Charlene and the girl apparently look similar enough. Because there will be no story if Charlene says no, she says yes even if she was previously too proud to sell her hoochie for money.
James decides that he will not have sex with any girl in his house – no, not because he’d be trapped into marriage, even if that’s what he wants anyway – but because this whole marriage thing will be a business arrangement. So, no sex. Really. But then, when he meets Charlene and he thinks of her as a nobody, he starts making the move on her. She gives him her kung-fu slam of death, and when he realizes that she’s a potential wife-to-be, you’d think he’d be happy to have the hots for her. Right? No! He must now drive her away, because he wants to penetrate his future wife as lovelessly as possible! Didn’t you hear him? NO SEX, NO LUST, THIS IS ALL BUSINESS.
Of course, when he discovers that Charlene is not whom she claims to be, he then accuses her of being a faithless whore who abandons her responsibilities to his bastard daughter – never mind that he intends to abandon every freaking body and thing in the first place – while she begins playing the martyr, digging herself deep and putting her sister in danger because, all of a sudden, she’d rather die and take everyone else down with her than to force the hero to do crap that he doesn’t want to. If you can’t tell by now, both characters are hopeless morons whose eliminations from the gene pool would have doubled the national average IQ of England at that time.
Oh, the author tries. The hero is all for equal employee rights when it comes his business, while the heroine pays a lot of lip service to female lib and other stuff. Well, all these traits are of no import when both characters are such crappy, hypocritical, one-dimensional idiots when it comes to one another and matters of the heart. Not to mention, both of them end up embracing the so-called institutions that they claim to detest anyway, so their entire parade of “I’m so much more enlightened than mere mortals of my time” nonsense is all vapid fluff – lip service and nothing else. They say one thing, but do a whole lot of stupid instead.
So, in the end, the moron gets her brutally stupid duke husband, and I win a case of the rising gorge. Charming.