Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29880-8
Historical Romance, 2016
It has been a while since I read a historical romance that begins with the hero and the heroine being compromised. Gregory, the Duke of Halstead, has no idea what happened the night before, but he wakes up to someone screeching at him because he is in bed with a young lady related to this shrieking woman. That sleeping lady, Prudence Carstairs, must be plotting to get her hands on his big fat title and money! But he revises his opinion when she is abandoned by her aunt with no money, nothing. And you know how romance heroines are – cast them out in the wild and every man in the vicinity suddenly wants to molest and rape her. Gregory can’t in good conscience abandon her to a lifetime of sexual harassment and rape, so he takes her along with him. While telling her that she’s just “George Willingale”, he wonders whether he will discover what has happened between them.
In Bed with the Duke drives me crazy because of the heroine. She’s quite old school in that she can be as naïve as some calf which had just been born the day before. Gregory looks like a rogue, so he must be a rogue! He takes off his coat (to pass to her because it is cold) – he must surely want to rape her, so she must run off – alone, unarmed – right into the wilderness! And when he finds her, she hits him and he gets knocked out cold – so she knows that she has killed him! He is pretty sneaky, knowing how to lie or fudge things around while they are traveling together to minimize drama with the locals… so he must be a ruffian of poor morals! And so forth she goes! She thinks like a little girl, and I want to strangle her! And yes, her thoughts often end with an exclamation mark! She may have the body of a big-breasted adult woman, but I think she is only eight when it comes to mental age!
The author isn’t even consistent when it comes to portraying Prudence as a wide-eyed idiot – sometimes Prudence will have moments of uncharacteristic self-awareness or insight, which alas are always temporary only, and I end up unable to figure out this idiot at all. To be honest, I don’t feel like working so hard to understand her, because Prudence is almost always wrong in everything, all the way to close to the bitter end. On the bright side, the author is aware of this. On the other hand, this is another story where the heroine’s epiphany late in the story is that, yay, people, she finally realizes that she’s a moron. Tell me something I don’t know; I’d probably be more excited if she experiences this epiphany right before throwing herself off a ledge.
The hero is pretty decent for someone whose task in this story is to mostly react to the heroine’s constant tomfoolery, but then again, a sack of potatoes would be decent when placed next to Prudence. Not that he is a well-written character – Gregory can often go hot and cold without rhyme or reason, and he can be pretty harsh towards her at times. But still, a romance with Prudence is basically an act of mercy for the dear – she clearly won’t survive long all on her own out there – so it’s probably a good thing that he’s around. The poor sod, though, he’d probably wish a few weeks down the road that he’s found a wife who is a little less high strung and high maintenance. Then again, a smarter woman would have fled the other way after a few days in his company.
The icing on the cake is the ridiculous plot. I would advise folks to think twice, maybe thrice, before getting into bed with this one.