Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-267292-6
Historical Romance, 2018
Sophie Campbell has always known that she needs to be a self-sufficient independent woman. Despite being the granddaughter of Viscount Makepeace, her father eloped with a French opera singer and was disowned as a result. Now orphaned, Sophie was first ditched at an academy for young ladies and when she turned 18, her grandfather completely washed his hands off her.
No matter. With a sum of money inherited from a woman she was a companion to, Sophie comes to London and, passing herself off as a widow, becomes a regular fixture at Vega Club. The gambling house admits both male and female members, and she takes advantage of this to make a living by playing cards and all. One evening, she attracts the attention of Lord Philip, the younger brother of the Duke of Ware, and relents to play a game of hazard with the man and his friends. As it happens, Philip is already in debt and has promised his brother that he’d stay away from the tables for a month if the duke would pay off his debts. Imagine how Jack Lindeville, the duke in question, feels when he arrives at the club in bad mood to settle the debt of two thousand plus pounds only to see his brother already back at his old ways.
Okay, Jack is mad, yes, but when he sees Sophie for the first time, he is also taken aback by the feeling of utter, unadulterated randiness – sorry, there’s no delicate way to say this – as well as irrational jealousy at how his brother seems to be so familiar with this woman. So, using the justification that he needs to keep his brother away from the temptations of the gambling den, he ends up challenging Sophie to a game. If she wins, he pays her five thousand pounds. If he wins, he wants a week with her.
Five thousand pounds will make her a happy, independent woman, so without further thought, she agrees. And loses. Oops.
The author has done naughty heroines before in the past, so I sit back to enjoy what I am hoping will be a steamy tale of a woman and a man trying very hard to get the better of one another in seduction games. Unfortunately, she chooses to go the safer and probably less commercially risky route by turning Sophie is a more familiar good girl caught in an unhappy circumstance, and the bulk of their time together sees Jack discovering that, oh, Sophie is nowhere as bad as people think. She’s noble, she has scruples, and she’s not a gold-digging ho at all! This isn’t a bad thing by itself, but come on, if I want that kind of heroine, I can find it in nine out of ten historical romances set in 19th century England in the market. Why have a premise like this only to then serve up a heroine that is as commonplace as dirt? Oh well.
Still, the two characters get along well, and I like the enchanting prologue as well as the chapters leading up to those two spending time together in Jack’s country home. However, the story soon falls apart pretty spectacularly the moment Sophie starts pulling that predictable “You can stick it in me here, there, everywhere for free but DAMN if I am going to let you make this anything more permanent because I am so noble like that!” nonsense.
This falls apart because Sophie’s motivations never make sense, and her “I’m a selfless cow so here’s my milk for free” nonsense only underscores how ridiculous she is on the whole as character. Firstly, she wants to be independent and self-sufficient… and she also wants to find a man to marry. Say, what? She then says that she cannot be Jack’s mistress or her reputation will be ruined and she will never find a husband. Here’s the thing – she’s already a spectacle by doing that sexy kissing-the-dice thing in a club and attracting men to play with her every night, so her reputation should already be tarnished. So, is it really a big deal, or does she expect her husband-to-be to go, “Oh, it’s okay that my wife works in a gambling den – as long as no one plays snooker at her table, her reputation is still A-OK with me!”? If yes, she’s quite… naïve, isn’t she?
And then, after sleeping with Jack, she insists that he can’t make her his mistress.
Even though she sensed Jack would be generous, perhaps extravagantly so, to her if she became his mistress, it would last only as long as he wanted her. A mistress would have no claim on her protector. Even worse, sooner or later he would marry someone else, a proper duchess, and then she would lose him entirely. Sophie refused to flirt with a married man, let alone carry on an affair with one.
First, she kisses dice, flirts, and wears dresses that reveal her cleavage as part of her “job” – one that she chooses for herself. Am I supposed to believe that she only does this to unmarried men in the Vega Club? So, that last sentence doesn’t make sense at all considering the very premise of this story. Two, she is already sleeping with Jack. Again and again. So what is this lunacy about how she can’t have any hold on him as his mistress? Right now she is already giving him the services of a mistress – forget about claims, she’s not even trying to get paid, so oh my god, this wench is a moron. Nothing she bleats about makes sense. The only way this moron will get a husband is if circumstances align to give her one, which is, of course, what happens here.
My Once and Future Duke has an appealing hero who plays the stiff-lipped, responsible guy with the heart of a randy goat very well, but unfortunately, he is paired off with a heroine who demonstrates that she clearly has no idea what she wants or what she is doing, and boy, is she lucky that she ends up being wagered off to him instead of, say, a truly lecherous asshole who will take advantage of her self-imposed stupidity.
Anyway, a part of me likes the first half of this book, but given that the heroine turns out to be a disappointing moron, I can’t bring myself to give it any more than two oogies. This is one story that sells itself as something somewhat different, only to focus singularly on making the heroine pass the romance novel purity test, at the expense of logic and everything else.