Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-265578-3
Historical Romance, 2018
Of late, Cathy Maxwell has a tendency to come up with a great story, and then seems to lose all steam as the next few books will be below average until she becomes inspired again to come up with another great one. The Duke That I Marry keeps to this pattern: the previous book A Match Made in Bed is a fun read, so of course this one feels like a brain burp. Worse, the hero had a far better story in that previous book: he was a scholarly fellow who ended up inheriting a title, and awkwardly hooked up with a man-eating, married woman Letty Bainhurst, whom he eventually fell in love with.
Here, however, Letty had cut him off without a word, and our hero Matthew Addison, the current Duke of Camberly, is feeling blue. We can’t have a non-virginal slutty woman as a heroine, after all, or else we women will start getting funny ideas like non-virginal, sex-loving unapologetic bad girls deserve to be loved too. Also, he is to marry the Raverly Heiress for some much-needed money for his bankrupt estates. Willa Reverly’s dowry is the biggest of the current crop of available young ladies, so he should be happy. But he isn’t. He wants to marry for love, like his parents did. Oh, Letty, Letty, Letty… well, until he takes a good look at Willa and decides that he’s merely in lust with Letty. Friendship ended with Letty; Willa is his best bae now.
Of course, Willa wants to marry for love too. Well, until she meets Matt and realizes that he’s so hot that she’s in love with him now.
So what’s the big deal then, you may wonder. These two want to bone one another so badly, hey, they can get married ASAP and the story ends by page 100, and everyone goes home happy. Simple, right? Well, no. The author is contracted to turn in a full-length story to her editor, so she needs to fill up at least 300 pages. So, for a while, Matt has to calm Willa’s fears of being destroyed in the marriage bed by showing her that it’s perfectly okay to touch that thing; it won’t bite, really. He has to assure Willa that her mother is wrong and that he won’t be violently humping every woman in sight just like Willa’s father did to her mother. And once Willa is perfectly ready to lie back in bed and rotate her legs like helicopter blades, Letty shows up and she’s now the stereotypical selfish, vicious cow designed to be the devil to Willa’s angel.
The biggest conflict driving the story is Willa’s constant jealousy and paranoia – Matt must be rushing off to copulate with some female every time he slips out of her sight! It doesn’t help that Matt sometimes tell white lies – such as not knowing of the friendly neighborhood brothel – and I’m sure that you can imagine her reaction when she finds out that he does indeed know of that place. After a while, the whole thing becomes tiresome and I wish she would take a deep breath and relax a little.
Maybe in another context, I’d enjoy The Duke That I Marry more, but as I turn the pages, my mind keeps telling me that I’d really, really rather read a romance between Letty and Matt. That one would make for some more entertaining read with more interesting conflicts and drama thrown in. This one is more of a standard story with a romance that is built on superficial physical attraction, and I think I’m too old and jaded to care about an insecure young lady getting all jealous about her man and other women. Willa comes off too much like some silly, immature little girl that needs constant reassurances of fidelity and affection, and she barely develops into someone more mature by the last page.
Also, the author shows her cards too early. A mystery is built up from the first page: the mystery behind the disappearance of a vast amount of money from the family coffers. However, the answer is revealed by the end of that chapter: the money went to a blackmailer, in exchange for the villain’s silence on Matt’s dead uncle being gay. Why reveal that so early in the story? The mystery could have provided some diversion or perhaps reprieve from Willa’s perpetual insecurities. Later in the third act or so, the author revisits the mystery, focusing on who killed the dead gay uncle, but even then, Willa’s insecurities and jealousy seep into this mystery, causing poor Matt to alternate between starring as a Hardy Boy in The Mystery of the Deceased Homosexual and assuring her that she is still his bae and he is so, so sorry if he somehow made her upset in any way.
And oh, what the author did to Letty. In her afterword, the author expresses hope that she has treated the dead gay uncle respectfully. If only she had been just as concerned about the treatment of Letty.
I’m sorry, but I’m bored out of my mind with this story, with this heroine. Can I order a reboot of this story?