Harlequin Historical, $6,50, ISBN 978-0-373-29804-4
Historical Romance, 2014
You know what they say: the longer the title, the more the book is overcompensating for something, and Zachary Black: Duke of Debauchery is certainly a long title that promises far more than what is actually being served by Carole Mortimer in this story. The author also writes for the Harlequin Presents line, so perhaps it’s not so unexpected that this one is another “You whore! But I still wanna have sex with you! Behold my angry kisses and scorching glower!” story, only with a Regency era rake instead of a Greek tycoon.
Zachary Black isn’t, contrary what the title suggests, merely the worn-out overused town bicycle in the land. For one, he’s a spy for the Crown who also doubles up as a soldier in the front line, so he was like James Bond, only with a bigger wang. He is also the Duke of Hawksmere. Duke, spy, and war hero – he’s like an NFL superstar who also swings the biggest bat in the Major League Baseball Season when he’s not manipulating the stock markets to make his billions of dollars. Oh, and he also has an infamous reputation of being the town bicycle, but because he’s a man, the fact that he has seen more of the naked female genitalia than a toilet bowl in a ladies’ room is a reason for me to swoon and dry hump the cover art.
Georgianna Lancaster’s father arranged for her to marry Zachary a while back, but because she’d rather die than to marry without love, she eloped with a French guy to his homeland, only to be abandoned by him there. It turns out that this French guy is everything a villain can be, which doesn’t reflect well on Georgianna’s intelligence. At any rate, she has now learned her lesson. She was badly burned when she tried to marry for love, but because she’d never marry for any reason other than love, she now knows that she would never be able to have any relationship ever. And that’s okay with her, because she knows that she deserves to be alone forever for having shamed her family, and she also refuses to lie by pretending that she’s a widow or something, so yes, she will never be loved ever.
When the story opens, she dresses up in a veil to sneak into Zachary’s carriage to catch him when he’s coming home from a bachelor party. That makes sense. He’d most likely to be sober then, to see reason and listen to her. She wants a favor from him, but when he refuses to play along and rips away her veil to see who she is, our heroine starts sobbing.
Oh yes, she’s definitely a sharp one.
Not that he’s any better, because he sees a Mata Hari in Georgianna and persists in doing so when it should be clear to any sane person that she’s actually an idiot who would start the morning screaming at the toothbrush for ten minutes before collapsing into tears because she can’t figure out how to get it to work.
Zachary decides that she’s been tainted by the 99.9% possibility that her false love, which is also a villain he has his sights on, has porked her and turned her into a faithless whore just like every woman in existence, so he has to keep her confined to his home. During this time, he’d inspect her closely to ensure that she is not trying to do anything funny, like trying to seduce him with her feminine wiles when he’s scowling and leering at her. Would there be a happy ending here? Can Georgianna prove to him that she’s never a whore like all the rest? Will he ever gain a glimmer of self awareness about the fact that he’s basically molesting and kicking a puppy in this story?
Yes, yes, and yes. Zachary eventually realizes that he’s an unnecessarily melodramatic ass, but his behavior during this moment is, “Oh yes, I can’t defend myself, so I’m really sorry, but I’d just continue to glower and scowl at her… hey, I’m getting a hard-on again!” I wish I’m kidding about the last bit.
That’s the problem with this story in a nutshell: there’s more lust than love here. Every time the author could have had the two twits of her story do something to actually get to one another – maybe scream, yell, throw things, anything as long as it leads to them saying things to one another – Zachary’s pee-pee rises to the occasion and muddles up everything. The relationship between those two is repetitive and clunky, going from one extreme to another every other page, and I end up getting the impression that he just likes pushing her to tears and she enjoys playing his wounded doe of a victim. Such a relationship may actually work, and I’d buy the happy ending for such a couple, but in the case of Zachary Black: Duke of Debauchery, having Zachary and Georgianna being such a couple is clearly not the author’s intention.
Zachary Black: Duke of Debauchery ends up being a rather dull read because for the most part, it goes through the motions of being yet another “I hate you! Let’s boink!” story. Shallow characterization, lazy use of the hero’s unhappy childhood as an excuse for his present behavior, and tedious circular love-hate drama all come together to sink this tale into the bog.