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The marriage came as a surprise for both Daniel and Eva, whose futures were both gambled on by their fathers' eighteen years before. Now, as Duke of Stratton, Daniel is honor-bound to fulfill the terms of the agreement drafted all those years ago: he must not only marry Berengaria Evangeline Winchcomb, but also consummate said marriage.
Eva isn't certain how she feels about the marriage: on one hand, she escapes her father's tyranny but, on the other hand, her new husband's coldness and enmity makes her worry for her present and future safety.
When her husband leaves her at Stratton Hall after a failed attempt at consummating the marriage, Eva slowly lets her guard down and has her first taste of freedom and independence. With her newfound friend and neighbor, Claire Belmont, Eva casts off her dowdy dresses and all remnants of her past life and embraces her new one -- and she loves it.
What I've learned in many years of reading romances is that a marriage of convenience is rarely convenient for the hero and the heroine. Daniel and Eva had no say in their father's deal and their marriage isn't only inconvenient but also quite sudden. I enjoyed reading about their carriage ride home to Stratton Hall (after their hasty wedding), how Daniel didn't even know the color of his new wife's hair or eyes -- or even what to call her.
The initial obstacle that our hero and heroine have to overcome is their marriage, which happened under duress. It was heartbreaking to see Eva weigh her optimism against reality and how Daniel wrestles with his sense of honor and his father's final behest. I got the sense that Daniel had a lot of issues with his father and that he strives to be his father's opposite in all things -- and it grates at him to have to honor a dishonorable man's request. Would doing so mean that his father has triumphed over him?
In his eyes, she had crossed him --, or more importantly, her family had, and he was not going to differentiate between the two. She was here and he was angry; therefore, Eva would bear the brunt of that anger.
- p. 17
* * *
Maybe in time her husband might wish for an heir, but for now she would be content with her life. There would be no more fear, just her and the servants. And they would rub along together nicely; she would make sure of it.
- p. 24
* * *
Daniel realized that she was as much a victim, if not more so, than he in this mess they called a marriage. He'd never had a woman fear him and was at a loss to know what to do to reassure her that he meant her no harm.
- p. 46
When they overcome their initial prejudices, they realize that there is a lot for both of them to gain from their marriage. (I did feel that the domesticity and the banter/camaraderie between Eva, Daniel, Claire, and Daniel's friend, Simon, beca,e a bit too ideal and too sweet and too cozy.)
There are strains of traditional regency romances in how Vella highlights manners and social mores: Daniel's grandmother, the Dowager Duchess, is the embodiment of what is proper and she guides Eva in her new life in London. (Read Chapter 11, when they are planning Eva's first ball.) And also in the characters that the author introduces: Mrs. Potter, the vicar's wife, and the Dowager Duchess of Stratton and Ladies Fairlie and Dunbar -- but the author also steps out of traditional regency with her commentaries and insights into the Ton:
Eva soon realized there was not much to learn about social chitchat. You answered with a thank you and a name when complimented and usually the recipient was happy to take up the reins and talk about either himself or the latest piece of gossip. She didn't like the leering or touching and in some cases the foul-smelling breath, but for the most part, she coped.
- p. 242
The second part of the book is more Eva's story than Daniel's and it involves her father and his cohort, Lord Gilbert Huxley. Vella doesn't really delve into Eva's backstory but does provide enough hints to give her readers the idea that Eva's life had been filled with hardship and abuse. I wonder why her father singled out his two children (Eva and Reggie) from his second wife and punished them. What happened?
Daniel takes on a supporting role as Eva sorts through her family problems and all of her previous insecurities and distrust come back to the surface. Eva's characterization in the second part felt a bit inconsistent: one moment she's brave and then, timid, the next -- I understand that change doesn't happen overnight but I still felt a bit frustrated with the way Eva handled her father and Lord Huxley -- why didn't she tell Daniel? She was aware of how powerful and well-connected her husband is, but she didn't consider asking him for help. Considering how poorly her father and Lord Huxley treated her before, I would have expected Eva not to entertain her father and his attempts to blackmail her -- but, instead, she allowed him to have power over her -- even after Daniel's constant reminder of her position as duchess (and his own support), and even after her staff's assurance that they are there to protect her.
Despite my small complaint about Eva in the second half, I still thought she was an admirable heroine (loved the bit with the shotgun), and Daniel typified all the positive elements of an alpha male.
Overall, Duchess by Chance was an enjoyable read.
To find out more about Wendy Vella and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I requested this review copy from the author. Thank you, Wendy, for the opportunity to read your work. Yes, this is an honest review.
A final note: The names of some of the characters were a bit strange: Eva is Berengaria Evangeline Winchcomb, the cook at Stratton Hall is Hepitatia Stimpel and Eva's brother, Reggie, is Reginald Ransom Hibernians Cyrus Winchcomb -- I'm not sure if the author meant for this to be a comedic motif.