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The plot itself is simple: he's a single duke in possession of a good fortune, and he's in want of a wife*. Unfortunately, the wife he had in mind is marrying someone else. With the season ending, and with the duke wanting to keep to his schedule, he settles on the next best thing: the lady's companion. Lady Thea is surprised to receive the duke's proposal -- and would really rather refuse him, preferring to find another position as lady's companion. But, Noah Winters, the Duke of Anselm, makes a very convincing case and Lady Thea reluctantly agrees to the marriage.
"A young lady's companion," he said, withdrawing his hand, "is little more than a finishing governess, Lady Thea. You are in want of a position, I am in want of a duchess, and I am offering you that post."
No eyebrows, no gasp of shock, no reaction at all, as she regarded him out of puzzled green eyes. "You're serious."
To a fault, according to most women who'd ventured an opinion, including Noah's most recent mistress.
"Your papa was an earl," he said. "You're comely, quiet, past the vapid stage, and from good breeding stock. You are every bit as much duchess material as that giggling twit you supervise."
- loc 20 to 28
What happens next is what makes Grace Burrowes's romance stories stand out -- the duke discovers something potentially damaging about his wife. From hereon, the plot transforms from simple to extraordinary: it's amazing how Burrowes is able to dispense the information with deliberate gradualness. This is not a suspense or a mystery story, but it had the same gripping/engrossing quality to it. You'll keep flipping through the pages and reading because want to find out what happened to Thea in the past, and you want to find out what will happen to Thea and Noah now.
Noah Winters is so frightfully capable and so frightfully, perfectly efficient. After he and Lady Thea get engaged, he sets about to fix Thea's affairs, which include her drunken/wastrel brother. One is tempted to call the Duke of Anselm perfect, which is unrealistic, but, when you think about it, this seeming perfection is his character flaw: he's not as infallible as he thinks he is (or pretends to be) -- as evidenced by what is revealed by Lady Thea on their wedding night. He never saw it coming -- and now must deal with the situation the way he handles everything else in his life: he tries his best to fix it.
Lady Thea is sensible and practical. She weighed her options and decided that marrying Noah was the better option. I just wondered at her reaction to what happened to her -- and I don't know if I should admire her for how contained and "together" she is, or be worried about her mental/emotional health. Did she really not find an opportunity to inform him prior to getting married?
I know I'm being vague about Thea's past, because this is a big part of what makes the plot so amazing. I don't want to spoil it. Suffice to say, what the Duke of Anselm thought was a marriage of convenience, turned out to be the most inconvenient thing to happen to him. I have to give Noah plus points for how graciously he reacted to the situation, and how kindly he proceeded from the point.
There are actually two disasters in this story: even without the vital information that Thea fails to tell Noah, there's this other one: from the very first chapter, Burrowes establishes how very pragmatic and objective our hero and heroine both are. They knew they were entering into an arrangement and had not expected emotions of any kind to be involved. Imagine their surprise (and chagrin) when they discover how well-matched they are, and how passionate their relationship becomes.
"...Then too, I like Lady Thea." Which Noah probably should not have admitted in present company. "But not too much."
"That's promising." Meech topped up his own drink, his tolerance for spirits being legendary among the college boys. "Does she like you?"
"She's willing to tolerate me," Noah said, opening a gold snuffbox on the mantel and catching a whiff of cinnamon, of all the nancy affectations. "The female who likes me has yet to be born to the human species."
- loc 222 to 231
* * *
When had his ducal priorities shifted from endless duty to marital joy?
This was not husbandly insecurity or a manly whatever.
This was a husband falling in love with his brand-new wife.
This was a man, for the first and only time in his busy, self-important, and oddly beleaguered and lonely life, falling in love with a woman.
And hoping like hell she could someday love him back.
- loc 3800 to 3809
Finally, many of Grace Burrowes's stories features a "running joke" -- in The Heir, it was lemonade. In The Duke's Disaster, it's chocolate (and the idea of doting). I really, really love this moment about chocolate -- and would love to see this printed on a t-shirt:
"Quiet," Evvie ordered, butter knife poised. "Is this a holy moment?"
"All science is holy," Erikson said. "Particularly when chocolate is involved, and such good Dutch cocoa in the chocolate too."
- loc 2247
The Duke's Disaster is related to Grace Burrowes's upcoming The True Gentlemen/Rogues in Love(?)** series and will be released on April 7, 2015. To find out more about Grace Burrowes and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I requested this ARC through Netgalley. Thank you to Sourcebooks Casablanca and to Grace Burrowes for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.
*Apologies to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.
**In the Connected Books section of Grace Burrowes's website, the series is called "The True Gentlemen" series, but, in the individual pages for each book (with excerpts!), the series is called "Rogues in Love".