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Notes to self:
1. Never start an Eloisa James novel and think you can put it down for the next day.
2. On that same note, don't start reading an Eloisa James novel at night. (Or if you do, expect to stay up way, way past your bedtime.)
3. Always expect to fall in love with her heroine.
4. Ditto the hero.
Eloisa James continues to utilize metafiction in her latest novel. This time her heroine is a romance writer in the process of writing her latest novel while her own love story is happening. The same people helping Mia "in real life" are helping her work out the kinks (and beta-reading) her romance novel.
I loved how the two stories mirrored each other: as Mia was establishing out her character's situation, her own circumstances were unfolding. Mia has resorted to blackmailing the Duke of Pindar to marry her in order to protect her nephew's inheritance from his evil, mismanaging guardian. It's an unusual arrangement, made stranger still because of our hero and heroine's shared past: Mia's father carried on a 10-year love affair with Evander's mother. And made more awkward because Mia had loved Evander when she was 15 and even wrote him a love poem, which resulted in much soul-crushing humiliation.
Will they or won't they? This is the reason why I didn't sleep until 1pm the other night. I had stopped at the point of Mia and Vander's wedding, and I kept wondering if this was going to be consummated or not. With Vander's stipulation that Mia only gets four nights with him, and must request/beg for those four nights, I wondered how our hero and heroine could resist the attraction that sizzled between them. It's a stipulation that Vander mistakenly and arrogantly assumed would make Mia suffer, but it backfires when he discovers Mia had no intentions of having a conventional marriage with Vander. And then further backfires when Vander finds himself wanting those four nights ... and more.
..."You are my wife. My only wife, Mia. You may have married me on a six-month lease, but I married you for life."
"We're in a marriage of convenience!"
"No, we're not. It's inconvenient, for both of us."
A wave of horror crashed over her. She couldn't be married to Vander. Not forever. Not ... not living in the same house.
He must have sensed what she was thinking. "You will live here, at Rutherford Park. Your nephew will also live with me. And" -- he leaned forward and there was a distinct flare in his eyes -- "you will sleep with no one but me."
- loc 1599
I loved this story. I loved how regular Vander was. He has all the bearings and consequence and arrogance of a Duke, but the author also chose to show his very human and very fallible side -- the side of him that stumbles with words and with relationships; the side of Vander that is more comfortable around horses than people.
This was a surprisingly emotional book for me. I knew I was in trouble when I started to tear up in Chapter 15 when Mia falls asleep with Jafeer (the horse) in the stables. Mia and Vander share such a tainted history: with their parents being lovers, and then with their own terrible confrontation regarding Mia's love poem to Vander when they were 15. Their relationship is such a battlefield, and every word has the potential to cause terrible damage. I cried as Mia is forced to confront all of her insecurities and I cried when Vander unknowingly (or knowingly) caused them.
"You'd better enjoy those four nights with your mousy duchess while you still have me," she added, "because one day I will find a man who -- who respects me."
"Respects you?" His eyes raked her body. "Does that mean that you'll never tell him why I married you and how we married? Because he won't respect you after he knows that, Duchess."
The sob pressed so hard that Mia could no longer suppress it. He was right. "I'm going to my room," she managed, running for the door, blinded by tears.
He caught her just as she reached it, spun her around.
"No!" she said with a little scream. "Get away from me."
"I respect you," he said in a grim voice. "You did what you had to for your nephew, and any decent person would respect that."
"Get away," she gasped. "Let me go" Tears were poring down her face, and it wasn't decorous weeping. It was the kind of sobbing that tears a woman apart. The kind that comes after she's reminded that she's not beautiful, and not loved, and not even respected.
- loc 1762 to 1774
But I also understand Vander -- it is not wilful cruelty that causes him to lash out -- it's year upon years upon years of confusion, resentment and anger: resentment over his mother's affair, confusion over his father's madness, and anger over the scandal they have all caused on their family. He never really had anyone to confide or to talk to -- he had no outlet for his pain. Mia had her novels, and Mia had Charlie, her nephew -- who showed her what unconditional love and acceptance means.
Love is such an undeniable force between Mia and Vander, and, whether it's powerful enough to overcome their past history is something the author tackles throughout the novel. Their relationship is a work-in-progress, like Mia's book -- and there are errors and oversights and inconsistencies -- but, like her novel, there's always a chance for editing and for a rewrite.
I thought Eloisa James had written her best book ever when she wrote Once Upon a Tower, but I was wrong. ^_^
Final thoughts: I loved Eloisa James's play on intertextuality -- the mention of Mia's fellow romance writers Julia Quiplet and Lisa Klampas are fun allusions to Eloisa James's own writing contemporaries. ^_^
Miss Quiplet's books have been very inspiring, and even partly restored my faith in romance, and renewed my conviction that Love is the Secret Architecture of the world.
- Mia's letter to her publisher
Four Nights with a Duke is book 8 in Eloisa James's Desperate Duchesses series (and book 2 in the Desperate Duchesses By the Numbers sub-series). To find out more about Eloisa James and her books, click below: