|Yet another mystery title – there is no hunting of a duke in this book, as there is scarcely a duke at all. There is the Duke of Redford, but he serves only as a catalyst in this tale about his son, Jared Broderick, the Marquis of Middleton. Jared is about to turn 30, and the unceasing demands of his father that he marry and produce an heir post-haste serve only to remind Jared that he has never been loved for who he is, but rather been seen as expensive breeding stock to carry on the lines of the Redford duchy. The duke is determined that Jared will not only marry, but will marry the girl of his choosing, who happens to be the daughter of an old friend.
Jared has come to terms with the need to marry, but fears that a lifetime with the daughter in question would be excruciating. He thinks to find a more suitable candidate, one who is attractive, agreeable, a lusty bed companion, and is of suitable birth but not possessing such a fortune that their marriage is akin to the joining of nations. And if she could also be an orphan as well, allowing him to avoid all that boring in-law business…
Conveniently, he realizes he already knows the perfect candidate. Ava, her younger sister and her cousin form the “desperate debutantes” (this is the first in a series of three books). The sisters are daughters of an earl long since dead, and their mother had remarried some 10 years past. Upon the death of their mother, Viscount Downey, their stepfather, hares off to Paris to chase down his mistress, leaving the girls in the care of his sister and with a clear picture of their future: although their mother was reasonably wealthy, she provided only a modest dowry for each, and the remainder of her fortune remains in the Viscount’s hands. He intends to accept whatever offer of marriage they receive as expeditiously as possible, and, in the meantime, he leaves them without sufficient funds to even retain household help – he thinks them capable of making a bed or two and sweeping the carpets.
At age 23, Ava has certainly received and rejected her share of offers – stepfather Egbert plans to draw that to a swift halt. He is not a monster, just a totally self-centered gentleman who finds the girls’ wailing of grief at the loss of their mother and aunt tiresome and who honestly does not believe he owes them a thing. Ava, along with her sister and her cousin, have determined that they will do better. They rush out of mourning after a scant year and take to the ton, determined to hold control of their future in their own hands. Ava is scouting for an appropriate husband and there, for the taking, appears Middleton – pleasant, funny, sexy, and apparently quite willing to marry her. Perfect. They both get what they want.
It is during their trip to his estate to wed, just over a week after the betrothal, that doubts begin to surface – they can scarcely maintain a conversation the entire way, strangers that they are. They haven’t even gone farther than some heated kisses and fondling, so they don’t even know if they will suit in bed. Ooops. Maybe not so perfect a solution after all. That would be the theme of this book – what if you get what you think you want and find it isn’t what you want at all?
I found this a vastly entertaining book. Ava and Jared were flawed but quite likeable. Jared’s emotional growth, in particular, was as realistic as it was wrenching. His desperate attempts to keep Ava at arm’s length by treating her as a brooding mare were poignant, with his “When do you expect your courses?” as post-coital chat. His rage and pain when she began to refuse to address him by his given name were palpable. The plot was agreeably restrained – no big mystery or threat from outside, no big hairy secret keeping them apart – just an opportunity to grow into a relationship and grow up a bit individually. Realistic, untidy, and very human.
This could be exceedingly dull, but it manages not to be. There are enough funny distractions that keep it from tedium, such as the untrained “servants” Ava acquires to mask their desperate situation. They are untrained refugees rescued from the poorhouse, and include a butler who can’t seem to retain the instructions about what to do when someone calls at the house and a former prostitute with a sassy attitude functioning as Ava’s lady’s maid and a handy tutor when she decides to beguile Jared with her prowess in the bedroom.
There was some sloppy editing near the end, where a whole new character seemingly appeared suddenly, but that turned out to be a problem with a title turned into a surname. Finally, the last 5% of the book did not resonate as well as the 95% that preceded it, but these are relatively minor quibbles. I look forward to seeing how the other two “desperate debutantes” arrange their own futures.