Seducing the Duchess
by Ashley March
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0451-23236-6
For a debut novel, I give Ashley March credit for trying to write something different and for trying to find her voice.  There are parts of the books that were interesting, especially when the characters were actually talking to each other and bantering.  But the premise left me cold and the bitterness and hateful things these two people did to each other, in the name of love, was not my cup of tea.  Keep an eye on Ms. March, but pass by Seducing the Duchess.

Three years ago, Phillip Burgess, the Duke of Rutherford, married a squire’s daughter by convincing her he loved her.  On the day after their wonderful wedding night during which he had sworn undying love and elicited a similar response from her, he informed her he had married her for revenge against her brother, who had stolen his betrothed.  He swore he never loved her and left her for his mistress.  The wife, Charlotte, was devastated and hurt and a myriad of other emotions, which resulted in feelings of hate and mistrust.

During those three years, Charlotte attempted to manipulate Phillip into filing for divorce by flaunting herself in the ton as a harlot, willing to bed any man who looked her way.  She also posed for naked sketches, many of which circulated around the males of the ton.  And she did her best to forget Phillip.  Of course, Charlotte became good at teasing men and never actually slept with any of them, but what Phillip and the rest of the ton didn’t know couldn’t hurt her.  

Phillip, meanwhile, tried to ignore Charlotte but the reality was, he did love her and his act of vengeance was bittersweet.  The story begins as he kidnaps her from a gambling hell where he finds her sitting on another man’s lap. He brings her back to their home in the country and demands that she stay with him for three months.  If she is still unhappy, then he will grant her the divorce petition she swears she wants.  Eager to be rid of Phillip before he discovers that she really does love him, she agrees.

So what we have are two people who say they love each other in their heads, but refuse to let the other know.  Each have their reasons and of course, their pride.  But they have also learned to mask their feelings and to act the opposite of their feelings.  This three-month period takes up the entire book, and throughout we also learn of their angst, their deceptions, and their ill-conceived efforts to deny their lust and their love.  One may slip up now and again and display their true feelings, but the other immediately rejects it in efforts to save their own pride.

I disliked both of these characters.  It took me a little way into the book to really be certain that Charlotte had only acted the harlot.  But I could never respect her since she was so good at what she had done.  I never understood her thinking and while she was hurt, she was too much of an actress to ever believe any of her actions, even those when she was sincere.

Phillip meanwhile, was a real jerk.  He didn’t deserve anything but what he got.  His whole reason for being the way he was he put down to his dukedom and his upbringing, which taught him he was better than anyone else.  I could never quite understand how he and Charlotte could have been friends in the early part of his life if this view of his childhood was true.  And having never seen them as friends, it was hard to believe that they could really be in love.  If the way they acted could be considered love, then spare me from it.

I kept reading, hoping that there would be some redemption of the two characters that would change my opinion, but it never happened.  It is a testament to the skill of the author that I wanted to keep reading even when disliking the two people so much. But that skill did not save Seducing the Duchess from a warning of “reader beware.”

--Shirley Lyons

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