Duchess for a Day by Peggy Waide
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4554-0
**
Duchess for a Day starts out with a great premise. Mary Jocelyn Garnett is imprisoned in Bedlam and about to make an escape. She has bribed a worker to get her out, but the man's intentions turn lewd. Her savior is Lady Agatha Blackburn, Dowager Duchess of Wilcott, a benefactress of the asylum. Lady Agatha becomes lost in the corridors and happens upon the assault scene. After dispatching the man with threats and hearing Jocelyn's story of false imprisonment by an evil step-uncle, Lady Agatha agrees to get Jocelyn out.

But the only way she can do it is to claim that Jocelyn is a noblewoman. So, using the power of attorney given to her by her grandson Reynolds Blackburn, the Duke of Wilcott, Lady Agatha marries Jocelyn to Reyn. Since Reyn travels the world on ships, seeing to a vast shipping fortune, he's astounded when his friends greet him with congratulations on his nuptials. Reyn is about to leave for three months on another bit of business, and he informs Lady Agatha that when he returns, he expects to find himself in a state of unwedded bliss again.

Of course, when Reyn returns, no such thing has taken place. At first he doesn't recognize the lovely young woman who greets him, but he soon realizes that this is his lawful wife. He's intrigued by her beauty and immediately starts having lustful thoughts, but acts like a perfect gentleman. He does want the truth of the matter, though, and Jocelyn refuses to provide it, insisting she's an amnesia victim and doesn't remember how she landed in Bedlam.

Jocelyn's reasoning is that Reyn is a nice guy who landed in this situation through no fault of his own, and her step-uncle is so evil that he'd undoubtedly try to kill Reyn to get at Jocelyn's fortune. The fact that, as a duchess and a married woman, she'd have quite a bit of protection does not figure into this. Nor does Reyn's obvious capabilities. No. Jocelyn will lie to Reyn over and over, in his best interests, of course.

Reyn is no fool. He knows Jocelyn is lying and soon becomes rather bitter over the fact that, no matter how decently he treats her, she will not tell him the truth. Soon he's demanding that she obey him, as a wife should, and refusing to tell her the truth of a few matters, too.

And this is where the book fell apart.

Here we have a terrific story premise, a solid foundation for a wonderful romance. But the story is based upon the developing romance between two characters who never talk to one another. None of the problems in the book would happen if the two of them would act like adults and have an honest conversation. So whatever "romance" comes their way is based solely upon physical attraction, not any understanding of each other's character or capabilities.

For example, Reyn, after being continually lied to by Jocelyn, gets mad and decides not to tell his wife the truth about his slimy cousin, but rather just demands compliance because he's the husband and boss. Jocelyn goes into a snit in which she decides to get back at Reyn for not opening up to her (she's a fine one to talk) and so she cozies up to the cousin, with disastrous results. Since neither of them was acting very maturely at this point, I felt they deserved what happened. And the resultant crisis just made me irritated. By the time Jocelyn does admit the truth, I no longer cared. Both of them had sunk unto juvenile, get-back-at-the-other-and-not-listen-to-any-explanations behavior, and I was tired of them both.

There are books that make a reader think "what if…", and this was certainly one of them. What if Jocelyn had told Reyn the truth at the start, and they developed their relationship as a team, fighting against outside danger while coming to know and truly appreciate one another? That would have been a story worth reading, not to mention a romance I could believe in.

Duchess for a Day, while providing an interesting glimpse into a new author's imagination, did not satisfy this reader.

--Cathy Sova


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