A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James
When we last saw Leopold, the Duke of Villiers, he was valiantly trying to find each of his six illegitimate children and finding the task difficult as his corrupt solicitor had turned the children over to disreputable guardians and pocketed the money meant for the children, before running off. He had determined that he would need to marry in order to provide his children with a mother and determined to marry a high ranking lady to ensure that his children will not be completely shunned by society. Eleanor, the Duke of Montague's (!) daughter, had rashly pronounced that she would only marry a duke, several years earlier after being spurned by her lover Gideon, Duke of Astley, and thus has remained single. Villiers thinks Eleanor could be the answer to his prayers; she is a high-ranking lady who could ease his children into society, she doesn't seem to mind too much that he has illegitimate children, and he finds himself enormously attracted to her. However, there is the matter of Lisette, the Duke of Gilner's daughter, who, despite having never made an entrance into society, could, because of her rank, still make a passably good Duchess, so Villiers decides to head Knole House to investigate this possible spouse while at the same time checking a local orphanage for his missing twin daughters.
Eleanor's mother decides to call in a long-standing acquaintance with Lisette's diceased mother to invite herself, Eleanor, and Eleanor's nearly married sister, Anne, to Knoll House as well. The entire family is aware of Lisette's penchant for "madness," but her spells are interspersed with long bouts of lucidity and she can be quite charming at times, which makes it possible for Villiers to disregard rumours of her insanity. Instead he is charmed by the way she completely disregards society's rules and the way she makes nice with his orphaned children who were discovered being mistreated by a completely awful orphanage headmistress, whom Eleanor wasted no time firing. Eleanor announces her engagement to Villiers to head off her mother's discomfort with the situation and although he is surprised he certainly enjoys the benefits that come with it. He has an incredibly difficult time keeping his hands off Eleanor, a feeling that is definitely returned, but things are thrown into turmoil when Gideon arrives with the news that his wife has died and he wants to marry Eleanor. Villiers quickly turns to Lisette, but neither Eleanor nor Villiers can manage to stay away from each other. By the time Villier's realizes he has made an enormous mistake it may be too late as Eleanor is determined she will only marry a man who is desperately in love with her- forcing Villier's to do something he has never done before; lay his heart on the line for the woman he loves.
One probably notices how little resemblance this plot summary has to what one might have expected if someone had read the back of the book. I too, spent 50 pages rather puzzled with what was going on, as, after reading the back blurb, I assumed that Eleanor would be the uptight, propriety-driven young miss who would make a great Duchess, while Lisette is the free-spirit who Villiers desperately wanted despite knowing that she isn't what society believes would make a good Duchess. So, after realizing that that wasn't what I was supposed to expect from the book, I settled in rather nicely and certainly enjoyed Eleanor who proved to be my favorite of all of Eloisa's Duchesses. She wasn't overly whiny, she wasn't overly prone to angst or depressions, she didn't pine, and while eschewing society to some extent she hasn't completely thrown out all of society's mores. I had, of course, been looking forward to reading about Villiers immensely, especially about how James' would manage to turn him from the completely cold and uncaring man into a proper hero who could fall in love and be fallen in love with. The answer is that she does it splendidly and readers of the series will realize that his transformation starts earlier in the series and comes full circle with the addition of his children and then later being forced to confront his true feelings for Eleanor.
In fact all the characters are well written. Villier's children are cute, un-precocious, realistic, and fun. Lisette is the perfect understated villian- she isn't evil and is in fact quite likable in many scenes, yet she hides her true self from Villiers to get him to marry her. Gideon is a wonderful "villian" as well as he gives into the fight against his lustful urges and tries to turn them around to blame Eleanor for them. Her mother and sister are also fun, easy, and contribute to some great scenes in the novel. There is a wonderful bit of angst at the end as Eleanor believes that all she has ever been wanted for is her body and as Villiers thinks he really is going to lose her- first because he chooses Lisette and then because of his own stupidity. Eleanor is also interesting because of her views on sex: she is not a virgin, but the man she lost her virginity to made her feel as if her desires were unladylike and while she still enjoys it she can't help but think that a gentleman would be turned off by her experience, knowledge, and wants. This lead to some really great angst as well as to some interesting steamy scenes which, although they don't start into well into the book, are amazing and lead up to quite nicely with lots of longing, desire, and plenty of kissing. Furthermore I enjoyed how former Duchesses only make very brief appearances and how there is no chess playing, both things that have riddled the previous books in the series.
Rating: By far my favorite book in the Desperate Duchesses series this book is funny, great characters, and a little bit of everything that makes a romance novel great.