Series: Girl Meets Duke #1
Published by Avon on August 22, 2017
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When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…
Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.
His terms are simple:- They will be husband and wife by night only.- No lights, no kissing. - No questions about his battle scars.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.
But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:- They will have dinner together every evening.- With conversation.- And unlimited teasing.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…
Absolutely delightful! Another twist on the Beauty and the Beast tales which is a favorite of mine. I was surprised to see that it is 389 pages because I sped right through it.
I found this on sale several months ago (and it is still currently only $1.99 at most retailers so don’t delay) and I was intrigued enough to check it out. I saw several glowing reviews so I invested my $1.99 and finally took the time to read it. It is everything everyone declared and more than worth the price.
Emma Gladstone was spunky and undeterred and the Duke of Ashbury is dark-witted and self-deprecating. He also fits into my favorite hero group of wounded heroes, in this case an actual war hero disfigured and scarred resulting from a rocket explosion.
Emma is a seamstress and arrives on the door of the Duke of Ashbury looking to be paid. She arrives wearing the wedding dress that she worked so hard on for his betrothed who backed out of the wedding since she was so disgusted by his scarring which covers the left side of his face and going down the left-side of his body. Emma asks for only the 2 pounds 3 shillings she is due for her work since she needs to pay her rent. Ashford needs a heir so his family estate doesn’t go to some dumbass cousin. He decides that he kind of likes the pretty, spitfire and if he needs a marriage of convenience, the poor seamstress will do quite well so he makes the fiery Emma an offer to become a Duchess. Emma was tossed out of her house at 16 because she fell for B.S. of a Squire’s son who used her and wouldn’t marry her, so Emma gives him the “not falling for that again,” takes her money and leaves.
But Ash has made up his mind and he wants Emma so he chases her down to the dress shop to convince Emma that his plan is sound. She only has to have sex with him until she becomes pregnant and then she can go live a life of comfort in his country estate and raise his son and heir. She won’t have to deal with Ash again. While she feels for Ash, what sways her is a young girl, much like herself who is used by a man, but this poor girl gets pregnant. If Emma can take her to the country with her, the girl can give birth quietly, give the baby to a couple to raise and return to her family with no one the wiser. So Emma agrees to marry Ash and give him a child and stick to his rules.
Emma quickly gets over Ash’s scars to see the man behind them, the one who fears rejection more than anything. His bride to be and all his friends have all abandoned the scarred monster who returned from the war. But that really isn’t the only reason Emma agrees, as a seamstress Emma knows bodies and even the mostly inexperienced Emma knows that Ash is a gorgeous man, and having him in her bed isn’t going to be the hardship he thinks it is.
They outlined the rules at the beginning of the marriage, which Ash defined so that Emma would at least have sex with him long enough to produce an heir, and so that he didn’t get too attached to her because, of course, he could never mean anything to her. Everything goes wrong with that as great sex and mutual respect turns into love. There are of course misunderstandings since both are feeling more than they are supposed to in this marriage of convenience but they are quickly worked through and don’t drag down the story.
Emma and Ash are wonderful characters and play well off each other’s humor. He is frustrated when he can’t get Emma to fear his wrath and leave him be the sulking monster that he is convinced she sees. Part of this, which made it hard to write a review since he didn’t have a name, is that when asked what Emma should call her new husband, he said “Duke” or “Ashbury,” which she refuses and his given name of George is also her father’s name so she refuses that as well. So to Ash’s consternation, she spends the story trying out different pet names for him from daring to pumpkin to lambkins to dumpling. He tries to get her to call him my stallion, but Emma turns to her friends for suggestions of names for her “new cat” when she runs out of names to try.
Emma fears acceptance of a former seamstress by the ton but gets invited to tea by the Lady across the way and finds friendship with three other young women who don’t fit the norm of London Society. The next book in the series, The Governess Game, just came out featuring one of the friends and the others will be featured in future stories. I didn’t debate long and I have picked up and started the second book.
This was very entertaining and a quick, light story if you are looking for something fun.
“But of course. Thank you, darling.” With an awkward swipe of the racquet, she managed to send the shuttlecock flying…straight into the net.
This time, he was the one to stand still in the center of the court. “What did you call me?”
“I called you ‘darling.’ We discussed at dinner yesterday that I must call you something. I refuse to address you as Ashbury or Duke, and you didn’t like ‘dear husband’ or ‘sweeting’ or ‘heart.'” She motioned toward the shuttlecock lying on the floor. “I believe it’s your turn, darling.”.
“I am no one’s darling.” He batted the shuttlecock with a fierce backhand swat.
To her surprise, Emma managed to scramble under the falling missile and return it. “I don’t know if you have a say in that.”
“I’m a duke. I have a say in everything.”
Another effortless return on his part; another ungainly, desperate swipe on hers. This time, she missed.
“Darling is in the eye of the beholder.” Emma was already a bit out of breath as she retrieved the dropping shuttlecock. “If I choose to make a darling of you, there is nothing you can do about it.”
“Of course there’s something I can do about it. I can have you sent to an institution for the feebled minded and insane.”
She shrugged. “If you say so, cherub.”
He leveled his racquet at her. “Let’s set something straight, the two of us. You seem to be plotting a campaign of kindness. No doubt with the aim of soothing my tortured soul. It would be a waste of time. My temperament was not created by injury; it will not be magically healed by sweetness or pet names. Am I making myself clear? Do not harbor any illusions that my scars transformed me into a jaded, ill-tempered wretch. I was always–and shall remain–a jaded, ill-tempered wretch.”
“Were you always this long-winded, too?”
Emmma’s next attempt at a serve skittered across the floor. No matter. She was enjoying this game anyway.
“Ashbury is my title. It is what I’ve been called since my father died. No one calls me anything else. I’ve told you this.”
“And as I told you, I am your wife. Being the only one who addresses you differently is rather the point.”
Speaking of points, Emma had lost count of how many points she was behind.
He sent a serve back at her. Emma noticed a hitch in his swing. He winced ever so slightly. Perhaps the reason behind the thrice-weekly sport was not mere boredom, but restoring the use of an injured arm. If so, his wounds must extend beyond his visible scars.
She wondered how severe those wounds were. She wondered how much they still pained him.
Too much wondering. It wouldn’t all fit in her brain. Instead, it traveled down to her chest and tightened there.
She smiled. “Shall we continue, poppet?”
His glare in response could have shattered marble.
After a few minutes’ practice, Emma’s agility had improved. She could hold her side of a respectable volley.
“What about ‘precious’?” she suggested.
In response to that, he hit the shuttlecock so hard, it sailed all the way to the back wall and thwacked one of his ancestors right in the powdered wig.
She cheered. “Well done, my precious angel muffin.”
“This stops,” he said. “Now.“
Ignoring his outburst, Emma retrieved the shuttlecok. She served, barely managing to scrape it over the net. “I warn you, I don’t give up.”
“I warn you, I am more stubborn by far.”
“I left home at sixteen.”
“Orphaned at eleven,” he replied, sounding bored.
“I walked to London by myself. In the snow.”
“I marched a regiment to Waterloo.”
“I had to make a new life on my own. Begging for work. Stitching my fingers to nubs.” She dashed across the ballroom, rescuing the shuttlecock just before it hit the floor. Her swing sent it rocketing upward, almost to the ceiling.
He stood beneath the bundle of cork and feathers waiting on it to swirl back to earth. “A rocket exploded in my face. I spent months near death. I quit opium by sheer force of will. My intended bride turned from me in revulsion. I’m still here.” He struck the shuttlecock, driving it into the parquet at her feet. “I win.”
She put a hand to her side, struggling to breathe. “Very well. You win.”
Emma felt chastened, and a bit ashamed. She’d been brave when she left home. People she held dear had turned from her too. But the courage she’d been forced to summon couldn’t match that of a soldier in battle. As for the duke’s wounds, his scars…Vain and shallow as Annabelle Worthing might be, her rejection had heaped insult atop injury. The broken engagement must have deeply wound his pride if not his heart.
She bent to pick up the shuttlecock.
“Wait.” He jogged toward her, ducking under the net. “This will never be a proper match. Your volley is passable, but your serve is a disaster. Give it here, I’ll show you.”
Casting his own racquet aside, he plucked the shuttlecock from the floor and came to stand behind her, closing his right hand over hers where she gripped the raquet and reaching around her with the other arm to position the shuttlecock.
She was in his embrace.
However unbelievably, for a couple who’d been engaged for a week, wed a full day and a night, and come within inches of consummating their union…this was the first time he’d held her in his arms.
All at once, the ballroom became a glassshouse–one filled with a steamy, intimate heat that amplified every sound, every scent. Sweat beaded at the nape of her neck, and she was deeply conscious of each wisp and strand of her hair that had tumbled free.
Mostly, though, she was aware of him. The wall of his chest against her back, and the strength of his arms around her. The soap and sandalwood scent she was coming to recognize. She stared at his hand. Last night, in the dark, those sure, confident fingers…they had been inside her.
“Hold it this way.” He shifted her grip on the racquet handle. “Better.”
A small vibration of joy went through her. Two curt syllables of praise from him, and her heart thrummed like a dragon fly’s wings.
Don’t, she bid it. Don’t you dare.
Her heart didn’t listen to her–but then, it never did.