Noah Winters, Duke of Anselm, exercises the pragmatism for which he’s infamous when his preferred choice of bride cries off, and her companion, Lady Thea Collins, becomes his next choice for his duchess. Lady Thea’s mature, sensible and even rather attractive-what could possibly go wrong?
As a lady fallen on hard times, Thea doesn’t expect tender sentiments from His Grace, but she does wish Noah had courted her trust, lest her past turn their hastily arranged marriage into a life of shared regrets. Is His Grace courting a convenient wife, or a beautiful disaster?
In The Duke’s Disaster, Grace Burrowes paints an incredibly realistic portrait of the situation faced by two people who marry for the sake of expediency and then realise that they will have to work at it if they’re going to have any chance of making a go of things.
Noah Winters, Duke of Anselm, comes from a family in which the men are famed for their sexual promiscuity. Unlike most of his male relatives, Noah is not licentious or irresponsible – not that it makes much difference to the tarnish that exists on his family name; or the gossips, who believe him to be cut from the same cloth as every other Winters male. In order to fulfil a deathbed promise, Noah is planning to marry, and has selected himself a suitable bride from the year’s bevy of simpering debutantes. On the verge of proposing, he is put out to discover that he has been pipped to the post by someone else, and although his amour propre is somewhat wounded, he is nonetheless quite relieved, as he doesn’t want to live his life shackled to a “giggling twit”. But he still has to find a wife, and instead turns to his former intended’s companion, Lady Araminthea Collins, who is, most unusually, an earl’s daughter. For an earl’s daughter to be in service is almost unheard of, but Thea’s family is in straightened circumstances, and her brother, the new earl, seems determined to drink himself into an early grave, exhibiting no care for Thea or their younger sister. Thea is shocked by Noah’s proposal and determined to turn him down – but when she realises that becoming his wife will enable her to keep her sister from having to tread the same path, she accepts, and they are married three weeks later.
The thing I adore about this book is the way in which it concentrates almost exclusively on the development of the relationship between Noah and Thea. The marriage of convenience/arranged marriage is a common theme in historical romance – and one of my favourites – but even so, the story of this one manages to be something out of the ordinary. We’re shown the pitfalls of marrying someone you hardly know, and how difficult it can be to adjust to having another person to consider besides oneself. It doesn’t help that Thea is keeping a pretty big secret from Noah, something which puts their fledgling marriage on the rocks immediately and about which he is both bitter and frustrated. Yet the more he comes to know Thea and to care for her, the more he comes to see that her situation is likely not her fault and that she’s deserving of compassion and understanding rather than censure.
Then there’s the fact that Noah is keeping a secret of his own – or rather, one belonging to someone else he doesn’t feel at liberty to reveal. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but he is nothing if not honourable, and as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he’s a man for whom family is incredibly important, and who will do whatever he has to do in order to clear up whatever messes have been created by his less responsible relatives. As these now include Thea’s wastrel brother, Noah spends a lot of time with the young man trying to get him to mend his ways, and do his duty by his sisters. Unfortunately, the new earl isn’t especially welcoming of his brother-in-law’s efforts, and while it would have been easy to have him take Noah’s advice to heart and become suddenly reformed, Ms Burrowes doesn’t take that road, and the story is the better for it.
All the characters, from the two protagonists to the secondary ones are very well fleshed-out, and the central relationship is beautifully developed. Noah describes himself at the beginning as “not nice” – and it’s true that he is somewhat autocratic and that he can say some rather cutting things – but Ms Burrowes expertly charts his progress from single man to caring husband, and it’s a delight to read. Noah and Thea suddenly realise that they don’t know each other at all well, even though Thea had spent time in his company as companion to her charge. Both are so used to being self-sufficient that they don’t share easily, but I watched them gradually come to trust each other and own their vulnerabilities with immense satisfaction.
One of the things Ms Burrowes does so well in the book is to show all those little details and small intimacies that are present within long-term relationships, but which are often overlooked because they’ve become so ingrained. I loved the breakfast routine the couple quickly establishes; Thea is not a morning person, so it’s Noah who fixes her tea, then drinks half of it while also snitching her toast. Thea very quickly becomes accustomed to sleeping (as in actual sleeping!) with her husband, enjoying the warmth of his large body and the comfort of his presence, and dreading the day when they will do the same as other tonnish couples and sleep in separate beds.
As is ever the case with this author, the descriptive prose is beautiful and her ability to find the emotional heart of both characters and story never ceases to amaze me. She has a very distinctive writing style which I admit may not be to everyone’s taste, although personally, I like it very much. As an example, Noah and Thea constantly refer to each other as “Husband” and “Wife” throughout the story. In the hands of a lesser author this might seem like affectation, but Ms Burrowes turns the words into the most intimate of endearments that feel perfectly natural coming from the mouths of these characters.
The Duke’s Disaster is a truly delightful read that takes a well-used trope and – incredibly – has something new to say about it. Highly recommended.