After six unsuccessful Seasons, Miss Minerva Dodger chooses spinsterhood over fortune-hungry suitors. But thanks to the Nightingale Club, she can at least enjoy one night of pleasure. At that notorious establishment, ladies don masks before choosing a lover. The sinfully handsome Duke of Ashebury is more than willing to satisfy the secretive lady’s desires—and draws Minerva into an exquisite, increasingly intimate affair.
A man of remarkable talents, Ashe soon deduces that his bedmate is the unconventional Miss Dodger. Intrigued by her wit and daring, he sets out to woo her in earnest. Yet Minerva refuses to trust him. How to court a woman he has already thoroughly seduced? And how to prove that the passion unleashed in darkness is only the beginning of a lifetime’s pleasure ..?
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I don’t know how she does it, but there is something about Lorraine Heath’s books – those that I’ve read, anyway, which is by no means all of them – that gets me “right there”. The emotions and thought-processes of many of her heroines have such resonance that they are timeless; whether it’s the cancer survivor who worries she is no longer attractive (When the Duke was Wicked), or the loving sister desperate to do the best for her brother (The Duke and the Lady in Red), or the wife who realises that her idyllic marriage wasn’t so idyllic (Waking up With the Duke)… and the list continues with Falling Into Bed With a Duke which, in spite of its rather clunky title, features another of those wonderful heroines whose fears and insecurities are familiar to so many of us.
Miss Minerva Dodger is twenty-eight and fed up to the back teeth with being courted by avaricious suitors who look at her and see piles of money instead of a woman. She knows she isn’t beautiful, but she isn’t an antidote either; yet her forthright nature, the fact that she has a brain and isn’t afraid to use it and that she actually has the temerity to voice her own, decided opinions, means she has little prospect of marrying anyone other than a man who is desperate for money. Men like demure, biddable women who look decorative and don’t bother their pretty little heads with anything remotely intellectual – and if there are any words to accurately describe Minerva, “demure” and “biddable” are certainly not among them.
Minerva may have resigned herself to remaining unwed, but she doesn’t intend to remain a virgin. I admit that I looked sideways at the use of the “I don’t want to die without knowing passion!” trope, but in Ms Heath’s hands, it is not at all trite or implausible. Minerva has good reason for feeling as she does; she would like to be married but she can afford to stay single if she must, because she isn’t prepared to marry without love.
The highly select Nightingale club (which the author informs us in her note at the end, is based on the Parrot Club, formed in the 1850s) is somewhere ladies can go to seek sexual satisfaction while retaining their anonymity behind masks. The male patrons are all society gentlemen, but the rule is that the ladies choose their partners – and Minerva thinks it is the ideal place for her to find what she is looking for; a man who will make love to her solely because he desires her and not her dowry.
Nicholson Lambert, Duke of Ashebury lost his parents in a locomotive accident when he was just eight years old and, along with the Earl of Grayling and his twin brother, was brought up by their unstable guardian, the Marquess of Marsden. He, the twins and the marquess’ son were allowed to run wild as boys, and on entering society were dubbed the Hellions of Havisham. Ashebury doesn’t spend a great deal of time in England, preferring to travel the world indulging his passion for photography. On the rare occasions he visits London, however, he seeks a different sort of subject than exotic creatures or landscapes. Ever since his parents’ deaths, he has been haunted by nightmares of mangled bodies, and believes that if he can supplant them with images of beautiful perfection, his nightmares will lessen, and perhaps stop entirely.
Ashe is present at the Nightingale Club on the night Minerva attends and is immediately captivated by her legs, shown to be long and shapely beneath the flimsy garb worn by the female guests. He longs to photograph her, but Minerva is not comfortable with the idea – even though she had been comfortable enough to go to the club for sex. Realising that the mysterious “Lady V” is a virgin, Ashe gently tells Minerva he doesn’t think he’s the man to whom she should be surrendering her virtue, and, after exchanging a passionate kiss, they part.
But Ashe is smitten. He is intrigued by Lady V’s strange mixture of confidence, insecurity and suppressed sensuality, and knows he can’t let things rest at one kiss. Much of the book is a rather delicious cat-and-mouse chase in which Ashe is determined to uncover Lady V’s identity, while Minerva tries to throw him off the scent, believing that he would be as uninterested in her as every other man once he knows who she really is. Matters are complicated further by the fact that Ashe suddenly discovers that his finances are not in as good a state as he had thought; and knowing that Minerva has actually written a book, called A Lady’s Guide to Ferreting Out Fortune Hunters – knows he dare not let her know the true state of his affairs lest she think he’s just after her money, like all the other men who have pursued her. But while he does need her money, Minerva is the only woman Ashe has ever considered marrying; the problem is going to be convincing her that he wants her for more than just her fortune.
While I have a couple of quibbles with the story, I loved the book overall. The romance is beautifully developed and the air between Ashe and Minerva fairly crackles with sensual awareness whenever they appear in scenes together. Minerva is a spirited, independent heroine in the best possible way; she is well-read, well-informed, not afraid to speak her mind, and not prepared to settle for someone who doesn’t love her. And Ashe is perfect for her; handsome as sin and twice as sexy he doesn’t find her intelligence intimidating and to him, Minerva Dodger is every bit as intriguing and attractive as the mysterious Lady V. The relationship between Ashe and Edward, the younger of the twins, is well-drawn and Edward himself is an intriguing character; a young man whose devil-may-care attitude is clearly masking a great deal of anger, insecurity and self-loathing.
My quibbles principally relate to Ashebury because there are some aspects of his characterisation that don’t quite make sense to me. He lost his parents when he was a child, and I can understand his guilt over the fact that his last words to them were spoken in anger and that he suffers from nightmares about the crash even though he wasn’t present. For the most part, however, he comes across as well-adjusted – which actually makes a refreshing change given the number of tortured heroes found in romance novels! – so I’m not quite sure why he was given such a tragic background (other than to set up the series). This isn’t so much a complaint as it is my trying to work out exactly what it is about his character that felt “off”, because I can’t put my finger on it.
But apart from that, I really can’t fault the story which is superbly written and lushly romantic. Falling Into Bed With a Duke is a great start to Lorraine Heath’s new series, and book two can’t appear fast enough.