passion rating: warm
Dear Ms. Evans,
I’ll begin this review with the last line of your novella, To Dare the Duke of Dangerfield.
He loved, with a consuming passion, the woman who’d dared the Duke of Dangerfield.
This line evokes a picture perfect happy ending for Harlow Telford, the Duke of Dangerfield, and Lady Caitlin Southall, the woman who dared him. It’s a fitting finish to your tale in which everything is so sweet, lovely, and darling that the book reads like a naughty version of a 1950’s Disney film. The story is an airy cliché, the characters overcome obstacles with unforced ease, each conflict is effortlessly resolved. It’s the literary version of a tiny, over-sweet cupcake; fun enough to take in, but too sugary and predictable to satisfy in any real way.
Catlin and Harlow share the same birthday (so adorable); he is thirty to her twenty-three. As the book opens, Caitlin, wearing trousers, is bent over her horse’s hoof, trying to free a stone caught there.
“If you’re going to point that delectable rump at a man you’re asking for trouble.”Caitlin cursed under her breath and ignored the cultured baritone voice goading her from behind. She remained bent, focused on her task, and determined to clear the stone from her horse’s hoof. Still, irritation dribbled down her back. If she were a cat her hackles would have risen.She knew who the voice belonged to. She’d heard the melodically ducal tones in church and the village store often enough. Harlow Telford, the Duke of Dangerfield, consummate rake and the most powerful man in the Kingdom next to the Prince Regent.The man determined to see her father ruined.
(I considered whether or not a “consummate rake” would go weekly to church and sing in the choir and decided it seemed unlikely. Harlow may be labeled a rake—the only proof of this is his catty mistress whom he dumps a day after spying Caitlin’s pants-clad derriere—but he’s really a Dudley Do-Right kind of guy. Every action he takes is fair, honorable, and just. He’s even sweet to his mom.)
Caitlin and Harlow live next door to one another although they haven’t seen each other for years. Recently, however, Caitlin’s father’s, Earl of Bridgenorth, a sad sack of a man, staked her home Mansfield Manor, in a game of faro against Harlow who won it and now considers it his. Caitlin feels her father had no right to use the house as a marker—it belonged to her mother and, when her mother died, it passed to Caitlin. However, her mother made her father the trustee—a terrible mistake in that, once Bridgenorth lost the love of his life, he became a drinker and a gambler—and thus, legally, he was able to lose it to Harlow. Harlow loathes Bridgenorth because, fourteen years ago, after Caitlin’s mother died and her dad became a cad, Bridgenorth seduced and impregnated Harlow’s recently widowed mother. He then refused to marry Harlow’s mom who had a son, Jeremy, out of wedlock and both have socially suffered ever since. Harlow deliberately won Mansfeld Manor for Jeremy so that Jeremy will own the house he should have been raised in. Caitlin, however, knows none of this—in the never-real world of this novel, such a secret is easily kept from a 23 year old woman in living in a small Shropshire town.
Caitlin loves her home and is determined to hold on to it. So, the day after the trouser incident, she sneaks next door to Harlow’s home at night where he is entertaining two friends, two whores, and his snippy mistress. Given that Caitlin is an unmarried woman, if it were known she visited Harlow’s home, Telford Court, at night and unchaperoned, she would be ruined. She goes anyway and asks Harlow to give her back her house. He instead offers her a chance to win back her home. She agrees and suggests a horse race—her horse Ace of Spades is the fastest around. He declines that offer and, after some negotiation, the two agree instead on three wagers—a horse race, a game of faro, and—I am not making this up—a cake-baking contest to be judged by the local vicar. If Caitlin wins two of the three, she gets back her home. If the Duke wins, he gets Caitlin in his bed. In some other book, this behavior would make Harlow an unscrupulous rake. But here, the minute Caitlin leaves, Harlow sends Larissa—the bitchy mistress back to London—and tells his friend Marcus he plans to marry “the chit.”
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