The arrogant Duke of Trent intends to marry a well-bred Englishwoman. The last woman he would ever consider marrying is the adventuresome Merry Pelford— an American heiress who has infamously jilted two fiancés.
But after one provocative encounter with the captivating Merry, Trent desires her more than any woman he has ever met. He is determined to have her as his wife, no matter what it takes. And Trent is a man who always gets what he wants.
The problem is, Merry is already betrothed, and the former runaway bride has vowed to make it all the way to the altar. As honor clashes with irresistible passion, Trent realizes the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined. In his battle to save Merry and win her heart, one thing becomes clear:
All is fair in love and war.
He didn’t move. “Tell me, do you consider yourself representative of American ladies?”
“In some respects,” she said, hesitating.
His smile deepened. “How do American ladies compare to their English counterparts?”
“Well, American ladies prefer to speak rather than warble,” Merry said, with a mischievous grin. “We never faint, and our constitutions are far hardier than those of delicate English gentlewomen. Oh, and we add tea to our milk, rather than the other way around.”
“You are of the impression that ‘delicate’ characterizes the fair sex as represented tonight in Lady Portmeadow’s ballroom?”
Merry pursed her lips, thinking of the hawk-eyed ladies who ruled over London society. “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Englishwomen aspire to delicacy, and American women do not. For my part, I believe that a woman’s temperament is something she ought to be able to decide for herself. I have no plan to have an attack of the vapors now, nor shall I in the future.”
“I’ve heard about these ‘vapors,’ but I have yet to see a woman faint,” he said, folding his arms over his chest.
He had a nice chest. Her eyes drifted all the way down to his powerful thighs, before she recovered herself and snapped her gaze back to his face. His expression was unchanged, so hopefully he hadn’t noticed her impropriety.
Still, in the back of her mind, she admitted that Aunt Bess was right: on the right man, snug silk pantaloons were an undeniably appealing fashion.
He was patiently waiting for her to respond. He had a kind of power about him that had nothing to do with fashion. Now she thought of it, she had seen that kind of self-possession before: in the Mohawk warrior she’d once met as a girl.
She shook her head, pushing the thought away. “Not even once? In that case, you’re either lucky or remarkably unobservant. Didn’t you notice the fuss earlier this evening when Miss Cernay collapsed?”
“I arrived only a quarter of an hour ago. Why did Miss Cernay faint?”
“She claimed a mouse ran up her leg.”
“That is highly improbable,” he remarked, a sardonic light in his eyes. “Lady Portmeadow is notorious for her frugality, and not even mice care to starve.”
“Miss Cernay’s claim is not the point,” Merry explained. “She was likely groped by Lord Ma—by someone, and fainted from pure shock. Or perhaps she feigned a swoon to avoid further indignities. Either way, I promise you that an American lady would have taken direct action.”
He unfolded his arms and his eyes narrowed. “Am I to infer that you know who this blackguard was because he groped you as well?”
“‘Grope’ is perhaps too strong,” Merry said, noticing the air of menace that suddenly hung about those large shoulders. “‘Fondle’ would be more accurate.”
Her clarification didn’t improve matters. “Who was it?” he demanded. His brows were a dark line.
She certainly didn’t want to be responsible for an unpleasant confrontation. “I haven’t any idea,” she said, fibbing madly.
“I collect that you did not faint.”
“Certainly not. I defended myself.”
“I see,” he said, looking interested. “How did you do that, exactly?”
“I stuck him with my hatpin,” Merry explained.
She nodded, and showed him one of the two diamond hatpins adorning the top of her gloves. “In America, we pleat silk gloves at the top and thread a hatpin through. They hold up your gloves, but they can also be used to ward off wandering hands.”
“Very resourceful,” he said with a nod.
“Yes, well, the lord in question might have squealed loudly,” she told him impishly. “Everyone might have turned around to look. And I might have patted his arm and said that I knew that boils could be very troublesome. Did you know, by the way, that a treatment of yarrow is used for boils, but it will also stop a man’s hair from falling out?”
She could feel herself turning pink. He had no need of that remedy. Although cropped short, his hair was quite thick, as best she could see on the shadowy balcony.
But he gave a deep chuckle, and Merry relaxed, realizing that it was the first time all week—perhaps even all month—she felt free to be herself. This man actually seemed to like it when a bit of information escaped from her mouth.
Feisty heroine? Check! Brooding hero? Check! Witty banter? Double check! As you’d expect from Eloisa, this novel is a fun ride from start to finish. From the first chapter, you are hooked into Merry’s mind. Here is a situation we don’t come across in many a historical romance novel. A woman jilting one fiance? Possible. A woman jilting two fiances? That never happens. The poor girls reputation would be in ruins, but we get it here. The jiltings force Merry to run to England in search of that final husband. Eloisa does even better because you’d expect a story like that to start with Merry arriving in England in search of a husband, but instead the perfect groom has already been located…then a mysterious meeting with a stranger sparks something Merry never expected.
I really enjoyed Merry’s character. Her fiery personality, her penchant for announcing random facts when she’s nervous, her love for her aunt, and her compassion for everyone just kept me smiling. She everything I wanted in a heroine. Trent, also, didn’t disappoint. Swoony and strong, Trent was just the right level of honorable for a tortured hero coveting his brother’s future bride.
From the first page, this completely hooks you. It keeps your attention strong until around page 300 and from there it dwindles a little. For me, watching them flirt and banter while Merry slowly discovers that maybe Cedric isn’t the right choice for her was magic. After they marry, though, it slows quite a bit. I feel like the last 50-75 pages were overkill. I can see why they are there and I can see how they’d answer several unanswered questions, but the story would have been stronger for me if it had ended closely after the wedding and left it at that.
Even with that last bit that dragged on, this book was still wholly enjoyable. I highly recommend it to all historical romance fans and it’s a must read for any Eloisa James fan.