Sunday 11 May 2014

#CBR6 Book 49: "How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days" by Laura Lee Guhrke

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

First off, I just want to say that why the title brings to mind that dreadful "romantic comedy" with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, the plot of the book bears no resemblance, save that there are ten days involved. Sometimes I think publishers actually want people to be put off by their titles.

Unusually tall and with her reputation in tatters, American heiress Edie Jewell had not had any luck finding a suitable husband, despite the aid of London's premier matchmaker. With only a short time left of her first season before she has to return to New York and face the society that condemned her after a foolish misstep, she met the impoverished but charming Duke of Margrave. He needed a fortune and someone to help him to restore his many estates and take care of his many grasping relatives, not to mention to make it possible for him to return to his adventures in Africa. Edie desperately needed to make a good match, so she never had to go back to America. She boldly proposed to Stuart, promising him her enormous dowry, as long as he promised to travel to Africa as soon as she learned to manage the estates, and never return.

Stuart stayed away for five years, but when his valet is killed by a lion and he also barely survives, he decides that it's time for a change. While Edie has excelled at taking care of his family, tenants, land and estates, barely thinking of her absent husband, Stuart has frequently through of the remarkable woman he left behind. He returns to England, wanting to have a true marriage with his wife, building a proper legacy with her to leave their children. Edie is horrified, and insists he agree to a legal separation. If he doesn't agree, she'll leave him. Stuart suggests he be allowed to change her mind. In the ten days before her ship leaves for New York, he get the chance to charm her. If she willingly kisses him before the ten days are up, she gives up on the separation idea. Edie's younger sister, Joanna, is determined to do her best to help him, not just because she seems to think her brother-in-law will keep her from being sent away to finishing school.

The reason Edie is so terrified of physical intimacy of any kind, the deep dark secret she can't confess to anyone, not even her beloved younger sister, is that the reason her reputation was ruined all those years ago wasn't just some foolish indiscretion. She was infatuated with one of the golden boys of New York society. He tricked her into an assignation and raped her. Like so many other rape victims, she blames herself and her own naivety, letting herself be lured into a vulnerable position more than she blames the bastard who raped her. Thankfully, her husband is a thoroughly honourable man and because he senses how nervous and uncomfortable his wife is, he never moves too fast. Edie may have convinced herself that she's unable to feel any kind of attraction or desire ever again, but slowly and incredibly patiently, her husband starts changing her mind.

I was very impressed with how Guhrke dealt with the issue of rape and Edie's difficult aftermath. When Stuart finally discovers his wife's secret, he's understandably furious on her behalf, and does his very best to help her get past her trauma. While romance in many circles still has a very misleading reputation for bodice ripping, and alpha douche bag heroes who force themselves on the heroines, who eventually learn to love their rapists, the historical romance published now really is nothing like that. One or both of the protagonists often have issues they need to work through, but you don't often find actual rape or sexual abuse in their past. It certainly gave a different dimension to the estranged married couple find their way back together.

Edie and Stuart have never really been together. They spent a few weeks together during their courtship and then barely a month as man and wife, with Stuart desperately fighting his growing attraction to his wife. Believing her still heart-broken over the man she left behind in New York, never suspecting the truth, he leaves for Africa earlier than planned, because he's worried he won't be able to keep his promise to leave the marriage unconsummated if he stays. Every time Stuart mentions having thought and dreamt about her in his time away, Edie expresses disbelief. Because of her unconventional appearance and devastating introduction to sex, she's completely unable to see herself as attractive or desirable. This is a romance where the main focus isn't the couple falling in love, because by the start of the story, the hero is already in love. It's the story of a strong and remarkable woman both learning to accept and love herself, as well as accepting love, affection and desire from her husband.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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