The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1) by Tessa Dare

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When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, August 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Tessa Dare’s brand of historical romance is always a mix of fairy tale, romantic comedy and a light, airy tone. The Duchess Deal has fun pairing its grumpy, reclusive duke with a kind and sensible young woman who is ill-suited to the ton but perfect for him.

Emma Gladstone isn’t normally the type to arrive uninvited at someone’s home but there are times when desperation will make a woman do many things. Dressed in a luxurious – if a tad ostentatious – wedding gown, Emma knocks on the door of the Duke of Ashbury’s town house intent on collecting on a debt incurred by his former fiancée. The gaudy dress was to be the showpiece for the duke’s bride and no expense was spared; however when their engagement was broken, Emma was left with a completed gown and an unpaid bill. Showing up at the duke’s home wearing the garment in question, Emma hopes she can guilt him into paying for her services. The duke isn’t quite the man that she expected and she’s initially put off by his rather blunt demeanor but when he attacks her work and insults the dress it lights a fire within Emma. Making it very clear that she will not leave without payment, Emma prepares to do battle with the surly and scared man before her.

The interruption by a woman dressed in a monstrosity of a wedding gown would have been comical to Lord Ashbury years ago, but now it seems like fate. Arriving back in London after a long recuperation from injuries sustained at Waterloo, Ash has been working to plan for the future of the dukedom up to and including finding a wife and creating an heir. He’d already drafted a letter to his solicitor asking him to find a woman willing to enter a marriage of convenience so when a ready-made bride shows up in his study it’s a perfect solution. Ash shocks the beautiful seamstress by offering her either the three pounds she wanted for the dress or the chance to become his duchess. She balks at his offer and leaves with the money; however Ash is not deterred now that he’s found the perfect woman. In his mind a seamstress should be happy to accept his terms of a marriage to beget an heir after which she will have the freedom to live as she sees fit at one of his country estates.

Ash finds out which modiste Emma works for and shows up on the doorstep to propose a second time, fulling expecting her to accept. Emma is shocked that Ash would go to such lengths to offer a loveless marriage to a virtual stranger and she’s ready to decline again; however his plan to give her a property outside of London falls in with her own need to find somewhere to hide a friend and client dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Emma decides to marry Ash but counters his rules for their relationship with a few conditions of her own. Before she’ll accept his proposal Emma asks him for one kiss, believing that they both deserve a pleasant moment together before they turn the marriage into a business arrangement. Ash agrees and the kiss quickly turns passionate as their mutual attraction for each other starts to surface. He is stunned to realize that the unassuming seamstress has a sultry side that’s just begging for release. In the long-locked part of his heart, Ash is excited to find a woman who can look past his scars and find enjoyment in a physical relationship; however the sting of society’s cruelty about his appearance makes him wary of trusting her affection.

The Duchess Deal certainly has shades of Beauty and the Beast throughout, but Emma and Ash are much more than their fairy tale counterparts. Emma’s backstory is filled with betrayals and pain that she’s used to strengthen herself. She’s fiercely independent and has no problem questioning a duke to his face or forcing him to concede to her wishes rather than the reverse. That challenging approach to their relationship is what attracts Ash to her rather than a bland lady of the ton. In Emma, he sees someone to spar with intellectually and someone who comes to match him in appreciating the physical pleasures two people can find together. Once Ash is comfortable around his wife, his true personality begins to shine, revealing a man who cares very deeply but protects himself with sarcasm and feigned indifference to what others think of him.

Some of the secrets running in the background of Ash and Emma’s marriage complicate their romance but it’s nothing that ruins their story. Ash’s means of blowing off steam is to go out walking at night and his appearance starts to generate some unwanted attention. The newspapers label him the Monster of Mayfair and embellished stories of his attacking men in the streets or scaring young children create a divide between him and Emma when she begs him to take the headlines seriously and stop his behavior. Emma isn’t completely frank with Ash about her plans to help her pregnant friend without betraying the woman’s secret to her father and she manipulates Ash into venturing back into society all so that the woman’s father will accept his daughter traveling with the new duchess. When Emma’s plans are revealed at the same time that the authorities call for the capture of the Monster it becomes harder for Ash and Emma to trust that their spouse will support and protect them if needed.

I’ve long been a fan of Tessa Dare’s books and I’m very happy that The Duchess Deal follows her style to a tee. It’s very easy to get swept up in Emma and Ash’s romance and enjoy just how well they’re suited. I’m not certain what’s next in the Girl Meets Duke series but I’m already eager for its release.

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