VIRTUAL TOUR: A Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes #1) by Loretta Chase

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Not all dukes are created equal. Most are upstanding members of Society. And then there’s the trio known as Their Dis-Graces.

Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, will never win prizes for virtue. But even he draws the line at running off with his best friend’s bride. All he’s trying to do is recapture the slightly inebriated Lady Olympia Hightower and return her to her intended bridegroom.

For reasons that elude her, bookish, bespectacled Olympia is supposed to marry a gorgeous rake of a duke. The ton is flabbergasted. Her family’s ecstatic. And Olympia? She’s climbing out of a window, bent on a getaway. But tall, dark, and exasperating Ripley is hot on her trail, determined to bring her back to his friend. For once, the world-famous hellion is trying to do the honorable thing.

So why does Olympia have to make it so deliciously difficult for him . . . ?

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, November 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1833
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 STAR TOP PICK

Review by Em

Charming, clever, funny and romantic in equal parts, A Duke in Shining Armor is a wonderful start to Ms. Chase’s newest series, Difficult Dukes.  The difficult duke in this case is trying, for the first time in his life, to do the right thing.  Unfortunately for our beleaguered hero, he’s trying to do the right thing on behalf of a bewildered heroine, who’s become hopelessly entangled in trying not to do the wrong thing.  Confused?  So was he.  Marvelously so.  Our principals are forced together on the road trip from hell, wherein everything that can go wrong, does.  Except, it doesn’t.  Because when the couple finally reaches what they think is the end of the road, their arrival marks the start of a very different kind of journey – a lifetime together.  Just as fate intended.

When Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, returns to England after a year abroad, he’s surprised to discover his boon companion, the Duke of Ashmont – aka ‘His Grace with the Angel Face,’ – engaged to be married.  Pressed by Ashmont to act as his best man, Ripley applies himself to the role with gusto – ensuring Ashmont makes it to the altar after a night of carousing and a brief street brawl.  Unfortunately, and despite his best efforts, things quickly go awry.  The bride, Lady Olympia Hightower, is nowhere to be found, and Ashmont is steadily drinking himself into a stupor. Hoping to avoid a scene and eager to move things along, Ripley takes it upon himself to track down the missing bride.  When he does, he’s completely unprepared for the sight that greets him:  Lady Olympia Hightower, dressed in a frothy concoction of lace and tulle and beads, balanced on the window ledge.  After spotting Ripley, she tells him she just needs a breath of air, drops out of the window and starts running; Ripley, the ever dutiful groomsman, is forced to follow. In the rain. Without his hat.

Lady Olympia isn’t quite sure how she found herself on the run from her own wedding. After spending the majority of seven London Seasons as a perpetual wallflower, voted Most Boring Girl of the Season seven years in a row, Olympia had little hope of landing one of the eligible bachelors who paid her little notice.  But when the handsome and wealthy Duke of Ashmont asked her to marry him, Olympia didn’t hesitate to do her duty.  The only daughter of the spendthrift Duke of Gonerby, sister to six brothers, Olympia quickly grasped that marriage to Ashmont was an answer to her family’s unspoken prayers.  Her parents are ecstatic, Ashmont is smitten, and Olympia… well, she’s been having serious second thoughts.  So that’s why, on the morning of her wedding, bolstered by several cups of brandy-laced tea, Olympia finds herself with one foot on either side of the open library window, plotting her escape.  She’s in the midst of a tipsy pep talk when the Duke of Ripley opens the door and spots her.  Fueled by liquid courage, Olympia drops to the ground and takes off.

Olympia tries hard to shake Ripley.  As their road trip from hell gets underway, she’s slightly drunk, frustrated by her uncomfortable attire, and annoyed by her handsome companion.  He refuses to simply let her go and insists, between entreaties to return to the wedding ceremony, on accompanying her to her aunt’s home in Twickenham – where she hopes to hide and ride out the disgrace of bolting from her own wedding.  To her dismay, it soon becomes clear to her that Ripley is nothing like she assumed.  He’s intelligent, clever, funny – his wicked and dry sense of humor is simply delicious – and once she gets a glimpse of him sans clothes (you’ll see), she can’t shake a very inconvenient attraction to… well, every single thing about him.  A sober Olympia finds herself daydreaming about her very stubborn champion, wishing he was the man she was destined to marry.  But after a lifetime spent on the shelf, unnoticed and underappreciated, Olympia’s skewed vision of herself leaves her with all kinds of doubt about her own appeal to a man like Ripley.  Certain she offers little that would appeal to the handsome rake, Olympia is resigned to a life of infamy after jilting the Duke of Ashmont.

Ripley is determined to return Olympia to Ashmont, and even as each of his overly optimistic plans fail, he’s relentlessly hopeful that things will somehow turn out in the end.  He can’t quite believe Ashmont landed Olympia for his duchess, but he tries to do right by his friend.  Meanwhile, as the trip progresses and he’s forced to spend time with Olympia, Ripley begins to recognize she’s everything he never realized he wanted and needed in his own life.   Ripley starts to resent Ashmont, wanting beautiful, funny, sharp and intelligent Olympia for himself.  He’s frustrated by Olympia’s self-doubt and insecurity, and annoyed at the part he played in making her feel that way. She’s magnificent and he can’t help his attraction to everything about her – her mind, her body, her sense of humor, her beauty… Ripley, world renowned rake, falls hard for his bespectacled companion and it’s awesome.

When all his best laid plans go awry, and Ashmont fails to catch up to them, Ripley eventually steers them to the home of his favorite aunt, Lady Charles Ancaster.  Aunt Julia, who practically raised the three Dis-Graces (Ripley, Ashmont, and their friend, Blackwood), is quick to chastise her nephew for his role in the debacle of Olympia’s wedding day… but she also sees what Ripley and Olympia try hard not to – that they’ve fallen in love.  She’s a terrific secondary character, playing a pivotal role in the second act/resolution of the story.  If she wasn’t a fictional character, I’d be tempted to high-five her.

Reader, because the journey – with all of its highlights and lowlights (and there are many) – is such a delightfully entertaining trip, I’m reluctant to spoil it for you.  So I won’t.  Suffice it to say that nothing goes as planned, and in the span of a few short days, Ms. Chase somehow crafts a love match between Olympia and Ripley that feels profoundly real, romantic and special.  Meanwhile, Ashmont and Blackwood desperately try to track the pair down – and Ripley, determined to honor his friendship, tries valiantly not to fall for Olympia.  His friendship and loyalty are tested as the novel comes to a close, but Ms. Chase deftly delivers a happily ever after that honors both.  I’m eager to find out just who the sweetly befuddled Ashmont ends up with – and to discover what’s led to the estrangement between Blackwood and his wife, Ripley’s sister.  Ripley’s story is a marvelous introduction to the trio, and I can’t wait for more of these Difficult Dukes.

Loretta Chase was a favorite historical romance author before I picked up A Duke in Shining Armor. But this romantic, funny, enchanting and redemptive road trip from hell is simply terrific and her best, most memorable work to date.   A Duke in Shining Armor is one of my favorite novels of 2017.


EXCERPT

Prologue
London
Early morning of 11 June 1833

The Duke of Ashmont was not a very good duke—rather an awful one, actually. And so nobody could be in the least surprised to see him, drunk as an emperor—that was to say, ten times as drunk as a lord—staggering down the steps of Crockford’s Club on the arm of one of his two best friends.

This one was Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley. Where Ashmont was fair-haired, blue-eyed, and angelic-­looking, Ripley was dark. Unlike Ashmont, he did not appear to be spun of dreams and gossamer, and women did not follow his movements with the moonstruck expressions they accorded His Grace with the Angel Face.

On a good day, someone had said once, Ripley’s face resembled that of a wolf who’d been in too many fights.

Furthermore, though his slightly older title ranked him a notch or two higher in precedence than Ashmont, Ripley was merely as drunk as a lord. He could still distinguish up from down. When, therefore, His Grace of Ashmont showed an inclination to stumble in the downhill direction, toward St. James’s Palace, Ripley hauled him about.

“This way,” he said. “Hackney stand up ahead.” “Right,” Ashmont said. “Can’t miss the wedding.

Not this one. It’s me doing it. Me and Olympia. Have to be there. Promised.”

“You will be,” Ripley said as he led his friend across the street. The wedding had been news to him, the choice of bride a shock: Lady Olympia Hightower, of all women. She was the last girl on earth he’d thought would marry Ashmont—or any of them, for that matter.

Not that Ripley knew her very well. Or at all. They’d been introduced, yes, years ago. That was in the days when respectable persons still introduced Ripley and his two friends to innocent girls. But those were not the kinds of girls the ducal trio wanted. Gently bred maidens were for marrying, and marriage was sup-posed to be years away, sometime in the dim, distant future.

Apparently, the future had arrived while Ripley wasn’t looking.

First the Duke of Blackwood, the other of his two boon companions, had married Ripley’s sister over a year ago, a few days before Ripley left for the Conti-nent. Now Ashmont was doing it. Ripley had heard the happy news mere hours after his return to London yesterday.

No, he’d returned the day before, because today was yesterday now. He’d come to Crockford’s because he wanted a decent meal, and Crockford’s Ude was the next best thing to Ripley’s own chef, Chardot, who’d come down with a foul cold sometime during the Channel crossing.

Chardot went with him everywhere because he was amply paid to do so, and Ripley liked his comfort. Having been forced, for no sane reason, to live like a pauper during his boyhood, he lived like a king now.

Ripley was debating with himself whether, on the whole, he’d better have stayed abroad, when four men spilled out of a narrow court, one crashing into Ash-mont, with force enough to dislodge him from Ripley’s light grasp and push him into a shop front.

Ashmont bounced back with surprising energy. “You clumsy, bleeding, half-­wit! I have to get married, you bloody arsehole!” At the same moment, he drove his fist at the fellow’s face.

One of the man’s friends tried to butt in. With a sigh, Ripley grabbed him by the back of the collar. The fel-low swung at him, obliging Ripley to knock him into the gutter.

What happened after that was what often happened when Ashmont was about: a lot of filthy language and filthy fighting, and men rushing out of the clubs, shout-ing bets, and a female or two screaming somewhere.

Then it was over. Their foes lay strewn about the pavement. Ripley didn’t wait to count or identify them. He collected Ashmont from the railing he’d slumped against and trudged to the corner with him. He sig-naled, and the first in line of the hackneys plodded their way. He threw Ashmont into the decrepit coach and directed the driver to Ashmont House.

Servants waited up, as they were accustomed to do, for Ashmont. They bore him up the stairs to his bed-room and undressed and washed him without fuss.


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GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A Duke In Shining Armor by Loretta Chase.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 12/5/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Loretta Chase has worked in academia, retail, and the visual arts, as well as on the streets-as a meter maid-and in video, as a scriptwriter. She might have developed an excitingly checkered career had her spouse not nagged her into writing fiction. Her bestselling historical romances, set in the Regency and Romantic eras of the early 19th century, have won a number of awards, including the Romance Writers of America’s Rita. For more about her past, her books, and what she does and doesn’t do on social media, please visit her website www.LorettaChase.com.

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