Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, is barely keeping his head above water in a sea of inherited debts. Though he has a long-term plan to restore the family finances, his sister has a much faster solution: host a house party for London’s single young ladies and find Julian a wealthy bride.
Elizabeth Windham has no interest in marriage, but a recent scandal has forced her hand. As much as she’d rather be reading Shakespeare than husband-hunting, she has to admit she’s impressed by Julian’s protective instincts, broad shoulders, and, of course, his vast library.
As the two spend more time together, their attraction is overwhelming, unexpected… and absolutely impossible. With meddling siblings, the threat of financial ruin, and gossips lurking behind every potted palm, will they find true love or true disaster?
Publisher and Release Date: Forever, November 2017
Time and Setting: Haverford Castle, Wales, 1820s
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Lady Wesley
If you grow weary of reading about rakes and villains and the seamier sides of 19th century Great Britain, turn to a Grace Burrowes book for a change of pace. I suggest No Other Duke Will Do (ignore the silly title) for the story of two good and honorable people who find their way to a happy ending despite bumps in the road. They come from warm, loving families whose members appear as engaging secondary characters. There are no deep dark secrets. No Big Misunderstandings. No kidnappings. Just two adults who talk to one another like adults and who listen to one another and who fall in love. Nobody tells these stories of romantic and familial love better than Grace Burrowes.
Elizabeth Windham is the eldest daughter of Lord Anthony Windham, the younger brother of Percival Windham, Duke of Moreland. Burrowes’ Windham Series told the stories of the Duke and his beloved Duchess and their five daughters and three sons, with the duke constantly attempting to interfere in their romantic pursuits. Now that Percival has gotten his own children married off, he and the duchess have turned their attention to their four nieces. In two previous Windham Brides series, the two youngest girls have married a Scottish duke and the duke’s heir apparent, respectively.
As the book opens, the London season has ended, prompting Elizabeth and spitfire sister Charlotte to agree, somewhat reluctantly, to take part in a house party at Haverford Castle in Wales, the country seat of Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford. The party has been organized by Julian’s sister Glenys in hopes of turning up a suitable duchess for her brother. For his part, Julian has no intention of marrying any time soon, but he hopes the party will produce a husband for his sister.
Julian’s marriage plans are on hold because he is virtually penniless. For decades, both his father and grandfather had spent lavishly to acquire rare books and manuscripts, depleting the estate’s assets to do so. Now, Haverford Castle is home to some 30,000 volumes, but the carpets are threadbare and the furniture is worn. Julian has calculated that it will take him eight years to pay off his debts, so until then he will remain single, weighed down with a burden that he did not deserve. That is unless he marries an heiress. But Julian is an honorable, loving man, and the notion of marrying for money is distasteful to him.
Elizabeth is a lover of books, so her motive for visiting Haverford Castle is not to get married but to explore the fabulous library. She feels no burning desire to be married but neither does the role of “spinster aunt” appeal. Elizabeth is strong, level-headed, competent, and kind, and she immediately likes both Julian and Glenys. They quickly take to her as well, but Julian realizes that even though Elizabeth has a generous dowry she would not bring enough money to save his estate. Besides, he shies at the idea of spending all of his wife’s dowry and leaving her no provision after his death.
Most of Julian’s debt is in the hands of his vulgar, social-climbing, immensely wealthy neighbor Lucas Sherbourne, who is as close as we get to a villain in this story. Sherbourne would like to marry Glenys, but if he can’t he is determined to call in Julian’s debts and ruin him. He would also like to establish coal mines in the area, but Julian has managed to block his plans. When Sherbourne crashes the house party, Julian is too much of a gentleman to send him packing, and before the book ends, there are hints of a tendre between him and Charlotte. (We shall have to wait for the next book to see what happens there.)
One of the things that I enjoy about house party romances is how the main couple is able to come together slowly and naturally, and in this book, it is not just Julian and Elizabeth who are headed toward a happy ending. Glenys has an admirer in the form of the Marquess of Radnor, Julian’s closest friend and owner of the neighboring estate. Despite his wealth and attractive presence, Radnor is reluctant to offer for Glenys because he believes that she views him merely as a friend. He is right about that, but then Glenys doesn’t think of love and marriage for herself, only for her brother. Then there is Julian’s cousin Hugh St. David, whose wife Delphine is a comet streaking across the firmament of willing young men. Elizabeth observes that if the fossil-hunting Hugh didn’t totally ignore his wife she might behave differently.
The story of Julian’s younger brother Griffin is the most moving of the secondary characters. Griffin is mentally challenged; today we might call him autistic, but I won’t attempt a diagnosis. Once Griffin reached adulthood Julian set him up in a cottage on the estate, with elderly Abner Jones and his young niece Biddy to look after him. Griffin is a lovely, gentle man, and a gentleman despite his limitations. He loves to walk the estate with his faithful dog King Henry, and he knows every plant and animal. The love between him and Julian is deep, and Julian worries because Griffin is his heir yet he is completely unsuited to taking on the responsibilities of a dukedom. Griffin wants to marry Biddy, but of course, the situation is complicated by Griffin’s condition and the chasm between their positions in a class-bound society.
Finally, we get a glimpse of Elizabeth’s and Charlotte’s elderly Aunt Arabella, the Marchioness of Pembroke, who is their chaperone at the house party. Those who have read the Windham books know that Percival was a younger son, sent off to Canada as a soldier. Peter Windham was the eldest son, married to Arabella, but he died very young. There is a touching scene where she confronts Julian about his intentions toward Elizabeth, only to be given the standard speech that Julian is not in a position to marry. Aunt Arabella then recounts the story of her short marriage, and I must admit that it brought tears to my eyes. “By the time he was your age, he could no longer sit a horse for even an hour, and we’d danced our last waltz. You are wasting time, Haverford.”
Now that I’ve mentioned all of these characters, it may seem like they overshadow the main couple, but that is not the case. This is primarily Julian’s and Elizabeth’s story, with concerns about Julian’s financial situation lurking behind all of their interactions. Their attraction is bound up in mutual respect, wit, and intellectual compatibility. Ironically, Julian, who has grown to hate the millstone created by his 30,000 books, falls for a woman who loves books above all else, and the fate of the books is key to their happily ever after.
If I have one criticism of the plotline, it is Julian’s refusal to raise funds by selling some of the books. In this regard, he has rather naively relied upon the advice of London solicitors rather than seeking out knowledgeable bibliophiles. Ultimately, it is a small niggle, as the financial barriers to the couple’s marriage are handled neatly and believably.
As I have said repeatedly, Grace Burrowes is a consummate storyteller, and her talents are evident on every page of this book. If like me, you have enjoyed excursions into Windhamworld, this book provides yet another view of the extended family. If you have never read a Burrowes novel, No Other Duke Will Do is an excellent place to begin.