A Duke of Her Own is the last installment in Eloisa James' Desperate Duchesses historical romance series. This is the story that we have all been waiting for -- we finally find out what happens to Leopold Dautry, The Duke of Villiers. He is one of the most interesting characters of this series and one I fell in love with from the first.
In Desperate Duchesses, Villiers was portrayed as the most arrogant of arrogant Dukes with a dismissive and cynical outlook for the ton I reluctantly admired. He was a man of contradictions who seemed to care much for his outward appearance; a true rake who didn't think twice about having illegitimate children with his mistresses, and an egotistical chess player who thought he was the best and didn't have a problem saying so. Our Villiers didn't have the best of profiles, but he seemed to have the sex appeal and fire to attract the Georgian ladies like months to a flame. Yet, he disdained those around him. The more he was admired, the more cynical he became. How could I not be intrigued?
As the series progresses, our not-so-pretty and not-so-nice hero is jilted by two different fiancés and once more loses a woman he truly admires to his friend, the Duke of Beaumont. He thinks love is for fools and it's not something he wants in his life. By this point I thought Leopold deserved some love, weather he wanted it or not.
Our story in A Duke of Her Own begins right after Villiers makes the decision to raise his six illegitimate children (yes, six!) under the Ducal roof. In order to achieve this, he needs a wife quickly -- one willing to take on his illegitimate children and strong enough to face down the ton. Only a Duke's daughter will do for him and only two of them are eligible.
Eleanor, the Duke of Montague's daughter, is both beautiful and intelligent. She is also a woman whose heart was broken at a young age and who thinks she's still in love with her old beau, a man who is now married. She once said she would only marry a Duke and now one is available -- her family is putting on the pressure.
After a first meeting full of sharp, witty dialogue, and some great sexual tension, Villiers decides that Eleanor will do. Especially since he's under the impression she is his only hope. Leopold wants to make her his fiancé immediately, but she declines and lets him know that there is one other woman who qualifies. Eleanor convinces Leopold, he needs to meet this woman before making a final decision about the betrothal.
Lisette, daughter to the Duke of Gilner, resides in the country and she never comes to town. It is rumored that she's mad. A house party is quickly planned and all our characters retire to the Duke of Gilner's residence. Lisette is a beautiful woman who seems to have a disregard for the manners and restrictions of the ton. She works closely with an orphanage, loves children and seems to possess a vivid imagination. Villiers is immediately taken with her.
There is also an ongoing storyline that pertains to Villiers' illegitimate children. He has been searching through orphanages for two of them who are missing. Lisette's charity work with the local orphanage makes this a convenient trip for our hero. The children play an important part in this story, with Tobias, his eldest son, as a somewhat key player. Tobias and Eleanor's sister turned out to be my favorite secondary characters.
Once they are all gathered in the country, the story gets interesting. Sparks fly between Leopold and Eleanor... the passion between them was sizzling and I enjoyed every one of their scenes. Eleanor is sexy and smart but the 'blind love' she had for her old flame got old after a while. These two are a pair of flawed characters whose wit and passion outweigh their insight and judgment.
Lisette on the other hand is strange and brings out the protective instincts in Villiers -- I sincerely wanted her to go away. Villiers must make up his mind as to which woman he thinks will be the best mother for his six children -- and for a man with such poor judgment when it comes to women, this is no easy task.
I had fun with this book. Villiers was not the keenest of men when it came to understanding women or children, and he knew it. He admitted it to all and sundry and still went ahead and made one mistake after another. As his young son Tobias told him, he was "such as ass!" I still liked him even though I thought his future Duchess forgave him too quickly. She should have made him beg for at least a year!
The edginess I found in Villiers' character at the beginning of the series was mostly gone by the end of the series. He was really a pale reflection of the man we first met in Desperate Duchesses. Ms. James developed his character throughout this long series and we saw him grow and change slowly. I found myself liking him at the end but not quite loving his character as much as I did in the beginning. I missed that edge.
All in all this was a good Georgian romp, with a full set of great characters and quite a few enjoyable moments for me. A nice ending to a long series, I give this one a B.
A Duke of Her Own