An entertaining story, sparkling wit and a captivating romance.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 17 December 2018
A Duke in Shining Armor, the first book in Loretta Chase’s new Difficult Dukes series, is simply delightful and filled with all the elements I love so much about her books – an entertaining story, sparkling wit and a captivating romance. The series features the Dukes of Ripley, Blackwood and Ashton, commonly referred to as ‘Their Dis-Graces’ because of their notorious, rakish behaviour. All three had suffered miserable childhoods but formed an enduring friendship whilst at Eton and the three have been inseparable ever since.
After attending his sister Alice’s marriage to Blackwood, Ripley had spent a year on the Continent and, on his return, he is shocked to discover that Ashton is about to marry Lady Olympia Hightower. Furthermore, Ashton is relying on him to ensure that everything goes without a hitch – not an easy job when the bride fails to make an appearance and Ashton is imbibing too much, with the result that he would either ‘sink into a stupor and subside ungracefully to the floor‘ or ‘he’d pick a fight with someone.‘ When they go in search of Ashton’s elusive bride, Ripley finds her climbing out of the library window in all her wedding finery. True to his promise to Ashton, Ripley follows her out of the window, determined to bring her back.
Lady Olympia had not received a single offer of marriage in the past seven years of being out in society, and her only claim to fame was being voted the Most Boring Girl of Year for those years. Her parents are loving but, when it comes to money, they are not financially astute. Her father had wasted vast amounts of money on seasons for Olympia with the view to finding her a husband. Not once had he considered the adverse financial implications for his eldest son and heir, or his other five sons. So, when Olympia catches the eye of the Duke of Ashton and he proposes, it is the answer to her prayers. He might be a notorious libertine, but he is also wealthy, handsome, charming and he seems to like her. It is only on the day of the wedding that doubts, fuelled by rather too much brandy, start to set in and she runs away with Ripley in hot pursuit.
At first, Ripley has every intention of persuading Olympia to return to her fiancé but soon finds himself falling in with her plans to go to her aunt’s. It’s a journey that will change their lives for ever.
I love a good road-trip romance especially when it involves assorted mishaps and misadventures along the way, including a dunk in the river, a runaway dog, a naked duke and more-than-friendly kisses in a post-chaise. The delightful banter between Ripley and Olympia is full of Ms. Chase’s trademark wit and humour which I love so much about her books.
He blinked. “Remarkable. You have a plan.”
“Yes. I only needed the mental stimulation of your stimulating company.”
“Any chance of stimulating you into telling me what, exactly, you’re running from?” he said. “Better yet, any chance of your changing your mind, like a good girl, and turning back? Any chance of something, oh, you know, bordering on reasonable?
Although of short duration, the journey creates a sense of intimacy between Ripley and Olympia. They talk and get to know each other in a way that would not have happened in the normal course of things, given the constraints of society. Ripley discovers that Olympia is far from the boring person she believes herself to be. She is clever, spirited and funny, with a passion for rare books. Olympia discovers that beneath that rakish exterior (a lifestyle which had already begun to pall, according to his Aunt Julia) lies a man who is charming, kind, astute, witty and, most surprising of all, he reads romances!
I love the way in which Ms. Chase gradually builds the sexual tension between Ripley and Olympia, but both are determined not to succumb to temptation. Ripley’s sense of honour prevents him from stealing his best friend’s fiancée, however much he might believe that Ashton doesn’t deserve her. While Olympia doesn’t want to destroy the lifelong friendship between Ripley and Ashton and neither does she want to hurt Ashton. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and I was delighted to see Olympia throw away the rule book and be the one who takes the initiative. Poor Ripley doesn’t stand a chance!
There she was, the spirited general of a girl who’d mowed down a bully. There she was, in a lot of white underthings and a naughty corset, the most deliciously irresistible thing he’d ever seen.
Ripley never resisted temptation. He hardly knew how.
He couldn’t look away or run away or do the right thing. He’d never been a saint and he wasn’t about to start now, of all times.
She said, “Is this too subtle for you?”
“No,” he managed to choke out. “Dammit, Olympia.”
Two limping strides closed the space between them. Two more brought her up against the wall.
Sometimes the scenes are so vividly written that they conjured up all sorts of wonderful images in my mind. I think my favourite scene must be the one with the mechanical invalid chair which Ripley is reluctantly using after he sprains his ankle. It’s had me laughing out loud at Ripley’s antics.
It is obvious that Ashton will not take kindly to his best friend running off with his fiancée and marrying her, and matters have to be settled in the time-honoured way. Luckily, this is a romance and therefore all ends happily.
With his excessive drinking and volatile temper, it seems Ashton will have a difficult journey ahead before he attains his Happy Ever After. I am intrigued by the reason for the obvious estrangement between Blackwood and his wife, and there is definitely some history between Ripley’s Aunt Julia and Ashton’s Uncle Frederick that I am keen to learn more about.
MY VERDICT: This is a delightful story filled with fascinating characters, sparking wit, laugh-out-loud moments and a captivating romance. I am certainly looking forward to the other books in the series. Highly recommended.
3 people found this helpful