The Way to a Duke’s Heart
Avon / August 28, 2012 / $7.99 print, $5.99 digital
Charles de Lacey, Lord Gresham, is running out of time, running from his responsibilities, and running from love.
Destined to be a duke, Charles de Lacey has led a life of decadent pleasure, free of any care for propriety or responsibility. It comes as a terrible shock to learn that he might be stripped of everything, thanks to his father’s scandalous past. He has no choice but to find the blackmailer who would ruin him—and his only link to the villain is a woman who may be part of the plot…
To save his fortune and title, he vows he’ll stop at nothing—in fact, he’s all too eager to unravel the beautiful, tart-tongued Tessa Neville. She intrigues him and tempts him like no other lady ever has. With only his heart to guide him, and keenly aware that his entire future is at stake, Charles must decide: is she the woman of his dreams, or an enemy in disguise?
The Way to a Duke’s Heart is the third book in Caroline Linden’s The Truth about the Duke trilogy. In it, the thread involving blackmail and the legitimacy of the three sons of the recently deceased Duke of Durham that links the three books is resolved, and Charlie the Charmer gets his HEA. I like Charlie because I have a fondness for heroes who are more substantive characters than their appearance suggests, but it is the heroine, Tessa Neville, who makes this book for me. Charming heroes with carefully concealed wounds are appealing, but they are not uncommon. Heroines who know themselves, admit their faults, and act decisively are much rarer.
Even Tessa’s reason for being in Bath marks her as unusual. Her brother, Viscount Marchmont, is interested in investing in a new canal, and the family agrees that it is best to send Tessa to determine the soundness of the investment.
Tessa was never swayed by the exquisite cut of someone’s waistcoat, or even by a convincing prospectus; she had the practical—almost ruthless, her sister called it—turn of mind necessary to make wise investments, and the forthright demeanor vital to getting the truth.
Tessa has balance. Unlike some intelligent heroines, she is not uninterested in her appearance, but she finds an excessive interest in such matters foolish.
It wasn’t that she didn’t care about her own appearance, or didn’t wish to look smart. She just had no patience for endless dithering over the merits of ivory gloves versus fawn gloves, or whether a blue gown should have white ribbons or blond lace or perhaps seed pearls for embellishment. She had been born with an unfortunately firm and decisive personality, much to the dismay of her frivolous sister.
When Tessa makes an error in judgment, she admits it. When she and her companion first encounter Charlie at the hotel in Bath, Tessa is hungry, tired from the trip to Bath, weary of her good-hearted but silly companion’s chatter, and impatient to be shown to her room. When the Earl of Gresham arrives, they are left to wait until he is effusively greeted and escorted inside. Tessa observes to her companion, who is awed by Gresham’s appearance, “He looks indolent to me.” Gresham overhears her remark. Even though he seems more amused than offended, Tessa knows her remark was ill-judged, and she says so: “I never dreamed he would overhear, but I was wrong to say it out loud.” She also recognizes that she is prejudiced against Gresham because experience has taught her to be distrustful of men with his looks, status, wealth, and charm.
One of my favorite descriptions of the romance heroine is “women who do,” a phrase found in Judith Arnold’s essay in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women (1992). In the romances I enjoy most, the heroine is not passive. She acts. Tessa not only refuses to be passive; she acts assertively even in situations when a more conventional heroine might take refuge in silence and tears or run away. As a nineteen-year-old, she is deceived by a handsome charmer who persuades her that he values her intelligence and independence and even her unfeminine interest in bank stocks and lease agreements. When she overhears him tell his brother that she had “a shopkeeper’s brain that would make his fortune, sufficient connections to establish him in society, and just enough beauty that he could tolerate bedding [her],” she is humiliated. But she is also determined to end the relationship in a fashion that will make reconciliation impossible and will leave him as humiliated as his words left her. She waits for her revenge.
“. . . I waited until we stood at the altar, before my family and his, and when the vicar asked if I took him to be my husband, I said very loudly and clearly, “Never, for he is a whining boor without the wits of a sheep.”
And while Tessa comes to regret the embarrassment she caused her family, she continues to believe her former fiancé got what he deserved. When she falls in love with Charlie, she never considers keeping the truth from him. She tells him all about her scandalous behavior, including details that not even her family knows.
Finally, when she briefly considers giving Charlie up for his own good, she changes her mind with no wavering and admits her stupidity in thinking about giving him up.
She was an idiot to think she could give Charlie up, she realized. All her resolve to refuse him and live out her days were no match for the pull he exerted on her heart and mind.
“Heart and mind”—that’s a combination that makes me believe in an HEA. Tessa Neville is definitely my kind of heroine.
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.