When the Duchess Said Yes
Random House / Sept. 25, 2012 / $7.99 print & digital
The most daring and reckless of her sisters, Lady Elizabeth Wylder doesn’t blink an eye when London’s peerage nicknames her Lady Lizzie Wyldest, but she’s completely humiliated when her husband-to-be doesn’t acknowledge her existence. John Charles St. George Halsbury, Duke of Hawkesworth, doesn’t give a fig for what others think. He regards his scandalous heritage as a license to do whatever he pleases, and he generally does. And the last thing that Hawke wishes is to marry. Yet, sparks fly when Lizzie and Hawke finally meet, and Lizzie is convinced she has found true love...until Hawke leaves her behind in the country soon after their wedding. But when Hawke finally realizes his mistake, he is determined to woo—and win—his wife’s love back.
Isabella Bradford is a pen name for historical fiction author Susan Holloway Scott; When the Duchess Said Yes is second in Bradford’s series of historical romances about the Wylder sisters. Bradford is a new author to me in both incarnations, though I’ve sometimes read the fun blog she runs with fellow romance author Loretta Chase, “Two Nerdy History Girls.” Because of that I expected, and received, a nice variety of unusual historical details in the story. What I didn’t expect—and loved!—were both the humorous aspects of the story, and the roles of the secondary characters.
My favorite secondary character was the hero’s mother. Bossy mothers are not at all rare in historical romance, yet this particular example intrigued me; her voice is so distinct that I could hear her dialogue in my head.
“Yes, yes, Hawkesworth, your mother, as if even you would forget.” She sailed across the room toward him in a black gown topped by a yellow silk capelet and an oversized feathered hat on her head…She wore a great many jewels on her fingers, on her ears, and draped over her person, her habit for both day and night, and as she drew closer and into the sunlight from the window her sparkle increased. She waited for him to bend down low enough so she could kiss his cheek, then stepped back to study him critically.
“Are you ill?” she asked, scowling fiercely at the tuft of black hair on his bare chest where his banyan had fallen open. “They should have told me at the door if you are. Is that why you are still in your undress? Because you are ill?”
“No, Mother, I am not ill,” he said wearily. “I am in perfect health.”
“Then cover yourself like a Christian,” Lady Allred ordered sternly, the plumes on her hat twitching. “How can I address you about poor Lady Elizabeth if you’re parading about in your nakedness like some wicked pasha?”
Lady Allred repeatedly demonstrates exquisite comic timing and a deft way of criticizing his behavior that gets results.
Almost desperately Hawke tried to focus on the painted Venus, her creamy flesh, her seductive smile. He’d wager fifty guineas that Lady Elizabeth’s breasts were every bit that fine, round, and tempting. It was difficult to gauge with modern women, who barricaded their charms so tightly behind whalebone stays and hoops, but he’d bet Lady Elizabeth was—
“Good day, Hawkesworth,” his mother said briskly, entering unannounced, the plumes on her oversized hat all a-flutter. “I told the footman not to bother calling my name. This was my house long enough that I should know my own way to my own son, even if he insists on sitting alone in his undress in the ballroom. Is this another of the Italian customs you have acquired?”
Despite her frequent snappy criticisms, Lady Allred is full of good advice, advice which I actually agreed with, about how Hawke should behave during the time leading up to his long-arranged marriage. (For example, she noted that he needed to offer his betrothed Lizzie “at least a smidgeon of wooing.”) Too often, the hero or heroine’s family in a romance novel are either too supportive to be interesting, or too oppositional to be likeable. I thought Lady Allred walked that line perfectly; she cares about her son enough that she will use the best means she has at hand, her sharp tongue, to try and steer him towards a happier outcome, a mixture of love and discipline that felt very real.
Hawke and Lizzie were fun, but it’s Lady Allred whom I’d love to see get her own spinoff. I’m already running through a mental casting list!
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter:@victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.