Aug 22 2014 3:00pm

First Look: Anna Campbell’s What a Duke Dares (August 26, 2014)

What Duke Dares by Anna CampbellAnna Campbell
What a Duke Dares (Sons of Sin #3)
Grand Central / August 26, 2014 / $8.00 print, $7.99 digital

What woman in her right mind would say no to marrying the dashing Duke of Sedgemoor? Miss Penelope Thorne, that's who. She's known Camden Rothermere since they were children-and she also knows she'd bring nothing but scandal to his name.

Cam can hardly believe Penelope turned down his proposal. But if she wants to run off to the Continent and set the rumor mill ablaze, he can't stop her. Then her brother's dying request sends him to bring home the one woman he thought he'd finally gotten over.

The only way they'll both get back to London without their reputations in tatters is to pretend they're married during the journey. That means kissing like they mean it and even sharing a bed-until it becomes hard to tell where the game ends and true desire begins . . .

At the Romantic Times Convention in May, Lisa Kleypas declared during a panel that what she hopes for the future of historical romance is a return to the lush, sweeping, epic dramas of the past. In my mind, this is some delicious cross between bodice rippers that got our blood pumping and the tamer but still romantic and memorable historical hits of recent years. And What a Duke Dares, the third novel in Anna Campbell's Sons of Sin series, is a good start to usher in this hybrid that represents the best of both worlds.

This gorgeous story of an uptight duke who's been saddled with a scandalous reputation since the cradle due to the sins of his parents and the less-than-perfect, headstrong girl from a good name if eccentric family he grew up with calls back all the richness of historicals of old. Their families' agreement that Cam and Penelope should marry seemed a given—until the day she rejects his proposal. It's not that she doesn't want him; she wants him too much, and knowing he's sworn off love isn't something she can bear to live under the same roof with. Cam is all honor and Pen doesn't much care what others think. An arranged marriage and a proposal turned down leads to years apart, until fate finds them together again after her brother's dying wish. This leads to travel across continents, close quarters, and lots of missed calls, all reminiscent of what made older historicals great. And the chemistry and draw between the two is palpable from the start.

“I've been a brute.”

Her laugh was wry. “Not by anyone's definition but your own.”

His gaze remained unwavering. “You know why I've been difficult.”

“You told me.”

Then he'd retreated to silence on the subject. Thank heaven. It was excruciating, knowing that he wanted her, but knowing also that only a fool would succumb.

“I'd hoped honesty would simplify things.”

“It didn't.” The air tautened until she felt suffocated. Would he kiss her? Just one kiss to last a lifetime wasn't too much to ask. Except she already had too much to remember.

“Is that because you don't want me?” The flickering light was more deceptive than true darkness. She could almost imagine desperation in his eyes. Cam was never desperate. He'd never let himself become desperate. “Or because you do?”

She jolted back, spilling wine over her hand. “Cam, I –”

“God knows this is wrong. I'm courting another woman. You're my friend's sister. We grew up together.” His voice shook. “But tell me you want me. Not knowing is driving me mad.”

She didn't want to hear this, partly because a wicked, wanton part of her burned to fling herself into his arms and beg him to do a thousand wild and forbidden things to her.

The language is lavish, but not over the top. When Cam and Pen give into each other, after scandal makes marriage stick, there's even a realistic wedding night scene that Campbell doesn't shy away from. It's not forced seduction, and Cam isn't a brute, but the proper misunderstandings turn the occasion into something less than ideal. What follows is a wooing of sorts, however unintentional on one side or guarded on the other, because whatever they feel for each other, there's deep history and respect between them. The question is, can there also be trust and love? Cam holds back, then Pen does. But we're invested every step of the way. It's the course of two people who've known each other forever really getting to know each other. And this includes plenty of heated time in the bedroom.

“Take off your trousers, Cam.” Her tone was sultry, setting his bones vibrating with desire.

Startled, he paused, shirt dangling from one hand. “What did you say?”

She shrugged, still staring at his crotch. “You told me to be myself.”

“Yes,” he said warily. “In society.”

“Everywhere.” She licked her lips again. Each time she did that, his blood heated another ten degrees.

“Come here and I'll help you with your nightdress.”

She smiled as if recognizing his offer for the weak foray that it was. “First I want to see you naked.”

She pointed one elegant finger at his stiff cock. Cam, as master of his household, didn't approve of Pen seizing control like this. His dick, however, thought it was a brilliant idea.

“I didn't mean that you can order me around,” he protested, even as he unbuttoned the front fall.

That mysterious smile still curved her lips. Seducing Odysseus, Calypso must have worn such a smile. Then Cam realized that this was no sorceress. His bride was named for Odysseus's faithful and loving wife. If mythical Penelope bore any resemblance to this Penelope, no wonder the wanderer had been desperate to return.

“You complained that I was too amenable. It's too late to change your mind.”

“Perhaps I miscalculated.”

“Recalculate naked.”

Even when they conquer the issue of physical intimacy, there's the much larger hurdle of emotional barriers to breach. Their feelings are starting to meet in the middle, but pride and secrets and outside conflict hold them back. A secondary romance told in its entirety throughout between Pen's tarnished brother Harry and Sophie, a young woman of high standing and a proud name, makes the story stand out even more, as a device that's started to wane in recent years. And even if the misunderstandings between Cam and Pen—up until those final moments, complete with delayed declarations of affection—last a hair too long, the overwhelming passion of this pair satisfies those true romantics and keeps us rapt with attention. To love this book, you have to embrace the storytelling, which is a complex way of getting to the happy ending that, having waited for it, makes it all the more worth savoring.

Learn more about or order a copy of What a Duke Dares by Anna Campbell, available August 26, 2014:

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Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.

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