THE UNEXPECTED DUCHESS – Valerie Bowman
St. Martin's Paperback
Three ladies of the ton, who are best of friends, are attending yet another Season in Town. None is married nor even betrothed, all for different reasons. Miss Jane Lowndes is a bespectacled bluestocking, who intends never to marry, even should anyone ask. Lady Cassandra Monroe is sweet and beautiful and has had many suitors, but her heart belongs to one man…Julian, a man all but engaged to her cousin. The third, Lady Lucy Upton, is beautiful enough, but her tart tongue and blunt ways have chased away anyone brave enough to think to woo her. Lucy would do anything for her friends, so when a duke begins to frighten the shy Cass with his attentions, Lucy is all too ready to help her. After she has Cass invite the duke into the gardens at a ball, she hides behind a hedge and whispers to Cass the things to say to discourage him once and for all. It doesn't work.
Derek Hunt comes from a family of soldiers. Through his own merits, he advanced to the rank of Lieutenant General. He performed so well leading his troops to victory that the Prince Regent awarded him with a title, lands, and a fortune. It is this man, the new Duke of Claringdon, who plans to marry Cass in spite of her meddling friends. It happens that his best friend, Captain Swift, was badly wounded at Waterloo and is not expected to live. Before Derek returned to England as ordered, he extracted a promise from Derek to marry Lady Cassandra and take care of her.
It is the kind of war the new duke hasn't fought before, but he's not about to let Cass's termagant friend best him. Besides, Derek needs a wife, one who is as restful as Cass and one of whom the Queen and Regent will approve. (Lucy created a scene in the Queen's drawing room when she first made her debut.) The battles that rage between them run hot, not least because of the completely unwanted physical attraction between them. Derek and Lucy are nothing if not loyal to their friends
I must admit to not liking Lucy in the beginning. She seems much ruder than she has to be, but then there are reasons for her unconventional behavior that go way back. As she and the handsome hero duke (who is the Season's greatest catch) trade witty, if cutting, banter, she begins to be more likable. Still, events work against them as well as their strong loyalties.
There is much more to THE UNEXPECTED DUCHESS than their battles. Other characters affect the overall plot. There is another member of Lucy's group of friends, her cousin and father's heir, Mr. Garrett Upton. Derek's brothers also play parts as do two other army friends currently in French hands. And, of course, there are the mothers. On the whole, the story develops into an amusing and affecting story.
THE UNEXPECTED DUCHESS is the first of a new series. Most likely Cass and Jane will have their turns, and a couple hanging threads will be tied up. But while on the subject of series, Ms. Bowman's Secret Brides series is also well worth reading if you haven't already. She comes up with original story ideas. (I gave SECRETS OF A SCANDALOUS MARRIAGE a rare Perfect 10 last October.)