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The best kind of fluff - funny and tender with fabulous dialogue
on 31 May 2013
Any Duchess Will Do is the fourth in Tessa Dare's Spindle Cove series, and it was a truly delightful read.
It's a kind of cross between Cinderella and Pygmalion (in intention, anyway) in which the Duchess of Halford, despairing of her son, the eighth Duke's ever marrying, drugs him, kidnaps him and bears him off to `Spinster Cove'. She marches him into the Bull and Blossom tavern, into the midst of a large group of industrious young ladies, and issues the instruction "pick one". She is tired of waiting for him to find himself a wife and tells him that she'll mould whoever he chooses into a suitable bride.
Naturally, Griffin York, Duke of Halford is horrified. But recognising that his mother is utterly determined, he decides that the best way to exact his revenge is to do just as she insists - and he chooses the least likely prospect he can find; Pauline Simms, the barmaid.
Still intent on avoiding his mother's machinations, Griff strikes a bargain with Pauline. If she comes with him to London for a week and ruins the duchess' plans by being a complete and utter social disaster, he will pay her one thousand pounds. Even though that's more money than she could ever have hoped to see in her lifetime, Pauline is initially reluctant to leave. Although she and her younger sister live with their parents, Pauline cares for her sister Daniela, who, while only a few years younger than Pauline, has the mind of a child.
But eventually she agrees. One thousand pounds will be enough money for her to attain her dream of opening her own library, and for her and Daniela to move out of their parents' house and be self-sufficient.
Both Griff and the duchess are very pleasantly surprised by Pauline, who turns out not to be the slatternly farm-girl they'd first thought her. Her speech and manners are `common' to be sure, but underneath it all, she has a natural intelligence and directness that Griff finds refreshing - and it's not long before he finds himself very much attracted to her.
Griff has lived a dissolute life. He's never had to worry about money, and spent his time in the manner of rich young men - overindulging in wine, women and... well, perhaps not the song. To his mother's chagrin, he shows no sign - even at the ripe old age of thirty-four - of wanting to settle down and give her the grandchildren upon whom she's desperate to lavish all the maternal love she's got stored up inside. Griff is an only child - his three siblings died at birth and the Halford line will die out with him if he doesn't marry and set up his nursery.
But about a year before the story opens something happened to him that has - literally - changed his life. He no longer associates with his old crowd or goes out into society and nobody knows
why. He's morose, filled with anger and continually on edge; he despises himself and his old life and wants desperately to put it behind him, but is finding it impossible to move past the tragedy that has affected him so deeply.
Although Griff and his mother are the only members of their family left, they persist in keeping secrets from each other. He won't tell her of his troubles and has no idea how to ask for the love he so badly needs; she won't tell him that she wants so much to love him and the grandchildren she fears she may never have.
Pauline sees this distance between them and doesn't understand why they can't take comfort in each other. She guesses it's another of those things that "aren't done" by the upper classes, but in her typically straightforward way tries to get them to talk to each other. The scenes in which Griff finally confesses to her - and later to the duchess - are heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time, as they show that something positive is going to grow out of tragedy.
Despite that, this is a fairly light read that's full of warmth, humour and sparkling dialogue. Pauline is like a breath of fresh air blowing into the ducal home and is certainly not afraid to tell it like it is. The stuffy, uptight duchess turns out not to be stuffy or uptight at all, and Griff is a wonderfully attractive hero. He's got a nice line in innuendo and a dry wit - and the book contains some of the best banter I've read in a while.
If I have a reservation, it's that Pauline is just a little bit too good to be true. While she doesn't end up taking society by storm, she nonetheless refuses to be cowed by those who believe her to be deserving of less - whether it's her abusive father hitting her with a book and consigning it to the fire or one of Griff's so-called friends trying to prevent her from entering a ballroom. In addition, she's intuitive, has a strong sense of identity and a down-to-earth attitude to sex, and seems to know exactly the right thing to do or say in difficult situations.
As for the idea of a duke marrying a barmaid... well, it shouldn't work and in many books it wouldn't work. But I think that what we have here is a fairy tale; a story about finding love in the most unexpected places - and more importantly, I think, about finding the courage to free onself from the expectations of others in order to finally become the person one is supposed to be.