Wednesday, August 16, 2017

[Review]: "The Duchess Deal"

romance novel covers, historical romance, Royal Pick, The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
Publisher: Avon (August 22, 2017)
Series: Girl Meets Duke, 1
Genre: Historical Romance

When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
- They will be husband and wife by night only.
- No lights, no kissing. 
- No questions about his battle scars.
- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
- They will have dinner together every evening.
- With conversation.
- And unlimited teasing.
- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love… 

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My Review:

When Avon and Tessa Dare first shared a look at the cover shoot for The Duchess Deal, I fell in love. That cover – I had to have it! Plus, you know, Dare, so duh.

Then I found out it was a marriage of convenience AND a Beauty and the Beast themed romance. TAKE ALLLLLLL MY MONEY!

Now, months later and mere days from its release, I’m happy to say that The Duchess Deal definitely delivers!

"He's been alone and is determined to remain that way. He doesn't trust anyone, but he respects those who challenge him. I suspect that's why you are here. He's angry, resentful, bored, in more pain than he lets on--and you'll either be the making of him or he'll be the ruin of you."

Ash was wounded at Waterloo, leaving him severely scarred on his face and body. He’s since retreated to his estate, hiding from the world. When his fiancée is sickened by the very thought of marrying such a monster and calls it off, it hits him: he’s likely to die without an heir, for what lady could stand to marry and bed him? Surely only a woman desperate for marriage, and marriage to a rich duke at that.

Just as he’s come to this conclusion, Emma shows up on his doorstep wearing a hideous wedding dress – the one his ex-fiancée ordered – and demanding payment, regardless of the wedding being called off. He decides to offer her something more than a mere handful of coins: he proposes a marriage of convenience. She’ll get money and status, in return he wants an heir. Emma, a vicar’s daughter and seamstress who has worked hard to get where she is in life, has her own reasons for agreeing.

"Your days will be yours to do whatever you wish." His voice darkened. "Your nights, however, will belong to me."

From there, it’s a tale as old as time as the marriage of convenience slowly turns into something more.

I have a fondness for awkward “everything is going wrong / this isn’t going to work” sex scenes. And we get two such scenes here, as they try to consummate their marriage. The first night, Ash is too worried about her seeing his scars, and of her reaction to his touch. Her reaction is an entirely GOOD reaction, but he mistakes it for a bad one and stops. The next night, they’re stopped once again, this time by Emma’s beast of a cat attacking Ash.

Fear not, they do successfully, ahem, start work on that heir requirement. And it is deliciously sexy. Soon, nightly visits are not enough for either of them. Huh, who would have thought . . . 😉

“Don’t forget it again,” he said in a low, thrilling voice. “Or I’ll be forced to tie you to the bed.”
At the suggestion, her intimate muscles fluttered. “Is that meant to be a threat? Because I . . . I don’t seem to find the idea entirely objectionable.”
“You don’t?”
She licked her bottom lip. “Well, you’re very good at this, apparently. And what with the dark . . . It’s all very shadowy and sensual. Like one of those feverish dreams one has on a hot summer’s night." 
“This is something you’d dream about. Being pawed by a hulking stranger in the dark.” 
Emma squeaked out her tentative reply. “Maybe?” 
Unbearable moments passed in silence. “You are incredible."

Oh, but these two are also lovely to watch outside the bedchamber. Watching them work towards that “something more” was a treat, and definitely had some BatB parallels. Library time, dinners and conversations, and eventually Emma trying to persuade him to rejoin the world. All fun and sweet and lovely scenes to read, while also adding to their budding relationship.

There’s even some help from his servants, who try to push them together again and again in hopes that they’ll fall in love. One such attempt involves the good ol’ “Oops, the driver left you two alone at the empty country house and didn’t come back until the following day? My bad” meddling.

Speaking of Ash’s servants, I so love the servant-who-doesn’t-act-like-a-proper-servant characters, such as Khan, his butler. Khan had no qualms about telling Ash when he was being an ass about Emma.

“Your Grace, you wouldn’t know a love match if it punched you in the stomach.” The butler plunked the basket of cricket balls at Ash’s feet. “Dodge.” 
Khan dealt him a solid blow to the gut. Ash doubled over. 
The butler tugged on his vest. “You were supposed to dodge.” He bowed deeply, then departed the room.

Another fun part? Emma’s endless teasing as she tries out a dozen different endearments/nicknames for him. She doesn’t like Ash, abbreviated from one of his titles, considering his burn scars, and won’t use his Christian name because it’s the same as her father’s and that would be just…no! So she sets out to find something else to call him. He gets all grumpy-irritated about the names while she has a blast messing with him.

"What about 'precious'?" she suggested. 
"God, no." 
In response to that, he hit the shuttlecock so hard, it sailed all the way to the back wall and thwacked one of his ancestors right in the powdered wig.
She cheered. "Well done, my precious angel muffin."

And you know there’s some swoony-romantic moments in here. Because Dare.

“Don’t love me.” 
The words came unbidden from his throat. Not a thought, but a plea. 
“Too late,” she whispered in his ear. “Don’t tell me so. Don’t say the words.” 
“I love you.” She cupped his face in her hands and brushed a kiss to his lips. “I love you so much.” 
There was nothing left him to resist. He held her to him, and as they tumbled over the edge together, no joy could have been more complete. 
He was complete. 
He held her tightly in his arm, pressing kisses to her hair. “I love you. You will never know how much I love you. There aren’t words.”

My one complaint is I wish Emma’s love of making dresses had stayed on page after their original agreement was made. After that, it more or less disappears, with the exception of a brief mention here or there. I’m not saying I expected her, as a duchess, to open up her own shop or anything. But I wanted her to retain and actively use her passion, even as a duchess, and instead it ended up being kinda kicked aside to focus on the romance and other things.

I’ll leave you with one more sexy teaser, shall I?

He jerked free of her grip and spun her away from him, positioning her to face the bedpost. He bent her forward at the waist and placed her hands on the tall column of carved wood. 
“Hold it,” he said. 
She gripped the post tight. 
That accomplished, he nudged her legs further apart. Emma felt exposed, almost on display—and apparently that was his aim. He spread her intimate places with his fingers, opening her to his view. Her embarrassment was mollified—somewhat—with the sound of satisfaction he made. His thumb slid over her creases and folds, making them soften and swell. 
“Please,” she said. “Please. I want . . . You know what I want.” 
“If you want my cock, then tell me so.” His length teased her as he rocked back and forth on his heels. "I want to hear your say it."

For a lovely BatB style romance, don’t miss The Duchess Deal! I’m excited for the rest of this new series; I’m assuming the heroines of the other books will be Penelope, Nicola, and Alexandra, whom Emma befriended in this one. They all grabbed my attention, that’s for sure, and I’m always desperate for more solid female friendships in my romance novels, too.

4 1/2 STARS! 

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I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via Edelweiss.

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If you want to read more quotes that I highlighted, check out my Twitter! There are So. Many. Quotes.

Remember, since this is a Royal Pick, come back on August 31st for a chance to WIN an ecopy of your own!


Until Next Time,

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