My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Kate McKinley’s erotic historical novella, A Duchess in the Dark, was a quick read. Funnily enough, even though I thought I had a reasonably good time reading it, some things in the beginning shadowed my views of the lead characters- the H, Ashton and the h, Daphne. I’ll try to explain why I felt that way in the following...
Ashton, the Duke of Claymore, is currently visiting a house party of one of his closest friends, James. At night, some lady slips into his room when he is in a brandy induced stupor and starts touching him. Now, Ashton is already a Duke. A handsome Duke and a rake (no surprises there), or so it was said for the better part of the story, and women are... well, they’re always vying for his attentions. When the woman starts touching him, he readily thinks it’s his mistress and has sex with her. It was so mind-blowing that he even remembers it vividly at daytime, and the dried blood he finds doesn’t really bother him, thinking it was that time of the month for her or some such thing. But when, downstairs, James informs him that his mistress hasn’t even arrived yet is when Ashton is alarmed. Who the hell did he shag last night? And the thought of blood reminds him that he might have to look for the offended party and offer for marriage. Even though, James sagely ‘advises’ him to take off to avoid being caught, Ashton is determined to look for this girl because the sex was too incredible brush aside.
Here’s a guy who has no idea when his mistress will arrive and has sex half-drunk with a virgin, now wondering who it was! I would shake my head at him but I already knew who this ‘offended party’ was. Only just wasn’t sure which was worse...
The girl was Daphne, James’s sister-in-law. And she did it to ‘confirm’ a marriage proposal. She’s been hoping for the last two years that Lord Wallingford, her gentle Edward, will propose to her. Daphne has been daydreaming about it, thinking she’s in love and that he returns her affection, though from what I could assess he has never been anything but polite to her, showing no signs of love of any kind. But to Daphne it was. She’s kinda desperate at this point, so much so that in her opinion (to validate what she did), this was done to egg on this proposal she was sure will come her way just about any day now... Unfortunately (or fortunately? I don’t know) for her, she slips into the wrong room and shags the wrong guy, as she finds out when she was about to return to her room.
Do you see my point?
I thought you would.
Needless to say, I was eye-rolling at this, thinking how ridiculous! I’m neither a fan of heroes who has no idea whom they’re sleeping with (drunk or otherwise) and heroines who are mercenary enough to sleep with a man to force out a marriage proposal. Neither Daphne, nor Ashton saw anything wrong in what they did to each-other, which to me wasn’t alright.
Thankfully, things go in favor of them after that (because I shudder to think of Ashton’s face if it was some ugly girl and he’d find himself wanting to throw off of James’s roof... but let’s just not go there, shall we?). Daphne has been attracted to Ashton always, as he has been to her. Yet she stayed away thinking he’s a rake and won’t change and he did because she’s a virgin and James’s SIL, hence untouchable. But now it doesn’t matter anymore. Once Ashton finds out who it was, and the fact as to why she did it, he becomes ever more determined to have Daphne. He’s so enamored of her that he’s willing to marry her without any qualms whatsoever.
If only things went that smooth...
For our Duke, who is used to getting what he wants, Daphne keeps dodging him for quite a while. I would’ve enjoyed this a lot more if Daphne’s attempts were more of a determination of really avoiding him, rather than silly excuses to keep him at bay because she... well, I’m not sure why, except that she kept saying that she loves Wallingford, yet she clearly enjoyed being pursued by Ashton. Most definitely the things he did to her once or twice after that night.
Of course, Wallingford later becomes the obvious villain. I was actually veering towards the mistress having that role but she’s never mentioned in the story ever again. Now, I have to mention this because it bugged me so much and why I felt that Wallingford becoming the villain was too obvious. At one point in the story, on the dinner table, there was a minor accident and Wallingford gets mad at Daphne for spilling drink on him. Yes, he was not nice to her but was it entirely his fault? I thought it was Ashton’s fault for fondling Daphne that way, startling her out of her wit in the process. Wallingford was sitting right beside her. Personally, I’d be mad at both men. Yet, afterwards, Daphne is so overcome with gratitude because Ashton came forward to warn Wallingford off of her that he’s now her hero! So Wallingford becomes the villain who was after Daphne’s dowry all these years. I still don’t see why Daphne was SO sure that Wallingford was in love with her.
For the majority of the story, there weren’t any hint of ‘love’ anywhere, so when Daphne and Ashton say ILU to each-other in a matter of few pages, I failed to find that connection in their relationship.
All these questions could’ve been avoided, IMO, if there were more background on the characters. It felt like I was reading in the middle of a story which had a very hasty ending. This is also why I felt I never really had a chance to change my already altered views of the lead characters, which sadly, I wasn’t entirely able to shake off.
I really thought this story had potentials and putting aside the things that bugged me, I liked it. The author had me interested enough to make me want to read the next book in the series. 3.5 stars.