My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
When I saw this freebie by Sherry Thomas, I knew instantly what my next read was going to be. After all, I needed to find out whose story this was. The characters didn’t ring any bell just that moment (I read Fitzhugh Trilogy back in 2012, don’t remember every detail now).
It turns out, Claiming the Duchess is a very, very short novella dedicated to Clarissa, the adoring step-mother to our H of Beguiling the Beauty (book 1), Christian. She appeared briefly there in a couple of scenes and we learned that she and Christina shared a very strong bond unlike that of a step-mother and son. Christian has been the Duke for quite a while at that time and Clarissa had re-married, living happily with her second husband. Needless to say, neither was fond of the late Duke, who was vain, presumptuous and a randy womanizer, always berating Christian for his interest in science.
This story, which takes us back at least 13 years into the past, shows how badly Clarissa was treated by the Duke, who not only loved poking fun at her whenever he felt like it but also was incapable of fidelity. He married a young Clarissa, who was all starry-eyed and in love with her husband. That illusion, however, shattered very soon. The Duke broke her heart, as plain and simple. Yet Clarissa went on, a loving relationship with her step-son the only good thing coming from this marriage.
At a house party, Clarissa meets a Mr. Kingston, cousin to one of the Duke’s friends. The meeting was very brief, not a lot was said or done, yet Clarissa couldn’t forget the handsome man, who, maybe, was some years younger to her own 28. Because of the way Mr. Kingston behaves on the rest of his stay and abruptly leaves at the end of the house party, Clarissa decides their one moment of soul shattering connection was just her imagination. Yet, she kept living on that... all alone, daydreaming away about him, while her husband went partying with his latest mistress.
At that point, Clarissa receives a letter from a Miss Kirkland with an ardent request for a cutting of the famous Algernon House lavender hydrangeas. And from that letter forms a lovely friendship that endured the next 4 years of Clarissa’s life, including her husband’s demise and the next years of mourning... In between, she never stopped communicating with Miss Kirkland. But meeting her in person was another matter entirely cause she seemed to be a recluse and politely declined Clarissa’s invitations.
When Clarissa’s official mourning period is over, she decides to throw a house party. Meanwhile, have to mention that she never forgot about Mr. Kingston either, not knowing if they’d ever have an opportunity to know each-other on a deeper level. What would happen if she takes a chance, now that she’s free of her first marriage? Can she? Did Mr. Kingston ever thought of her the way she has for the past 4 years?
To find out, you gotta read this story. It was beautiful, especially the last chapter... My only complaint was the length of the novella. I certainly wouldn’t have minded a couple of more chapters to see James and Clarissa together in real sense. There was not a lot of that, not even a love scene. *sigh*
“Claiming the Duchess” is a freebie and can be downloaded from most retailer sites out there. I downloaded mine from smashwords.