The Duchess Deal
Tessa Dare     

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Girl Meets Duke
Book: 1

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…

I went into reading The Duchess Deal not knowing the hero, Ash—the Duke of Ashbury—is horribly scarred. And I’m kind of ashamed to admit I’m not a big fan of the beauty and the beast trope. The second I realized what I was reason, 60% of me thought I might not be long for this book despite absolutely loving Tessa Dare’s last book.

What a mistake that would have been if I’d allowed my prejudice and discomfort make me put this book down. But I should really thank Ms. Dare for that because she made sure the book was ‘unputdownable’. She sucked me in from the start.

Usually I’d start off by saying how much I loved the hero because in order for me to give a book 5 stars, I need to fall head over heels in love with him. Not to say that isn’t the case here—I do love Ash—but I really really loved Emma. Ms. Dare really has a way with her heroines. I’m just remembering now how much I loved Charlotte in Do You Want to Start a Scandal.

Emma Gladstone is a seamstress looking for payment for the wedding gown she made for Ash’s former fiancée when she shows up at his residence. How that interaction with turns into a marriage proposal from the taciturn duke is a product of fate. At least that’s the way I look at it. Initially, Emma pays him little mind. The idea of a seamstress—no matter how scarred he is—marrying a duke is preposterous. He can’t be serious. And even when she realizes he is, there’s his disposition. He’s not the warmest of men.

“You are a duke. I am a seamstress. What else is there to be said?”

He held up one hand and counted off on his fingers. “You are a healthy woman of childbearing age. You are a gentleman’s daughter You are educated. You’re passably pretty—not that it’s a concern for me, but a child should have at least one nonhideous parent.” He was down to his last finger. “And you’re here All my requirements are met. You’ll do.”

Emma stared at him in disbelief. That was, perhaps, the most unfeeling proposal she could imagine. The man was cynical, insensitive, condescending, rude.

And she was definitely going to marry him.

Emma hasn’t had an easy life. She’s estranged from her father and has been on her own for a good while. I was moved by one of the main reasons she accepts Ash’s proposal. So selfless. Always thinking of other people. And the way she is with Ash. Open. Honest. Maybe a little too honest and open for her tender heart. I felt for her. I hurt when she hurt and laughed at her wit and guileless charm. I especially loved that she isn’t a wilting wallflower when it comes to her emotions or sex.

As for Ash, my heart bled for him. Scarred by war, he doesn’t believe any woman could ever want him. He thinks he’s a monster—and sometimes plays one in real life. He became engaged to his former fiancée before he was scarred in the war and everyone thinks she dumped him because of that. Lucky for him Emma needs money, could use a home of her own, and is willing to marry him. But he’s determined that once she gives him an heir, they won’t share a bed again. Sigh. How naïve of him. Emma does exactly what he fears. She worms her way into his hardened heart, softening it and him.

The Duchess Deal is filled with Ms. Dare’s trademark humor and wit. I loved the scene where Davina (Emma’s special project) and Emma discuss birth control.

“So he wore a French letter?”

Davina gave her a blank look. “What’s that?”

Emma was nonplussed. “Precisely what precautions did you take?”

“All the usual ones. After it was done, I jumped up and down for ten minutes. Sniffed pepper to make myself sneeze three times, and drank a full teacup of vinegar. I did everything right.”

Then there’s the scene when Ash is introduced to vegetarian fare.

“I’d like a ham sandwich very much, thank you.” Ash took one eagerly, stuffing a large bite into his mouth. The more chewing he could manage, the less speaking he needed to do.

“No, no. It’s a sham sandwich,” Penny said. “Vegetables mashed and pressed into a loaf, then sliced like ham. Turnip and potato, mostly, with cloves and a few beets for color. Quite nourishing, and every bit as delicious.”

Oh, God.

Ash choked on his bite. He strove manfully to conceal a grimace as he washed the mess down with a gulp of tea.

“Lady Penny is a vegetarian,” Miss Teague said.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

She doesn’t eat meat,” Emma said.

He paused. “I still don’t understand.”

And lest you think Emma and Ash’s romance is all fun and games, deeper issues are covered like Emma’s past, Ash’s nightly sojourns that get him into a bit of trouble, and meddling servants. Okay, the last one is quite humorous.

All in all, a wonderful book. Personally, I think it’s Ms. Dare’s best book yet. And I can’t wait for the next one.  

~ Beverley