I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon in return for an honest review.
I’ve enjoyed all the books in the ‘Girl Meets Duke’ series, stories of independent women, and damaged, romantic men. Penny and Gabriel’s story is my favourite so far, perhaps because Penny takes in waifs and strays, and has an unfailing love of animals, something I can relate to.
There are scenes in this story which are hilarious, particularly, the rescuing of Delilah, the foul-mouthed parrot, which occurs at the beginning and sets the scene for what’s to come. Penny and Gabriel’s meeting at this time also sparks the passion that grows between them and is so enjoyable.
Gabriel, the Duke of Ruin, is not from the aristocracy, but many fear him, he is driven, dangerous and damaged, but he has so many redeeming qualities, and it’s impossible not to fall a little in love with him. Penny is honest, loving and generous, but she too is emotionally damaged, and her guilty secret, means Penny and Gabriel have more in common than he first supposed.
The plot is full of historical detail and moves effortlessly along, the characters are engaging and believable. I enjoyed the witty dialogue and the simmering passion, and most of all the happily-ever-after, even though I was sad to come to the end of Penny and Gabriel’s story.
A delightful, historical romance, amusing, original and shamelessly romantic.
Extract from The Wallflower Wager – Tessa Dare
By society’s standards, Penny was rather lacking in accomplishments. As the daughter of an earl, she’d been given the best possible education. Governesses fluent in three languages, a full two years at finishing school, then private tutors in art, music, dancing.
None of it seemed to take. She’d never found an instrument willing to give up a tune for her, no matter how she strummed, plucked, or begged it. She’d attained only marginal competence in sketching.
And dancing? Impossible.
Penny did, however, emerge from adolescence with unparalleled accomplishment in one pursuit.
Nothing pleased her more than looking after those around her. Feeding them, warming them, protecting them, giving them a home. She doled out affection from an endless supply.
The only problem was, she was running out of people to claim it.
She had her family, of course. But first her parents had gone to India as diplomats. Her eldest brother, Bradford, lived in Cumberland with his wife and managed the family estate. Timothy, the middle child of their threesome, had joined the Royal Navy.
Still, she had the most wonderful friends. Never mind that the finishing school girls had scorned her. Penny welcomed the misfits of Bloom Square. Emma, Alexandra, Nicola. Together, they made the rounds of the bookshops, walked in the park, and gathered at her house for tea every Thursday.
Or at least they had done so, until her friends began to start families of their own. First, Emma’s marriage to the Duke of Ashbury had transformed from a convenient arrangement into passionate devotion. Next, Alex had bewitched London’s most infamous rake and became Mrs. Chase Reynaud. As for brilliant, inventive Nicola . . . ?
Penny scanned the note she’d just received, peering hard to make out the breathless scrawl of ink.
Can’t today. Biscuits burned. Breakthrough near.
Penny laid aside the charred scrap of paper and regarded the tray of sandwiches on the tea table, all trimmed of their crusts and ready for a gathering that wouldn’t take place.
Fortunately, in this house, food seldom went to waste.
Taking a sandwich, she crouched near to the floor and whistled. Bixby scampered down the corridor, his two front paws clicking over the floorboards and his lamed hind legs following right behind, rolling along in an ingenious chariot of Nicola’s design.
After several excited sniffs, the dog gave the crustless triangle a cautious lick.
“Go on,” she urged. “It’s a new recipe. You’ll like it.”
Just as Bixby sank his dart- point teeth into the sandwich, the doorbell rang. Penny rushed to answer it. At the last moment, she hesitated with her hand on the door latch.
Could it be him?
It wouldn’t be him, she told herself.
But what if it was?
Sensing her unease, Bixby whined and nosed at her ankles. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Penny opened the door.
“Oh,” she said, trying not to sound dejected. “Aunt Caroline.”
Her aunt entered the house in her usual manner— like a snobbish traveler disembarking on a foreign shore, visiting a land where the native people spoke a different language, exchanged different currency, worshipped different gods. Her eyes took in the place with a cool, smug sort of interest. As though, while she had no desire to truly understand this alien culture, she’d been reading up.
Most of all, she was careful where she stepped.
When she’d completed her quiet survey of the drawing room, she gave a weary sigh. “Oh, Penelope.”
“It’s lovely to see you, too, Aunt.”
Her aunt’s eyes fell on the quilt- lined basket near the hearth. “Is that still the same hedgehog?”
Penny decided to change the subject. “Do sit down, and I’ll ring for a new pot of tea.”
“Thank you, no.” Her aunt plucked a tuft of cat hair from the armchair, pinching it between her thumb and forefinger and holding it away from her body. Frowning at the bit of fluff, she released it and watched it waft to the floor. “What I have to say won’t take long, anyhow. I’ve had a letter from Bradford. He insists you return to
Penny was stunned. “For the summer?” “For the remainder of your life, I believe.” No. No, no, no.
Her aunt lifted a hand, barricading herself against dissent. “Your brother has asked me to tell you he’ll be traveling to London in a month’s time. He asked me to be certain you’re prepared to join him for the return journey.”
Penny’s heart sank. She was a grown woman, and therefore could not be ordered to pick up and move to the farthest reaches of England. However, the snag was this— even if she was a grown woman, she was still a woman. This house belonged to her father, and while her father was out of the country, Bradford had control. Penny lived in Bloom Square at his pleasure. If he demanded she remove to Cumberland, she would have little choice in the matter.
“Aunt Caroline, please. Can’t you write back and convince him to change his mind?”
“I’ll do no such thing. I happen to agree with your brother. In fact, I ought to have suggested it myself. I did promise your parents I would look after you, but now that the war is over I intend to travel the Continent. You shouldn’t be living alone.”
“I’m six- and- twenty years old, and I’m not living alone. I have Mrs. Robbins.”
Wordlessly, her aunt picked up the bell from the tea table and gave it a light ring.
Several moments passed. No Mrs. Robbins.
Aunt Caroline craned her neck toward the main corridor and lifted her voice. “Mrs. Robbins!”
Penny crossed her arms and sighed, fully aware of the point her aunt meant to make. “She’s always looked after me.”
“She isn’t looking after you any longer. You are looking after her.”
“Just because the old dear is a touch hard of hearing— ”
Aunt Caroline stomped on the floor three times— boom, boom, boom— and shouted, “MRS. ROBBINS!”
At last, the sound of aged, shuffling footsteps made its way from the back of the house to the drawing room.
“My word!” Mrs. Robbins said. “If it isn’t Lady Caroline. I didn’t know you’d dropped by. Shall I bring tea?”
“No, thank you, Robbins. You’ve served your purpose already.”
“Have I?” The older woman looked confused. “Yes, of course.”
Once Mrs. Robbins had quit the room, Penny addressed her aunt. “I don’t wish to leave. I’m happy living in Town. My life is here. All my friends are here.”
“Your life and your friends are . . . where?” Aunt Caroline looked meaningfully at each one of the unoccupied chairs, at the trays of cold tea and uneaten sandwiches, and, finally, at the three kittens shredding the draperies with their tiny claws.
“I have human friends, as well,” Penny said defensively.
Her aunt looked doubtful.
“I do. Several of them.”
Her aunt glanced at the silver tray in the entrance hall. The one where calling cards and invitations were heaped— or would be, if Penny ever received them, which she didn’t. The tray was empty.
“Some of my friends are out of Town.” Aware of how absurd she sounded, she added, “And others are mad scientists.”
Another pitying sigh from her aunt. “We must face the truth, Penelope. It’s time.” It’s time.
Penny didn’t need to ask what her aunt meant by that. The implication was clear.
Aunt Caroline meant it was time to give up.
Time for Penny to return to the family home in Cumberland and resign herself to her destiny: spinsterhood. She must take on the role of maiden aunt and stop embarrassing both the family and herself.
After nine years in Town, she hadn’t married. She hadn’t even entertained any serious suitors. She rarely mingled in society. If she were being honest, she would strike “rarely” and replace it with “never.” She didn’t have any intellectual pursuits like art or science or poetry. No bluestocking salons, no social reform protests. She stayed home with her pets and invited her misfit friends to tea, and . . .
And outside her tiny sphere, people laughed at her.
Penny knew they did. She’d been an object of pity and ridicule ever since her disastrous debut. It didn’t bother her, except— well, except for the times that it did.
As a person who wanted to like everyone, it hurt to know that not everyone liked her in return.
Society had long given up on her. Now her family, as well.
But Penny was not giving up on herself. When her aunt moved to leave, she grasped her by the arm.
“Wait. Is there nothing I can do to change your mind? If you advocated on my behalf, I know
Bradford would reconsider.” Her aunt was silent.
“Aunt Caroline, please. I beg you.”
Penny could not return to Cumberland, back to the house where she’d passed the darkest hours of her life. The house where she’d learned to bottle shame and store it in a dark place, out of view.
You know how to keep a secret, don’t you?
Her aunt pursed her lips. “Very well. To begin, you might order a new wardrobe. Fur and feathers are all well and good— but only when they are worn on purpose, and in a fashionable way.”
“I can order a new wardrobe.” It wouldn’t include fur and feather adornments, but Penny could promise it would be new.
“And once you have a new wardrobe, you must use it. The opera. A dinner party. A ball would be preferable, but we both know that’s too much to ask.”
Ouch. Penny would never live down that humiliating scene.
“Make an appearance somewhere,” her aunt said. “Anywhere. I want to see you in the society column for once.”
“I can do that, too.” I think.
Considering how long she’d been out of circulation, invitations to dinner and the theater would be harder to come by than a few up- to- current- fashion gowns. Nevertheless, it could be accomplished.
“Lastly, and most importantly”— Aunt Caroline paused for effect— “you must do something about all these animals.”
“What do you mean, ‘do something’ about them?”
“Be rid of them. All of them.”
“All of them?” Penny reeled. Impossible. She could find homes for the kittens. That had always been her plan. But Delilah? Bixby? Angus, Marigold, Hubert, and the rest? “I can’t. I simply can’t.”
“Then you can’t.” Her aunt tugged on her gloves. “I must be going. I have letters to write.”
Surely there was a way to convince her aunt that didn’t involve abandoning her pets. Perhaps she could trick her by hiding them in the attic?
“I hope you’re not thinking you can hide them in the attic,” her aunt said dryly. “I’ll know.” Drat.
“Aunt Caroline, I’ll . . . I’ll try my best. I just need a little time.”
“According to your brother, you have a month. Perhaps less. You know as well as I, it takes the mail the better part of a week to arrive from Cumberland.”
“That leaves only three weeks. But that’s nothing.”
“It’s what you have.”
Penny immediately began to pray, very hard, for rain. Come to think of it, considering the amount of rain England typically saw in springtime, she probably ought to pray for something more. Torrential, bridge- flooding, road- rutting downpours. A biblical deluge. A plague of frogs.
“If, by your brother’s arrival, I am convinced there’s something keeping you in London other than an abundance of animal hair . . . ? Then, and only then, I might be persuaded to intervene.”
“Very well,” Penny said. “You have a bargain.”
“A bargain? This isn’t a bargain, my girl. I’ve made you no guarantees, and I’m not convinced you’re up to the challenge at all. If anything, we have a wager— and you’re facing very long odds.”
Long odds, indeed. After her aunt had gone, Penny closed the door and slumped against it.
Three weeks to save the creatures depending on her.
Three weeks to save herself.
Penny had no idea how she would accomplish it, but this was a wager she had to win