Any Duchess Will Do
by Tessa Dare, historical (2013)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-224012-5


Every author needs to write at least one Cinderella story in her career, and Tessa Dare does so in such a way that can only be described as "remarkably inspired". Being a Cinderella story, with a dose of Pretty Woman minus the prostitute angle, Any Duchess Will Do requires some considerably suspension of disbelief and a tolerance for the remarkably perfect heroine. Not that this is a hardship on my part, really, as by page 20, I was so dazzled by the whole story that the author could have been feeding me swill for all I care, and I would still be happily asking for me.

Like all rakes, Griffin York has a secret angst. The Duke of Halford is known by all as a debauched scoundrel, but of course, we all know inside is a beating heart full of love and vulnerability waiting for the right woman to unlock and set free. His mother, however, is tired of waiting for him to settle down and give her some adorable grandchildren to smother, so the desperate darling drugs Griff's drink and has him packed off in a carriage to Spindle Cove, the place where unconventional heroines bearing adjectives such as "feisty" and "unconventional" go to wait for some author to write them their romance stories.

His mother bets that she can turn any woman Griff chooses to wed into a proper Duchess, so to spite her, Griff chooses Pauline Simms, the barmaid. Pauline has dreams of opening a loan library for the women in Spindle Cove, so when Griff opens her a thousand pounds to play along but secretly sabotage his mother's plan, she agrees for one week of My Fair Lady moments with Griff and his mother. You know what happens next, of course you do.

Now, while reading this book, I found myself wondering why the room was so hot because I seemed to be dripping sweat down my cheeks. Then I realized that the room was air conditioned and I was actually - eek - crying. I was so caught up in the story that I found myself so immersed in a haze of muddled feelings, all good ones, that I didn't even realize I was sniffing away happily to some of the more romantic scenes in this story.

Oh my goodness, these scenes - plural, believe it or not - they make falling love like the most exquisite mad thing one can do. Griff is so, so, so in love that I end up doubting not even once that this romance between a Duke and barmaid is the sweetest absolute rightest thing in the world. Seriously, I was so enthralled by how this guy falls head over heels in such a singular manner that I could write several volumes of encyclopedias on hyperbole just to describe Griff in this story. His appeal is made even more devastating by the fact that he tries hard to hide his pain. He doesn't want pity. He's that quintessential wounded hero who is just begging to be cracked open and healed by love.

Pauline is perfect. She can do anything. The story probably won't work without such a heroine, however, as someone has to be the one to get to Griff, and heaven knows, anyone other than a saint may not be up to the task. Not that Pauline is a saint, at least not tedious romance heroine "virtues" are concerned. She's not a virgin, she has no weird hang-up about sex, and she doesn't harbor neurotic ideas about guys in general. Yes, she wants money, but she wants to improve her life as well as her sister's. The fact she includes herself in the equation is a nice change from all those selfless dolts who would only do anything to help themselves if a sick kitten is involved.

Any Duchess Will Do is a fairy tale in every sense of that phrase. Reading it is like enjoying a beautiful dream where everything is possible - and amazing - when one is in love. When the author brings on the comedy, I laugh out loud, and when she writes those sweet heartfelt scenes, let's just say that if I didn't have to hold the book in my hands, I'd probably have read the entire book with my hands clasped to my chest. I love this book for the way it makes me feel all topsy-turvy from emotions as well as laughter, as well as for the way it inspires a hardened cynic like me to believe, if only for a while, that falling in love is the most incredible feeling anyone could experience in this lifetime.

My only issue here is how the heroine's lecturing and preaching become heavy-handed by the later parts of the book, so much so that her efforts at intervention on the hero's behalf feels horribly intrusive. Pauline basically morphs into a skinny white chick version of Oprah Winfrey, and I find myself a bit jarred from the story because I can't imagine how someone with Pauline's background can develop such remarkable insight on the human heart and psyche.

Still, that's just a small matter, as I'm too busy being in love with everything else about this book. Any Duchess Will Do definitely will do for me, and it does it with such fabulousness that I am just... done.

Rating: 95


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