Hurray for a new Loretta Chase book! This is the first book in her new series Difficult Dukes, about a trio of friends and dukes known as Their Dis-Graces for their rakish activities. Hugh Ancaster is the seventh Duke of Ripley, and his friend the Duke of Ashmont is about to marry Olympia Hightower, pressing Hugh into service as his groomsman. Unfortunately, Olympia isn’t sure she wants to marry Ashmont and after a couple of shots of brandy, decides to make a getaway through the library window. Ripley, who had been sent to make sure she was ready, sees her making her escape and sets off to return her to the ceremony.
Olympia had resigned herself to marrying Ashmont, not out of love but out of duty to her family. Her father hasn’t been the best with finances and she has six younger brothers that have no inheritance. Despite seven seasons, she was close to being on the shelf and dubbed The Most Boring of the Season for all of those seasons and she had been shocked when Ashmont sought her hand in marriage. He’s devastatingly handsome and was also nicknamed His Grace with the Angel Face, and Olympia should be thrilled to marry him even though his reputation and dissolute ways aren’t all that appealing.
So this leads her to make her escape with Ripley in pursuit in the rain and their road trip begins as he realizes that he has to accompany her to her aunt’s home in Twickenham. Nothing goes according to plan from the start, as they travel by hackney and then riverboat with a stop at an inn along the way where they have altercation to save a dog from a beating, and then a sprained ankle for Ripley trying to chase said dog. Olympia’s aunt isn’t at home so they need to travel on to RIpley’s aunt’s instead. Along the way,Ripley is determined to maintain his distance from her but he’s slowly won over by her humor, intelligence and beauty that he had overlooked in the past. In his own opinion he’s terrible at resisting temptation of any sort, but she is supposedly off-limits as Ashmont’s fiancee.
Olympia is also increasingly drawn to Ripley, even though she’s never considered herself the type of woman attracted to a rake. She keeps telling him that she’s boring and unattractive with her spectacles and fondness for library reorganization. Yet he reminds her “Bolting from your wedding… Climbing over the wall. Falling out of the boat. Whatever else one might say about you – and I’m not sure what to say, frankly – boring isn’t on the list.”
Of course, the heart wants what it wants and they both have to struggle with their desire for each other, and the code of honor that Ripley is bound by to his friend Ashmont. It’s a joy to read their slowly burning romance, and Ms Chase writes them with warmth and wit and relative low angst. There’s no big misunderstandings. I loved Ripley and he was one of my favorite heroes in Ms Chase’s books; Olympia was a great heroine as well, smart and sassy without being over the top or making stupid decisions to prove a point. This book had it all and I enjoyed it immensely.
The next books will deal with the other Dis-Graces and I look forward to them as well, especially the Duke of Blackwood who is wed to Ripley’s sister Alice. Their relationship seems to have some issues, and I will be interested to see what Ms Chase in mind for them.