This is the third of the Girl Meets Duke novels, which involves a group of four eccentric women friends. Penny has already been introduced as the vegetarian animal lover who makes horrible sandwiches with meat substitutes. This one was a delightful and ridiculous romp in usual Dare fashion, and I preferred this one to the previous novel in the series (I liked the heroes in The Governess Game, but not the some of plot points).
A self made man, Gabriel Duke, has bought the property next to Penny’s family’s London residence (she is the sole human occupant, sharing with two dozen orphaned and abandoned animals). He is known as the Duke of Ruin and the ton look down upon him though he is richer than many of them. He has been working on renovating the house so he can sell it one of the many new rich, expecting that the draw of living next door to someone part of a titled family like Penny will help him drive up the price.
Unfortunately, his renovation plans are behind schedule. Part of it is due to bickering between his architect and his housekeeper (a hilarious sub plot), and the other part is due to all the demands from Penny to consider her horde of animals in their building schedule. A lady next door is also less of a selling point when she grazes a goat in the common area, and keeps a steer in her mews – not to mention the home invading parrot.
However, the animals may not be a concern much longer – Penny has three weeks to meet three stipulations from her family, or return to the family home in the country with her brother. Penny’s Aunt Claudia is worried that Penny isn’t actually doing anything with her life and wants some proof that Penny has a social life beyond her own home.
In order to keep his investment profitable, Duke makes a deal with Penny – he will help her re-home all the animals so she will be able to stay and increase his property value. Of course, this means they have to spend a lot of time in each other’s company because Penny wants to vet all placements. Gabe and Penny feel strongly attracted to each other from the beginning, and they don’t spend too much time trying to resist it. After all, as Penny explains, you can’t exactly ruin someone that doesn’t have any prospects anyway. I quite enjoyed how much Penny took charge despite being portrayed as a passive wallflower in other ways.
Emma, Ash, Alexa, Chase and Nik all show up in the novel as well and try to shelter Penny. That’s actually one of the appeals of Gabriel – he treats her as an equal rather than someone to be coddled. While they are all protective, there is also a quick running joke about Chase and Ash arguing about which of them Gabe prefers.
The other thing I quite appreciated about this novel is that Dare doesn’t have Gabe become too angsty about his status and keep pushing Penny away. He is certainly worried about not being worthy of her, but it leads to him making mistakes in other ways rather than becoming another victim of the “push her away for her own good” trope. That was actually one of my main issues with The Governess Game. I don’t know why I can never quite connect with the quirkiness in Milan considering that Dare also has some ridiculous premises in her novels but hers are so over the top that I am amused by them. I think it might also simply be that Dare in general as a lighter tone (not that Milan is a heavy read) so it’s just part of the whole story while it’s more noticeable in Milan? I’m only bringing up Milan here since I reviewed one of her novellas the other day and didn’t love a certain cheese factor, and yet I’m all in for the parrot that learned to talk in a brothel.