Title: I Dared the Duke
Author: Anna Bennett
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: April 2017
Length: 320 pages
Series?: The Wayward Wallflowers #2
Genre: Historical Romance
DARE TO FALL IN LOVE
Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire, is known throughout the ton for three things: the burn scars on his neck, his ornery disposition, and the trail of broken hearts behind him. None of which would concern Miss Elizabeth Lacey in the least—if she weren’t living under his roof. As his grandmother’s companion, Beth is all too concerned with the moody and compelling duke. Incensed by his plans to banish the sweet dowager duchess to the country, Beth refuses to do his bidding. If Alex wants her help, he’s going to have to take her dare…and grant her three wishes.
Alex adores his grandmother, which is precisely why she must leave. A string of unfortunate incidents has him worried for the safety of everyone around him—including the dowager’s loyal and lovely companion, Beth. But the notorious wallflower isn’t as meek as she appears, and as their battle of wills heats up, so does Alex’s desire. He’s dangerously close to falling in love with her…and revealing secrets he’d rather keep hidden. How can he convince her that his darkest days are behind him—and that, for the first time in forever, his heart is true?
Labeled the Wilting Wallflowers by the Duke of Blackshire three years prior, it caught on and has followed her sisters around since. After the eldest Wallflower marries well and their struggles are over, Elizabeth finds herself with a lot of extra time on her hands. When the dowager Duchess of Blackshire seeks a companion, Beth gladly accepts and enjoys her work. When the dowager’s grandson shows up, Beth and Alexander Savage don’t see eye to eye on anything but his grandmother’s happiness. And the first thing that’s got to go is Beth!
Alex regrets dubbing Beth and her sisters the Wilting Wallflowers, and he hopes it never comes out. But he wants Beth gone nonetheless, and he wants his grandmother safely ensconced in the country. Both of which will upset his grandmother, and Beth goes to bat for her and digs in her heels. Alex doesn’t make a good first impression at all – wanting to send his elderly grandmother off to the country and out of his hair! He relents and lets Beth stay on, who bribes Alex into doing sweet gestures for his grandmother, like granting wishes. Three wishes, to be exact. For the great love Alex has for his grandmother, he begrudgingly agrees.
But he also has to keep her – and now Beth, a greater risk – safe. His reasons for wanting his grandmother in the countryside were not vain or selfish. Alex has had an uncharacteristic number of “accidents” lately that no longer seem like accidents at all. Someone is out to murder him. But who? And why? Until he knows, no one he loves is safe. Taking up Beth on her deal will prove much more cumbersome than he originally thought.
Elizabeth Lacey – orphaned as a child, only her uncle would take her and her sisters in, and they have lived among the ton as the Wilting Wallflowers
Alexander Savage – the Duke of Blackshire, orphaned and raised by his grandmother, convinced someone is out to murder him
Marquess of Darberville – aka Darby, Alex’s longtime friend
Alistair Wiltmore – Lord Wiltmore, Beth’s elderly uncle, raised Beth and her sisters, rumored to be in dire financial straits, also rumored to be eccentric and even mad
The Dowager – she is an elderly lady who adores her grandson, but won’t do with his atrocious behavior at times
“Perhaps you assign evil intent to my actions because that is what is in your heart – but I can assure you, it’s not in mine.”
The Highs and Lows
- The Banter. Right from the start, Beth and Alex hit it off – sparkingly! Their quick witty replies and short barks at one another had me laughing. The audacity and snobbery of Alex, the unperturbedness of Beth and her rebuffs bordering on catty. He had no idea about Beth’s placement with his grandmother. When he first arrives home, he believes Beth is robbing the place! After being apprised of the situation, he quickly grasps that she is indeed one of Lord Wiltmore’s Wallflower nieces and makes a dastardly assumption about Beth and money. A great way to open the book, give some background about Beth, and set the tone. It is through these quiet and heated moments that each learns a little more about the other, where things can be revealed in private without exposure to the ton. But there are still some things that Alex doesn’t share.
- The Dowager. The dowager duchess means the world to Alex. After the unfortunate fire that took both his parents and nearly killed Alex himself, the dowager painstakingly cared and nursed him back to health. The scars, however, remained. As did the fear of acrid smoke. Alex carries a dark secret about that night – one that he believes his grandmother knows, as well.
- The Plot. The driving force behind Alex’s actions and his gruff, demanding demeanor are the accidents that seem to follow him around like a black cloud. The first time could have been an accident, but they keep happening. First, poisoned at the club. Then, the coach mysteriously breaks an axle and came out of the ditch an accordion. Alex enlists his friend Darby to help him riddle out who the murderer could be. It’s not an easy task given that Alex obviously lacks social graces, a death wish to the London ton. And then there’s the matter of his rakish behavior. While he does want his grandmother safe in the countryside, he also wants nothing but her happiness. He agrees to Beth’s three wishes plan for his grandmother and keeps them both in London.
- The Wishes. Beth’s bargain about the wishes relied solely on the dowager. Whatever she wished she could do, Beth imparted to Alex. These weren’t suggestions, either. The first wish to attend a concert at the rotunda and gardens does not go very well from the start. Several incident compile that reaffirm Alex’s belief that someone is trying to kill him – and his loved ones, too. To make matters worse, Alex witnesses firsthand the hurtful and damaging gossip of the Wilting Wallflowers upon Beth. That moment showed development and growth on his part, as well as compassion and sincerity.
- Beth. Despite how she appears prim and cool, never losing her temper, Beth craves comfort. It is part of the reason why she jumped to be the dowager’s companion – she needs to be needed. But there’s that little voice that continues to remind her that everyone she’s relied on has proved untrustworthy. That is her first impression of Alex, too, until she gets to know him and sees him in vulnerable and honest moments. In their secret trysts, Beth gives Alex multiple opportunities to turn her away, and the hard years enduring her unwanted status of a wallflower makes her crave attention and love. She is easily wounded and has a fair amount of pride and a stubborn streak. It is both helpful and hurtful, and after another accident nearly causing the death of both of them, Alex again tries to send Beth and the dowager away. She’s always known their time would be short, and savored what they had together.
- A Smashing Plan. When Alex couldn’t stand keeping it from her any longer, Alex relays the truth behind the countryside. Beth concocts a smashing idea – host a masquerade ball. Not only would this hide the identity of the unsuccessful killer, it would also perhaps tip their hand to do something bolder. Alex knows the gentlemen he suspects, but he won’t divulge their identities to Beth. When the night arrives, Beth, Alex, and Darby are all three running around the ball following suspects. The would-be killer turns out to be someone none of them ever expected, and the masquerade balls ends in a smashing, roaring light in the night.
I enjoyed this interesting plot and story. Alex’s history and childhood tragedy add depth to his character, as did Beth’s own. Marred reputations and salacious gossip play a large role in the plot for both Alex and Beth and shows how damaging and harmful words can be. The stolen moments that reveal more of each character are what developed their relationship and helped it bloom. The heightened air of suspicions and concern for safety added and moved the plot along at a quick pace.
Anna Bennett started swiping romances from her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager and decided historicals (with their balls, dukes, and gowns) were the best. So, when she had the chance to spend a semester in London she packed her bags—and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead.
Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anna found her way back to writing the stories she loves and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® for Regency Historical Romance. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen. Her weaknesses include reality TV, cute shoes, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.