I know what you did last season.
Anyone else in the mood for a Regency trilogy with awesome writing and some serious spine tingling suspense thrown in?
Me too. After my recent experiences with whale-shifters, and heroes who “don’t like fucking cats,” and mystery lube for the “far east” and/or Target, I was so, so happy to find this book by Manda Collins. Why Dukes Say I Do is just so wonderfully, deliciously good that it made my little heart happy.
This is the backstory you need to know. This series focuses on three heroines, Isabella, Georgina and Perdita who are widows of abusive men. Perdita’s husband, Gervase, the late Duke of Ormonde died of his injuries after falling on his knife—a knife he was holding to Perdita’s throat while her sister, Isabella and her friend, Georgina, were present.
Say it with me: Then he ran into my knife. He ran into my knife ten times.
This is Isabella’s book, and it takes place a year after the incident with Gervase. Isabella is recruited by the Dowager Duchess of Ormonde to go up to Yorkshire and bring home the new and errant duke, Trevor Carey. She blackmails Isabella into doing it, holding Perdita’s future marriage to her new husband hostage.
So why did I love this book so hard? All the wonderful tropes: City Girl vs Country Boy and Heroine with a Bad Secret Past namely, but I also adored Trevor, the hero. And Collin’s writing is just superb. It was a recipe for Good Book Noise®.
I grew up watching Green Arces on Nick at Nite, and I love the City Girls vs Country Boy trope. Isabella expects that Trevor’s home in Yorkshire is going to be really awful and shitty, and she thinks everyone she meets is a country bumpkin. Trevor thinks she’s a stuck up brat, and he’s not fan of the Dowager either. His side of the family was disowned because of the marriage his father made, so he owes her no favors. He plans to run Isabella off with boredom.
Of course, the estate Trevor runs is really gorgeous, and Isabella learns that he takes his job seriously. He has tenants who rely on him for their livelihoods and he fulfills an important role as magistrate. The more she sees the intricacies of what he actually does, the more respect she has for him. Most of the noblemen she knows leave their actually work up to hired help and couldn’t give a shit about their tenants.
For Trevor’s part, he assumes that Isabella is going to be a vapid chit until she steps in and assumes a motherly role with his two younger sisters, Elinor and Belinda. Elinor is seventeen, and eager to make her debut in London. Trevor is so biased against London and the nobility in general (due to the disowning) that he’s holding her back, more or less keeping her in the nursery. Both girls are desperate for feminine influence since their mother is dead and Trevor keeps running off governesses. Isabella, a big sister herself, takes them under her wing, teaching them correct behavior and all the little things Regency heroines need to know.
The girls sometimes veer toward plot moppetness, but I adored them so much I didn’t really care. There’s a great scene where Trevor is being a doofus about Elinor dressing like an adult, and Belinda lets him know her opinion at dinner:
Only Belinda was content to eat her luncheon without weighing in on the conversation. Through Trevor thought he noticed a judgmental tone in the way she consumed her peas. Was a man ever more outnumbered than he? […] They settled on a day later in the week for the trip to York and then both Elinor and Belinda—who had by this time finished her judgmental peas—left to make a list of things Elinor simply must have.
They were judgmental peas.
THE PEAS OF JUDGEMENT.
See what I mean about Collin’s writing? Le sigh.
If we didn’t have enough conflict already, there’s also the teeny tiny fact that someone is threatening Isabella. Her coach is sabotaged. The strap on her saddle is nearly cut through. She keeps getting scary notes that say things like: I know what you did last season. Trevor finds out about the attempts on Isabella’s life and wants to protect her, but she’s not ready to tell him that she may or may not have killed her sister’s husband (Pop! Six! Squish! Uh uh, Cicero, Lipschitz!).
Isabella and Trevor have some serious lusty-pants going on between them, but Isabella isn’t eager to settle down or to give a man power over her ever again. Her late husband (who died of natural causes, BTW) was horribly abusive to her.
When one of Trevor’s neighbors invites Lord Thistleback to be a guest in his house, and Isabella runs into him and he’s super skeevy around her, Trevor eventually gets her to admit the depth of the abuse she suffered.
“Then you must know what my husband did to me,” she said aloud, needing to hear the words. “You know he beat me. What you don’t know is he sometimes did worse. And sometimes he did it in front of his good friend Thistleback.”
[…] “If there were a way to bring your husband back to life so that I might kill him again, I would do it,” he said quietly. “I’m of half a mind to kill Thistleback in his stead. Certainly he deserves it for what he said to you tonight.”
Isabella had expected anger by not the threat of violence. Trevor was the last man she’d expect would resort to violence on her behalf. But she’d misjudged men before. Why not this one as well?
Trevor is an excellent beta-hero, and I think Isabella was right to feel a little shocked at his reaction. He commands his estate and manages his business neatly, but he is a sweet and kind older brother, and he’s tremendously involved with the lives of his tenants, holding their babies, knowing about their families, generally doing ovary-exploding stuff.
When he and Isabella start to give into their attraction we don’t get punishing stolen kisses against a wall, but stolen ones in a dark garden.
I loves me a beta-hero, especially one who is a good brother/father/older cousin, whatever. Trevor’s unabashed love for his sisters made me adore him with dreamy eyes.
If there was anything I didn’t like about this book, it’s that I felt the villain (the person sabotaging Isabella) was fairly obvious, to the point that it really couldn’t have been anyone else. When everyone is shocked at the end I was a little incredulous.
But that’s a small complaint about an otherwise awesomesauce book. I’m really looking forward to Perdita and Georgina’s books, and I’m definitely adding Collins to my auto-buy list.