Ever since I read the first chapter preview for The Duchess Takes a Husband a whole year ago, I’ve been desperate to read it. This is the fourth and final book in Harper St. George‘s Gilded Age Heiresses series, following The Heiress Gets a Duke, The Devil and the Heiress, and The Lady Tempts an Heir. It focuses on Camille—the cautionary tale from the first book’s prologue—now a young widow and finally getting a much-deserved happily ever after with Jacob Thorne, the half-brother of Christian. It’s the perfect ending to a beautiful series and I loved every second of it.
Special thanks to the Harper St. George ARC Team, Berkley Romance, and NetGalley for the ARC of this book!
Four years ago, Camille was married off to a horrible older man, the Duke of Hereford. The American heiress now had a title in addition to her family’s fortune, but she was miserable. Fortunately for everyone, the duke died after only a year, making her a young widow. Despite being a Duchess, Camille has been lonely ever since, and after hearing how satisfied her two friends are in their marriages, she wonders if there’s something wrong with her. Why has she never enjoyed sex? Why does it trigger such fear in her? Camille decides to solve this issue by going to the best-known rake in town: Jacob Thorne. He owns a gaming hall with his half-brother Christian, and may be the perfect man to cure Camille of her struggles with physical intimacy. The two embark on a deal—he’ll teach her if she can pose as his fake fiancée so he can secure a business deal. Neither expects to fall in love, and neither wants marriage… but who can control their own heart? Not these two!
After reading the first chapter preview of The Duchess Takes a Husband, my first assumption was that it would be a fun and sexy romp. Camille, Dowager Duchess of Hereford, propositions a known rake so he can teach her to enjoy sex. What fun! Perhaps it would be like The Kiss Quotient, just in 1870s England? I wasn’t prepared for the emotional depth and difficult themes that arise in the book, but these elements made me love it even more than I could have anticipated.
If you’ve read the previous three books, you’ve gotten to see Camille a bit during her darkest times. She was married off to the cruel Duke of Hereford, a man who never treated her well. Her marriage was the cautionary tale that fueled the Crenshaw sisters’ avoidance of meeting the same fate, and we saw as Camille was cut off from her friends and publicly berated by her husband. It was cause for celebration when the man finally died, leaving her a widow at only 21. In The Duchess Takes a Husband, we get to know Camille on a much deeper level, and her parts are imbued with emotional depth. I felt for her as I read this novel, wishing she could find some relief from her trauma.
Although Jacob is a rake who eschews romantic relationships at all cost, he’s a surprisingly tender and attentive companion for Camille. He notices not only her lack of enjoyment of sex, but the fear that grips her when things get too intimate. He works to find a way to make her feel comfortable and in control of the situation. Jacob soon realizes that Camille must have been the victim of domestic abuse during her marriage, though it takes her longer to come to terms with this label. Her husband wasn’t physically abusive, so does it still count as abuse? Camille needs time to process this and acknowledge the horrors she endured.
The Duchess Takes a Husband dives into some difficult themes surrounding domestic abuse, recovering from such a trauma, and finding a way to feeling safe and confident again. It’s always written with sensitivity and care, both acknowledging the trauma and offering a new resolution for Camille. It will take her some time to find her way to love again, and with the right partner by her side, she can enjoy a better future with him.
For his part, Jacob fears love because of how it has historically inspired erratic behavior among the Halston men. His dad? Obsessive in love. Christian? As seen in The Devil and the Heiress, not the most conventional path to winning a girl’s affection. In fact, speaking of Christian, I loved seeing the characters from the first three books here. Since Jacob and Christian are brothers, and since Camille and Violet are particularly close friends, we especially get to see a lot of that couple. (They were my favorites, so that certainly made my heart sing!) We also get to see how August, Evan, Helena, and Max are doing, too. Oh, how I love them all!
This book also offers some forays into the politics of the time, with Camille joining the woman’s suffrage movement and supporting the Married Women’s Property Act. (Hello, commonality with Evie Dunmore’s League of Extraordinary Women series! In my mind, all the characters from both series exist in the same world.) There’s also brief discussion of asexuality, a bit of cabaret, some unexpected drama and action, and plenty of steam. Harper St. George has such a way of combing bigger themes with tenderness and characters that are easy to love, and that all shines in The Duchess Takes a Husband.
The Duchess Takes a Husband is a wonderfully written novel that is sensitive, sweet, and powerful. I loved getting to know Camille and Jacob—I fell in love with them both and enjoyed seeing them find happiness and solace with each other. It’s a beautiful end to a perfect series.
Luckily, the story will continue in the form of Harper St. George’s forthcoming new series, the Doves of New York. The first book is called The Stranger I Wed, evidently due either later in 2023 or in 2024. It introduces the three illegitimate Dove sisters, and Camille and the Crenshaw sisters will help them find titled husbands. The middle sister, Cora, gets her springtime romance with Lord Devonworth, an Earl who appeared a couple of times in The Duchess Takes a Husband. The preview offered here already has me excited!
Get the Book
You can buy The Duchess Takes a Husband here – it’s available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
|The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George|
|Series||The Gilded Age Heiresses (#4)|
|Number of Pages||336|
|Format I Read||ebook (NetGalley)|
|Original Publication Date||May 23, 2023|
A scandalous arrangement between a London rogue and an American duchess leads to lavish stakes—perfect for fans of Bridgerton!
Despite her illustrious title, Camille, Duchess of Hereford, remains what she has always been—a pariah. Though her title means she’s technically accepted by London Society, the rebellious widow with her burgeoning interest in the suffrage movement and her American ways isn’t exactly high on every hostess’s guest list. But Camille starts to wonder if being an outcast is not without its perks when the tantalizing answer to her secret fear appears in the shape of Jacob Thorne, the illegitimate son of an earl and co-owner of London’s infamous Montague Club.
Jacob is used to making deals with his club members—he’s just not accustomed to them being beautiful women. Nor have the terms ever been so sweetly seductive as Camille’s shocking proposition. To finally buy his own club and gain the crucial backing of investors, Camille offers Jacob the respectability of a fake engagement with a duchess. In return, the tempting widow has one condition: she wants Jacob to show her if it’s possible for her to experience pleasure in bed.
The lure of such a bargain proves too delicious to resist, drawing the enterprising rogue and the wallflower duchess into a scandalous game and an even more dangerous gamble of the heart.
Excerpt from The Duchess Takes a Husband
It was absolutely none of her business, but she couldn’t help but wonder if Lilian and Thorne were lovers. He had lovers. Camille knew that. She had been a member of the club for a few months, and in that time she had seen any number of women arrive by the ladies-only entrance and greet him very warmly. Sometimes he’d offer his arm, other times he’d slide his hand around their waist and disappear with them into parts unknown and she wouldn’t see him again that night. She couldn’t say with reasonable certainty that he slept with all of them, but it was a fair bet that he’d bedded a few.
“How many women members are there?” Camille hadn’t thought to ask when she’d filled out her registration form and paid the rather expensive dues. She’d joined because Hereford would have been appalled, not because she’d been trying to prove a larger point about equality of the sexes.
“A dozen, give or take, not nearly enough. I have to hurry off, but I would love to chat more. Will you be here another evening this week?”
Camille opened and closed her mouth when she realized she didn’t know what to say. If Thorne rejected her proposition, then she couldn’t imagine showing her face here again, but she didn’t want to miss the chance of making a new friend. She didn’t have many of those. Since coming to London over three years ago, she’d become that American because she could never seem to live up to the expectations of being Hereford’s duchess. It had become the done thing to invite her to events only to sneer at her behind her back. Fellow American heiresses the Crenshaw sisters, August and Violet, were her friends, but they were both happily married now and starting families of their own.
“Perhaps we could have tea one afternoon?” she offered.
Lilian’s smile was genuine when she said, “I would like that very much.”
They exchanged goodbyes and Camille was left alone. She didn’t bother practicing her smile again because it could quickly become a procrastination tactic. Either he was attracted to her and he said yes, or he wasn’t and he said no. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, she rose and brushed out invisible wrinkles on her skirts. She wore an emerald-green gown cut the slightest bit lower than modest and in the natural shape that emphasized the flare of her hips, selected precisely because she thought it showed off her figure to the best advantage.
Pushing open the paneled mahogany door, she made her way down the wide corridor to the gaming room. It was nearly ten o’clock in the evening, which meant Thorne was probably there talking with patrons or dealing cards. He owned Montague Club along with his half brother, Christian Halston, Earl of Leigh, and their friend Evan Sterling, Duke of Rothschild. Both men were married to the Crenshaw sisters, so Camille had met him socially a handful of times. While she had always been charmed by his handsomeness in those social settings, it wasn’t until she had joined Montague Club that she’d found herself viewing him differently . . . as someone she might want to get to know in an entirely more intimate way.
The double doors that led to the main gaming room were thrown wide open, revealing a dimly lit but richly appointed setting. Gilded sconces topped with frosted globes were set at regular intervals giving off flickering gaslight that was immediately absorbed by the dark wood paneling, creating playful shadows and an aura of intimacy. Aubusson rugs in dark reds, greens, and gold matched the sofas and overstuffed chairs set in small groupings near the fireplaces on either end of the space. Rosewood gaming tables topped with green baize were scattered throughout the middle of the room. It was a slow night, so only a few had men playing at them, while the rest sat empty.
As usual, the table where Jacob Thorne stood dealing cards was busy. He was well-liked and the club members seemed to gravitate toward him. He was as sinfully handsome as his half brother, Christian, but not nearly as forbidding. They were both tall and filled out a frock coat nicely, but where Christian’s smile seemed to hold an edge of cynicism, Thorne’s was more open and friendly. That was partly why she had decided to approach him with her indecent proposition. He was kind and trustworthy. She didn’t think he would laugh at her or brag to his friends, but even more than that, he was the only man who had turned her head in a long time. Since her parents had introduced her to Hereford. Once she had met her future husband and reluctantly agreed to the marriage, she hadn’t viewed men in the same way. She’d begun to despair that she ever would again, but something about Thorne had her looking twice.
She studied him as she made her way around the tables to reach him. He was dressed as well as the men he entertained with nothing about him to indicate he owned the club and they were customers. His clothing was bespoke like theirs and had probably come from the same tailor. He was the son of an earl after all, though born outside of wedlock. He had been raised by his father, and that aristocratic arrogance showed on his face and in his mannerisms, except he wore it more naturally than many. It wasn’t conceit with him, so much as grace and charm.
His well-formed lips parted in a smile as he dealt another hand of vingt-un and made a joke she couldn’t hear. The men at the table laughed as they added to their bets. Thorne picked up the deck of cards with a skill born from years of practice and tossed another card onto each stack. His hands were strong but graceful with long fingers and clipped nails. If all went to plan, he could be touching her with those very hands soon. She paused as a flush warmed her face, but it was too late. He’d caught sight of her.
“Your Grace.” He smiled as the other three men greeted her in turn. “Have you come to join us?” he asked, his voice rich and smooth.
She swallowed and willed the butterflies in her stomach to cease their antics. She’d talked to him many times since joining his club, and tonight didn’t have to be any different. Only it was. Fighting past her nerves, she took the chair at the end of the crescent-shaped table. “Yes, but I’m afraid I’ve never played the game before.”
“Not to worry, Your Grace. We’ll teach you, won’t we, gentlemen?”
They murmured their agreement. A footman came forward almost immediately, bearing a small tumbler of her favorite whisky on ice. The service here was remarkable. Accepting it with a smile, she spent the next several minutes watching the men play as Thorne went over the rules. The game seemed easy enough; one simply tried to get the sum of their cards to add up to twenty-one without going over. It wasn’t complicated. Finally, Thorne dealt her in, and she promptly lost the first two hands.
“Too aggressive,” he warned her with a shake of his head when she asked for another card on the third round. The gaslight played in his thick, black hair, and she wondered if it would be as soft as it looked.
Excerpted from The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George Copyright © 2023 by Harper St. George. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Harper St. George was raised in the rural backwoods of Alabama and along the tranquil coast of northwest Florida. It was a setting filled with stories of the old days that instilled in her a love of history, romance, and adventure. By high school, she had discovered the historical romance novel which combined all of those elements into one perfect package. She has been hooked ever since.
She lives in Atlanta area with her husband and two children. When not writing, she can be found devouring her husband’s amazing cooking and reading.
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