Rant, Review, The Duke Project

Review: To Pleasure a Duke, by Sara Bennett (2011)

Husband Hunters Club Book 3

Heat Factor: space heater, maybe

Character Chemistry: The Duke is the WORST

Plot Development: Is there one?

Overall: I’m mostly angry

The premise of this book is gross. I think it’s supposed to be empowering, because our heroine is the aggressor, but… nah. It’s about a teenage girl who falls for an older man and tries to get him to marry her. But on the way, she gets her emotions and any shred of respectability that she desperately tries to hold on completely trampled.

Eugenie has just finished finishing school. That makes her 18 years old, at the very most. She and her friends make a pact where they tell each other the names of the men they will marry, and then check in on each other to see how the husband hunting is progressing. Maybe? The mechanics of the club were unclear to me, as I have not read either of the earlier books in the series. Anyways. Eugenie panics because her family is not as well connected, so she blurts out the first name she thinks of, which is Sinclair St. John, the Duke of Somerton. Also, her neighbor. Again, what she was so worried about is not entirely clear? Like, she didn’t have a good person to name? Anyways, now she feels beholden to her friends in some way, and feels like she has to court the duke? Or something.

Anyways, Eugenie and the Duke strike up a friendship of sorts, which turns into a competition of dares for some reason.

Sidenote: Eugenie claims that she wants respectability, which is what her family does not have in spades, which is why she’s attracted to the very stuffy Duke. But then she doesn’t show him that she wants respectability with her actions, or even her words. She does quickly realize that what the Duke needs is some fun, and she is just the girl to give it to him.

They dance around their mutual attraction for a bit, and then they start kissing, and then the Duke asks her to be his mistress. And she says no. Repeatedly. And he repeatedly doesn’t believe her. And she keeps planning on breaking it off for real for real, but then she sees him and he touches her and she’s like, “what harm can one more kiss do?”

Here’s the thing that makes him the worst. He dares her to meet him at an abandoned house. She writes him a letter saying that they are doneso. However, she accidentally sends him the letter she wrote to her friends, regaling them with her failure at wooing the duke. So, she goes to meet him to try and get the letter back. He says she can have it if she stays for a while. He plies her with champagne and exotic fruits. They have sex, which is technically consensual but felt completely gross.

She opened her clear green eyes and gazed up at him with passion and trust. Complete trust.

He almost changed his mind.

Almost.

But then his fingers were on the top of her stockings, then the warm skin of her bare thighs. She was ready for him; the damp heat of her made him groan. It was an easy matter to unbutton his trousers and free himself, and then press the head of his cock against her slick entrance.

She, of course, has a magical vagina, and the sex is soooooo transcendent. But not so transcendent that he stops being an asshole:

 But there was one thing he knew for certain – he’d been right to seduce her.

Eventually their breathing calmed, and he cuddled her in his arms, turning his face to kiss her cheek and nuzzle her skin. “Eugenie.” Her name sounded different on his lips, and he heard the possessive note in his voice. She was his, and he wanted to lift his head and shout it.

“It isn’t fair.” Her voice was quiet with a tremble in it. “You know it isn’t fair.”

He gave a surprised chuckle. “I didn’t want to play fair,” he admitted. “I wanted you to give in and agree to everything. Be my mistress, Eugenie.”

Something warm and wet trickled down her cheek from the corner of her eye, and he was shocked to see it was a tear. Another one followed, and then she turned her head away quickly, as if she didn’t want him to see.

Let’s unpack these passages for a minute here.

I think it’s supposed to be romantic that she can’t resist him, but what I read is that she trusts him to not push her too far, and he completely takes advantage of her. He wanted her to “give in and agree to everything.” And she loves him, so she does, but she is obviously unhappy about it.

But it’s all ok, because she looks at him with tenderness after she finishes crying!

Sinclair has no idea about what she wants – remember, she wants respectability. She wants a family. He thinks that he can protect her reputation if she’s his mistress, but that seems like an idea that is completely lacking in the common sense department. He laughs when she mentions marriage as an option that would protect her reputation, and then is surprised when she’s hurt – like, she couldn’t possibly be serious about that, as the daughter of a baron who was sent to a proper ladies’ finishing school to help her family’s fortunes.  

Anyways, he’s like, “now you’ll be my mistress, right?” And she’s like, “no, still won’t be your mistress. Also, I really need that letter back.” He gives her a bill from his tailor, pretending that it’s the letter. After she leaves, he reflects about how he had to fob her off because he wanted her to stay because he wanted to bone her so much.

She was young, he reminded himself, and perhaps for all her grown-up ways she still had some girlish dreams. She would come to understand the impossibility of marriage and agree to what was possible. And he would sweeten her surrender with an endless supply of presents and treats.

He smiled, imagining it. She was the one woman in the world he both admired and was intrigued by. He doubted he’d ever understand her completely, but that was part of her charm. Thinking of her now he felt his body tighten, wanting her again with a combination of tenderness and primitiveness that astonished him.

Sinclair reached to put on his coat and remembered the letter Eugenie had been so keen to secure. Barker must have taken it to the house, and no doubt it would be waiting for him there. He hadn’t told Eugenie that. She’d seemed to fidgety, as if she might run out into the night, and he’d wanted her to stay. No doubt she knew by now he’d fobbed her off with his tailor’s bill.

He smiled to himself as he imagined her expression. She could take her feelings out on him the next they met. He just hoped it would be soon.

Then he reads the letter, and they meet the next day, and he’s SO ANGRY, because she embarrassed him or something. And she fucking apologizes to him, because the letter that she wrote her friends but never actually sent them hurt his feelings or some shit. UGH. In what way is Eugenie’s mistake at all comparable to Sinclair’s conniving? So for the rest of the book, instead of Sinclair making it up to Eugenie for being a complete and utter asshole, Eugenie is making it up to Sinclair for embarrassing him.  

He admires her! And is intrigued! But not enough to actually listen when she tells him no.

Every subsequent time they have sex, Eugenie just pretends that it’s a beautiful dream. Again, maybe this is supposed to be romantic, but really it’s just sad.  

There are some hijinks involving Sinclair’s very spoiled sister, her companion, and Eugenie’s ne’er do well brother who really wants to join the military which involve a bunch of people going to Scotland, but I hated Sinclair and thought Eugenie was a doormat at this point, so whatever.

Eventually Sinclair gets over himself and his worry about what people will think and decides that Eugenie is good enough to be his wife after all and they live happily ever after.  


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