Reading Distracting the Duchess is like breathing in wonderful, fresh air. The book features well-delineated characters - both primary and secondary - and subplots that actually added to its richness. The storyline itself? When an artistic duchess hires a nude model to pose for her latest canvas, she gets more than she bargained for. And so does the model.
Artemisia Pelham-Smythe is the widowed Duchess of Southwyck. She grew up in India where her father Angus made a fortune with the East India Company, and she became known as a child prodigy artist. Her wealth attracted the elderly duke and they married. After a few uncomfortable sexual encounters, they settled down to a companionable relationship and Artemisia looked on the duke as a friend and chess partner. When he died, she set up a home in London with her mother, sisters, and father, who is losing his mental faculties. She is now the de facto head of the family, but she knows that London's men of business would never work with a woman, even if she were a duchess. So Artemisia invented a fictious man of business named Mr. Beddington. No one knows that she is really Beddington except her trusted head clerk, Mr. Shipworth, with whom she runs her father's business.
Artemisia has long wanted to spread her wings artistically and has been painting a series of canvases of the gods of Mount Olympus. As the book begins, she is waiting for her latest model and is a bit taken aback when a handsome man who calls himself Thomas Doverspike presents himself to her. She had planned on painting Cupid, god of love, but this man is all wrong for that. But he is perfect as Mars, the god of war, and he isn’t a bit ashamed to drop trou and pose.
Thomas Doverspike is actually the Honorable Trevelyn Deveridge, who works for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Not only was Angus Pelham Smythe a businessman, but he was also an operative in the Great Game (spying) and he had sent Trev a message that “Beddington holds the key”, but because of his mental illness' progression, cannot explain his cryptic message. Since Angus is in Artemisia's household, Trev pretends to be a model in order to see if he can find out anything about the mysterious Beddington. Pretty soon passion rears its head between Trev and Artemisia. So does intrigue, and the book takes off like a rocket.
There are lots of wonderful secondary characters and sub-plots in Distracting the Duchess. Unlike in some books that I have read, the secondary characters and sub-plots actually added to the story, and made it richer. It was sheer pleasure to read a book where the characters were likable, sensible, and acted like they had brains, and I was so pleased that there were no rakes, no silly misses and no flitting around in Society. Yes, Trev is a spy (sort of) but abandon all notions of the cliche spy. Trev is an original.
And so is Artemisia. She is no silly chit, nor does she seem like a modern woman transplanted back in time. Artemisia may not be her era's idea of an Angel In The House, but she grew up in circumstances that made her the independent and intelligent woman that she is. Her relationship with Trev is hot and sensual and they make a fabulous couple.
Despite the many paranormal and contemporary romances on the shelf, my heart will always belong to the historical romance. I'm always looking for good new authors and I think I've found a keeper. I see that Emily Bryan's Pleasuring the Pirate will be out this summer. I will be right there at the bookstore the day it hits the shelf.
-- Ellen Micheletti
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