Probably the best of my 1-star romances, I liked the unconventional characters in WHAT A GENTLEMAN WANTS. Unfortunately, this book goes to show you that atypical, interesting characters don't necessarily make for a good story. I found the plot/romance tedious and the writing very lackluster. The ending tried to infuse a bit of action in the otherwise stale plotting and pacing but it misses the mark. This ending actually made it worse, and it was too illogical, too dumb. Too many "well, DUH!" moments. I thought the ending should have tried to stick with a grand ball or something introducing the heroine Hannah to society as the new duchess.
I liked that instead of the common rake we often find in romance stories, you have a true gentleman with a lot of responsibilities and obligations. In order to shelter his brother, his sister and stepmother, the duke of Exeter shoulders all the blame and responsibilities. Here's a guy that's unfairly judged as cold, calculating and heartless but in fact everything he does is to protect those he loves.
Our heroine Hannah is a 25 year-old widow, a vicar's wife and a mother of a 4 year-old girl. Although she's very wholesome and kind, I was intrigued by her strength in other ways. Hannah manages as a poor widow, single mother and she's determined to be mistress of her own household no matter the circumstances. Uncommon to many widowed heroines, Hannah loved her first husband very dearly, and experienced a very fulfilling, gentle lovemaking with her late husband.
It is these uncommon characterizations which initially attracted me to the novel, but the writing and story lets the characters down.
Wholesome widow Mrs. Hannah Preston really doesn't want to return to her father's home where she's unwanted and unloved. She wants to be mistress of her own household in a loving environment where she can comfortably raise her 4 year-old daughter. After she nurses back to health dissolute libertine Lord David Reece following an accident, Lord David Reece proposes a marriage of convenience which would afford her some options. In a tight situation to begin with and desperate to provide loving environment to raise her daughter, Hannah accepts the marriage proposal.
David's twin brother is the duke of Exeter, His Grace Marcus Reece, a cold, reticent and responsible man. Despite incessantly badgering his younger twin brother David by 10 minutes to reform himself, Marcus always rescues David from his problematic fixes. Honorably, Marcus protects his family name, shelters the trouble-prone David, and shoulders the blame for many of David's messes. Marcus is also investigating a counterfeiting charge which points to his brother. If Marcus can discover the identity of the true culprits behind the counterfeit money, he's cut a deal to absolve his brother David's involvement.
Right before the marriage with Hannah, David gets cold feet and fears losing his debauched bachelorhood lifestyle. Instead of signing his name on the church register, David signs Marcus's name instead thinking both Marcus and Hannah perfect for each other (both are dutiful). After bringing Hannah and her daughter to London, David escapes Marcus's wrath and flees the country. Before ditching town, David entraps Marcus and Hannah by broadcasting Marcus & Hannah's marriage in the Times and sending letters to their sister and stepmother.
The pacing of the story sags considerably after Marcus and Hannah discover the truth. Despite Hannah's misgivings, Marcus has Hannah act as his duchess in various public ton events. Marcus wishes to avoid the bad gossip tarnishing the family name, and he also wants to protect David from the blame by hiding the truth from his sister and stepsister, both of whom are overjoyed by Marcus's marriage. There's a bunch of boring shopping then as Hannah delights in lavish furnishings, elegant gowns and glittering jewels. Hannah and Marcus slowly begin to come closer together, both in terms of a friendship and passion.
The abduction of Hannah's daughter triggers a very nonsensical ending grasping for some action in a novel that really has no place for it. All in all, a feeble read, completely devoid of engaging writing or plotting. Likable characters though.