The Premise: Hugo Marshall, former boxer and now the Duke of Clermont’s right-hand man, has raised himself from poverty and will stop at nothing to ensure his success. He doesn’t blink at covering up the duke’s various misdeeds until Serena Barton–pregnant and unemployed, thanks to the duke–plants herself on the Clermont’s doorstep, demanding recompense. Hugo’s orders are to get rid of her at any cost; he ignores her, flirts with her, has her sister evicted from her flat. Serena, determined to receive justice, is undeterred. As Hugo comes to know her, he realizes he must choose between his ambition and his heart. (Cover image from www.courtneymilan.com.)
Bonus Factors: lavender farms, shut-ins, pugilists, anti-misogyny, kick-ass ladies, respectful treatment of rap, arranged marriages
My Reaction: Oh. My. God. Courtney Milan writes the best novellas I have ever, ever read. They are perfectly developed and executed; the length felt just right, rather than too short or too long. I actually think I like them better than her novels! Also, she was spot. on. in her depiction of sexual assault and its aftermath. So often, rape is used as a Tragic Backstory in romances; between that and the Alpha Male situation, I feel like rape/consent/sexual violence is mangled in the genre more often than not. Serena publicly challenges her rapist (which takes serious balls even now, not to mention in the 1800s) but it isn’t a cakewalk. It takes Hugo a while to figure out what happened, but once he does, his response is perfect. He agrees to marry her to provide her with social protection (also, because he loves her but a genuine marriage would conflict with his ambition to be the richest coal miner’s son in England). The wedding night scene is PHENOMENAL. Seriously, the hairpins thing is the sweetest. TL;DR: Go read this novella. Right now. It is awesome.
Rating: 2/4 chili peppers (1 being a step above a sex-free gentle romance, 4 being an all-sex-and-no-plot romance)