* Note: Waking Up With The Duke will feel cluttered with characters if the reader hasn’t read the prior books in the series. I think you can read Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman as a stand alone, and doing so would enhance Waking Up With The Duke
My biggest disappointment with Waking Up With The Duke is the resolution of Ainsley’s mother’s relationship. I really think she could have carried a full book of her own. Granted, the 48 (ish) year old heroine isn’t a big market but so much of her history was left unexplored that I think it would have been accepted. Sad faces aside, there is a lot to love in Waking Up With The Duke.
Heath starts by giving Ainsley, the brother who always does the right thing, a personal tragedy. In a drunken driving episode he has crippled his cousin and close friend. In the ensuing emotional aftermath, his cousin’s wife Jayne lost her child. These are events neither Jayne nor Ainsley can forgive him for even three years later. From here, Heath takes one of my least favorite romance plots and turns it inside out. Jayne’s husband wants Ainsley to knock Jayne up. Cousins is close enough for horseshoes in the inheritance game.
I’ve always hated the husband as pimp plot. Ten or twenty years ago it wouldn’t have involved a DUI but a gay spouse. It wouldn’t have been cousins, it would have been brothers. Heath takes some of the ick factor out of this tried and true situation by changing those small details first. Then she addresses the issues of consent and coercion as it applies to all parties, offering a look at the emotional costs of sperm donation via a month of sex. I respect the sympathy she makes the reader feel for all parties involved – but I was regretful that Ainsley is let off the hook toward the end. Also, Jayne’s belief that holding a child is the most magical of magical moments needed a sharp reality smack later in the book which does not arrive.
(As women writing for women why can’t we also show that motherhood is not always easy, even with wanted children or good mothers. Birth is not a short track to bliss. Bonding is not always instant, birth pains are not so quickly dismissed, especially before the epidural.)
Heath delivers a high angst level as Jayne and Ainsley ricochet between the emotional blows they deliver to themselves as well as those delivered by her husband. Toward the end of the book Ainsley’s mother is forced to choose between her own lost love and her mysterious younger lover. Unfortunately most of her resolution takes place away from the reader – Leo’s background is not revealed nor is the triangle properly dismantled. Through this series I have found the emotional honesty of Ainsley’s mother sometimes more compelling than that of her sons. It is she I am most sorry to say goodbye to, as much as I loved the individual books.