I rather wish there had only been two volumes of the Real Duchesses series. Initially it seemed like a fun and fresh concept. The added aspect of female friendships made the novellas seem deeper than they were. While Annabelle, The American is not a bad story the hero is fatally flawed. The sustaining aspect of female friendship is given little to work with as the girls barely know Annabelle. Her close friends reside in America. The revelation of the catalyst for events falls flat as well. Carrying on with the Kink of The Week theme established in earlier books, we discover Annabelle might have some Naughty Schoolteacher in her soul. (File that under things I didn’t care to know.)
Before I spoil the ever loving heck out of Annabelle, I’ll take a quick pass at Elizabeth, The Enchantress. For me, the cool and collected Elizabeth has been a star of the series. Her ability to stay composed in the face of scandal has it’s roots in her own scandal ridden past, a scandal level that seems fairly extreme. One wonders where her husband’s heir was as she took the reins of his estate in her 19 year old hands. Removed from the reach of her comically uncaring uncle, her husband off to parts unknown within days, Elizabeth masters her own destiny? I suppose. There’s no KoTW here, unless you count a sex toy that makes a brief and somewhat anticlimactic (sorry) appearance. Elizabeth and Linnette (you may recall her as The Lioness) are forced to make nice, the women gather around in a show of solidarity, but the true bonds of female friendship are weaker yet. Perhaps the overriding theme of this series hasn’t been KoTW, but rather Women Who Just Want To Be Wanted. For all her strength of character, Elizabeth folds like a house of cards once her husband shows up. but back to Annabelle.
Annabelle takes the revelation of her husband’s secret family as her cue to get busy with the sexxing. Sure she’s sad and all, but how can they move past whatever it is unless they keep the lines of communication open (the same lines that never revealed he might be keeping two households)? Here we’re going to go into spoiler land because Annabelle, The American has the same unrecoverable flaw that Elizabeth Boyle’s Lord Langley does. This guy is an absolutely terrible father. An unredeemable creep of a father. He’s not just a deadbeat dad, he’s a deserter who moans that he couldn’t stay gone. Why would I want rich beautiful caring Annabelle to end up with him? Do the only kids that count belong to the heroine? Is this some sort of postmodern second wife syndrome hero we’re seeing these days? Remember when a hero collected all their bastards from the countryside and insisted on fathering them? Remember when they were careful not to be a baby daddy at all? How is parental desertion suddenly acceptable? I don’t get this. The set up for Annabelle’s man is that he knocked up a women below his class but he super extra loved her. Reader, He Married Her. These are legitimate kids. So his dad gets mad. Rather than man up and tell the Duke that he has a wife with a pair of kids, thank you very much (Actually, only one is legit. He married her between kids.) he allows himself to be sent off to some estate to do something.
When he returns, he has a young daughter and an infant daughter and a dead wife. His dad, the aforementioned Duke, tells him to keep his yap shut or the kids go to the workhouse. Again, his kids with his wife, who is dead because he left them behind. Like a coward. So does our hero snatch his kids up and take them to America? Does he tell his dad to stuff it and get a job from one of his society friends? No! He goes to America alone, where he plans on staying forever, and his dad agrees to educate the kids then places the older one as a governess. Right. So after raising her younger sister with her dad off living the life of a ducal second son in America (did he even appeal to his brother, the heir?) she (still towing her younger sister) enters into the workforce taking care of others children. Here she meets a boy and falls in love. He dies. Like her mom did. There’s a baby (not hers) and she takes the care of it and her sister and moves forward with all the strength of character her father lacks. Meanwhile, he meets Annabelle and says “Hey baby, you’re hot and rich and could have anyone. Let me tell you I don’t love you so your self destructive side can come out to play.”
They marry and he plans to live in America for his whole life raising fat happy babies. (Babies that count, I guess.) His brother dies, which makes him the heir, which brings him back to London where he still doesn’t tell his wife about his first marriage or his children. Now he’s all woe is me, I love my kids, I married you to provide for them, sob sob sob, but it’s a lot of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and very little Actual Good Father. Suddenly his dad is all “Yea, when I found out at least one wasn’t a bastard I kinda felt bad about this whole thing, but whatevs,” Annabelle still doesn’t meet her stepchildren. She’s too busy consoling and sexxing up the massively entitled baby she married. At no point does she call him out on his child abandonment, despite being American. The guy is a complete creep. So’s his dad. When his dad comes by with a halfhearted “Sorry I was a bitch and made your social life hell” Annabelle is all, that’s ok. Let’s start over! The woman has looks, money, and a family willing to take her back to her home country. What does she need these losers for?
And still I preferred Annabelle The American to Elizabeth, The Enchantress. While Annabelle‘s man is a weak willed loser, Elizabeth and hers were just deadly dull. I was forcing myself to click through the pages so I could say I did. In Elizabeth the identity of the other cartoonist is revealed. His motivation? “We don’t know, he just always kind of hated us. It’s weird.” His fate? The proverbial plantation home in the Islands where he can be overlord of the non-white citizens around him. Yes, it is always so satisfying when a woman hating villain is given a home where he can prey on the less societally endowed women of the world. That solves everything. I clutched my pearls and cried tears of joy at his fitting comeuppance – a removal from society and all it’s pleasures. I suppose my suggestion, after this excessively long opinion piece, would be as follows. Buy Linette The Lioness. Consider Annabelle The American if you have a high tolerance for child desertion. Skip the other two.