Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, used to be a rake, drunkard, libertine and scoundrel of the highest order. He has no intention of ever getting married, and furthering the family line, but his mother, the Dowager Duchess, has other plans. Desperate for grandchildren and stability for her beloved son, she drugs Griff, and forces him to Spindle Cove, the idyllic seaside village where all manner of well-born spinsters reside. She wants him to pick any one of them, and she will make the girl duchess-worthy material.
Griff agrees that if she can turn any woman in the village into a suitable duchess candidate in a week, he will marry her. Then, to thwart his mother's plans, he picks Pauline Simms, a barmaid who appears clumsy, coarse and wholly unsuitable. Pauline, whose father is a drunken oaf and sister clearly had Down's syndrome, refuses to leave with their Graces. Only when Griff promises her a thousand pounds to come to London for a week, submit to his mother's training, and deliberately fail, does she agree, as the money will allow her to finally escape her tyrannical father and open a lending library in the village.
If you are surprised that things don't entirely go according to Griff's plans, then you've clearly never read a romance novel in your life. If you haven't, this is a great place to start. Tessa Dare writes extremely fluffy and enjoyable stories, and even with the huge amount of disbelief you have to suspend to go along with the notion of a powerful Dowager Duchess training a rural barmaid to be her son's bride, this book is a gem. Pauline may be a farmer's daughter, but she's not stupid, and when a wickedly attractive man offers her a fortune beyond her wildest dreams, she can't afford to turn him down.
Dare is great at dialogue, and the banter in this book is particularly good. The supporting cast, especially the Dowager Duchess herself, are wonderful, and I almost screamed with laughter at the bit with the dreadful knitting projects. Griff is a wonderful hero, but he's not without the occasional slip into complete clod-head. However, as my friend Mrs. Julien has already pointed out in her review, he has one of the most impressive redemption from rakishness stories you're ever likely to come across. If redeemed rakes really do make the best husbands, the Duke of Halford is likely to become one of the best husbands ever.