I loved One-Eyed Dukes Are Wild, my third book by Megan Frampton. But then, there is such a lot to love about a rather introverted, awkward, very proper but not very eloquent Duke with an eye patch and a young lady who is not afraid to blaze her own path in the world.
I loved Lasham. I loved his very proper demeanor - carefully and correctly groomed within an inch of his ducal self - from the top of his head to the toe of his shiny boots - with not a whisper of scandal attached to his name. How refreshing it is to read about a Duke who is neither especially glib nor eloquent nor especially comfortable being the center of attention at ton events. More, I loved how he had this hidden very sweet, very irreverent (at times) and funny internal dialogue going on in his head that was at odds with how he is perceived by those who do not know him. Like the conversation of sorts he has with Lady Dearwood and her fellow "amateur daubists" at the National Gallery:
"Are you a fan of the visual arts, Your Grace?" She gestured to the group. "We are here for our monthly visit, we come once a month" - as the phrase "monthly visit" would imply, Lasham thought - "to gaze upon the majestic beauty of the pictures and become inspired in our own artistic efforts." She leaned forward, as though confiding in him. He resisted the urge to draw back. "We are all amateur daubists, you see, Your Grace."
"I see," Lasham replied, wishing he hadn't given in to his desire to visit the gallery today himself.
(...)"Are you a painter yourself, Your Grace
?" Lady Dearwood's voice interrupted his thoughts. Just as well, it wasn't as though he could actually have any of the things he had been imagining.
"No, I just -" How to say it without sounding as though he were as insufferably pompous as Lady Margaret no doubt thought he was, although these ladies might be pleased at how ducal his approbation - or lack thereof - was. "I appreciate art." And left his words sitting there, hanging awkwardly in the air between them.
Wonderful, Lasham, he thought. No wonder he usually kept silent in company beyond the minimum of polite conversation. He was clearly terrible at saying anything without sounding like a prig, a snob, or a . . .or a duke. (27-28)
I really enjoyed the surprise of his piratical, rakish appearance hinting that he is mad, bad, and dangerous to know but that he is in reality quite different. An introvert.
And when had he become this awkward thing who didn't know what to do with himself?
Ah, of course. He could answer that, even if he didn't know where he should be standing at this exact moment. Forever. He had been this awkward for as long as he could recall, from first being sent off to school and then at his family's various homes, and in the House of Lords.
Always wondering just where he fit in, knowing he did, of course, because of what he was, but never because of who he was. (204)
And, I loved how Lady Margaret Sawford loosened him up a little and mussed him up a bit - the way she boldly discards his carefully tied cravat, ruffles his hair, and leads him into one adventure after another - from acting as 'the muscle' when she ventures into dangerous areas of London, to calming a rabble rousing crowd in dusty pubs, to dancing the night away at a dance hall, and to smoldering kisses in the back of the carriage.
"I was thinking that if you were amenable, we could enter into a reciprocal arrangement."
A what? And why did that sound both scandalous and wonderful?
He couldn't mean what Margaret immediately though he meant.
"What kind of arrangement?" she asked, acutely aware of Annie snoozing in the corner. Just as she'd thought, however, Annie emitted a soft snore that was either an actual snore, or the kind of snore she might emit if she wanted her mistress to continue an inappropriate conversation.
He glanced over at her, a spark of - mischief? - in his eye. "I have come to realize that I am not perhaps the most adventurous of souls." He turned away to gaze out of the window on the other side of the carriage. "In fact, some have accused me of being a stick-in-the-mud. If you would, I would like you to accompany me on some . . . adventures." (122)
For me watching a very proper man unravel and let go a bit is a fascinating and very satisfying reading experience. Like Sebastien in Judy Cuevas's Dance and here with the Duke of Lasham. I truly loved Lady Margaret for the way she took a very painful and embarrassing thing like Lasham's given name (which is a mystery even to Margaret for a good bit) and made him laugh at himself and at the ones who teased him about it, and even turned his hated name into a term of endearment.
"Why did your father choose Vortigern, anyway?"
Now it was his turn to groan. "He thought his son should have the name of a ruler. Why he didn't just choose George or William or even Arthur is beyond me."
"I like it. It's different."
"That it is. You can't imagine what young boys can do to turn your name into an insult."
Margaret laughed. "I can't imagine. Tell me."
"Wartigern was one of the most popular ones. Fartigern was also a big favorite. Hern, a few times. Then, Gernie for some reason. That one doesn't make sense, but it was used nonetheless."
"Gern sounds as though it is a boulder or something - 'The trees are just a few paces past the gern.' Like that." She hoped he would laugh.
Thank goodness he did. "Or something that is unpleasant, like an illness - 'The gern was responsible for three farmers' illnesses; hopefully it is cleared up now. That gern can be a nasty business.'"
She laughed, delighted he was comfortable enough with her to join in with the joke.
"You can't gern here, you have to go over there if you want to," she said, adopting a broad London accent. (254-255)
Margaret affectionately teases Lasham about his name when she takes him to Cremorne Gardens. Though he has absolutely no idea where he's going or what Cremorne Gardens is, he's comfortable with her, and trusts her, and is determined to step outside his comfort zone.
He settled back inside and nodded to her: "On our way. A garden, you say?"
"Much more than that," she replied. "It's got restaurants, and balloon ascents, and dancing pavilions. It will be too early for dancing, but we can wander about for a bit, perhaps find something to eat, like oysters or eel pie." Her eyes sparkled in delight, and he found himself smiling in response, even though he most definitely did not want an eel pie.
"It sounds enjoyable," he replied, trying to keep his voice from being stiff.
"It is, Gernie," she said, her face alight with anticipation. (280)
Lasham's given name is not the only mystery surrounding him. There's also the matter of how he lost his eye. Many possibilities are bandied about - in battle, a duel over a lady, a riding accident, an object tossed through a window, even an encounter with a bear.
I enjoyed watching Lasham's confidence in himself grow and how pleased he is when he recognizes he is not nearly as tied in knots as he was before he met Margaret. His progress is very evident in his encounter with Lady Dearwood's at her soirée:
"Thank you for the invitation," Lasham replied. "It is a lovely night for a party, isn't it?"
Lady Dearwood's expression faltered. In truth, it was raining quite hard, so much so that Lasham's feet were squeaking because of the water that had gotten into his shoes on the short walk from the carriage to the house.
"It is, Your Grace," she said firmly. Apparently she'd decided it was better to agree with the duke than debate how "a lovely night" would be defined.
"And this is a lovely party," he continued, deliberately using the same word so as to make his entire opinion suspect in her eyes.
When had he got so devious? And more to the point, why hadn't he started before? It was fun to watch Lady Dearwood wrestle with the information that he had just provided - that he categorized a rainy evening and an evening party into the same description, which must mean . . .
He saw when she gave up parsing it. "Your Grace, the beverage table is over there, and of course, I can summon someone to fetch a glass, if you could tell me what you prefer." (295-296)
For a man who struggled mightily choosing the right words for any given social situation, this is progress indeed for him to control a tedious, unwanted social encounter by injecting a heaping dollop of his own particular brand of devilish humor. I was cheering him on actually. Lasham will probably never enjoy being the center of attention, but he's learned to manage his discomfort and take a bit of fun along the way.
I was almost as invested in the outcome of the "Georgiana and the Dragon" (authored by A Lady of Mystery, aka Lady Margaret), the tasty little snippets that led off each chapter as I was in the slow-building romance between Margaret and 'Gernie." I enjoyed how these passages served as a whisper of things to come between Margaret and Lasham, and I did wonder if Margaret and Lasham didn't share more than a little with the dragon who did not want to be a man.
One-Eyed Dukes Are Wild is a mix of light and frothy with a little serious food for thought thrown in. I especially appreciated how the story of the "Absolutely Unattainable, Not To Be Wanted Anyway, Piratical and Awkward Duke" and the "Slightly Scandalous Lady of Mystery" kicks off with such simple, yet thought-provoking questions: "What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?" What is happiness? How do you find happiness? I think the best answer is what Vortigern discovers:
"There is a difference between not knowing what happiness is and not being happy, though, you understand," he said, gripping her shoulder more tightly to punctuate his words. "I might have been happy. I am, I suppose, sometimes." When I am with you. "I just am not certain what it is, precisely. Or how to recognize it when it occurs to me."
She drew back from him, her mouth curling into a warm, soft smile. "That is why we are adventuring, is it not? Happiness is an adventure. Does this," she said, gesturing to the hall behind them, still filled with dancing couples and loud music and chatter and common folk, "make you happy?"
He glanced over her head at the hall, then returned his gaze back to her and slide his hand down her arm to take her hand in his. "It does," he replied, hoping she understood precisely what he was trying to say. (222)