The Governess Game is one of my all-time favourite romances, so I was excited to read the next book in the series!
Book: The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided free of charge via NetGalley. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Minor violence; mention of past animal abuse; hero was neglected in childhood; heroine was sexually abused as child, discussed in some detail (she eventually confronts her abuser).
This is another stellar entry in the Girl Meets Duke series – while these do all stand alone, and can be read in any order, there are some great cameos here from the heroes and heroines of the previous two books, which I greatly enjoyed! It’s a nice way to round out the world and keep things from feeling too self-contained when characters actually seem to put the work in to maintain their friendships across multiple books. I recommend all the books in this series anyway, so I definitely think it’s worth reading from the beginning, even though you don’t have to.
The Wallflower Wager follows Penelope, who we’ve seen in previous books as an animal-loving, slightly odd woman who is determined to avoid any social events, remain a spinster, and spend her time on more worthy causes, like rehoming rescue animals. Her new next door neighbour, Gabriel Duke, is a self-made man known as the Duke of Ruin, who has made his fortune by trading in gossip and debts. They are an unlikely match, being about as far as it’s possible to be away from each other on an ethical scale, but they find themselves completely drawn to each other as he draws her out of her comfort zone and she helps him warm up to the world – it’s the Hufflepuff/Slytherin dynamic done to perfection.
One thing I loved about this is that neither hero nor heroine is particularly reluctant to admit that they are suffering from a certain amount of insta-lust, and it takes a while for actual feelings to develop. They get on each others’ nerves immensely, but their physical chemistry is what sets them on the path to friendship, and then love. It’s nice to see this kind of relationship progression, when all too often romance jumps very quickly to declarations of the ‘L’ word when what the characters seem to mean is that they want to get into each others’ pants. Gabriel’s growliness and Penny’s sunshiney nature make for some wonderful banter, too – I loved both of them.
Up until about 60% of the way through, I would have put this on the ‘very fluffy’ end of things. There are some hilarious scenes involving the animals, including the most ridiculously adorable meet cute, where Penny ends up sneaking into Gabriel’s bedroom to recover an escaped parrot, only to be faced with a rather unexpected amount of towel-clad man… There’s also some question over whether Gabriel’s housekeeper is entirely human, which really made me chuckle! The humour that runs throughout Dare’s books is front and centre for a lot of the book. It does end up hitting some darker notes, with both hero and heroine having some deepset childhood trauma that they need to work through. I thought both of these were handled pretty well, but they may be upsetting for some, so check the content warnings above and let me know if you want more details.
Overall, this is another hit for me, and a definite recommendation for the whole series! Five out of five cats!