I'm not a fan of revenge plots but the premise in the School for Brides intrigued me so I thought I'd give it a try.
Evangeline Winfield is a woman with secrets. Her alias is Miss Eva Black, a dowdy spinster who runs a school for mistresses. She teaches them proper etiquette, polite conversation, how to dress respectably, and so on, in order to find a good husband. Evangeline Winfield, her real self, was forced through necessity to create Miss Black. Eva is responsible for her and her mother. Her mother was an earl's mistress and they loved each other - Eva has very fond memories of her father, he preferred Eva and her mother to his own wife. And he died tragically on his way to visit his preferred family. But he didn't forget about them in his will, so Eva and her mother have a small stipend, which she supports with what she earns from her school.
So this is Miss Black's life, and things are going well, if a bit boring, until the Duke of Stanfield accuses her of stealing his mistress away. Nicholas is very upset over the loss of his mistress. She was the perfect companion, someone to balance out the dull but beneficial marriage he was going to make to some empty-headed virginal chit. Now he'll have to find a new mistress and he'll have to hold off on his courtship. So inconvenient, losing his mistress!
Nicholas lays all his frustration at the feet of Eva. She's to blame for his mistress deserting him and she's responsible to bring her back. When Eva explains that this is impossible, that his mistress has actually married, Eva believes this is the last she's seen of the duke. But like any little boy who's favorite toy is stolen, he throws a tantrum and coldly collects all of Eva's debts and holds them over her head. He needs a new shiny toy and she has a bevy of beauties and she can give him one. Eva is freaked out because there's no way she can pay all the debts at once and there's no way in hell she'll hand over one of her courtesans to the duke. So the duke has another plan...Eva can take his mistress' place in his bed. Yes, even despite Eva's spinster disguise, the duke wants her.
This is a debut novel by Cheryl Ann Smith and as such, I was looking for something new and refreshing. Unfortunately, I did not get that. I got a hero who had some attitudes that I had some issues with and a heroine who's character was a bit back and forth.
First is Eva. She wants to rescue courtesans from her mother's fate. She has this sense of responsibility and she's very stubborn. She also doesn't want to end up like her mother - brokenhearted over a man. This would almost make me think that she would be a bit of a prude. But Eva is anything but. When she realizes she has to give into the duke's demands, she's all for it. This is an example of how her character was not consistently written.
And the duke - he told himself that he would stop the charade (of forcing her to prostitute herself to repay her debts) when she put up a genuine fight or appeared fearful. So he follows through with his 'seduction' because she seemed willing? That made me very uncomfortable. I was also very disappointed with Nicholas' internal thoughts about women. Here's an example:
As if it was possible to change the essence of a woman, a courtesan, and make her a proper wife. A foolish notion it was. That was why most men didn't make their mistresses their wives. Their nature lacked the moral discipline to keep faithful to one man. A man should know with absolute certainty that he was the father of his own children.
I found his distaste for women very surprising. Although Nicholas doesn't have much use for his mom, he did see her unhappily married to his man-whore of a father. You'd think that would set him up to be somewhat sympathetic to the plight of women and how they don't really have a say in their lives. But nope, he uses that to his advantage...he doesn't appear to have much compassion towards women. Also, even once he does become involved with Eva, I feel like he still held Eva's efforts with her courtesans in contempt.
There are a few other things I had issues with, but I don't want to continue on in this negative vein. Just know that this debut effort didn't work for me. I couldn't get over the characters. The School for Brides gets a 2.5 out of 5 from me. It was just ok.