Amalie Howard (The Beast of Beswick) pushes the fake-dating romance plot to new heights in Always Be My Duchess, in which a stoic and powerful duke hires an out-of-work ballerina to pose as his fiancée in order to secure a new business deal.
Lord Lysander Blackstone, the Duke of Montcroix, is known for his "complete lack of emotion in Parliament and his infamous inscrutability." These are protections he's put in place after years of being punished by his father for his neurodiversity, which often appears to others as being slow or unfeeling. Geneviève (Nève) Valery is a dancer, short on money to care for herself and her ailing sister after refusing to become the mistress of a wealthy nobleman and subsequently losing her position with the ballet. The two literally run into one another--Lysander flees cutpurses in an unfamiliar neighborhood and Nève takes pity on him and leads him to safety. Sparks fly. Lysander makes Nève an offer she can't refuse: pretend to be his fiancée in exchange for enough money to get her and her sister back on their feet--and then some.
In keeping with Pretty Woman, the 1990s-era rom-com that inspired it, Always Be My Duchess is a celebration of women's power and intelligence (the latter described as the "dread of the patriarchy and the scourge of the aristocracy") and of love that springs from vulnerability and connection. The first in a planned series (Taming of the Dukes), Howard's novel is an exploration of agency and autonomy that will satisfy readers, while inevitably leaving them excited for what may yet follow. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer