The Duke's Wager and Lord of Dishonor

The Duke's Wager and Lord of Dishonor - Edith Layton This out of print two-in-one was worth every penny to track down used. They certainly don't write them like this anymore.The Duke's WagerIn her enthusiasm to see the sights while she's in London, country mouse Regina Berryman accidentally attends the opera on the night where mistresses and the demimonde are on display. Dressed smartly in the fancy clothes her uncle bought her, she unwittingly draws the attention of two of London's most notorious libertines - the Marquess of Bessacarr and the Duke of Torquay. When the duke approaches her to whisper a proposition in her ear, she flees the opera house in a hurry. Torquay, however, is undaunted, and becomes determined to have her as a mistress. Bessacarr, being none too fond of Torquay, becomes determined to have her as well, if only to thwart the duke. Thus begins a twisted love triangle battling to corrupt the innocent Regina.The book is brilliant in that both men are absolutely despicable in the beginning. Early on, Regina is left completely penniless by her uncle's untimely death. Torquay and Bessacarr both exploit this to their own benefit. Torquay by getting her thrown out of her home and abducting her to try to force her to accept his offer, and Bessacarr by taking her into his home under false pretenses and abusing her trust by pretending to help her find work. One is openly trying to corrupt her, while the other is doing it stealthily. Neither is concerned one whit for what Regina wants. Regina is a delightful character. She's penniless and powerless, but her well-developed sense of honor and self-worth prevents her from accepting Torquay's offer. She refuses to live as someone's object or pampered pet. She's determined to live an honest, honorable existence, even if she must find employment. She was educated as though she were a son by her schoolmaster father and so meets Torquay's sallies head-on, refusing to be taken as anything less than an equal. As it's all she has left, she clings tenaciously to her dignity.Layton makes good use of dialog in the novel, using lots of it to draw out who the characters are and why they act the ways they do. Whenever the duke encounters Regina, a war of words breaks out. The two have lengthy, wonderfully written discussions where, though he becomes more and more determined to have her, Torquay also begins to wish she never compromises herself. Eventually he starts to wonder if he even wants to win this game of his. Would she still be so appealing if she consented to be his mistress? What sort of person would that make him, as well, if she did?I just loved watching these characters grow and change. No one ends this book the way they began, not even the secondary characters. Through well-crafted, meaty dialog we watch the characters struggle with their own senses of honor and self-respect. They all make miscalculations along the way, and though all three try, only two come out better people at the end. It's a rare book that can write a character who manages to go from repulsive to endearing, but Layton pulls it off and makes it look easy.5 stars. Easy. I couldn't find a flaw if I had a gun to my head.Lord of DishonorLady Amanda Amberley is one of the "Amberley Assortment," the ton's clever term for her and her siblings due to her countess mother's reputation for taking lovers. Though she's one of the two legitimate Amberleys, she's nonetheless tarred by the same brush, leaving her still unmarried, as beaus are reluctant to offer for her then find she shares her mother's inclinations. Despite her best efforts to lead a spotless life to win over the timid Sir Giles Boothe, her mother's unscrupulous machinations at a house party leave her compromised and tied to an extremely unwilling groom, the debauched Viscount North.Though neither wishes to marry, for their own reasons, they agree to an engagement to salvage Amanda's honor, with the expectation of Amanda jilting him and going back to Sir Giles. They head to North's estate to stay with his mother and brother while putting a plan in motion to get Sir Giles to rush to save Amanda and finally marry her.It's like a marriage of convenience without the actual marriage. They stay at his estate together and get to know each other as they act the besotted couple. As they do so, they begin to genuinely care for each other, though attraction has been there between them from the start. They rather neatly mirror each other. Amanda tries extra hard to live up to her legitimate birth despite the dark cloud over her parentage. North puts forth every effort to live down to his illegitimate birth despite being officially legitimate. Both harbor resentment for their mothers - Amanda that her mother's behavior made her seem illegitimate and North that his mother would give him away to the earl and countess so he would look legitimate. In this way they tend to balance each other out perfectly.While I loved the language and lengthy dialog, I did have some issues with the plotting. Near the end, Layton spent an inordinate amount of time on North's parentage. It had the effect of demphasizing the romance without adding much to their character arcs. I didn't feel that the specifics of his illegitimacy were that important to their stories.I'd give this one 4 stars. While not perfect, it's still a strong, character-focused regency with sparkling dialog.