A scarred duke, a merchant’s daughter, and a contract – Grace by Contract (Once Upon a Duchy Book 1) by @RachelRossano 3/8Tweet
Why Grace isn’t named Beauty By Rachel Rossano
From the first time I read Beauty and the Beast as a child, it struck me how much emphasis was put on Beauty’s appearance as well as her internal beauty. Although the Beast is trying to get Beauty to fall in love with what is beneath his unappealing surface, he demands that she should have a lovely exterior for him to look at. Because of this double standard, I decided to tweak a few things in Grace by Contract.
My heroine is not ugly, but she is not strikingly beautiful either. In a break from the fairytale, she isn’t the youngest sister, and her moniker is not Beauty. That name is allocated to her youngest sister who is strikingly beautiful, innocent, and a bit too childish for her age. Instead, my heroine is named Grace.
Playing on the premise that outer beauty is fleeting and inner beauty is forever, Grace is very still very similar to her fairytale counterpart on the inside. She sacrifices herself for her family despite great difficulties. Her father’s foolishness becomes the source of most of the family’s troubles, and she willingly steps in to help. She is hard-working, kind, and gentle. All the things one would expect of a fairytale heroine. But, she isn’t overwhelmingly beautiful. That way my hero must see past the shining beauty of the younger sister to the more lasting beauty of Grace’s inner strength.
I have a soft spot for fairytale retellings. The author has done a wonderful job with this homage to Beauty and the Beast. This book hit all the classic tropes without using a single cliche.
Silas, Duke of Brakenhurst. He has been scarred by fire and grief. He is gruff and hard, preferring the company of only a few trusted retainers. Though by his nature he tends to avoid everyone, he is a good master wanting to do well by those who man his castle and estates. In truth, he probably is a bit too soft.
Grace finds herself the protector of her four sisters after her mother’s death. Her father is useless and detrimental to his family, so it falls to her to sacrifice to save her youngest sister from a rogue knight. Bargaining to become a servant in the Duke’s household should be the way to do that. Still, the Duke has enemies, even inside his own household and it may be that he can’t keep any of them safe.
Grace is the perfect foil for the duke. While he sees his scars as a liability that shows weakness to his enemies, she sees them as the source of the inner strength that she will come to rely on.
This book is filled with chivalry and scoundrels; spies, intrigues, and machinations; heroic rescues, and an over-enthusiastic puppy who is the true star of the tale. Okay, maybe not the star, but he does manage to steal a few hearts, including the reader’s. This book is a fantastic addition to our featured Romantic Interludes list. I am looking forward to the new books in the series.
I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
Grace by Contract
Once Upon a Duchy Book 1
by Rachel Rossano
Genre: Fairytale-Inspired Romance
After her father uproots the family to the northern duchy of Brackenhurst, Grace Eldon and her four younger sisters struggle with a new life of hardship. Desperate to keep a roof over their heads amid mounting debts, she and her youngest sister seek employment in the Duke of Brackenhurst’s household despite fearsome rumors. Scarred and maimed from a terrible fire Silas Isling, Duke of Brackenhurst buries himself in his work to avoid the stares of pity and fear. When one of the new maids shows no fear at his appearance, he is intrigued. That is until his meddling steward gives her the task of cleaning Silas’ bookroom. It is a most unwelcome disruption since he prefers to be alone. While a thief plagues his castle, an old nemesis reappears, and enemies invade in the guise of guests. Amidst the distractions and chaos, Grace brings some unexpected order. Once convinced his scars had stolen all hope for love, Silas finds his life forever changed by the quiet maid. Could she love a scarred Duke?
Inspired by Beauty and the Beast
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The rain slowed and then stopped as we trekked over the first rise beyond the village.
“Wait until I tell Amity.” Beauty jostled my shoulder as she gripped my hand with both of
I pulled the sack with our purchases out from between us, praying that she hadn’t squished
the bread. We hurried along the muddy path, sidestepping the deepest puddles and avoiding the
soaked knee-high grasses as best we could.
“Lord Brackenhurst is a giant.” Beauty hissed the word in my ear like a child, marveling
with equal parts wonder and horror. “He stands at least four hands taller than Father.”
“He is tall,” I admitted, hoping that would be the end of it. I didn’t want to dwell on our
difficult conversation with our new lord and master. Our new home, the tenant-holding my
mother grew up on, lay beyond the next hill and about an hour’s walk from the village. Our
middle sisters would have dinner prepared and the table set by the time we arrived home. If we
hurried, there might still be enough to blunt the sharp emptiness of my stomach.
“Is he taller than any man you have met?” Beauty shoved at my shoulder so hard that I
stumbled to the side of the path in my effort to keep my balance and avoid a particularly deep
puddle. The bread and the apothecary’s small pouch of herbs for grandmother bounced against
“Aye. Please don’t jostle me so.”
“And his hands!” She sucked in a great breath in awe. “The one we saw was the size of my
“You have a small head.”
“No smaller than yours.” She dragged at my arm so that my joints ached. “Come and admit
it, Grace. He was a sight to behold.”
I wasn’t willing to admit anything. I just wanted to go home, back to Braulyn and the great
port of Mayfair. I longed to breathe the tangy scent of the sea air and feel the sand beneath my
toes. Not even the impressive, hulking sight of our new master could overcome that longing.
“My, was he ugly! Those scars! I have never beheld such a mangled visage—”
“Cease!” I yanked my hand free of Beauty’s viselike grip. “Leave the poor wretch alone.” I
took three steps further along the rutted path before I realized Beauty no longer walked with me.
Stopping in the center of the path, I turned back to find her crouched in the grass with her
arms about her knees.
“Oh, do stop pouting.” I crossed my own arms. We had more important things to discuss,
like whether or not we mentioned the contract to our father. The strangely intense bailiff and the
far-too-watchful eye of his master had made the terms clear enough. Still, part of me rebelled at
signing away half a decade of my life. Not that it changed reality. Father would happily bargain
Beauty’s and my freedom for such a prize as a regular income for which he didn’t have to work.
He would see it as a chance to turn his fortunes around.
Beauty lifted a prettily damp face to stick her bottom lip out at me. “I only spoke the truth.”
“Hurtful truth,” I pointed out. “A person’s character isn’t based on their exterior. Neither of
us knows the measure of Duke Brackenhurst’s character. He is to be our new master, and we
need to show respect.”
“I would prefer a handsome husband.”
Five rounds with my best fighter wore me out to the point where I could finally think straight again. With the dull exhaustion of limber muscles and expended exertion filling my senses, the memories of Ivy and her tragic demise lost some of their poignancy. I left my opponents to tend to their bruises and set about doing the same for mine.
When I emerged into the inner bailey, the bitter wind cut through my sweaty linen shirt and thin woolen tunic. I welcomed the chill, but my lack of full dress drew looks from the matron delivering the milk and butter from the village. I honored her with a bow before ducking through the door into the undercroft between the servants unloading her cart.
I circumvented the edges of the kitchen. By the scents I guessed chicken, stew, and honeyed yams were on the menu. My stomach growled.
“Not that way!” A great crashing of metal preceded sobs. “Don’t cry, child. Scrub. You will never finish at this rate.”
Bronwick emerged from her office, looking angrier than I had seen in ages.
“The new hires not working out?” I asked.
She snorted. “One is useless at least. It is going to take weeks to teach her to scrub pots at this rate. It takes so little intelligence for such a task that I dare not try her at another.”
“Now hold the brush like this,” the disembodied voice instructed. Another clatter marked the dropping of the brush. Both Bronwick and I flinched.
“Give them time,” I admonished. Only a few hours had passed since their hiring.
Bronwick snorted in a most dignified manner before stalking off to deal with the situation.
I took myself out of her range of emoting. As Rambler would say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” I took the stairs to the first floor. I would have to devise a way to gain my housekeeper’s good graces again, or the whole household would suffer.
At the top of the undercroft stair, I emerged into my great hall. The raftered ceiling extended two floors up, and the gleaming glazed windows above the dais were the envy of the seven duchies. Two great fireplaces, long as seven men and deep as two, spanned the west and east walls, heating the whole. I paused before the west fireplace, taking a moment to let my damp shirt dry a bit in the heat of the blaze before I retreated to my chambers to change.
Around me, the muted bustle and cheer of the pages and servants setting out the midday meal made me smile. I could not claim any credit for the glazed windows, high ceiling, or great fireplaces. They had all been contributions of my ancestors. However, I could claim a hand in keeping the place staffed, maintained, and reasonably peaceful. My father had accomplished none of those things.
Rachel Rossano is a happily married mother of three children. She spends her days teaching, mothering, and keeping the chaos at bay. After the little ones are in bed, she immerses herself in the fantasy worlds of her books. Tales of romance, adventure, and virtue set in a medieval fantasy world are her preference, but she also writes speculative fantasy and a bit of science fiction.
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