One Dance With a Duke, by Tessa Dare

>> Friday, June 08, 2012

TITLE: One Dance With a Duke
AUTHOR: Tessa Dare

PAGES: 400
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Stud Club trilogy

In One Dance with a Duke—the first novel in Tessa Dare’s delightful new trilogy—secrets and scandals tempt the irresistible rogues of the Stud Club to gamble everything for love.

A handsome and reclusive horse breeder, Spencer Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland, is a member of the exclusive Stud Club, an organization so select it has only ten members—yet membership is attainable to anyone with luck. And Spencer has plenty of it, along with an obsession with a prize horse, a dark secret, and, now, a reputation as the dashing “Duke of Midnight.” Each evening he selects one lady for a breathtaking midnight waltz. But none of the women catch his interest, and nobody ever bests the duke—until Lady Amelia d’Orsay tries her luck.

In a moment of desperation, the unconventional beauty claims the duke’s dance and unwittingly steals his heart. When Amelia demands that Spencer forgive her scapegrace brother’s debts, she never imagines that her game of wits and words will lead to breathless passion and a steamy proposal. Still, Spencer is a man of mystery, perhaps connected to the shocking murder of the Stud Club’s founder. Will Amelia lose her heart in this reckless wager or win everlasting love?
It's a typical scenario in historical romance: a heroine from an impoverished noble family, a thoughtless younger brother who acts as if money wasn't an issue, and the heroine having to ask the hero for mercy and forgiveness of unpayable debts. That's the situation Lady Amelia d'Orsay is in when she forces herself to rise above her shyness and approach the mysterious Duke of Morland, Spencer Dumarque, at a ball.

While they're talking in the garden, two men show up with bad news. Like Spencer, they're members of the Stud Club, and it turns out the founder of the club has been killed. Amelia, who knows the man's sister well, insists on coming with them to break the news. And hey, presto, heroine compromised, marriage of convenience coming up.

Now, do any readers really like the plot device of having the heroes belong to a ridiculously named "club"? Well, surprisingly for me, in this case, I did. The Stud Club (and names don't often get more ridiculous than that), actually has a point. It has a history, and a founder who was after something a bit more meaningful than "we won't ever marry, woohooo!", and what's more, it sets out what I thought was a really intriguing mystery that will run through this trilogy.

That said, the mystery doesn't really get much advanced here, only set up, with his fellow club members suspecting Spencer because he's determined to have the horse that's at the centre of the Club. The whole thing then disappears for long stretches, and the focus is fully on Spencer and Amelia getting acquainted, and adding love and passion to the liking and respect they originally feel for each other.

Objectively, Amelia is one of those idiot heroines who sacrifice everything for a selfish, wastrel brother who neither appreciates nor is grateful for their pains. I hate those. I should have hated Amelia, too, but I realise that what I really hate isn't the heroine herself who does that, it's the fact that most books present such idiotic behaviour as proof that she is just what a woman should be... family is everything, and a good heroine must do everything for hers, no matter how undeserving. This is not how Amelia's behaviour is portrayed here. She knows she's being an idiot, she knows she shouldn't do it. It's presented a bit like a character flaw, and it made me like her. It made me understand her and enjoy the romance.

Spencer is a bit more of a mystery for most of the book, but as his relationship with Amelia progresses, we get to know him better. But the man has secrets! And to be honest, I had a bit of difficulty understanding, even after the explanations, why he was so obsessed with getting that horse he's after. Still, that wasn't a huge issue.

Interesting start, I'll be reading the rest of the series soon.



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