The Trouble with being a Duke at the Kingsborough Ball
by Sophie Barnes
(Avon, $7.99, PG) ISBN 978-006-224507-6
****
Sophie Barnes is a "new to me" author and despite some familiar plotlines, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I will be watching for more in her series.

The story centers around the Kingsborough Ball outside Moxley, where the recently inherited Duke, Anthony Hurst, has decided to reinvigorate his life after a year of mourning his father by holding what used to be an annual event. His mother needs to get out of mourning too and Anthony realizes that he needs to find a wife. What better way to accomplish both than a ball, which is also a masked event.

Isabella Chilcott lives in the village and is the beautiful daughter of the carriage maker and his lovely wife. While slightly impoverished, theirs is a happy home and Isabella has enjoyed her childhood immensely. She is being courted and urged to marry a local tradesman, Mr. Roberts. Part of the local gentry, Isabella's mother is convinced this is the only man for her to marry which will keep her out of poverty, give hope to the family and allow Isabella's sister to have some prospects of her own. Isabella is not enamored of the idea, but realizes the practicality of the situation and while sad about it, she is determined to do well by her family.

Her sister devises a plan that will allow romantic Isabella one night of carefree romance. She will dress up in a lovely gown they found in their attic, wear a mask and attend the ball. Then Isabella convinces herself, she can be satisfied with a boring life with Mr. Roberts. But as in fairy tales, her plans go awry when she first meets the Dowager and her second son, who quickly ascertain that she is a fake. But rather than expose her, they play along when Anthony shows his interest. Anthony and Isabella share a delightful dance, walk and ultimately a kiss. When Isabella disappears after the ball, and when an Earl and his wife ask after her due to her dress, Anthony is determined to find her.

What follows is a tale along the lines of a combination of fairy tales. What makes it work is the author's finesse and two strong characters who are attracted, concerned about practicalities, entranced with their romantic feelings and yet, with their sensibility to actually talk to each other rather than to succumb to the "big misunderstanding" ploy. An easily predictable mystery is introduced, but luckily the strength of the relationship building and the two characters keep the story both believable and enjoyable.

There appears to be a series of stories that started at this entertaining ball and The Trouble with being A Duke at the Kingsborough Ball is a wonderful beginning.

--Shirley Lyons


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