|Tessa Dare’s entrance into the romance writing club last summer was greeted with considerable enthusiasm. TRR’s Cathy Sova gave the first book in her debut trilogy keeper status and your humble reviewer happily recommended the next two installments. So I was quite pleased when I discovered Dare’s new release in my latest package of books from Dede. However, I found myself less joyful as I perused One Dance with a Duke. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but while I found this a perfectly acceptable romance novel, it seemed to lack that special something that made Dare’s first three books so enjoyable.
The duke in question is Spencer Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland. Spencer is in London for the season and is prime catch for any aspiring hostess. He has developed a very unusual habit. He arrives at the ball at exactly midnight, chooses one of the debutantes, dances once with her, and then disappears. Needless to say, this has made him a man of mystery and every young lady hopes that she will be his choice.
Lady Amelia d’Orsay finds this charade rather amusing. At the ripe old age of twenty-six and without any expectations, Amelia is an unlikely to catch Morland’s eye. Then, she discovers that her irresponsible young brother Jack owes the duke a large sum of money. So when the duke arrives, she puts herself in his way and basically forces him to dance with her. Morland finds Lady Amelia very different from the inarticulate young ladies he usually favors. She won’t shut up! And when his secret weakness overtakes him as they dance, he surprisingly picks her up and carries her out of the ballroom to the terrace. This proves to be a fateful act.
Morland and Amelia are accosted by two gentleman, fellow members of the infamous “Stud Club,” who inform the duke that the founder of the club, the young Earl of Harcliffe, has been murdered. Mr. Bellamy and Lord Ashworth inform the duke that, according to the by-laws of the club, the surviving members have a duty to support Harcliffe’s twin sister, Lily. In fact, Bellamy insists that Morland must marry her. The duke, while rejecting this suggestion, agrees to go with the others to inform Lily that her brother is dead. Amelia, a friend of both twins, insists on accompanying the gentlemen. Lily will need a supportive female.
Of course, Amelia’s and the duke’s disappearance from the ball creates a scandal which leads to Morland’s offering her, not Lily, his hand in marriage. Amelia, long on the shelf and in hopes that the marriage will enable her to help her brother, accepts. A swift wedding follows and Amelia finds herself on the way to the ducal estate with a man whose good looks attract her, but whose lack of sympathy with her brother’s plight leads her to reject his sexual advances. Spencer is determined to woo his reluctant bride and the wooing provides lots of sexual tension and warm love scenes. Dare certainly does a fine job with those love scenes!
Spencer is an intriguing character. Raised by his army officer father in the wide open spaces of Canada, he was sent back to England when his uncle, the third duke, lost his only heir, he finds his new life constricting, both figuratively an,d literally. He has turned to breeding horses, which led him to “membership” in the Stud Club, a group who share ownership of a valuable horse. His determination to gain complete control of said horse leads the other members to wonder if Spencer had something to do with Harcliffe’s untimely death. This is one thread in the story.
The other has to do with the issue of Amelia’s efforts to help her brother Jack. Spencer understands full well that Jack is on the road to self-destruction and that his sister has become an enabler. Amelia’s unstinting support of Jack – which causes a breech between husband and wife – is perhaps understandable. After all, she raised him after her mother’s death. But her inability to see how manipulative and self-indulgent her brother has become leaves the impression that she is not very astute. Indeed, a major problem with the story is that Amelia is not a complete success as a heroine.
Perhaps there is simply too much going on in One Dance with a Duke. Clearly, Dare is setting up the next two books in her new trilogy. This is ever a challenge for an author and it is not clear that Dare meets it as well as she might. There are just too many distractions and too many loose ends.
Of course, one problem may be that, after enjoying her debut trilogy so much, my expectations for One Dance with a Duke were so very high. If I can’t recommend this book enthusiastically, I do recognize that it has a number of good qualities. I enjoyed it well enough that I will undoubtedly look for the next two books in the series. Dare remains one of the most promising new authors to come on the romance scene in recent years.