How to Marry a Duke
by Vicky Dreiling
(Grand Central, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0446-56537-0
Sometimes a debut author hits gold and when they do, I often feel bad for them. I mean, after all, the pressure is on to continue to write good stories with good characters and entertaining plot lines. For Vicky Dreiling, I can tell you the pressure is on. Her first novel, How to Marry A Duke, hit gold.

Tristan Gatewick, the Duke of Shelbourne is thrity-one years old and finally ready to search for a bride. He inherited his title years ago, but refused to marry for money, despite the fact that his father had built up amazing debts and almost brought the family to ruin. Tristan worked hard and played hard too. He had some amazing affairs with widows while he worked to build up the family fortunes. But he did it while protecting his mother and his sister Julianne from scandal.

Tristan’s father had not really cared about scandal. He openly flaunted his mistresses in front of his mother and died in an accident with everyone knowing his problems. He has vowed to never bring scandal to the family and because of that, he has strict requirements in a wife. His mother doesn’t like his requirements, so Tristan has engaged a “matchmaker” to assist him.

The woman is Tessa Mansfield, a miss of twenty six who considers herself on the shelf. Tessa is a woman of independent means thanks to her deceased uncle and one who has no family. She was orphaned and raised by her uncle, giving her the chance to own property and actually manage that property. She serves as companions to young women and has helped make a number of successful matches. Tessa has reasons for her spinsterhood and is determined to live her life on the fringe of the ton with no marriage in her future. She was surprised when the Duke approached her but was intrigued and excited by the opportunity to display her skills, possibly setting up others who would pay her for her assistance. But the Duke also throws her for a curve with his list of requirements.

These requirements include a woman of over twenty-one, noble birth, unmarried and virtuous, with skills like planning social events and managing servants. Other pluses include an intelligent mind, sound judgment with controlled emotions and oh, yes, someone the Duke would want in his bed. And the Duke promises that for the woman, she will receive his affection and his promise of fidelity along with safety and security.

Tessa agrees, despite some misgivings. She feels a spark with the Duke and if truth were told, the Duke chose her due to his attraction to her. She picks 24 eligible women for his consideration. They enter into a “contest” – almost similar to the Bachelor TV show, with the exception of rose ceremonies. Complications arise, of course, due to their mutual attraction and the fact that Tristan is really not interested in any of the girls. He and Tessa find that they like each other, they both feel physical attraction and they establish a firm friendship too. When Tessa’s past comes back to haunt her and she fears her secrets will be revealed, things get very interesting.

This is a wonderful story with characters who were rich in depth. Tessa is lively, engaging and very modern, yet she understands the requirements for woman of her day to marry. Rather than admit her mistakes, she shut herself off from the opportunity. Tristan is a bit of a rake, but has conditioned himself to avoid scandal. He is almost too stubborn, but the author keeps him from being too stuffy. His mother, a woman who he could never fully understand, is the mechanism the author uses to keep him honest. Theirs was a relationship that developed as the novel went on and added to the richness of the tale.

Even the brides to be and Tristan’s friends had depth. His sister is delightful and I look forward to her story. The only character that wasn’t developed well was the villain. There was never any real explanation for his meanness, other than that he was just that way. While he added to the plot, his motivations were not the best part of the story.

This story came close to a keeper. Vicky Dreiling is definitely an author I want to read more of. If she bears up under the pressure, she will some become a reader favorite. How to Marry a Duke is a great start to her career.

--Shirley Lyons

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