The Naked Duke

 
The Naked Earl
by Sally MacKenzie
(Zebra, $5.99, R) (ISBN 08217-8075-1
**
The Naked Earl is a combination of the obvious and the inane that add up to a marginal plotline, unless you consider it entertainment when a wide cast of characters tries to hop into each other’s bed. I didn’t.

The obvious:
There is an Earl (Robert Hamilton, the Earl of Westbrooke) who is fleeing his room, naked, by going out on the roof and jumping into the first open window he can find, which happens to belong to a lady of the ton. He is fleeing because a manipulative miss (Felicity) has decided to force him into matrimony. Now it appears that he has jumped from one lady’s trap into a marriage trap of his own making. After all, the lady’s room he has entered (Elizabeth Runyon) is his best friend’s sister.

The inane:
The Earl refuses to offer for Lizzie because he thinks he is unable to consummate their marriage. It seems that as a young man he went through a particularly humiliating scene with some bullies and now whenever he gets close to a woman he wimps out, so to speak. He is ready and then…he is not. He fears he will not be able to engage in relations with his wife, so he has decided he will not marry – even to save a lady’s reputation.

If this was the end of it, there is a chance that I could still enjoy this story. But sadly, there is more. Lady Elizabeth, who is a Duke’s sister no less, is rather silly. She is in her fourth Season and has turned down all sorts of offers because she is in love with Robbie. Robbie is observed to long for her from afar, but is not making any moves towards matrimony. A scandal is avoided when Felicity realizes if she exposes that Robbie is in Elizabeth’s room, it is Lizzie who will be forced to marry him, not she. Elizabeth and her chaperone, Lady Beatrice are convinced however, that due to his honor, he will have to offer for her. He doesn’t.

The story revolves around the long house party and the array of men and women who are scheming and filled with lust. Lizzie keeps putting herself in compromising positions with Robbie and their lust is continual, but still Robbie resists. At times, there are so many players, it is difficult to keep track without a scorecard. Felicity is not true to Robbie; she just wants his money. Her friend Charlotte, who is married to an aging Duke, is at the house party to convince a younger man to bed her and help her secure an heir before the old Duke dies without issue. The men are just as bad, almost fighting over who gets to bed whom.

The sex is not at all romantic…unless you find this sort of thing romantic. There are statues in the garden that are hedonistic to keep everyone hyped up on sex. The closest thing to a romance is Lady Beatrice, an elderly spinster, and her relationship with her butler of many years. The highlight of the tale was when she appeared to finally convince him to marry her despite convention.

Needless to say, I struggled getting through this book and my only recommendation is that you find another story to read. Leave The Naked Earl on the shelf.

-- Shirley Lyons


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