One Dance with a Duke (Tessa Dare, Stud Club #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
She’s the supposedly overlooked, almost matronly, spinster who loves nothing better than to embroider and plan menus; he’s the irresistibly mysterious duke who rarely shows his face in society.  It’s that unlikely combination of rake and wallflower that shows up a little too often in regency romance.  Add in a dash of murder and an obsession with horseflesh that is probably believable for the time period but not at all my thing, and I didn’t really expect to like this book. Except it’s actually fun, interesting, and well written. Dare is great at miring the readers in scenes that are long enough to really see character motivations and growth arcs, and though they still occasionally surrender to stereotypes and misunderstandings, overall, this is a sweetly sensual, often humorous romance whose characters take deft, surprising turns just as you’re about to lose faith in them…

Greater Detail:

Everything starts with two kind of silly premises:

1.     There’s a Stud Club (even the other characters poke continuous fun at its name) that originally had ten members, in which all members have a token that symbolizes one-tenth ownership of Osiris, a famous racing horse with noble bloodlines.  The tokens can’t be bought or sold, only won or lost in gambling matches.  The novel begins with the horse’s owner being murdered, and his token stolen.  Though there originally ten members, Spencer Dumarque, the Duke of Morland, has been gradually acquiring tokens, meaning that only three people now have partial breeding rights – Spencer, Rhys/Lord Ashcroft, and Bellamy.

2.     Spencer, mostly because he detests social gatherings, only dances one waltz every night – coming near midnight, picking from amongst the debutantes, and then leaving right after the waltz.  Our heroine Amelia, in some misbegotten attempt to try and convince Spencer to forgive a four hundred pound gambling debt her wastrel brother owes the duke, more or less pushes herself onto him, demanding the dance.

The beginning is definitely mired in all sorts of unlikely coincidences and events that throw our characters into each other’s pathways.  They’re attracted to one another fairly early on, and despite all the underlying concerns about murder and horses, the novel does a decent job of focusing on their development with one another.  They also marry fairly early on, which gives them all sorts of opportunities to explore their physical attraction, while both still try to deny and delay the emotional side of their relationship.

There’s also a healthy supporting cast that oscillates between being very interesting to borderline annoying (a beautiful, young, headstrong ward of the duke’s, the no-good gambling younger brother of Amelia, the two remaining members of the Stud Club, and the sister of the murdered club founder).

The premise isn’t really something that I normally enjoy, the ending is a little twisty-turny and the characters definitely flirt with becoming pigeonholed extremes at times – but I think what ultimately made this novel such a light and enjoyable read is that there isn’t a single part of the novel that overwhelms the others.  Yes, there is murder and intrigue, but just enough to keep the characters colliding with one another.  There is a strong and obvious physical connection, and plenty of sensual sex scenes, but again, it isn’t the dominating feature of their relationship.  These are ultimately characters who challenge and laugh at one another, and though they sometimes act a bit illogically, you feel as though they’re ultimately easier to connect with because they’re a little unpredictable, despite being in the familiar settings of regency romance.

Other Things to Know:
This is the first of three in Dare’s Stud Club trilogy.    I liked the first a little better than the second, which features Rhys (Twice Tempted by a Rogue).

Comparisons to Other Authors:
The sex scenes are passionate enough that they remind me of a Lisa Kleypas or a Stephanie Laurens. Her occasional irreverence and sense of humor, with quips that might be from Austen, remind me of Julia Quinn, Julie Anne Long, maybe even a hint of Georgette Heyer.  I’m starting to think of her as being a nice compromise of a series of my favorites – she doesn’t go totally overboard into farcical humor the way Julie Anne Long might, and she doesn’t let the murder and mystery dominate the book like Laurens sometimes does.

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