I had so many competing feelings reading One Dance with a Duke. At so many points, many of them mere pages apart, I alternated between wanting to strangle and smooch both of the main characters. I’ll grab the summary quickly from Goodreads here and then move onward into my disorganized thoughts:
“A handsome and reclusive horse breeder, Spencer Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland, is a member of the exclusive Stud Club, an organization so select it has only ten members–yet membership is attainable to anyone with luck. And Spencer has plenty of it, along with an obsession with a prize horse, a dark secret, and, now, a reputation as the dashing “Duke of Midnight.” Each evening he selects one lady for a breathtaking midnight waltz. But none of the women catch his interest, and nobody ever bests the duke–until Lady Amelia d’Orsay tries her luck.
In a moment of desperation, the unconventional beauty claims the duke’s dance and unwittingly steals his heart. When Amelia demands that Spencer forgive her scapegrace brother’s debts, she never imagines that her game of wits and words will lead to breathless passion and a steamy proposal. Still, Spencer is a man of mystery, perhaps connected to the shocking murder of the Stud Club’s founder. Will Amelia lose her heart in this reckless wager or win everlasting love?”
Spoiler alert: everlasting love. Ahem. Anyway…
- Amelia d’Orsay is, in many ways, an excessively normal heroine and person, but it’s that fact that made her, for me, an unusual heroine in the context of all of the romance I’ve read. It seems to be a common occurrence in these books to make the women somehow “more than,” and as much as the wide variety of personality types and uniquely nuanced characterizations among these books speak to the desire of authors to respect women as individuals, it’s still a tendency for the male heroes to see their beloveds as “Not Like All the Other Girls.” The reader, and indeed, Spencer himself, would be hard-pressed to say that about Amelia, because there is so much normal-ness, so much reality in her, but that’s what makes her lovely. She aspires to marry, of course, partly for love, but also because she wants to be a wife. She wants to manage a household, and create menus, and throw parties. When she marries the Duke, she isn’t all discombobulated with worries of “Oh I would never know how to be a proper Duchess!” She’s thrilled to be in the position and looks forward to the spending money and being able to consider herself the Lady of six estates. Where it lately seems in fashion for upper class heroes and heroines to blur class lines and critique the privileges of their positions, Amelia immediately takes to her new status and interacts with the serving staff accordingly (not treating them poorly, of course, but she just immediately steps into a role of giving directions.) And while, as I mentioned, I’m not used to a heroine who so eagerly assumes the trappings of the status quo, because Amelia is an unfailingly kind and empathetic person as well, none of it comes across as unbecoming.
- She’s also just like us! Not the prettiest girl in the room, Amelia has very, very familiar insecurities about why the Duke picked her, and why he loves her, when it could have been anyone? (Which he doesn’t necessarily assuage, very well, in the beginning, but I’ll get to that.)
- But GIRL. Your savior complex when it comes to your brother is OUT OF CONTROL. I mean, I get it — Jack is her family, and family means everything to her, and she’s already lost one brother. But Jack is a danger to himself and has no compunction about leaving Amelia high and dry. He’s good at play-acting remorse, but his unwillingness to change and his continual repetition of the same mistakes speak to a guy who just doesn’t care about his sister’s many, many attempts to bail him out. That Amelia continually defends him and enables him AND that her desire to do so leads her into more than one devastating argument with her husband is endlessly frustrating.
- Spencer is a tough nut, too. He’s got a social anxiety disorder and makes very little effort to connect with people in general, even in small groups or on an individual level. He is SIMPLY AWFUL for some time at telling Amelia his true feelings about her, and between that and his idea that every argument can and should be solved with sexual healing, he leaves Amelia under the impression that he cares less for her than for his horses, except for her breeding potential. Which really isn’t a wild accusation, because he treats his horses extremely well, but can’t communicate anything properly to Amelia if his boner isn’t involved, so he doesn’t appear very considerate of her feelings. It’s his POV chapters that redeem him and prove that his continually saying the wrong thing isn’t out of cruelty, it’s out of cluelessness.
- When they work together and are on the same page, they’re a great team. When Spencer gives Amelia an inch, she can deduce a mile, so it makes it easier for him to open up to her when she’s already so empathetic and clever. Likewise, Spencer seems to understand what Amelia wants, even if his attempt to deliver on those desires are occasionally clumsy.
- Their worst arguments are over Jack, the fault for which I have to lay at Amelia’s feet. Still, though, Spencer doesn’t make them any easier by being a closed book, because in doing so it leads Amelia to the least charitable reasons why he might object to her point of view. This is truly a couple that could benefit from a communications seminar, if she could only get Spencer in that crowded room for long enough to absorb it.
- All together, this strikes me as a relatively believeable couple of the time. Spencer’s proposal to Amelia is based on attraction, but also the knowledge that she’s of a well-bred family that produces a lot of sons, so he feels that the prospects of getting a male heir from her are good. Amelia is also attracted to Spencer, and despite objections over his personality, she understands the match to be advantageous as well. I liked the dynamic that this was a marriage that needed to grow into itself, and that these were two people who had potential together but whose partnership would really only start to come together after the marriage.
This trilogy of books (Stud Club) has a ridiculous double-entendre title which is explained immediately but still doesn’t cease to provide amusement for either the reader or the actual characters in the books. I call this another win for Tessa Dare, even though it’s decidedly less fantastical than any of her books that I’ve previously read.