Monday, December 21, 2015

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


In One Dance with a Duke—the first novel in Tessa Dare’s delightful new trilogy—secrets and scandals tempt the irresistible rogues of the Stud Club to gamble everything for love.

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?

I’ll start out by saying that I’ve seen reviews and comments by people who thought the Stud Club idea for a plot was dumb, boring, and lacking believability, but I actually thought it was a great jumping off point and foundation for the trilogy. After all, when you think about it, it’s not too hard to believe that there would be the need or desire for a men’s club in which membership was not based on which side of the tracks, or in this case, which side of the ton you were born on. And, while we never meet him, it made me respect and care for the late Leo Chatwick, the Marquess of Harcliffe, whose idea it was to start the club, because even though he was one of the wealthy ones, he knew that money didn’t make the man, and valuable and lasting friendships could be formed between people of all classes. As Julian Bellamy, one of the three remaining members of the Stud Club so passionately and eloquently tells us when speaking to one of the others, “It’s naught but luck. Simple, dumb, blue-blooded luck is all that separates a man like you from a man like me. Leo understood it. He never thought himself the better of anyone. That’s why he created this Club, made its membership contingent on the kind of good fortune that comes after one’s birth, not before it.” What a great, unique idea for a storyline!

I enjoyed Spencer Dumarque, Duke of Morland well enough even before he deserved it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something about him that reminded me of Clayton Westmoreland from Whitney, My Love. Spencer Morland is a very intense, demanding man. He wants things his way and doesn’t mind using his ducal status to get it. He demands respect and does only what he wishes and has a difficult time fathoming it when someone isn’t intimidated by him—likely because it doesn’t happen that often! He’s aloof, mysterious, brooding and all the other things that a man must be if he expects to be worth his weight in whatever it is a Duke’s weight is worth. Whew! Say that 20 times fast without taking a breath! He isn’t necessarily my favorite kind of hero, one who suffers some physical scars as well as emotional ones, but yet, there was just something about him that captured my heart and my imagination and I knew from the start that I’d end up falling in love with him. I was right. *sigh*

As far as heroines go, Amelia d’Orsay was ok. A 26 year old spinster, she’s strong, resourceful, stubborn, capable, and intelligent and with a list like that, you’d think I would have adored her. But sadly, I wasn’t drawn to her and never felt a real connection or attachment. I can only guess that it’s because she seemed to lack much compassion towards the people who really deserved it, except Lily, and she is quite gullible where her brother, Jack, is concerned which made for some frustrating times. It somehow just didn’t fit that this incredibly smart woman, so, so insightful and full of common sense, just couldn’t see beyond her love and devotion for him to see what a sniveling, whiny little miscreant he is. Instead, she kept making excuses for him, constantly bailing him out of trouble, never even considering that she wasn’t helping him at all. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out, but finally, very near the end we get our answer:

Slight Spoiler: This takes place when Amelia, finally “gets it” about her brother, when Jack fails to offer his coat to a shivering, pregnant young woman: Strangely enough, Amelia was glad of it. That small example of thoughtlessness might be inconsequential compared to his other misdeeds—but it was this final ounce of selfishness that tipped the scales. For many months, she’d believed she could save her brother if only she loved him hard enough. But she saw her error clearly now. She’d accused Spencer of being insular, but Jack was the one incapable of seeing beyond his own grief. Other men lost brothers, friends, even children and wives—and still avoided abject dissolution. Why Jack had stumbled into the chasm when others managed to skirt it, she would never know. But she finally understood it was beyond her power to pull him out. This epiphany of hers was so totally believable to me, because I’ve had those sudden, painful moments of clarity where family is concerned myself. Anyway, this is where Amelia redeemed herself and ceased being a one-dimensional character in a book and became someone I could cheer for, someone I could respect and someone deserving of a happily ever after with Spencer, a man I adore. End Spoiler

The supporting cast of characters, Lily Chatwick—Leo’s sister, Claudia, Lord Ashworth, and Julian Bellamy, I found to all be people with compelling enough backgrounds to warrant their own stories. I know that Ashworth and Bellamy (with Lily as his happily ever after) will have books of their own, but I’m hoping that we’ll see enough of the Morland clan to learn what ultimately happens with Claudia, Spencer’s ward. Then of course there’s Jack d’Orsay, and frankly, I’d be perfectly fine never hearing his name again.

I have to say that what I suspect was the main storyline – the murder mystery – was secondary to me. I was more interested in what I saw as a tale of the classes. About those who “belong” in proper society and those who don’t. I really like the way Tessa Dare approached it, because let’s be honest here, it’s a theme that’s been quite written to death, but by using the idea of the Stud Club, she gives us a unique, interesting and funny twist to a “done to death” plot in historical romance novels. I enjoyed Ms. Dare’s writing style, her unique turn of phrases and her ability to take situations which might normally seem like just more of the same old, same old, and made them fun, interesting and burn up the pages hot! Can anyone say “piquet?” LOL

Overall, I enjoyed One Dance with a Duke and Spencer is the latest addition to my All Time Favorite Top 10 Heroes list. And even though I’ve heard a couple of less than appealing things about Twice Tempted by a Rogue, the second book in the Stud Club Trilogy, I’ll keep reading because I want to know what happens with Ashworth, Bellamy, Lily and Claudia, I want to find out who killed Leo and ultimately, what becomes of the Stud Club.

Click here to purchase One Dance with a Duke at Amazon

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