THE ART OF DUKE HUNTING – Sophia Nash
Royal Entourage
Series , Book 2
Avon Books
ISBN: 978-0-06-202233-2
April 2012
Historical Romance

On the Sea off the Coast of England; Derbyshire, England – 1800's

Esme March, the Countess of Derby, is on a ship destined for Italy, Austria, and anywhere on the continent where she can look at museums and continue with her painting.  Her husband, though loving to her, drank himself to death and made himself a laughingstock in English society.  Now Esme is determined to continue the artistic studies she abandoned because of her marriage and make herself happy for once; that is, if the storm that has overtaken them doesn't send them all to the bottom of the sea.  A man who has tied himself to a mast looks like he is either crazy or trying to throw himself off the ship.  When he gets loose from the mast, she takes him into her room where he tries to escape and wants to climb the mast so if the ship goes down he will be as high as possible.  When Esme learns he is Roman Montagu, the seventeenth Duke of Norwich, that begins to explain his weird actions.

Roman Montagu, Duke of Norwich, or Seventeen as he is called by everyone in society, must live with one of the most awful curses in England .  Sixteen dukes ago, the first duke proposed to a woman with a dozen bloody, half plucked ducks as an engagement gift, and declared she was lucky to get him.  Before he had her burned as a witch, she put a curse on him and all his descendants to death by duck.  So far sixteen dukes have died in some way which involved a duck, and Norwich knows that he will be the next, no matter what he does.  First of all: he is determined to 1. Never get married; 2. Never to have a child; 3. Never to fall in love; 4. and most important, Never get on the sea again.  But a drunken night with the Prince Regent and others in the Royal Entourage finds Norwich barely sober and tied to a ship during a storm.  When taken into the beautiful woman's room, he makes love to her with an intensity he has seldom felt.

When the newspapers alert Prince Regent to what the people of London are thinking about the aftermath of their night of drunkenness and revelry, he knows his rule is in danger.  The people are about to ask for their heads, and it's up to Prinny to save himself.  The very day Esme and Norwich return to England , he orders them married in an hour in front of him and to go somewhere quiet for a honeymoon of at least six weeks.  Prinny will be the one to announce the marriage at the right time, and there's no saying “no” to the prince.  The question is whether Norwich will realize the prize he has in Esme, or if he will let her go to live her own life.  But the biggest secret of all, the witch that put the curse on his family was an ancestor of hers.  Wow, what a secret!

Sophia Nash has written the second book in the Royal Entourage series with just as much humor and action as the first book.  Told from Roman's and Esme's points of view, Roman has lived all his life dealing with the curse and its repercussion.  Especially terrible was the drowning of his elder brother, the should-have-been seventeenth Duke of Norwich.  Roman feels guilty for his death, hence the reason he is so afraid of the water now.  Esme was married to a drunkard whom society called Drunken Derby.  Now Esme is well placed financially and looking forward to doing whatever she wants, not being under the thumb of another man.  Esme always seems to put everyone else first, and Roman lives his life doing his engineering calculations to find a way to bring clean water to London .  It's only his relationship with the members of the Prince Regent's entourage where he lives the carefree life of a libertine.

Secondary characters are the captain of the ship that strands them on the Isle of Wight .  The Dukes of Conover and Abshire are part of the entourage and hate each other, but are friendly with Norwich .  Indeed, they are all in trouble with the Prince Regent, and they each help Norwich as much as their constitutions will allow them.  And Esme's special friend is Verity Fitzroy, whom Esme tells everything to, except Verity has some sort of contentious relationship with the Duke of Abshire that she, in turn, refuses to disclose to Esme. And Norwich 's and Esme's mothers both have important parts to play in helping them realize what they could be throwing away.  And causing Norwich fits of jealousy is Esme's painting mentor, William Topher.

THE ART OF DUKE HUNTING is just as appealing and full of humor and tragedy as the first book in the series.  There will be six stories in the Royal Entourage series but there is no hint to when the next story will come out or which of the remaining dukes will be featured.  I really enjoyed this book with two such different characters that a curse throws together, and I think you'll love it too.

Carolyn Crisher