How to Dance With a Duke
by Manda Collins
(St. Martin's Press, $7.99, G) ISBN 978-0-312-54924-4
****
Miss Cecily Hurston is the dashing, intrepid heroine to fall in love with, for both reader and hero alike in How To Dance With A Duke.

Cecily is a hard core bluestocking, the daughter of two antiquity hunters. Her mother passed away many years ago, and her father has tried to shield her from following in their footsteps. Lord Hurston underestimated his daughter's gift for languages and translating hieroglyphics, or her sheer stubbornness. And so, Cecily has continued to learn about Egypt and its artifacts on the fringes of Lord Hurston's expeditions and his life at the Egyptian Explorer's Club. Lord Huston's explanation to Cecily has always been that her mother died as a result of over stimulation to her brain as she was so obsessed with antiquities that it must have killed her. While Cecily has been skeptical of this explanation, she understands that her father has tried to protect her.

Now, on the heels of his latest trip to Egypt, Lord Huston has returned in very sad shape, having succumbed to a mysterious apoplexy, unable to speak or write, bedridden and close to death. Mysteriously, both journals that he kept, carefully cataloguing his finds on the expedition and written in hieroglyphs, and his assistant, Mr. William Dalton are missing. Cecily has searched Huston House for the journals without luck, and she decides to try to get into the Egyptian Explorer's Club to see if they are there. Cecily's convinced that the encoded journals are the key to finding out where Mr. Dalton is, and why her father might be ill.

After being unceremoniously dumped out the front door of the Egyptian Explorer's Club, Cecily meets a dashing, magnetic man on its steps and is more annoyed than intrigued by his interest. That is, until she discovers that he is Lucas Dalton, the Duke of Winterson and brother to her father's missing assistant, William. She decides she would love to talk to him about William, but Lucas is turned off by her, thinking that she only wants to talk to him after learning of his title and that she must be just another fortune hunting debutante.

Unsettled but resolved, Cecily decides that to stamp out the rumors of her father as a possible murderer, and an Egyptian curse, that she will get into the Egyptian Explorer's Club any way she can, up to and including marrying a member to gain entrance. She begins to carefully transform herself with a makeover into an eligible lady, and do more than sit on the sidelines of the ton's balls. This doesn't escape Lucas' unwitting interest and he soon discovers her ridiculous plan, falling in step with Cecily as a teammate in her plan to discover what happened on that ill-fated trip to Egypt for his own reasons.

How To Dance With A Duke is a splendid read, well written and fun.

Cecily is a joy. She not only lives up to, but exceeds her bluestocking reputation with a sharp wit, incredible intellect and sheer guts. Even if her plans seem harebrained at first, her calculated rationalization behind what she decides to do to get to the bottom of her father's mystery is genius. Cecily's interactions with the myriad of background characters serve to explore her different facets: she is all business with her father's colleague, Lady Entwhistle, a gentle daughter with Lord Hurston and her stepmother, Violet, a friend to her cousins Juliet and Madeleine. Her relationship with Lucas, as it develops from standoffish to amicable, is the most telling and fun of all. Cecily is so sure of herself the rest of the time, yet very unsure and often uncomfortable with Lucas, and this slow dissolution of Cecily's armored guard is wonderful to read.

Lucas is a force all on his own. At once determined, strong, devoted, yet tortured by his time at war and the pain of not knowing what has happened to his brother, Lucas is irresistible. His wry sense of humor and gentle heart are completely disarming and come in to soften the story at paramount times, taking a heavy read to a lighter tone effortlessly.

While the main characters make the tale, the background characters that I mentioned earlier were lovely additions to this cast.

The only thing that stops this book from being a five heart read was that at times, Cecily and Lucas's private relationship seemed a childishly quaint. While they were real and raw with one another as they worked together, their time spent alone was very limited and their interest in one another seemed to cool instead of heat when they had the time and privacy to express themselves.

That aside, prepare to be charmed by How To Dance With A Duke,

--Amy Wroblewsky


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