When a widowed countess saves a cursed duke is it love at first sight? Not exactly. Sophia Nash continues her Royal Entourage series with The Art of Duke Hunting (the first in the series was reviewed here). It is the love story of Montagu and March, as they like to call each other.
Roman Montagu, Duke of Norwich, is very drunk and tied to the taffrail of a ship in the middle of a storm. Norwich isn't certain how he got on a boat especially considering that he survived a ship wreck that his older brother did not and vowed never to get on a ship again. However he got there, he decides that the rigging is safer and frees himself. Watching this scene is Esme March, Countess of Derby. She sees a man is in trouble and decides to do something about it.
Esme saves him in more ways than one. She provides him with a safe haven from the raging storm and his incapacitating fear. They share a deep and passionate encounter. Yet neither really trusts that connection. Due to the damage to the ship they end up on the Isle of Wight. Because of the night of passion Montagu does the honorable thing and offers marriage to the countess, who turns him down. She is a widow now and plans to use her freedom to pursue her art.
After the London papers filled with the Royal Entourage's carousing reach the Isle, the Duke knows that he needs to get back to London ASAP. Both head back to London and soon the Prince Regent summons them. He commands them to get married and then makes it so. After they are to take an extended secret honeymoon and wait for the Prince to announce their wedding and allow them to come back to London. Apparently, a gossip who was on the ship has threatened to go to the papers about the Duke and Countess's "behavior". With the debacle of a duke missing his own wedding and the bad press accompanying it, the Prince Regent is taking no chances. He sees it as an opportunity to get some good press and it doesn't matter how the prospective bride and groom feel.
I like the way these two wounded yet independent people find each other. As they get to know each other better, the bond between them grows stronger. Each is willing to let the other go to fulfill their dreams. Roman learns that he is lovable and deserves a life full of love and family. Esme grows more confident as an artist and as a woman who deserves love and a family. They come to realize that they are better together than living life apart. There are more dukes left in the Entourage and I hope Ms. Nash writes their love stories as well.