The Duchess Hunt
The Duchess Hunt is the second in Lorraine Heath’s Once Upon a Dukedom series, and it features Hugh Brinsley-Norton, the Duke of Kingsland, and Penelope Pettypeace, his secretary. Penelope has worked for King for eight years and has been in love with him for most of it. He, however, is just beginning to realize his attraction and love for Penny. The plot centers almost completely on King and Penny dancing around each other, and the introduction of a blackmail plot in the second half isn’t enough to save this slog of a read.
This is the second of the series and while some elements leading up to this story happen in the first, they are summed up nicely at the beginning so it can be read as a stand-alone. We are told, rather than shown, that Penny has loved King for almost the entire she has worked for him. He has tasked her with finding him a bride, but it is after he is rejected by her first choice that he begins to notice Penny. He takes her to his gentlemen’s club with the excuse that she needs to take notes during a meeting. While there, one of King’s friends makes a move on Penny, much to King’s anger. This causes him to further wonder about his attraction to her.
While enjoying a late night conversation in the library, Penny and King are interrupted by men claiming King’s brother owes them money. They threaten to take Penny hostage if King doesn’t pay the debt. King does, and then follows a sub-plot in which, at Penny’s urging, he insists his brother curb his gambling habit. Penny visits a secret club meant for sexual liaisons where she fears someone has recognized her from her mysterious past. It turns out that Penny is not who she seems and spends a large part of the novel thinking about the possibility someone will realize who she is and ruin her life. This takes up most of Penny’s thoughts when she isn’t thinking of King until the blackmail plot is introduced. King also has a secret but it really isn’t hinted at until the later part of the book.
This was a very boring read to get through. Since the story starts eight years after King and Penny met, we completely miss their meet cute and an entire eight years of their relationship, and instead, we are told over and over about it. I was hoping for a romance where the heroine was already in love with the hero and he slowly realizes he’s in love with her too. That is not what happens here, though. King is mostly in love with Penny from the very beginning, although he refuses to admit it as he’s yet another ‘incapable of love’ hero.
If not for their big secrets, these characters would have no personality. After reading, I cannot tell you a single thing about either character except that one is a Duke with a life changing secret and the other is a woman with a life changing secret. Neither is particularly witty, fun, or interesting in their own right.
The introduction of the blackmail plot leads to the big reveals about their pasts. King’s seems like it is a much bigger deal than Penny’s but is not treated as such. Rather, his secret just goes away, as though it is an afterthought. Penny’s is also magically taken care of without any real consequences for either of them. This part of the story moves along swiftly, but not enough to save the rest of it.
The Duchess Hunt has a solid premise but the execution falls far short of what Heath is capable of. This could easily be a novella rather than a novel as nothing happens through most of it and the characters themselves aren’t all that engaging.