The Duke of Kisses
Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series of regency romances continues along with the eleventh volume The Duke of Kisses.
Animal lover, ornithology enthusiast and labor activist Frances – Fanny – Snowden of Stour’s Edge in Yorkshire is delighted when, thanks to her sister’s marriage (in The Duke of Desire), she is swept away from her dull but uncertain country existence and into the upper ranks of society. Fanny is experiencing her first season with gusto. Anything she chooses to do with her time will be a better use of it than the future her parents had planned for her as the third wife of an older man.
David Langley, Earl of St. Ives, recently acceded to the title on the sudden death of his father, and is uncomfortable with his new role in society. David has no worries about snagging a wife for himself; he has been engaged to marry Miss Arabella Stoke since childhood, a circumstance he learns of only at his father’s deathbed, when the late earl extracted his son’s promise to cement the match. He has never met Miss Stoke, and of course, her existence presents something of a stumbling block when he starts to fall in love and lust with Fanny. But his mother is pressuring him into doing his duty at all costs and David is willing to go along with it for her sake.
David and Fanny met briefly four months earlier in the woods around Stour’s Edge where Fanny had gone to observe a rabbit warren and David had gone to think. David gave Fanny a ride to the family home in his carriage after meeting her, and a kiss under some mistletoe ensued. Having presented himself to her as a steward during their brief meeting (and briefer kiss) just as she presented herself as a housemaid, both are shocked to meet at a ball, their real identities exposed.
David and Fanny soon find themselves in close proximity thanks to their status as neighbors who share a close circle of friends, and the kisses they exchange offer far more promise than anything either of them has ever felt and threaten to lead to more. But when they agree to elope to Gretna Green, their families threaten to stand in the way and part them for good.
The Duke of Kisses is an interesting, touching, and entertaining little romance. At turns charming and dramatic, sometimes its plotting tends to rely on unnecessary drama that distracts from the core of the story, such as the convoluted twist that happens mid-book which forces David to look poorly upon Fanny’s family and is positively unnecessary to the conflict, which is also true of the big third-act revelation that leads to the story’s climax.
Fanny is – tragically – one of those terminally clumsy heroines who’s forever tripping over herself, and such moments are labelled ‘Fanny Moments’ in the book. (This clichéd quality is ameliorated a bit because David lacks the same physical grace she does.) But she’s a good egg. She even plans to start a workhouse to help widowed women and orphans, which is at least an interesting narrative thought, though not one I’m sure would cross the mind of a Regency miss. She’s very independent of mind and strong-willed, and in that way she’s enjoyable.
David is kind and honorable, interested in Fanny’s doings and interests and sharing many of them. The conflict with his mother is rather too quickly solved, but otherwise he’s properly dashing, caring and loving, a handsome and winning hero.
Fanny and David are eager people who are charming and well-suited to one another; they are easy to like, and easy to sympathize with. Their romance is fine, even though it’s based on insta-lust, and their common ground keeps them together and makes them worth watching, their shared clumsiness and lack of luck making them even more worthwhile.
Overall, The Duke of Kisses just manages to be charming and interesting enough to grab a light recommendation from me.