Cecily Hurston needs to gain entry to the Egyptian Club for a very important reason: she wants to clear her father's name and to dispel the rumors of a curse that followed her father home from his latest expedition.
But to enter her father's very exclusive club, she needs to fulfill one important qualification: She must be married.
Lucas Dalton, the Duke of Winterson, needs to gain entry to the Egyptian Club as well. He needs to find out what happened to his younger brother, William -- who served as Lord Hurston's secretary and was with him during Hurston's last expedition to Egypt before he disappeared.
With Lord Hurston recovering from apoplexy, Lucas must rely on his own resources to investigate but his leads have all had no results.
Until he meets Cecily --
Cecily is unlike any other woman the Duke has met. For one, she isn't interested in his title or his name and isn't out to trap him into marriage. She just wants his help to recover her father's journals.
As the two work together, they discover that there's more to the mystery of Will Dalton's disappearance and greater danger than they could imagine. (And, as Lucas helps Cecily find a husband, he realizes that he just might want Cecily for himself.)
While reading Manda Collins' debut, it became clear to me what some of my preferences are in romance novels.
For one, I love reading about intelligent heroines and I loved Cecily Hurston. She's right up there with all the ladies in Cara Elliott's Circle of Sin, Lisa Kleypas's Amanda Briars, Lauren Royal's Violet Ashcroft and Laura Lee Guhrke's Emmaline Dove. (There are so many clever heroines! ^_^)
Cecily has a gift for code-breaking and has loved studying about Egyptian artifacts for as long as she can remember -- and she learned it all on her own because her father refused to encourage her bluestocking ways. When her father returns home stricken with apoplexy, and with rumors swirling of foul play involving her father's secretary, William Dalton, Cecily decides to take matters into her own hands and try to clear her father's name.
But each step she gains, she meets resistance -- she can't enter her father's club to search for his journals and people she tries to interview are reluctant to talk to her -- it seems her only recourse is to find Lucas Dalton, the Duke of Winterson -- and William's older brother.
Their first meeting is anything but impressive -- it involved Cecily being tossed out of the Egyptian Club. When Lucas discovers the identity of the lady kicking at the door of the club, his first reaction is to run. He suspects that Cecily's father was responsible for William's disappearance and he would be damned before he assisted the man's daughter.
But Cecily is persistent -- and her resolve is sincere. So Lucas decides to help Cecily, hoping to use what she knows but, as time passes, Lucas reluctantly admits that he is interested in Cecily -- and wants more from her.
Cecily doesn't want to fall in love with Lucas. She's fallen in love before and that had disastrous consequences -- she wants their relationship to be strictly professional -- but the heat from his hands, his body and his kisses are slowly melting away her defenses.
Lucas and Cecily's relationship starts off on rocky ground -- can they trust each other? It is interesting that they are both seeking answers to the same question: What happened to William Dalton? The tension mounts as clues are revealed: Was Cecily's father the villain? Or is William?
I loved that Lucas and Cecily were both clearheaded -- and rational. They wanted the truth, in whatever shape and form it took --
Even with their own relationship, I love that they approached it with the same sort of calmness and logic -- theirs was not a wild declaration of love -- but a quiet discussion of it. There's also a lot of humor between the two of them.
He snuffed the candle, leaned forward, and took her mouth in a searing, possessive kiss.
When Lucas kissed her, the lights went out.
Or so it seemed to Cecily ...
I also realized how much I enjoyed reading about Egyptian lore and expeditions -- and Manda Collins has done a wonderful job of portraying both sides of the race for relics during that time. Egyptian artifacts held the key to ancient science and art -- but they were also valuable in themselves. The rivalry between the British Museum and the Egyptian Club shows the terrible and dangerous lengths men would go to to gain the prestige that comes with finding these treasures.
(For more about Egypt, consider The Other Guy's Bride by Connie Brockway.)
This was a strong debut from Manda Collins. Her characters are lovable. Her storytelling is vibrant and has a nice mix of humor and light.
How to Dance with a Duke is the first book in Manda Collins' Ugly Ducklings series. The second book, How to Romance a Rake is due out this July 2012.