Esme March, the widowed Countess of Derby, is aboard The Drake
on her way to Italy to pursue her dreams of becoming a great painter. Just out of port, she finds herself in a cabin with the dashing Roman Montagu, the seventeenth Duke of Norwich, known as Seventeen to his cohorts. His cohorts are the Royal Entourage, a group of dissipate dukes who party hardy with the Prince Regent. The night before, said cohorts got rip-roaringly drunk on absinthe and put Roman aboard The Drake
as a joke. You see, in the time-honored way of immature drunken men everywhere, the entourage thought it would be hilarious to send Roman to sea, knowing that he had a deadly fear of the water due to an old family curse that had led to the premature deaths of the sixteen previous Dukes of Norwich. It all has to do with ducks, in a rather ridiculous way.
Esme and Roman find themselves stranded on the Isle of Wright, and with Roman's fear of the sea, he is reluctant to sail even the short distance back to London. They linger before finally returning home, only to discover that word of their encounter has reached the Regent. Not only that, the public is outraged by the wanton behavior of the entourage, and the Regent finds that his popularity, never very high, is plummeting. His solution: make all the drunken dukes marry immediately, including Roman and Esme.
Esme never thought to marry again; her first marriage had been arranged, and though her husband was kind, he drank himself to death. All Esme wants is to be independent, to travel, and to paint. She can’t help being a bit in love with her new husband, but she knows that he will never love her. She's tall, rather plain, and never caught on after several Seasons.
For himself, Roman has pledged never to marry. He wants to die without an heir and bring an end to the silly curse that has always made him an object of humor. His life, when he’s not partying with the Regent, is dedicated to science and mathematics, and he’s secretly designing a public water delivery system that will improve the lives of everyone in London. Falling in love is not part of his plan, but he truly likes Esme and plans to support her desire to travel and pursue her artistic career.
The two lead characters are immensely likable; and their dialogue is sharp and witty; and their intimate scenes are steamy. We get vignettes of the other dukes in the entourage, promising several books to come. I have not read the first book in the series (but I plan to), Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea, yet this novel works well as a entertaining standalone read.
Sophia Nash's website gives no clue when to expect more books in this series, but I hope it's not too long. This one was a lot of fun.