The first book in Sally MacKenzie's Spinster House series, What to Do with a Duke, is a masterful mélange of Regency romance pleasures. The small English town setting of Loves Bridge vibrates with heritable curses, tension between social castes and the insatiable longings of its beguiling inhabitants.
Isabelle Catherine “Cat” Hutting is the loving, harried eldest child in a vicar’s family of 10 and an aspiring writer who knows exactly what she wants: a life of intellectual independence and virginal solitude. When a rare vacancy presents itself at the town’s application-only Spinster House—a small and stately home traditionally occupied by an old maid until her death—Cat is delighted by the chance to escape the bustle of her father’s household and avoid the unappealing subordination of a marriage.
Marcus the Duke of Hart is a handsome would-be Lothario of London whose charmed existence is marred by a 200-year-old curse. When his ancestor and namesake abandoned a Loves Bridge maiden with child, the jilted local swore that his descendants would die between the conception and birth of their firstborn heirs. This dark pronouncement has held true for five generations of dukes, and it dissuades Marcus from marriage. But as he rounds the age of 30, Marcus finds that even London’s priciest prostitutes cannot slake his immense loneliness.
When Marcus arrives in Loves Bridge to fulfill the obligations of his dukedom and choose a new resident for the Spinster House, Cat crosses his path and catches his eye. Cat, too, is stirred in ways she’d never imagined. But how can Cat reconcile her innate willfulness with these sudden and sensual stirrings? How can Marcus court this singular beauty without falling afoul of both her desire for freedom and his own cursed fate?
These answers are not easy to come by for either heroine or hero, and by the novel’s end, each of the lovers are transfigured: by revelation, yes, but most profoundly by the recognition that a loss incurred for love is more sacrament than sacrifice.