Read The Accidental Duchess Online

Authors: Madeline Hunter

Tags: #Love Story, #Regency Romance, #Regency England, #Romance, #Historical Romance

The Accidental Duchess

The Accidental Duchess
Fairbourne Quartet [4]
Madeline Hunter
Penguin Group US (2014)
Rating:
****
Tags:
Love Story, Regency Romance, Regency England, Romance, Historical Romance

From New York Times bestselling author Madeline Hunter comes this seductive tale of a headstrong young lady, a scandalous manuscript, and the iron-willed duke determined to save her from her ruin. For fans of Mary Balogh, Eloisa James, and Julia Quinn.

When Lady Lydia Alfreton is blackmailed over the shocking contents of a manuscript she once wrote, she must go to the most desperate of measures to raise the money to buy back the ill-considered prose: agreeing to an old wager posed by the arrogant, dangerous Duke of Penthurst. At least Penthurst is a man she wouldn’t mind fleecing -
and she’s confident she’ll win.

Penthurst long ago concluded Lydia was a woman in search of ruinous adventure, but even he is surprised when she arrives at his house ready to bet her innocence against his ten thousand pounds -
a wager he only proposed to warn her off gambling.

When she loses to a simple draw of the cards, Lydia is shocked. Now, her problems are twofold: a blackmailer determined to see her pay and a duke determined to tame her rebellious ways. One misstep and Lydia could find herself ruined -
or bound to the seductive man who would make her his duchess.

PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF MADELINE HUNTER

The Counterfeit Mistress

“Combining a Regency-set romance with spies has always been a popular idea, but few romance writers do it with the graceful sense of élan and subtly sophisticated use of sensuality as RITA Award–winning Hunter.”


Booklist

“Madeline Hunter uses a popular Regency spy angle to intriguing effect, keeping readers—and Kendale—guessing as to Marielle’s true intentions, while creating a sizzling frame of sexual tension through Kendale and Marielle’s seductive dance of truth, daring, and consequences. A smooth, sexy, and sophisticated spy-themed Regency romance.”


Kirkus Reviews

“Replete with action, adventure, humor, and lots of delicious dialogue . . . This is a book I highly recommend for an enthralling read.”


Romance Junkies

“Hunter is a gifted writer whose careful, engaging sense of plot and character allows her to build sexual tension and suspense. Add to this creative storytelling and graceful prose, and readers have a sexy thrill ride of a spy novel . . . An unforgettable read.”


RT Book Reviews
(Top Pick)

“An intriguing read that pulled you in from the first few pages.”


Joyfully Reviewed

The Conquest of Lady Cassandra

“Another stellar Regency-set historical romance that hits all the literary marks. Hunter’s effortlessly elegant writing exudes a wicked sense of wit; her characterization is superbly subtle, and the sexual chemistry she cooks up between her deliciously independent heroine and delightfully sexy hero is pure passion.”


Booklist
(starred review)

“Intelligent and memorable . . . as smart and sharp as the best of Regency romances can be. With its tangy dialogue,
Pride and Prejudice
themes, bits of mystery, and nefarious characters, readers may be reminded of Jane Austen.”


RT Book Reviews
(Top Pick)

The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne

“Imbued with a deliciously dry sense of humor and graced with a striking cast of characters . . . A masterpiece of wit and passion.”


Booklist
(starred review)

“Hunter’s unique talents for blending sensuality and suspense along with the color and atmosphere of the era are what make her a fan favorite . . . Another fantastic read.”


RT Book Reviews

Dangerous in Diamonds

“Hunter’s flowery centerpiece will suit every romance table. Highly recommended.”


Library Journal

“Hunter . . . masterfully weaves a sensual web . . . Fans will be delighted.”


Publishers Weekly

Sinful in Satin

“Hunter deftly sifts intrigue and exquisite sensuality into the plot of the third book in her exceptionally entertaining quartet.”


Booklist

Provocative in Pearls

“Hunter gifts readers with a fantastic story that reaches into the heart of relationships and allows her to deliver a deep-sigh read.”


RT Book Reviews
(Top Pick)

Ravishing in Red

“Richly spiced with wicked wit and masterfully threaded with danger and desire, the superbly sexy first book in Hunter’s new Regency historical quartet is irresistible and wonderfully entertaining.”


Booklist
(starred review)

Jove titles by Madeline Hunter

RAVISHING IN RED

PROVOCATIVE IN PEARLS

SINFUL IN SATIN

DANGEROUS IN DIAMONDS

THE SURRENDER OF MISS FAIRBOURNE

THE CONQUEST OF LADY CASSANDRA

THE COUNTERFEIT MISTRESS

THE ACCIDENTAL DUCHESS

Specials

AN INTERRUPTED TAPESTRY

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

THE ACCIDENTAL DUCHESS

A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2014 by Madeline Hunter.

Excerpt from
The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne
copyright © 2012 by Madeline Hunter.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Jove Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

JOVE
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

The “J” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-15129-1

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Jove mass-market edition / June 2014

Cover illustrator: Aleta Rafton; vintage lace texture © D_D/Shutterstock.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

Praise for Madeline Hunter

Jove titles by Madeline Hunter

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Excerpt from
The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne

Chapter 1

SEPTEMBER 1799

L
ydia stared at the cascade of raw silk and muslin falling over Sarah’s arms. She barely perceived the colors of the cloths. Her only alert sense had become one of touch, specifically of the texture of the letter crumpled in her tight fingers.

“Which will it be, milady?” Sarah thrust the muslin forward. “The earl always liked this blue one. Since he will be there, it would be a good choice.”

The blue dress in question looked like something a girl would wear during her first season. Since Lydia was almost twenty-four years in age, it did not suit her. Her brother, the Earl of Southwaite, did favor it, but then her brother still saw her as a girl and would continue to do so until she married. The likelihood of that ever happening decreased with every year that passed.

Thank goodness.

She blinked away her distraction and smoothed out the crumpled letter on her lap.

Her fist had smeared the ink, but she could still read the words. Once more they sent a chill up her spine. This time, however, instead of heralding shock, the chill collided with the white heat of indignation when it reached her head.

It is in your interest to meet me at Mrs. Burton’s this evening to discuss some shocking information regarding you that has come to my attention. I am sure that if we put our heads together, we can find a way to spare you great scandal.

Your servant,

Algernon Trilby

The scoundrel had sent her an overture to blackmail. What nonsense. Would that she had something in her past interesting enough to provoke such as this! The stupid man had probably made a mistake.

She pictured bland Mr. Trilby accidentally addressing this to her, and mistakenly sending an invitation to one of his boring magic demonstrations to the real quarry of his extortion. If not for her interest in sleight-of-hand tricks, she would have never come to know him well enough to attract his attention.

Sarah shook both dresses, causing their fabrics and embellishments to make faint music. The maid’s crescent eyebrows almost reached her dark hairline due to her exasperated impatience.

“Neither,” Lydia said, waving away both dresses. She stood and walked out of the dressing room. In her bedchamber she settled into the chair at her writing desk. She quickly penned a note while she called for Sarah.

“Bring this down and have it delivered to Cassandra by one of the footmen. Then prepare my green evening dress.”

“The green silk? Lady Ambury said it would be an informal dinner, you told me.”

“I am not going to her dinner. I am begging off.”

“This is rather sudden.”

“Sudden, but necessary. I must go to Mrs. Burton’s tonight.”

Sarah’s mouth twitched with an expression of disapproval. Lydia tolerated such familiarity because she and Sarah had played together as children at Crownhill, her family’s county seat, where Sarah’s father still served as a groom.

“Speak your mind,” Lydia said while she walked back to the dressing room. “I cannot bear it when you do so with your face instead of words.”

Sarah strolled in behind her and set the two dresses down. “Surely you can miss an evening at the gaming tables to be with family and close friends. I believe Lady Ambury and Lady Southwaite have been planning this dinner with some care.”

Lydia pawed through her jewelry box. “That means they invited some man for me to meet. All the more reason to go to Mrs. Burton’s instead. Cassandra will add her aunt to balance the table, or Emma will bring one of ours instead. My absence will cause no serious awkwardness.”

Sarah opened a wardrobe and took out the green silk. “They only want you to
meet
him, if you are correct about their plan. A mere introduction is hardly an imposition. As for Mrs. Burton’s—how much fun can you have now that your brother requested that promise from you?”

“Southwaite requested nothing. He demanded it.” That conversation with her brother had been recent enough that she still smarted from the insult.

“He only wants what is best for you,” Sarah muttered.

Of course he did. Everyone did. Southwaite and his wife Emma, Cassandra, and her two aunts all wanted what was best for her to their collective mind. Even Sarah did.

“He knew it was just a matter of time until your luck turned,” Sarah went on.

Except it hadn’t yet. That frustrated her brother. Her uncanny ability to always come out ahead at the tables seemed immoral to those who believe one reaps what one sows. Her small fame as a result of her luck smelled scandalous to them.

So Southwaite, after waiting in vain for her to get her comeuppance with a big loss, had interfered to ensure such a loss never did happen. If she ever risked more than fifty pounds in one night, he would cut off her allowance and make sure every gaming hall in town learned of it.

“Perhaps he was also concerned that the excitement had captured you too much.” Sarah kept her gaze on the green dress while she examined it for damage. “That is known to happen to some people. It gets to where they can’t stay away, much as a drunk can’t put down the gin.” She reached for her sewing basket. “They pass up other entertainments, even evenings with family and friends, to return to those hells. Even if they use their winnings in the best ways, the thrill can be too alluring in itself.”

Lydia glanced in the looking glass at Sarah’s concentration on her needle and thread. They had played in the mud together as girls, and remained more friends than they were lady and maid. Lydia had defied both of her aunts to insist that Sarah remain at her side, even though it meant two years of supervision and training by a more experienced servant.

Lydia, however, did not much like this indirect warning from Sarah. Too many people felt free to warn her, direct her, scold her, manage her. She was a grown woman, for heaven’s sake.

“Do you fear I am such a person, Sarah? Drunk on the excitement? Unable to stay away? Doing it for the thrill instead of a means to an end?”

“No, milady. I would never—” Her face reddened.

Of course she would. She just
had
. “Rest assured, I am not changing my plans tonight in order to gamble.”

“Yes, milady.”

“The truth is—and promise you will tell no one—I am going to Mrs. Burton’s in order to meet a man.”

She glanced again in the looking glass and noted with satisfaction how Sarah’s eyes bulged with shock and curiosity.

“Please bring that letter down now, then help me prepare quickly.”

 • • • 

C
layton Galbraith, the Duke of Penthurst, believed that a man, no matter how elevated his station, could not claim good character if he did not show patience and politeness to the older relatives of his family. He therefore sought equanimity while he attended on his aunt Rosalyn while she gambled at Mrs. Burton’s gaming salon.

She had requested he escort her. He waited for her to reveal her reason. Thus far it appeared she merely sought his company so she could share a month’s worth of gossip.

She did not need to drag him here for that. She lived in his house, as she had all his life. She had never married because, as she liked to explain, for the daughter of a duke to marry often led to a loss of status and precedence. He suspected the real reason was that marriage would remove her from the ducal residence, and infringe on her ability to meddle in the lives of its inhabitants. Since he was the only other person living there now, that meant him.

Her fashionable evening dress, the color of an iced lake, complemented her white skin, gray hair, dark eyes, and regal bearing. She lost her money at a very leisurely pace between her
sotto voce
confidences. The whole table’s gaming slowed as well, to accommodate her. One by one the others excused themselves until he and she sat alone. Which, he suspected, had been her intention.

He slid the dealer a guinea by way of apology while his aunt squinted at the new hand she had just received. As age thinned her face and sharpened her features, he and she looked more and more alike. He had not realized the similarities until one day, when seventeen, he had visited her while she was sick and seen her without paint or smiles or distracting wig. The same chestnut eyes and winged, straight eyebrows, surely, and perhaps even the same wide mouth, although her feminine version of the features appeared less severe.

“It is too bad about Kendale,” she murmured while she studied the cards. “He waited too long, of course. The older a man gets, the more likely some young flirt will turn his head.”

Penthurst debated whether to defend his friend Viscount Kendale, or pick up the challenge just thrown at his feet. Damnation, if his aunt had plotted this evening in order to broach the tiresome topic of his lack of a wife, he would make her be blunt and not smooth the path for her. “He appears very happy, and very much in love. Would you wish less for him?”

“Kendale in love? Whoever thought to see the day.” She
tsked
her exasperation, then called for a card. “She is not suitable. Everyone knows it, including him. He should have married correctly. If he is very much in love, he did not have to deny himself.”

“He is too honest for that. And you should hold now. You are likely to break twenty-one if you take another card.”

“Honest? Is that what it is called when a peer indulges in romantic notions better suited to a schoolgirl? I hope that you have much more sense than that kind of honesty.”

“Rest assured, I am so ruthlessly practical with my women that no one will ever pity me as you do Kendale.”

She called for another card despite his advice. It put her over. “Yes. Well, at least he
did
marry, didn’t he?” A note of aggrieved censure sounded. “She is very lovely, I have to admit. And, despite her birth, she has some style.”

He refused to humor her. He turned his attention to the ballroom that served as a gaming hall in this Mayfair home. Mrs. Burton ran the most polite place in London aside from gentlemen’s clubs in which to gamble away fortunes, and perhaps the only establishment that ladies could visit alone without raising eyebrows. There had been some official moves against other gaming salons run by well-bred women in their homes, but Mrs. Burton’s aristocratic clientele afforded her a special dispensation.

“Speaking of lovely girls,” his aunt said while the dealer slid away her money. “Did I mention that Lady Barrowton’s niece is coming up to town? Her beauty is said to be celebrated.”

“Said to be? Has no one seen for certain?” Only a corner of his mind heeded the conversation, since the rest already knew what it would hear. Most of his attention had riveted on the entrance to the ballroom. A dark-haired, soulful-eyed woman had just arrived. Lydia Alfreton.

That was odd. He was certain Southwaite had mentioned that his sister would be at that little dinner party being held tonight at Ambury’s house. Yet here she was, ready to press her considerable luck at the tables instead.

The green dress she wore flattered her dark hair and very pale skin. She appeared happy. She only looked like that when she gambled, unfortunately. If one met her during the day, her eyes stared right through you, opaque and unseeing, and her face remained expressionless.

“Of course some have seen her niece. Otherwise she could not be celebrated. However, she has never been to town before. She is coming for her final finishing prior to coming out.”

“A child then. All children are lovely. Sweet too. And boring.”

“Hardly a child. A fresh, innocent girl. I would like to introduce you.”

“I am not interested, but thank you.”

The proximity of the dealer suddenly discomforted her. She dismissed him in an imperious tone that had him backing away at once, leaving a good deal of money unattended. She turned her whole body. She angled her gray head so her next words would not be missed. “You must marry eventually, and this girl sounds perfect.”

“I told you long ago that I would not be managed in this. If you think I will be more amenable because you raise the matter in a public place instead of at the house, you are mistaken. And, surely by now you know that I will have no inclination to marry a fresh, innocent girl when the day comes that I marry at all.”

She heaved a sigh of forbearance. “I have never understood your preference for older women.”

“Haven’t you?”

She flushed and looked away to avoid acknowledging the question. Something distracted her. Her brow furrowed. “I suppose I should bow to your preferences, since your instincts proved so wise regarding that one there. Her poor mother must be turning over in her grave.”

He did not have to look to know she spoke of Lydia Alfreton. He did anyway, in time to see Mrs. Burton greet Lady Lydia and escort her to the hazard table.

“I had no instincts regarding her. I had an understandable annoyance at you and Lady Southwaite deciding whom I would marry before the girl was one day old. Such prearranged pacts are antiquated, lack any legality, and are not to be tolerated.” Upon inheriting at age fifteen, disavowing their ridiculous arrangement had been among the first things he did. No one but his aunt spoke of it anymore. He doubted anyone else even remembered it.

“Celeste was my dearest friend, and so sweet and good. Whoever expected her daughter to—well, to turn out like that.” Her hand gestured at Lydia, who had just won a throw. People had gathered around to watch her. Perhaps her reputation for winning drew them. Maybe her vivacious excitement did. Eyes afire with lights that normally the world never saw in her, she raised her gaze and her arms upward while she laughed after each win, as if thanking Providence for once more favoring her wagers.

His aunt clucked her tongue. “During the day she is a sphinx, and unknowable. Here at night she is like a bacchante drunk on wine. She is going to ruin Southwaite if he does not rein her in. Everyone says so. She will ruin herself, and him, and that whole family.”

“She wins. If she keeps at it, she is more likely to double the family fortune than ruin it.” That was the problem. Southwaite was sure that if she would lose even once, big, that would end it.

Other books

Tank by Ronin Winters, Mating Season Collection
Feeling This by Allen, Heather
His Pleasure Mistress by Ann Jacobs
The Cult by Arno Joubert
Unknown by Unknown
La prueba by Carmen Gurruchaga
Rivethead by Ben Hamper
The Bleeding Edge by William W. Johnstone
Two's Company by Jennifer Smith