The Beastly Duke’s Bride Preview

A Steamy Regency Romance

About the book


“I would do anything to save my father, Your Grace. Just…be gentle with me.”

No one hates the Duke of Hillow more than he hates himself. After being humiliated about his war disfigurement and losing everyone he loved, he doesn’t dare show his face outside anymore. Not without his mask on.

Edwina was never supposed to be a part of the ton. Well, at least not until the day her quirky father inherited his title from a distant relative and placed her under their scrutinizing eyes and relentless matchmaking.

So when her father never returns home from his walk one night, Edwina is worried that the notorious Monster of London got him. But she could never imagine that a reclusive Duke had dragged him all the way to prison over some flowers. Or that she would have to give herself as a bride in exchange for her father’s freedom…

 

Chapter One


“Do not do it,” Edwina muttered to herself. She craned to look around her dance partner’s shoulder.

“Do not do what?” Mr. Barnett asked, frowning. “Have I stepped on your toes again?”

She sighed, exasperated but then painted a radiant smile on her face. “No, my apologies, I was just muttering to myself.”

As soon as Mr. Barnett refocused his attention back on the dance, Edwina tried to find her father in the crowd again. Members of the ton had shown up in force that evening as Lady Berkley’s events always drew a large crowd. Edwina felt lucky to have been extended an invitation as she was not well known in society yet.

When she finally set eyes on her father, he had pulled out his eyepiece and was peering scandalously close to Mrs. Devon’s necklace as it still hung from her neck. Edwina groaned. Even if she had wanted to focus her attention on her partner, trying to keep her father out of trouble seemed to fully occupy her attention. While society might require her to have a chaperone in public, she felt that her father needed one more.

“Are you quite well?” Mr. Barnett asked as Edwina placed her hand in his again for a turn in the steps of the dance.

Wrinkling her nose, she muttered, “Blast it,” before smiling back at Mr. Barnett. “Actually, I am feeling a little faint. Perhaps, we could fetch some lemonade?”

“Of course,” he agreed hurriedly, taking her arm and swiftly conducting her toward the refreshments table. With her father being conveniently between the dance floor and refreshments, Edwina caught his arm.

“Oh, Papa, you look thirsty,” she told him, ignoring Mr. Barnett’s perplexed look. “Please, join us.” Mrs. Devon backed away quickly, holding her hand over her bosom in barely contained horror.

“I bid you goodnight, Lord Haverton,” she breathed stiffly and turned on her heel.

“Oh, what have I done?” Papa asked, his brows knit together. His eyepiece still sat in his eye as he turned to Edwina. “Have I done something wrong?”

“Oh, Papa,” Edwina breathed, taking his arm. She smiled apologetically at Mr. Barnett. “Have you met Mr. Barnett?” Mr. Barnett smiled politely, nodding, a cold reception that made Edwina wonder if she had blundered the introduction herself.

“Mr. Barnett, a pleasure to meet you,” Papa rushed, bowing several times. “Did you have a pleasant dance?”

“Yes,” he replied stiffly. “Though Miss Haverton said she was faint. Do you still need that lemonade, Madam?”

“Please,” she breathed, smiling adoringly up at him. Clinging to her father’s arm, she bent down to his ear. “Please do not peer so closely to ladies’ bosoms, or any other part of their person. It makes them uncomfortable.”

“I was just admiring her necklace!” he protested.

“It does not matter, Papa,” Edwina scolded but then smiled gently at him. “I know you meant no harm, but they do not know that, do they?”

“I am sorry, Edwina,” he sighed. “I shall try to do better.”

She kissed him lightly on the cheek before relinquishing her hold on him. “I know, Papa.” He left her with a sheepish smile, and Edwina turned back to Mr. Barnett, who had taken a glass of lemonade and handed it to her.

“You adore your father, do you not?” he asked.

“Oh, with all my heart,” she told him with a smile. She looked out into the crowded ballroom to find her father, but he had disappeared.

“He is the most interesting fellow,” Mr. Barnett commented, though not unkindly. “I do not recall meeting him in the past. Is your family often in town for the season?”

“This is our first year to reside in London during the season,” she explained, her smile tightening. “My father only recently inherited the baronetcy, you see.”

“So, it is true that the late Baron had no close relatives?”

“Yes, my father was a distant cousin.”

She turned to look out into the ballroom, pretending to be distracted by the dancers while she sipped her lemonade. She had answered similar questions all season, usually while trying to ignore the smirking implications. Every man and woman were the same, judging her and her father for how unfamiliar they were with the ton.

“Well, may I express my gladness to have you in town for the season,” Mr. Barnett went on as she tried to avoid his gaze. Blushing, she looked down, surprised by his interest but uncomfortable with his attention.

“Thank you, Mr. Barnett. I do think I see a good friend of mine that I must greet.” Mr. Barnett opened his mouth as though to protest, but Edwina smiled at him again and dipped into a curtsey, pretending that she had not noticed. She turned her heel and disappeared into the crowd, hoping that he did not notice that she did not speak to anyone.

Hundreds of candles lit the ballroom, flickering in the currents of air caused by the spinning dancers, which cast long shadows across the faces in the room. She kept looking up, trying to find her father or anyone else she knew, only to keep meeting the eyes of a dark-eyed man across the room. His black hair fell across his brow. The first time felt like a coincidence, the second felt uncanny, but the third time, she felt unnerved.

“Miss Haverton,” a man called out. She turned quickly to face him. Squeezing her eyes shut for a moment, she tried to recall his name when they were introduced earlier. “I believe I have the next set.”

“Yes,” she stammered, finding her smile again. Her face grew tired of trying to maintain a pleasant expression all evening. “Yes, Mr. Dawson.”

He offered out his hand, so she took it, allowing him to lead her out on the floor with the other dancers. She hardly remembered all the men she had been introduced to that evening as they all said the same things about how pretty she was and how glad they were that she came, and then, they all asked her to dance. Even though she needed to secure an advantageous marriage, she had yet to feel a spark with any man thus far that season.

“You look pensive, Miss Haverton,” Mr. Dawson pointed out as they took a turn in the dance.

“I do apologize,” she said quickly, painting the smile on again.

“May I trouble you for your thoughts?”

She could not tell him how boring and troublesome she found the men amongst the ton, so she lied. “I was just thinking of all the candles in this room. The Berkleys must have wanted to impress their guests this evening, surely.”

“They do always have the most diverting affairs,” he agreed. Turning away from him in the steps of the dance, Edwina let her face fall, trying to relax the muscles in her cheeks. As she did, though, her eyes caught the man who had been leering at her from across the room again.

“Do you know that man?” Edwina asked him nervously.

“The one in the corner?” Mr. Dawson asked, looking in the direction Edwina indicated. “I cannot say we have been introduced.”

“I did not think it polite to stare.”

Mr. Dawson smiled down at her, pressing his hand to hers as they turned. “I cannot blame him; you are the most radiant woman in the room.”

Edwina resisted the temptation to roll her eyes, but she just smiled politely again, begging for the end of the set.  She continued to make polite conversation with Mr. Dawson, but as soon as the music ended, she curtseyed to him and looked about to find her father before the next set.

“Miss Haverton?” She groaned, turning again, ready to face another dance partner but, instead, found herself face to face with the man who had been leering at her. Her heart hammered in her chest as she looked up at him with wide eyes.

“I do not believe we have been introduced,” she breathed shakily, looking around her desperately for anyone that might be paying attention to her.

“I do not believe an introduction is necessary,” he argued, his dark eyes glimmering in the candlelight. He stepped closer to her, closer than appropriate in a crowded room.

“Sir, I do not believe that this is –” she protested as he took hold of her waist.

“If you speak out against me now, you will draw the looks of all the other guests tonight and be as much a laughingstock as your father. Is that what you want?” the man went on, reaching up to cup her bosom.

Horrified, she pulled back quickly, gasping. “How dare you!” she hissed.

He wagged his finger at her. “Tsk tsk. Laughingstock, remember?”

Clamping her mouth shut, she felt her eyes prickle with tears, backing away from the vile man as quickly as she could. She pushed through the other oblivious guests, confused and hurt that none of them witnessed the incident. She wanted to flee, find her father, and cry on his shoulder.

“Miss Haverton!” a voice called out, a woman this time. Edwina breathed a sigh of relief as she tried to weave between the guests to get to her.

“Miss Haverton, there you are,” the woman cooed, taking Edwina’s hand to pull her into the circle of girls. Edwina relaxed a little, casting glances over her shoulder, just in case the leering man came after her.

“You must ignore Mr. Turner,” the woman said, a perfect smirk plastered on her lips. “It is a right of passage for all debutants.”

“Does he accost everyone?” Edwina asked, horrified.

“If you are pretty,” she continued then turned to another young woman next to her. “Poor Polly here learned the hard way that she was not pretty.”

Edwina gasped in shock, wanting to say something to validate the stout girl, but Polly shrugged her ample shoulder. “It is true. I do not try to deny it.”

“See, we all know our place,” the first girl said.

“I do not believe I have gotten your name,” Edwina said, looking around the circle. “I apologize, I do not think I am familiar with any of you.”

“Well, we know you,” the first said smugly. “I am Lady Somersby, but you may call me Leticia. Polly here is Miss Astley, daughter of the Baron of Hartford, this is Mrs. Fenton, wife of Mr. Charles Fenton, son of the Earl of Huntington, and this is Miss Beasley.”

Edwina looked around nervously, smiling at each of the ladies as Leticia introduced them. If she guessed, they were all within a few years of age.

“It is a pleasure to meet you all,” Edwina said politely.

“And a pleasure to meet you,” Leticia beamed. “You have caused quite the stir this season – a fresh face for the marriage mart. Do be careful, or you might make all of us quite jealous.”

“Oh, I never meant to –”

“No, you did not,” Leticia said more forcefully.

“Has anyone caught your eye?” Polly interjected. “All of the most eligible bachelors are here tonight.”

“Are they?” Edwina asked.

“Polly is only asking because she has her heart set on a certain soon-to-be Duke of Darby,” Leticia sighed. “Even though it would be impossible. He is far too distracted by ample bosoms.”

Edwina gasped at Leticia’s inappropriateness.

“You will have to forgive Lady Leticia,” Miss Beasley said softly, pressing Edwina’s hand quickly. “Ever since she married the Earl of Somersby, she thinks that she can say anything she wants.”

“What is the point of being married if you cannot finally have a little fun?” Leticia laughed smugly. “The rest of you have to be polite and smile and laugh at the men’s bad jokes.”

“I am married, and I do not say such things,” Mrs. Fenton argued, her mouth a thin line.

“True, but you are also not a Countess,” Leticia countered.

“I think you have had too many glasses of punch, Leticia,” Polly warned.

“Hardly! But do you know who has? Mrs. Jones, over there,” Leticia said, pointing boldly across the room. Mrs. Jones appeared to be a plump, older woman, a bonnet tied tightly down over her gray curls. She laughed raucously with an older gentleman who reached over to stroke her face. She only playfully slapped his hand away. “That is not Mr. Jones, but I dare say she will slip up to his room tonight.”

“No, that’s Mr. Pease,” Miss Beasley argued. “He is only flirting with her to get back at Mrs. Simpson, who snubbed him last week.”

“I do not think he will stop at flirting,” Leticia snickered. Edwina sighed quietly, hoping the other girls did not notice her boredom.

“I must be headed home soon,” Mrs. Fenton interjected. “My husband did not want me out too late tonight.”

“Did not want to sleep in a cold bed?” Miss Beasley laughed.

“No, he is worried about that Monster of London that we have been hearing about in the papers,” Mrs. Fenton said drolly.

“Oh, the one that has been attacking women in Kensington?” Polly asked.

“Not just Kensington!” Leticia said, her tone authoritative. “Mayfair, Hyde Park, Paddington. There have been at least seven attacks in the past two years.”

“I hear that it is a gentleman,” Miss Beasley whispered. “The ladies that survived said that it was a man in a nice coat, who smelled of cologne. The attacker was not a common man.” Edwina felt gooseflesh rise up on her arm as the ladies drew closer to whisper.

“Two of the women have died from their injuries,” Leticia continued, shifting her eyes from one girl to another. “All of them went for a walk or a carriage ride at night… alone.”

“Were all the victims women?” Edwina asked, wide-eyed.

“Who knows? Would a man confess to being attacked in the streets at night?” Leticia asked, raising an eyebrow. “If it is the same monster attacking all these people, what would stop him from attacking anyone else?”

“Are you worried?” Miss Beasley asked, looking at Edwina with concern.

“No unmarried woman should be out alone at night,” Leticia said with a luring tone. “Have you been out alone at night, Miss Haverton?”

“No!” she quickly protested. “No, but my father takes walks at night alone.”

“Oh, yes, your father,” she laughed, stepping back from their intimate little circle. Edwina tried to rub her arms to get herself rid of her gooseflesh as she turned to see where Leticia was looking. Her father seemed engrossed in a conversation with two other gentlemen, who nodded politely and smiled tightly at her father’s animated gestures.

“Your father is certainly an interesting fellow,” Leticia continued.

“I think he is charming,” Polly interjected. Edwina could only watch in horror as the wine glass in her father’s hand sloshed threateningly and then cascaded dramatically over his chest, staining his white shirt a crimson red. Except for Polly, all the other girls snickered.

“You would think him charming, Polly, as he is clumsier than you, and that is a talent not easily obtained,” Leticia laughed. Polly’s cheeks turned a deep red in embarrassment.

Horrified by Leticia’s cruel words, Edwina clutched her fists. “How dare you laugh at him!”

“How dare I?” Leticia challenged, the smile on her face falling. “How dare I? I know you and your father are new to society, but may I suggest he learn to resemble a man of his station? He is an embarrassment to the ton. The sooner you marry, the better off you will be – before you become as much an embarrassment as him.”

Edwina blinked back tears from her eyes again, her fingernails digging into her palms.

“I think I shall bid you a good night,” she whispered tightly, curtseying to the group of women. Turning heel, she headed toward her father.

“Miss Haverton, I believe I have the next set,” another man said, drawing near to her. She tried to paint her smile on one last time, annoyed at the man for standing between her and her father.

“Thank you, Mr. Silas, but I am not feeling well and must head home. Please, do excuse me.”

“That is a shame,” Mr. Silas said, bowing as he searched her face. “Please permit me to call upon you when you are feeling better?” She only smiled in response as she dipped a quick curtsey, ignoring him further as she tried to take hold of her father’s arm.

“Oh, dear me, the maids will scold me for ruining another shirt,” father rambled, trying to dap at the front of his shirt with a kerchief.

“Papa, I think we must go home,” Edwina said softly. She turned to the two men her father had been speaking to, who could only barely contain their snickers. “I do hope you will excuse us?”

“Anything for you, Miss Haverton,” one man said, bowing. She breathed a thank you to him, pulling her father toward the door. After they climbed into their carriage, her father shook his head.

“I am so sorry, Edwina. I do not really belong in society like this. You still have time to learn and adjust.”

She reached across the carriage to take his hand. “I know, Papa. I know you want me to marry well. Once I do, you will not have to attend these parties or host suppers or anything like that. You can go back to doing what you love.”

“Tinkering and inventing things is not necessarily appropriate for a Baron,” he sighed.

“Who cares?” Edwina insisted. “You must do what makes you happy.”

He squeezed her hand and dropped it. “I may go for a walk after we get home. I need to clear my head.”

“Oh, do be careful,” she rushed. “I was just hearing about this Monster of London attacking people at night.”

“Bah,” he said, waving his hand in dismissal. “I am an old man. I shall be fine.”


Chapter Two


Fergus stared out the window in his library. From the second floor, he had an excellent view to the east, looking over the mansions, theaters, and gardens of the ton. In the dark night, lanterns glowed in the streets and candlelight spilled from the grand windows. His brow knitted together, thinking of the girls laughing as they danced, the men wooing them.

Reminded of his wounds by a pang in his brow, he reached up to touch the scars. Even though his skin healed years ago, occasionally he got caught off guard by inexplicable pains. Dreaming of the smell of gunpowder and smoke, he would wake with his face on fire, the shrapnel still deeply embedded in his face.  He would touch the tender skin, find himself whole, then struggle to go back to sleep.

Or, almost whole.

When he returned from France, he thought he would be welcomed back as a hero. Instead, everyone except his mother recoiled in fear after the bandages came off. He attended those glittering parties, but the laughing girls met him with barely concealed shrieks of horror.

Tracing the gouges with his fingers, he laughed, shaking his head. No, no one treated him like a hero. In this mansion in the west, he felt content to live outside of society, away from the laughing and stares, the shrieks, and barely concealed horror.

“Your Grace?” Fergus turned toward Simon, only to realize that he had forgotten his mask. He quickly reached for it.

“Your Grace, do not worry about your mask on my account,” Simon protested.

“You should not have to be subjected to this ugliness,” Fergus said, tying the laces behind his head deftly.

“May I remind you that it was your mother and I that tended to you? Changed your bandages and kept your wounds clean? I have seen you at your worst; you need not worry about me.”

“Still,” Fergus insisted. With his face hidden behind the mask, he nodded to Simon. “What can I do for you, Simon?”

“Nothing, Your Grace. I was just passing by and noticed you brooding again. I thought I would check on you.”

“Brooding,” Fergus laughed, turning back to the window. Simon walked up beside him to look out the window alongside him. “I am not brooding.”

“I see you looking toward Kensington,” he pointed out. “It is a Saturday evening, and surely you received some invitations for any number of parties. It is the height of the season.”

“The last time I attended a social affair, a girl fainted upon seeing me,” Fergus smirked. He turned to the older man, trying to make his smile seem nonchalant. “I think it rather a curtesy to not attend; do you not think?”

“You cannot lock yourself away forever,” Simon countered, giving him a stern look. “You are young yet; you should be enjoying the company of others your age.” Fergus did not reply. He looked down from the glittering manors of Kensington to the gardens below them. His mother’s headstone shone bright white in the moonlight. The stone angels flanking the headstone seemed ethereal, almost alive. Around her grave, the peonies she had planted were in full bloom.

“Your Grace?”

“I need to find a wife,” Fergus said suddenly with determination. “Mother wanted me to find someone and produce an heir. Continue our line. How can I do that when no woman wants to even look at me?”

“Perhaps you could reach out to the fathers of eligible women?” Simon suggested. “I am sure there would be someone looking for an advantageous match with a Duke.”

Fergus shook his head. “Entrap a lady in a marriage with me when she has no say? No, I am not so cold as to do that.”

“It is not uncommon, especially for a man of your station. I believe your grandmother was instrumental in matchmaking your mother and father.”

“I do not want to be married to someone that would be miserable by my side. Mother never admitted it, but she did not love my father,” Fergus insisted. “It could have been worse, though. I could never expect someone to be happy to marry me, but I would at least prefer to be wed of the lady’s own choosing.”

“Perhaps you could find someone of poor eyesight. I heard that the Earl of Dover had a blind daughter,” Simon suggested. Fergus scoffed, trying not to laugh at Simon’s suggestion. He knew that Simon was trying to be helpful, but the absurdity just felt like mockery.  

“Oh, even, write to someone in the country, someone not known to come to London for the season. Correspond in private and make her fall in love with you,” Simon continued.  

“This is not a game!” Fergus growled, irritably. “This is not some fairytale, Simon! This is my life, and it is a nightmare.”

Simon pressed his lips to a thin line. “I am not sure what you expect, then, Your Grace. If you do not venture out into society, you cannot expect to find some woman who might tolerate you. She will not just knock on your door and ask you to marry her.”

“I am not saying that,” Fergus sighed.

“Have you attended a party since you started wearing a mask?” Simon asked. “Even just a dinner?”

“No.”

Simon sighed, shaking his head at him. “You are in a poor mood this evening.”

“You are welcome to go to bed.”

“And what about you? Have you slept lately?”

Fergus looked at Simon, surprised. “I had not thought you had noticed.”

“Do you have the dreams, still?”

“They never truly went away,” he explained sadly. “I suppose they have faded, over time. I used to wake up shouting in fear, but now, I just find myself waking up in a start, soaked with a cold sweat. I lay awake dreading to fall asleep, knowing that as soon as I do, I shall only be woken again.”

Simon reached over and put a hand on Fergus’ shoulder. “You are still fighting a war in your head, Your Grace. Face the enemy inside, not the one you think lives outside these walls. If you spend your days here, refusing to speak to anyone, you will never be able to overcome that which haunts you.”

A movement outside the window caught Fergus’ eye, distracting him from Simon’s advice. The library sat on the front of the house, overlooking the gardens that lined the front drive and road beyond. The manor had never needed walls or gates for security. On the outer reaches of the city, they did not often have people passing by, especially during the middle of the night.

A lone man turned off the main road up the drive, his features obscured in the darkness. With a slow pace, he appeared to be on a leisurely stroll. Fergus’ back stiffened, watching the shadow come closer to the house, wandering the gardens.

“Who is that?” Fergus breathed. Simon followed where Fergus was looking.

The man came closer, such that the light from the manor illuminated some of his features. His gray hair reflected the light. His clothing looked nice, moderately well kept, and he wore a spectacle in his eye as he bent over the peonies on Fergus’ mother’s grave. Fergus’ heart leaped in his chest when the old man bent over and cut a bloom off one of the peony bushes then reached for another.

“I will kill him,” Fergus growled, turning for the door.

Simon tried to grab him. “Your Grace, let us be calm. I am sure we can talk with him –”

Fergus shook him off easily, bolting for the door. Simon rushed after him, calling out to him, but Fergus did not hear. Rushing down the stairs, his fury roared in his ears. How dare anyone come into his garden, let alone start touching his flowers, especially those flowers? The audacity enraged him. He stormed down the halls, flew down the stairs, and slammed through the front door.

“Who do you think you are?” he roared, rushing out into the garden. In the time that Fergus had rushed down the stairs, the old man had cut another two blooms. He held the flowers gently in one hand, the small knife he used in his other hand.

“Wha – I –” the old man stuttered, reeling in fear as Fergus approached him. He held up his arm as though to protect himself from blows.

“You are trespassing on my property!” Fergus shouted, wrenching the flowers from the old man’s hands. Petals scattered to the ground from the fragile blooms. “Stealing from me! Who do you think you are?!”

“I meant no harm!” the old man cried, cowering in fear. Closer to him, Fergus could tell that the old man appeared to be a member of society, dressed in fine clothes, even though he had a wine stain down the front of his shirt.

“Are you drunk? Mad? What makes you think you can come onto another man’s property without invitation and steal from him?”

“I can pay… I can pay for the flowers,” he stuttered. “I thought it was a public garden.”

“A public garden?” Fergus cried. He heard Simon hurry out of the front door of the manor behind him and felt Simon’s hands on his shoulders, trying to pull him away from the man. The old man nearly cowered in fear, and a twisted part of Fergus wanted to rip his mask off to scare him further.

“A public garden behind a fence? And you thought you could just take whatever you wanted?” Fergus continued to shout. His fists shook with anger, clutching the peonies in one hand, the other ready to strike.

“I just wanted to bring them home to my daughter!” the old man whimpered.

“Your Grace,” Simon warned, trying to pull Fergus back. “I am sure there is an explanation. Please.”

“I will pay you back, Your Grace,” the old man offered, flinching as Fergus tried to pull away from Simon. “I am so sorry, I did not know this was your house, Your Grace.”

“Your ignorance will be your downfall,” Fergus hissed through clenched teeth. “Simon, detain this man.”

“Detain him?” Simon asked, incredulous. “Detain him for what purpose?”

“Send a messenger to the constable that a man has stolen from me.”

“Stolen?” the old man cried. “I just cut some peonies, Your Grace. I apologize! I did not know!”

“Does this not seem a bit severe?” Simon protested quickly. “Your Grace, do you know what the sentence for theft is?”

“He should have thought of the consequences!” Fergus said, turning his heel and pushing past Simon. “Detain him!”

“Please, do not do this!” the old man cried. “I have a daughter! She needs me!” Fergus only glanced over his shoulder to see Simon gently guiding the old man back into the house. Still shaking with anger, he stormed back into the house, back up to the library. He raked his hands through his hair, pacing back and forth in front of the window. Downstairs, he could hear Simon talking to the old man.

Am I really a monster? Fergus thought to himself, looking back down over his mother’s grave. He could hardly tell where the flowers had been cut, but he could feel the insult in his heart.

The door opened, and Fergus turned. “Your Grace,” Simon said gently, “may I have a word?”

“My mind is made up,” Fergus told him sternly.

“I think you should reconsider.”

“He touched the last thing that I have of her!” Fergus shouted. “He took something that I can never get back!”

Simon approached him with a gentle expression on his face. The wrinkles around his eyes looked deeper in the dark shadows of the dim library. “Your Grace, may I remind you that if that man is convicted of theft, if you press for a conviction, he could be sentenced to death? You are a duke, and the constable is likely to do whatever you say.”

Fergus did not respond, clenching his jaw tightly.

Simon drew closer, pleading, “Even if he does not hang, he would be branded a thief for the rest of his days. He would be an outcast from society. His daughter likely would too.”

“He should have considered that before he cut those flowers.”

“It was an honest mistake!” Simon cried. “Your Grace, I have served you since you were a boy. I knew your father, and I knew your mother. I do not think –”

“Do not try to tell me what you think my parents would have wanted,” Fergus warned, his voice cold.

“They would have wanted you to exercise kindness, sympathy, and understanding. Not cold, calculating revenge.”

“Simon,” Fergus said threateningly.

Simon knew Fergus too well and did not back down from his threats. “Your Grace, I beg you. I know you are angry and hurt but consider the person.”

Fergus shook his head. “Send someone for the constable.”

“Johnny has already gone out,” Simon told him begrudgingly.

“Let me know when he arrives,” Fergus instructed then turned his back to Simon. Simon left him alone in the library until the constable arrived, staring out the window. As Fergus waited, his anger began to fade, and he wondered if Simon was right to encourage him to have mercy on the poor old man. However, each time he looked down on his mother’s flowers, the rage would flare up again.

Fergus heard the butler answer the door and met Simon at the door of the library. “He would like you to tell him what happened,” Simon informed him.

Fergus pushed past Simon, his mind resolved. By the time he got down to the parlor, the constable had put irons on the old man’s wrists. In the lamplight of the parlor, the old man looked tired. The constable bowed to Fergus.

“Your Grace,” he greeted then nodded toward the old man. “I understand this man has stolen from you?”

“He has,” Fergus affirmed, not daring to look at Simon’s expression.  

“Theft is a serious offense,” the constable said. He turned to the old man. “What is your name?”

“Jonathan Haverton,” the old man said, his voice shaking in fear.

“Any relationship to Lord Haverton?” the constable asked.

“I am the Baron of Haverton,” the old man said feebly. Turning from Fergus to the constable, he continued “Please, Your Grace. I have a daughter at home. Edwina. She is just two and twenty and unmarried. She relies on me. She will be ruined if word of this got out.”

Fergus tried not to look at Lord Haverton as he continued to plead for his life. The man hardly looked like a Baron, even if Fergus had guessed him to be of a high station from his dress. A baron would not quake in fear nor introduce himself by his common name. Fergus turned to the constable, saying, “I would like to see him tried for his crimes.”

“As you wish, Your Grace,” the constable said, bowing and taking hold of the chain of the irons on Lord Haverton’s wrists. “This way, My Lord.”

The old man continued to plead, crying out for Fergus to spare him. Fergus turned, hardening his heart, and stormed up to his room, leaving Simon shaking his head in disappointment.


Chapter Three


After her father left for his walk, despite the late hour, Edwina went up to her room and changed from her ball gown. She put on a wrapper that she might normally wear at home in the morning. Her maid raised an eyebrow as she helped Edwina dress.

“Excuse me, Miss, if I seem too forward, but are you expecting to go anywhere else this evening?” she asked timidly.

“I just…” Edwina stammered. Even though her maid had been with Edwina for a few years, she had not grown up with one like so many of the other society ladies had. Lizbeth, her maid, had been a lady’s maid to other women and often had to remind Edwina of her station. “I am not quite tired yet.”

“Not yet? It is two in the morning,” Lizbeth wondered.

“Have you heard of this Monster of London?” Edwina asked in a whisper, looking at Lizbeth in the reflection in the looking glass. Even though it was absurd, she felt if she said the name out loud, it might conjure the man in her room at once.

“Aye, I’ve heard of him,” Lizbeth affirmed, continuing to comb out Edwina’s hair. “If you do not mind me saying, I find it ironic that the gossip papers have taken up this story with such outrage. Women are attacked all the time in the poorer neighborhoods of London.”

Edwina turned on her stool, disrupting Lizbeth’s task. “Father went for a walk this evening. I am worried about him.”

“If it puts your mind at ease, then I’ve not heard of this monster attacking men,” Lizbeth said assertively, before gently turning Edwina’s head back forward.

“It is just that he is not very observant,” Edwina went on, the worry in her voice apparent. “He tends to lose his way, even in the daytime. He was so upset leaving the ball tonight that I think he might be a bit distracted.”

“I am sure there’s nothing for you to worry about,” Lizbeth said as she deftly plaited Edwina’s hair. “But I can let you know when your father returns home.”

“Would you, please?” Edwina asked, breathing a little with relief.

Lizbeth smiled reassuringly, briefly patting Edwina on the shoulder before she took her leave. Edwina continued to sit at her dressing table for another minute, her shoulders tight with worry. The clock in the hall chimed half past the hour, the chime echoing in the empty hall.  Each creaking noise of the house settling startled her, and she found her heart continuing to race.

Trying to occupy her mind, Edwina tried to read for a bit but found herself reading the same lines repeatedly. She picked up her needlepoint, stitching by the light of her lamp, but her eyes quickly grew tired. She felt exhausted and knew she ought to go to bed, chiding herself for needless worry.

When the clock struck four o’clock in the morning, Edwina knew that something had to be amiss. She paced in front of her fireplace, twisting her fingers in her hands. With determination, she rang for Lizbeth, who appeared after a few moments, looking bleary-eyed.

“He still has not come home,” Edwina stated, looking for Lizbeth to affirm.

“My Lady, he may have gone somewhere for the night,” Lizbeth said gently. “All the great lords do. Sometimes they just do not come home every night, and they are perfectly safe and happy.”

Edwina clutched her jaw at the implication. “That is not what my father is like. I want to search for him, at once.”

“At this hour?” Lizbeth asked, shocked.

“Go get Bertie and ask for the carriage to be brought around. I want to go look for my father. He could be laying beaten in a ditch somewhere or lost. Or hurt. I must find him!” Lizbeth dropped into a quick curtsey before leaving to do Edwina’s bidding. Edwina continued to pace until Lizbeth returned.

“The carriage is around the front,” Lizbeth told her.

“You must come with me too,” Edwina said, beckoning to her. “I cannot go anywhere unchaperoned these days.” With a sigh, Lizbeth followed Edwina to the front of her house, her shoulders slumped with exhaustion. A footman helped Edwina to climb into the carriage, Lizbeth and Bertie following after her.

“You know where my father typically walks, do you not, Bertie?” Edwina said, addressing her father’s valet.

“Roughly,” he affirmed, his expression grim. “Your father does mention where he goes from time to time. Usually, he walks west to follow the Serpentine.”

“Let us be off then!” Edwina cried.

Bertie called out to the driver, and they set off west toward Hyde Park. Edwina strained to look out the window; in the early hour, she did not worry whether she looked unladylike. The carriage lantern cast an eerie glow over the streets, the long shadows leaping like ghosts. Her heart hammered in her chest so loudly that she wondered if she would even hear her father if he cried for help.

As they dove into Hyde Park, engulfed in darkness, Edwina grew more and more afraid. She could not see much beyond the carriage, and she imagined that behind every tree and every bush lay the monster, ready to spring forward to attack her.

“Miss, I do not think we could find him if he lay unconscious,” Bertie told her.

“We should get out of the carriage,” Edwina suggested, even though her voice shook.

“Do you think that wise?” Lizbeth said, clutching her arm, her eyes wide.   

“If he is out there, then we should be too,” she insisted. She tapped on the roof of the carriage to get the driver to stop.

“Miss?” he asked, looking over the side of the carriage from the driver’s box.

“We want to get out to search on foot,” Edwina said breathlessly.

“It would be safer for you to remain in the carriage,” the driver said, but Edwina opened the door of the carriage and stepped out.

“I will walk beside the carriage, like this,” she said, coming under the carriage lantern. “Just follow along with me. Bertie – you on one side, me on the other with Lizbeth.”

“This is foolish,” Lizbeth hissed, whispering in fear of being heard. “It is as though you are asking to be harmed.”

“Let us be off again,” Edwina said, ignoring her maid. As she walked along the carriage, peering into the darkness, her hands trembled and gooseflesh rose on her arms. Even though the spring had been warm, the night air was still cool.

“Father!” Edwina cried out, hoping he would answer her if he heard her voice.

“Lord Haverton!” Bertie called out, his baritone seeming to reach further into the darkness. When they came to the other side of the park, Edwina’s feet ached, and she wrung her hands together fretfully.

“How far does he usually go?” Edwina asked Bertie, standing in the empty street. “Surely, not much further.”

“He has made mention of walking in the country on warm days. Your father is in great health, perhaps from all his walks,” Bertie explained. He pointed west. “We could keep on the road toward Bath or south, toward the country.”

Edwina turned quickly at the sound of soft voices on the street. A couple of maids approached them, baskets in their hands. In the east, above the buildings, a dim gray light warned that the sun was rising.

“We should go to the constable,” Edwina thought out loud, fretting. She looked at the two women approaching. “Have you seen an older man out walking?” They shook their heads quickly, avoiding eye contact as they passed the carriage.

“What if your father has come home since we’ve been out?” Lizbeth suggested. “We have been out for hours.”

“Fine,” she sighed. “Let us stop back by the house, but I feel like he is not there.”

They climbed back into the carriage and made the short drive back to their home in Mayfair. Bertie jumped out of the carriage alone to ask the butler if Edwina’s father had come home. Edwina felt her heart drop when she saw the butler shake his head. Bertie returned quickly to the carriage, opening his mouth to tell her what she already knew.

“Let us go to the constable,” Edwina suggested. Bertie climbed back in the carriage, and they quickly set off. They shortly arrived at the constable’s house near the gaol. Edwina felt nauseous, looking at the dark structure. Bertie stopped her as she headed for the door.

“Let me speak on your behalf, Miss,” he suggested. She nodded, afraid that she might be sick. The three of them walked up the steps, and Bertie knocked on the door. A man answered, peering at them skeptically. Edwina held back, swallowing hard.

“What can I do for ya?” he asked.

“A man is missing,” Bertie explained. “Lord Haverton, Baron of Haverton. We wanted help to find him.”

“Find him?” the man laughed. “I can help ya, for sure. He’s here.”

“He is here?” Edwina asked, startled. She rushed forward. “Is he all right? Does he need a doctor?”

“Oh, he’s fine,” the man said. “Fine as you can be in irons.”

“In irons?” Edwina cried.

“Are you hard of hearing, Miss?” the man laughed. “Aye, he’s been arrested.”

“Whatever for?” she continued, her voice high and tight. Bertie put a hand on her arm, trying to calm her. “I must see him, at once!”

“I do not recommend that,” the man said. “The gaol isn’t a place for a lady.”

“But it is for a Lord?” Edwina retorted. She set her mouth in a thin line. “I must see him at once!”

The man shrugged nonchalantly and opened the door further, allowing them to follow him into the building. Cold air wafted over them, and Edwina covered her nose from the smell. Lizbeth hooked her arm through Edwina’s for comfort.

“Right this way,” the man said. They followed the man down the stone hall, down a set of stairs, the air becoming colder and danker as they descended. Edwina shivered, wishing she had dressed more warmly. Shouting rose up to greet them, the voices crying out words that she could not repeat as a lady.

Once they reached the lower level, the man drew out a heavy ring of keys and unlocked a thick door that had a window cut from the middle, covered in bars. He ushered them into the hallway, lined on either side with iron bars. Scrawny hands reached through the bars, and men dressed in rags pressed against the bars on the opposite sides.

“Down here,” the man said, guiding them down the hall. “Try not to get too close to the cells.” Edwina drew back when a man reached for her skirt, only to nearly bump into another reaching hand. She closed her lips tightly against a whimper of fear. Another man spat at her, the thick spittle landing on her hem.

“Eh, princess, wanna lift your skirts, huh?” a man called out, leering at her with a toothless smile. Shaking, she hurried past them, catching up with the jailer, who had stopped at a cell toward the end of the hall.

“Oi, Lord Haverton, you’ve a visitor already,” the man said. Edwina faced the cell. Unlike the others, crammed full of four or six men, her father sat in a cell by himself, his back against the cold stone wall.

“Papa,” she whispered, falling to her knees on the dirty stone floor. The cold of the floor quickly chilled her, and she could not imagine how her father managed to sit on the floor for so long. She grasped the iron bars, reaching inside the cell. “Papa, what happened? Why were you arrested?”

Father reached for her, his eyes full of tears. “Oh, Edwina. It is the biggest mistake. I went walking out in the countryside and saw the most beautiful flowers. I cut a few, but a man in a mask caught me and accused me of stealing. I think he was a Duke, but I did not get his name. He wants me tried as a thief!”

“A thief?” Edwina cried, clutching his hand. “A thief, over a few flowers? What kind of monster is this man?”

“He was so terrible,” he breathed. “I thought he would strike me down where I stood; he was so angry. He was huge, a tall and broad man, so I have no doubt he could have strangled me with his own hands if he thought he would get away with it. He had a mask covering part of his face, too, as though he was hiding something.”

“The Duke of Hillow,” the jailer noted. Edwina looked up to him. “Terribly frightening fellow.”

“Release my father at once,” Edwina demanded, struggling to bite back tears. “You cannot keep him over cutting a few flowers. What would that cost in a market, a few pence?”

“I even offered to pay for them,” Father insisted, taking hold of Edwina’s hand. “He refused, outright. Would not hear of it. He was unreasonable!”  

“I cannot release him,” the jailer told her. “The Duke will not drop the charges, and I cannot release him. He’ll have to go before the judge and be tried.”

“How long would that take?” Edwina asked frantically. She looked up to Lizbeth and Bertie for help, feeling desperate and hopeless.

The jailer shrugged. “It might be a while.”

Tears fell down Edwina’s eyes. “And he’ll stay here until then? Can I pay for better lodging, perhaps? Something?”

“I’m sure you could,” the jailer said.

Edwina tried to wipe the tears from her face and looked back at her father. She removed one of her hands from his and stroked his face. “I shall get you out of here at once. I will get this Duke to drop the charges and have you released.”

“No!” Father cried. “Do not go anywhere near that man! He is dangerous.”

“I will,” Edwina affirmed, standing. She set her chin and sniffled. “I will go to him at once.”

“You should listen to your father,” the jailer said. “The Duke of Hillow is not a man to be trifled with.”

“Well,” Edwina told him calmly, “I am not a woman to be trifled with.”

Turning back to her father, she reached back through the bars and lightly kissed her father’s cheek as best she could, her cheeks brushing against the cold iron. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling as though she could risk never seeing her father again if she let him go.

“Edwina, please, I beg you,” father said, his voice pleading and trembling.

“Do not worry about me,” she told him. “You are the one behind bars, and I am not. I shall get you out of here as soon as I can.”

She nodded to the jailer, and he led them back down the hall. “Let us go at once to Hillow House. It cannot be far.”

“It is early in the morning,” Bertie protested. “Surely, His Grace would not yet be awake.”

 “I do not care,” Edwina told him determinedly. “He has unjustly imprisoned my father, and he can deal with the consequences. I will knock on his door until someone lets me in, and I will drag him from his bed if I have to!”

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  • Seem to be a rags to riches story.
    Edwina nor her father were prepared for the ton.
    Because I think you needed to be born into the ton.
    Raised from a babe to an adult.
    Then you had a chance of making it thru life.
    Even surviving!
    Nice cover.Great storyline.

  • Edwina & Fergus – this should be interesting. Two stubborn, strong personalities. A father that is constantly getting himself into situations due to his eccentricity. Can’t wait to read this.

  • I LOVE Edwina. She’s going to be a force to be reckoned with and I can’t wait to see her in action. This is going to be awesome.

  • Now this is something different and I love the historical romance genre and have read lots of them So I can’t wait to read this one

  • This book will be exciting, sad , a look into what the era was like! I certainly hope certain people will be okay with a HEA .looking forward to reading!

  • Ooh I love a good Beauty and the Beast story, enjoyed it so far can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

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