The Wallflower Gets the Duke Preview

A Steamy Regency Romance

About the book

“I will have him see me if it’s the last thing I will do…”

No gentleman wishes to wed a lady who freely speaks her mind and Rowena has learned her lesson the hard way. With her father’s one bad investment after the other and her dowry gone, being a wallflower is a fate she can’t escape.

Despite being a man of many vices, Andrew Thompson, the Duke of Granville, has found himself groveling after a woman for the first time in his life. Until he literally stumbles upon his best friend’s sister…

But when Rowena approaches him with her outlandish plan, all he thinks about is to make his ex lover jealous. And he is quick to agree with any of her strict rules: no gambling, no drinking and no other women for as long as they are courting.


Chapter One

The chorus of laughter and music, the tapping of shoes on the ballroom floor, and the passing of crystal glasses created a deafening din. Rowena hooked her arm through Celeste’s, pulling her friend’s ear closer to her.

“I dare say, Mr. Plunkett is living up to his name,” Rowena giggled, staring at the unfortunate gentleman trying to dance the quadrille.

“Oh, do be kind,” Celeste murmured back, trying to stifle her own mirth. “We all know Miss Partridge has two left feet of her own.”

Giggling with their heads together, they hid their mouths behind their fans. The awkward couple fell out of step with the other dancing partners, bumping into each other and other dancers repeatedly. In the small ballroom, the dance floor was crowded while onlookers hovered at the perimeter.

“I think they have apologized more in the course of this set than they have discussed any other subject,” Rowena added, inciting another tittering laugh from Celeste.

Celeste put her hand to her ribs. “Oh, I cannot stand it. Rowena. Please, spare me. I cannot breathe.”

“Perhaps some lemonade, then?” Rowena suggested.

“Yes, lemonade would be a great idea,” an elderly voice crowed behind them. Both women turned, dipping quickly into a curtsy, their laughter quelled. The Dowager Duchess of Granville leaned on her cane, her head still held high. She looked down at them, only the slightest curve at her lips to suggest she had not been offended.

“I did not invite you two to linger like wallflowers and make snide remarks about my guests,” she continued.

“I beg your pardon, Your Grace,” Rowena said, bowing her head, hoping her cheeks did not flush too much from embarrassment. “Unfortunately, it seems most of the young men tonight are already occupied.”

“Perhaps you would have an easier time filling your dance cards if you minded your tongues.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Celeste added, her eyes still downcast.

“I do not hold it against you, Miss Starford, as I would say that Miss Hayben is usually the instigator. If you wish to find your own match this season, you may consider not being seen too much in her company.” Rowena felt her cheeks flush deeper, thus insulted by the esteemed matron, until the older Lady bent closer to her.

“Though I must admit, it is quite the poor showing, is it not?” she whispered. “I must find my grandson as I do not see him dancing. If I find the young men hiding in the library smoking cigars and drinking whiskey, I shall drive them out with my cane.” Without waiting for their response, the Dowager Duchess turned on her heel and left them speechless.

“I think that lemonade is in order,” Celeste gasped, just barely audible above the din. “That was terribly cruel of Lady Granville.” Rowena took her friend’s arm, navigating the crowded edges of the ballroom. Too many ladies were indeed standing or sitting on the edges, quite without partners. Their chaperones hovered, eyeing prospective matches from across the room like a hawk seeking its prey.

“She should know, though. She has sponsored so many debutantes through the years,” Rowena offered charitably. “And my opinions and sharp tongue have not proven to be beneficial.”

At the refreshment table, they each took a glass of lemonade and turned back to the crowd. Rowena overhead a couple of matrons commenting on Lady Granville’s antique glasses, to which Rowena had grown accustomed, along with the woman’s eccentric tastes.

“It is a shame that a woman’s intelligence and interest must be cast aside to catch a suitor,” Rowena lamented. “I do not see why we cannot find men that enjoy us speaking our minds.”

“We just need to find the right ones,” Celeste agreed, her face innocently optimistic. “There is no need to settle for someone like –” She broke off her thought, indicating a single, older gentleman occupied with peering at every debutante’s bosom. “Lord Quimby.”

“Well, I may need to,” Rowena said, pulling Celeste into a quieter corner. Taking her friend’s hands, she whispered earnestly, “I have overheard my father and brother arguing recently – about my dowry. It appears my father has squandered it almost all away. Edward has been trying to rebuild it, but my father seems quite adamant about continuing his habits.”

“Oh, Rowena!” Celeste cried, grasping her hands more firmly in return. “But you are the daughter of a viscount.”

“Yes, but most suitors are counting on a dowry as I am not to inherit anything. No husband can expect any land or title from my family,” she protested. “And given that I am already in my third season, I expect my father and brother are counting on all but having to pay someone to marry me.”

“Come now. You are not in dire straits yet. You are quite beautiful, well connected, and –”

“Known to be a disagreeable debutante,” Rowena interrupted, raising a brow, reminding her of Lady Granville’s insult. “Now that you know my plight, perhaps you will do me the honor of assisting me with finding a suitor who will not care about my dowry.”

Celeste nodded earnestly, so they turned, shifting closer to the ballroom floor as though to survey the prospects. “Someone already wealthy, then,” Celeste wondered.

“An elder son, yes, not necessarily titled,” Rowena agreed. As they scanned the room, she caught a glance of Lady Granville strolling back in the room, arm in arm with Rowena’s brother, Edward. Edward was laughing at something the older woman was saying. However, the Lady’s grandson, the Duke of Granville, looked sullen beside them.

When she was a girl, Rowena had admired Andrew, long before he had become Duke of Granville and long before she had debuted into society. He had been Edward’s closest friend, having studied with him at Eton. However, as they got older, his rakish ways quickly ruined her childish crush.

Andrew stood taller than Edward, a black shadow compared to his friend. Andrew dressed in dark colors with the only light color garments being his cravat and stockings. Edward wore bolder colors, blues, and cremes, his face open and amenable.

“Your brother looks well, tonight,” Celeste said.

Rowena waved her hand, adding snidely, “Perhaps if he married wealthy, then I would not need to worry about my dowry.” She hardly noticed that Celeste’s mouth formed a thin line.

“What about the Duke?” Celeste asked after a moment.

“That rake?” She laughed at the prospect then studied him, considering. He wore his hair short, and the black locks mussed foppishly. She was not able to make out his green eyes from across the room, but she had noticed them often enough when she was younger. His shoulders had filled out considerably since their childhood days.

“I know that look,” Celeste whispered.

“He is quite handsome,” Rowena admitted but sighed. “But my sentiment remains. He is a rake, through and through. He would not consider me seriously.”

“He must marry, though, to continue his line. And why not a family friend?” Rowena watched as Lady Granville appeared to berate both of the young men. Edward laughed good-naturedly, bowing to the older woman as he took his leave. Andrew continued to scowl.

“If he courted me, he would have to propose quickly so as to avoid risking ruining my reputation.”

“He cannot be that bad,” Celeste protested. “Why, before tonight, I would not have thought him a rake at all. I have heard nothing of the sort.”

“His reputation is well known to my brother and father as well as his grandmother, I would reckon.”

“Would you consider him, then? If he was interested?” Rowena mulled quietly for a moment, barely aware that she continued to stare at Andrew until she was startled by her brother.

“Good evening, ladies,” he said, bowing. “I have been thoroughly reprimanded for sitting out this evening.”

“I am surprised your ears have survived the lashing,” Rowena quipped.

“Indeed,” he laughed then bowed toward Celeste. “Perhaps you would do me the honor of this next dance?”

“Oh no, do not take her away from me!” Rowena protested, pouting.

Edward patted her on the shoulder before holding his hand out to Celeste. “Perhaps if you look bored, some poor bloke might take pity on you, dear sister.”

Rowena gasped at his slight, watching in disbelief as Edward guided Celeste to the dance floor. Tapping her fan in frustration, annoyed at being left alone at the edge of the ballroom, she tried to find Andrew again in the crowd to no avail. Instead, she found her father engaged in a heated conversation with a gentleman who seemed earnestly trying to convince him of something. With a sigh, she made her way through the ballroom to join him.

“Ah, my daughter,” he said as she came alongside him. She curtseyed to the young man. “Mr. Darby, this is my daughter, Miss Hayben.”

“A pleasure,” Mr. Darby said, bowing to her. “I was just discussing some business with your father.”

“An interesting prospect, father?” she asked, taking his arm. “A new railroad, perhaps, or mine?”

“No, just some funds,” he said, patting her hand. “Mr. Darby was mentioning the returns, three percent, if not four, is that correct?” he said, turning back to Mr. Darby.

“Are you familiar with funds, Miss Hayben?” Mr. Darby asked, an amused smile on his lips.

She knew that he mocked her by asking, but she smiled demurely back at him. “Consols are always a safe investment compared to other adventures, I would think. A great way to provide a reasonable income from the return, would you not say?”

The look on the man’s face grew tighter as she spoke which she could only imagine was due to his disgust of her. Her father coughed a little, patting her hand again, laughing awkwardly. “Quite a head on her shoulders. Must have heard me explaining these things to your brother, hmm?”

“Of course,” she sighed, giving Mr. Darby a polite smile. “I should let you both get back to your business, then.”

“No one to dance with this set?” her father asked, glancing between her and Mr. Darby. “Mr. Darby, are you much of a dancer?” She felt her cheeks flush again, embarrassed that her father was trying to push her on Mr. Darby, especially after she had shown off her knowledge of bonds.

“Ah, no,” Mr. Darby said, clearing his throat. “My apologies, I just saw Lord Wingfield. Excuse me.” Rowena cast her eyes down, hanging on to her father’s arm. Despite how much she had been looking forward to the evening, she could not help the tears stinging her eyes. She blinked quickly.

“Lady Granville always hosts the finest affairs,” her father continued, unaware of his daughter’s distress. “Much more enjoyable than those assemblies at Almack’s. Or the endless dinners and dances you must attend.”

“Must?” she cried, but when a matron glared at her from the sidelines of the floor, she lowered her voice. “Father, really. I must secure a husband, quickly. If not by the end of the season, then my prospects grow quite dire. Perhaps you should use your influence as Viscount to secure an advantageous match?”

“My influence?” he laughed innocently. “My dear, I was not meant to be Viscount. My brother was raised and groomed to take that role. I was sent away, encouraged to tour the continent. I do not have influence.”

“But your title, which should account for –”

“What about the Duke of Granville?” her father asked, pointing him out across the room. When she found Andrew again in the crowd, across the room, he seemed engaged in a heated conversation with a black-haired woman who laughed coolly at him.

“Father, I am not sure –”

“He is terribly wealthy, comes from a good family, arguably attractive, good friends with your brother, and unattached as I understand it. Would be terribly convenient.” She reminded herself to not allow her jaw to drop.

“But father, his reputation –”

“Ah, here he comes now. Your Grace!” Andrew had indeed made his way closer to where they were standing, but his jaw was clenched and brows furrowed. Rowena’s father seemed to intentionally ignore Andrew’s dour mood.

“Your Grace, what a lovely soiree this evening,” her father started, clasping Andrew’s arm briefly.

“Viscount,” Andrew responded briskly. “Indeed, my grandmother – yes. Well, you already know.”

“Of course, of course. We always enjoy being her guests. I say, I have not seen you dance this evening. May I shamelessly press you?”

Andrew looked down at Rowena, and she blushed again. He looked down at her as though she was a child still, and standing heads shorter than he, she felt like one too. Worse, the implication that she had not had a dance partner made her feel undesirable.

“Of course,” Andrew said, obviously begrudgingly. He held his hand to Rowena. “I would hate for Edward to find out that I snubbed his sister.” She took his hand amiably, the flush in her cheeks persistent. He guided her closer to the orchestra, next to Celeste with her newest partner, a man that Rowena did not know. Edward had also found a new dance partner, a lovely-looking young lady who Rowena recognized as one of the season’s newest debutantes.

As Rowena and Andrew faced each other in line, preparing to begin the dance, she noticed that he continued to look about the room.

“Are you looking for someone, Your Grace?” she asked, their hands meeting in the first steps of the dance.

“No one of consequence,” he said quickly, returning his attention to her. “How are you enjoying yourself this evening?” She started to respond, but they broke away, turning shoulder to shoulder with Celeste and her partner.

“Who is the gentleman?” Rowena asked her, whispering to Celeste quickly before they were separated again.

Facing back with Andrew, the grim look on his face told her that he was not interested in hearing her reply to his question. So, she politely told him, “As well as possible, given the circumstances.”

Their hands touched briefly, his eyebrow cocked at her response. Separating again, she spun around with Celeste, who responded, “The gentleman is Mr. St. Aubyn, the fifth son of Lord Wetherington.”

Spinning again, now becoming a bit breathless from the activity of the dance, Rowena faced Andrew again. “What circumstances?” he asked briskly.

“Your Grace, the marriage mart, of course,” she laughed, passing him by to spin around with Celeste again. “He is handsome,” she told Celeste.

“And engaged,” Celeste whispered quickly back. Facing Andrew again, Rowena considered that he might be scowling at her directly now, rather than the circumstances in general.

“And what does that have to do with your enjoyment of my grandmother’s soiree? Does the lot of you never rest?” he asked. “Can you not just…. enjoy yourself?”

Rowena smiled breathily, trying not to laugh at him for his ignorance. When his eyes flashed in anger, she felt a flutter in her heart, the same as she once had as a child. Breathlessly, she said, “Well-bred ladies do not simply enjoy themselves, Your Grace. How scandalous.”

Their hands touched again, more forcibly. His thumb wrapped around her palm firmly, holding her still for a moment.

“Which is exactly why I had retreated to the library,” he retorted. She pulled her hand away from him, trying not to let on that anything untoward might be happening in their dance.

“You are a rake, are you not?” she teased, smiling despite his dour attitude. “Well-bred ladies are not able to entertain you?”

“That is not –” he started, only to be pulled away by the steps of the dance.

“What are you doing to the poor Duke?” Celeste asked her as they spun around.

“I am just being myself,” Rowena quickly replied.

“Oh dear,” Celeste breathed, shaking her head at Rowena.

Rowena faced Andrew again. “I do nope not to bore you, Your Grace,” she said. “In fact, I am quite enjoying myself now. So, thank you for emerging from your asylum.” Andrew looked past her, his scowl deepening again. The song ended, and he dipped in a quick bow and stepped away without another word.

Celeste hurried to her side. “What did you do him?”

“I have no idea!” Rowena explained, stunned, watching as he fled to the gardens.

Chapter Two

The sound of laughter and chatter permeating the walls of the ballroom distracted Andrew from the glass of whiskey in his hand while he sat in the library before making an entrance to his Grandmother’s soiree,

However, the noise could not distract him from thoughts of her. Memories of her black hair against his lips, the smell of primrose on her skin, the way she laughed… Even though Edward sat across from him, Edward struggled to entice him into a conversation.

“I have not seen you at White’s lately,” Edward said, puffing on a pipe, his voice finally breaking through Andrew’s thoughts. “Where did you say you got this tobacco again?”

“I did not,” Andrew evaded, taking another sip.

“Come now, Granville; what has got you in a sour mood?” Edward pressed, leaning forward on his knees. He opened his mouth to speak again, but the door opened unceremoniously. James stomped in, passing right between Andrew and Edward. He zealously swiped the decanter of whiskey from the table in front of them to pour a glass.

“Andrew, there are five girls to every young man out there,” he breathed, throwing himself back on the couch next to Edward, his face flush with exercise. “I have not had a breath all evening.” He threw back a long drink as though the whiskey would quench his thirst.

“You have barely shown your face,” Edward said to Andrew again. “Are you not technically the host?”

“The hostess is my grandmother,” he corrected, taking another long sip. “The guests are hers. I should have told her I was not home this evening.”

“And do what instead? Go back to that gambling establishment?” James asked, a boyish grin written on his face. Andrew glared at him.

“Gambling establishment? Is this why you have not been at White’s lately?” Edward asked.

“It is a gentlemen’s club,” Andrew corrected. “And no.”

James looked to Edward. “I shall bet you five pounds he has lost too many hands and is afraid to show his face.”

“I am not a gambler,” Edward said, shaking his head. “I am, however, surprised at you Andrew; I would not take you for one either. Is there something you have been keeping from me?” The door burst open again, admitting an irritated Dowager Duchess of Granville.

“Shame on the lot of you,” she said, pointing her cane at each one of the young men. “I have a room full of young women being terribly disappointed, and you are all sitting in here being impolite.”

Edward started to stand first, apologizing, “I meant no disrespect, My Lady.”

Lady Granville waved him aside, shaking her cane at Andrew. “And you! Drinking like a fish; I do hope you have not imbibed so much that you cannot properly greet your guests. Can you imagine how the ton will talk? Not a single mama out there will want her dove to be seen with a man like you.”

“A sentiment well reciprocated,” Andrew said into his glass.

“To your feet!” she commanded. “Before I take you over my knee again. You may be ‘Your Grace’ in front of company, but you are still my grandson!” James stood up next as Lady Granville spoke, quietly waving to Edward as though hoping to evade the old lady’s wrath. They got halfway to the door when she turned.

“Do me the favor of behaving yourselves like the utmost gentlemen I know you are,” she said, stopping them in their tracks. Looking back to Andrew, she stepped forward threateningly as though she truly was ready to use her cane.

Andrew slowly, grudgingly, got to his feet. “Fine,” he breathed.

“And do wipe that scowl from your face,” she continued to chide, walking alongside him toward the door. “You look like someone spit in your porridge.”

“May I take your arm, Your Grace?” Edward offered, holding out his arm.

“Thank you, child,” she said, smiling up at him. “You will make some young woman very happy someday.” Andrew followed behind the trio though as soon as they entered the ballroom, James split away from them, distracted by a gaggle of young women he appeared to know. Andrew shook his head at his brother, wondering what it would be like to be young and carefree again.

“I should think young Miss Starford is warranted a dance, Mr. Hayben. Your sister is being a terrible influence on her,” Lady Granville said, indicating a tiny blonde across the ballroom in conversation with a lady he could only assume was Edward’s sister though he was not able to tell in the candlelight.

“What is wrong with Miss Hayben?” Andrew asked, turning quickly to see what his grandmother might mean.

“I do not want to insult her too harshly in front of Mr. Hayben, but I dare say, she is much like you, Your Grace, regarding strong opinions and impertinence,” she explained, cackling.

“No offense taken,” Edward laughed, bowing to the older lady. “And I shall go see about wrangling Miss Starford away from my dear sister.” Edward took his leave, weaving through the crowd, leaving Andrew alone with his grandmother again. However, following the sight of Edward disappearing through the crowd, he caught sight of Alice.

“Where did you say you met –what is her name again – Miss….” His grandmother asked, noticing where his attention had been drawn.

“Jones,” Andrew offered reluctantly. “And I did not say. She is just an acquaintance.”

“And yet, I have not seen you greet our guest.” Andrew tried to hide his scowl. Alice was laughing politely, conversing with two gentlemen he vaguely knew as some younger sons of some gentleman or another. Fire raged in his chest, seeing her flirting with them, fluttering her fan in front of her bosom.

“My child, do not make me tell you again –” Lady Granville started, but Andrew interjected.

“I am going,” he said briskly, leaving his grandmother behind in the crowd. Making his way to Alice, the gentlemen around her bowed to him as he approached.

“Your Grace!” one said. “Lovely party, as always. The Granville Soiree is always such a wonderful, intimate affair with all the best dancing partners.” The gentleman had the cheek to wink at Alice, who laughed demurely. Andrew did not know that she could even be demure.

“Miss Jones, I was hoping to have a word?” Andrew asked, ignoring the other two men.

“Oh, Mr. Plunkett was just telling me the most diverting story,” Alice said as though she had not heard him. “Please, do go on. You were saying about your newest horse, Lochinvar…?”

“Yes, well the trainer was saying she is well suited for the races this year. I expect quite a show!”

“Oh, you absolutely must take me to the races, sometime,” she cooed.

“Indeed, are you a horseman as well, Mr. Brumbly?” Andrew knew very well that Alice had no interest or knowledge of horses unless it came to betting on the races. She had always had a proclivity for risks with bets.

“Perhaps this next dance then, Miss Jones?” Andrew said, catching a glance from his grandmother from across the room.

“Oh, I simply could not, Your Grace!” she tittered. “My dance card is quite full. I believe, Mr. Brumbly, you had the next set?” Mr. Brumbly held out his hand. Seeing Alice place her daintily gloved hand in his sent rage through Andrew’s breast. He nodded stiffly to Mr. Plunkett and pushed past him. Despite his grandmother’s scolding and threats, he could not stand to spend another moment in the ballroom.

He hardly saw Lord Dorset before the man called out to him. “Your Grace, what a lovely soiree this evening.”

Groaning internally, he knew that he could not possibly pretend to not hear him without appearing rude. He turned to greet the older man, plastering a fake smile on his face. Lord Dorset was not the worst of gentlemen, just somehow slightly off. Slightly awkward, too friendly, somehow a bit simple. Yet, everyone seemed to love him.

“Viscount,” Andrew responded, trying to keep his body turned to keep uncommitted to the conversation. “Indeed, my grandmother – yes. Well, you already know.”

“Of course, of course. We always enjoy being her guests. I say, I have not seen you dance this evening. May I shamelessly press you?” Lord Dorset indicated the petite figure next to him. Little Rowena stood next to her father, wearing the same type of soft pink dress a half dozen other women seemed to be wearing that evening. Her brown hair curled cherub like about her face; he looked down at her, almost surprised that she was out in society already.

However, when he started to speak to her, he realized that she had grown up. Her cheeks flushed demurely, yes, but her ample bosom and the sharpness of her cheeks told him that she was older than he remembered. He felt a stirring and shifted awkwardly, aghast that he found his best friend’s little sister attractive. How long had it been since he had seen her? Not more than a year, surely.

Though she had no idea what thoughts flowed through his head, he cleared his throat awkwardly, feeling an absurd need to apologize. Surely, she would have no idea what lust stirred within him. “Of course,” he said, holding out his hand to Rowena. “I would hate for Edward to find out that I snubbed his sister.”

Her hand was light in his as he guided her to the dance floor, her cheeks still pleasantly flushed. However, as soon as he caught sight of Alice again, laughing with a new dance partner, he forgot the girl quickly.

“Are you looking for someone, Your Grace?” Rowena asked, her voice light and playful. 

“No one of consequence,” he said quickly. Her bright blue eyes danced wickedly which caught him off guard. Trying to make conversation, he asked, “How are you enjoying yourself this evening?”

She started to respond, but they broke away, turning about with the other partners. He could see her whispering to one of the girls, their heads coming together to share their secrets. Pressing his lips together, he wondered if every woman was secretly conspiring against him that evening. They all seemed to him to be plotting how to make his life the most miserable.

 “As well as possible, given the circumstances,” she said coolly. He sighed at her expertly crafted response, something witty enough to elicit a response. The innocent child he had once known had somehow been molded into the worst sort of conniving debutante. Worse, it worked to draw his curiosity as did her bosom as she drew deep breaths.

“What circumstances?” he asked briskly.

“Your Grace, the marriage mart, of course,” she laughed, passing him again. He cursed the steps of the dance, making an efficient conversation impossible. More frustratingly, he was preferring the conversation to the dance.

“And what does that have to do with your enjoyment of my grandmother’s soiree? Does the lot of you never rest?” he asked quickly once they faced each other again. “Can you not just…. enjoy yourself?” Her laugh made him feel that she was mocking him. Perhaps he was projecting the sting of Alice’s rejection on her, but he quickly felt as though all girls were the same. Either that or the whiskey fueled his thoughts… and his loins.

 “Well-bred ladies do not simply enjoy themselves, Your Grace. How scandalous,” Rowena explained. Irritated by her banter, he grabbed her hand as they came together.

“Which is exactly why I had retreated to the library,” he retorted. She pulled her hand away from him as though she was frightened.

“You are a rake, are you not?” she teased, looking like she was forcing a smile. “Well-bred ladies cannot entertain you?”

“That is not –” he started, only to be pulled away by the steps of the dance.

Rowena faced Andrew again. “I do nope not to bore you, Your Grace,” she said. “In fact, I am quite enjoying myself now. So, thank you for emerging from your asylum.”

The music came to an end, and Andrew caught sight of Alice making her way to the doors to the garden. His heart raced, thinking of any number of young men she had flirted with that evening that might take advantage of the situation.

The sight distracted him such that he almost forgot his dance partner. She had dipped into a curtsey and was looking up at him expectantly, hoping for further conversation, he assumed. No longer interested, he bowed quickly to Rowena and made after Alice, hoping to catch her in time. Pushing through the crowd, he wondered if perhaps because of her upbringing, Alice had not thought about a chaperone. Well-bred ladies were always chaperoned. Alice never was. Despite that, she had not had to worry about her reputation as she was fairly unknown to the ton.

The small gardens at Granville Manor sat at the back of the house, away from the busy Mayfair streets. The perfume of magnolias wafted over the borders of tulips and hyacinths.

“Alice, you cannot be out here alone,” Andrew said, approaching her. She had stopped in the middle of the garden, the moonlight reflecting off the shine of her black hair.

“Oh, why is that, Your Grace? Worried about my virtue?” she ribbed, turning to face him with a taunting look on her face. “You were not so worried about my virtue when you called upon my father’s parlor.”

“This is different,” he hissed, grabbing her arm. “I invited you tonight, but I expected you to behave by the rules of society. This is highly inappropriate.”

“Maybe I do not want to abide by the rules of your society, Your Grace,” she spat.

“What is with this hostility?” he asked. He could feel the whiskey causing his head to spin. “You refused to see me when I called for the past two weeks when I thought you were arranging for me to meet your father. You have ignored me all evening. Have you cast me off then?”

“I feel sorry that you have to ask,” she laughed cruelly. Almost taunting, she continued. “His Grace, the Duke of Granville, reduced to groveling at my feet. I suppose I should be flattered.”

“I care for you, Alice. So, tell me earnestly. Is there someone else?” he asked, barely concealing the ache in his voice. With an aching heart, he reached for her arm, needing to touch her, feel her. However, she pulled away quickly, and with the lack of balance that came from his whiskey, he fumbled.

“You are pathetic,” she hissed, retreating from him. “There is no one else. There does not need to be. You are a rake and a drunk. I am embarrassed to see you at my father’s parlor anymore. Do you know how they make jokes about you?”

He reeled, confused by her outburst. “Alice, please. Is this because I would buy those jewels for you? I told you, if we were married, you would have no end of access to the family’s collection.”

She held her chin up high, telling him, “I thank you not to call upon me again.” Turning on her heel, the rustle of her skirts rushing in the quiet night, she hurried back into the manor, disappearing into the crowd.

Feeling dizzy and ashamed, Andrew reached to steady himself on a stone column along the garden path. He took deep breaths, trying to understand what had happened and how he had managed to get so incredibly drunk. Only two weeks ago, he had mentioned to Alice wanting to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Since that day, she avoided him. He thought marriage was what she wanted.

“God blast them all to bloody hell!” he cried out, smacking a low-hanging limb, causing fading flower petals and dew to shower to the ground. To his surprise, he heard a feminine squeak, originating from behind a nearby topiary.

“Who is there?” he cried, frantic that someone might have seen him alone with Alice. He stormed forward, hoping to catch the culprit. Sighting a glimpse of white muslin, he grasped at the skirt as the woman tried to flee. He caught hold of her wrist and pulled her to face him.

“Rowena?” he gasped in surprise.

Chapter Three

Watching Andrew push through the crowd, Rowena searched her mind, trying to think of anything she might have said to offend the poor Duke.

“You simply must apologize to him,” Celeste told her. “It would be bad indeed to have a duke speaking ill of you. Think of your reputation, your prospects!”

“I would apologize if I had any idea what I had done,” Rowena argued. She pulled Celeste off to the side of the ballroom again. “Honestly, I have known His Grace for a long time. He is not so easily offended or often considerate of the normal social graces.”

“Perhaps he has changed.”

“No, I do not think so,” she protested. Shaking her head, she gathered the courage to admit a thought she had, both to Celeste and to herself. “Can I share an idea with you?”

“What is it?” Celeste asked with a groan. “Please tell me you have a plan to apologize to him.”

“Not quite,” Rowena said. She leaned in close to whisper. “What if His Grace was indeed the only one that could help me this season?”

“What do you mean? Do you think you want to try to win him over after all?”

“Again, not quite,” Rowena explained, feeling butterflies forming in her stomach thinking of the absurdity. “But, if His Grace did favor me, after all, then should not other suitors find me more favorable?”

“I do not understand,” Celeste said, shaking her head.

“The favor of a duke on a debutante would only garner more favor with the rest of the ton. He could introduce me to his peers, speak well of me.”

“Then you best hurry on to apologize!” Celeste cried, indicating the direction Andrew had gone. “How can you get him to speak well of you if he does not actually think well of you?”

“That…” she hesitated. “I will figure it out. Trust me. This will work!” Celeste started to protest, but Rowena left her to find Andrew before her courage left her. She pushed through the crowd, unable to find him. However, the doors to the gardens were wide open, admitting a fresh, cool breeze to the ballroom.

As she stepped onto the veranda, she saw Andrew heading down the garden path where a dark-haired woman stood waiting. Her breath caught in her throat at the scandalous scene playing out before her. If Andrew and this woman were caught, he would be forced to marry her immediately to save her reputation. Curiosity drove her forward to hear more of what they were saying. To avoid being seen, she dove behind a topiary, just barely taller and wider than she. Their voices were faint.

“ are a rake and a drunk. I am embarrassed to see you at my father’s parlor anymore. Do you know how they make jokes of you?” the woman said.

“Alice, please,” Andrew pleaded. Rowena could not hear the rest of what he said.

 “I thank you not to call upon me again,” the woman said, her voice cold.

The woman hurried past the spot where Rowena was hiding. Rowena slunk around to the backside of the topiary, hoping the woman would not look back. From what Rowena gathered, Andrew had used the woman’s Christian name, suggesting they were close. He must have been courting her, but she found out about his wanton behavior and cast him off.

“God blast them all to bloody hell!” Andrew shouted, startling Rowena as a shower of dew and flower petals rained down around her.

She squeaked, only to clamp her hand over her mouth. Hoping that she could make her way back to the ballroom before Andrew spotted her, she tried to flee. No sooner did she leave the haven of her topiary than his hand clamped down around her wrist. Shocked, she started to cry out, surprised at how quickly he had gotten close.

“Rowena!” he cried. “What are you doing out here, alone?”

“I – I –” she stammered. “I just needed some fresh air.” She wrenched her hand away from him, her heart racing in her breast. Where she had just imagined that Andrew could be forced into a scandalous marriage with another woman, she realized now that she could be, too. Worse, if he had been courting the other woman, he might refuse, and her brother would have to duel his best friend.

“Were you spying on me?” he demanded. She quickly took a step back from the force of his anger.

“No! Of course not!” she cried. “No, honestly, Your Grace, I was just getting some fresh air.”

“Next thing I know, you and Miss Starford and all the rest of you little white doves,” he said with spite, “will be gossiping about my scandalous, embarrassing little episode in the garden, will you not?” His words slurred slightly, and the animosity of his words seemed strangely out of character, even for him.

“My heavens,” she breathed, realizing. “Your Grace, you are drunk!”

He laughed incredulously. “Am I drunk?”

“Your Grace, the audacity,” she scolded, watching him wobble on his feet, despite standing still. “Your own soiree, and you have overindulged.  This is terrible behavior, even for someone like you.”

“Someone like me?” he scoffed, the look on his face becoming serious and mocking. “Like me; what would someone like you know about someone like me?” He took a step forward, but Rowena retreated another step, trying to maintain a respectable distance between them. His heat was palatable, his green eyes reflecting the lights of the manor. Yet she could not find a way to flee. Something about him captivated her.

“Just because I am a young, well-bred woman does not mean that I am blind,” she said. “I see you. I see what you do, how you act. I always have.” He laughed, turning, raking his hands through his hair. There was something vulnerable and tortured about the gesture, something romantic and tragic. Her heart yearned for him, the ache of missing the boy he once was, the boy she had admired all those years ago.

“You and everyone else,” he said, his tone sardonic. He whirled to face her. “Everyone sees the rake I am, this terrible rogue, prone to wanton leisure. Too much drinking, a terrible gambler, a whoremonger.” Rowena took another step back away from the heat of his fervor.

“Yes, I said whoremonger. Does that offend you, my little dove? Am I ruining your innocent mind with my language?”

“You are drunk,” she excused, raising her chin. “And you are being preposterous. I would hate for Lady Granville to see you in this state.”

“Ah yes, she would bend me over her knee. Is that what I need, a good spanking?” He took another step forward, and to her surprise, she forgot to retreat again to maintain a respectable distance. Then he stepped forward again, closing the gap between them.

“Perhaps you think you can save me, hmm? Inspire me with your goodness, your kindness, your tender loving care?”

She finally laughed at him and the absurdity of his words. He was too close now, just an arm’s width away. “No, what you need is to be doused with a bucket of cold water and sent to bed. Perhaps in the morning, you will realize what a terrible fool you have been.”

“Or perhaps I will say that I remember nothing at all and carry on about as usual, ignorant of any transgressions I might have made,” he suggested, reaching out to touch her.

“Your Grace!” she cried, warning him against whatever he thought he was about to do. He wobbled dangerously though, so she reached out to steady him, disregarding the polite separation she had been trying to maintain.

However, she did not account for how much a man like him might weigh, and he seemed not to anticipate how little she could support. His weight came crashing down on her, and her knees buckled, sending them both falling to the grass next to the path.

Rowena let out a cry of shock and mild pain as her backside hit the soft grass, but Andrew quickly clamped his hand over her mouth. His weight forced the air from her lungs, but it was his face terribly close to hers that made her dizzy.

“Shhh, shhh,” he begged, frantic. “Someone could definitely get the wrong impression now. Please, be quiet.” She gasped through his fingers, trying to catch her breath with his weight on top of her. He seemed in no hurry to extract himself from the situation. Wriggling, she tried to free her mouth from his hand, but he was resolved to keep it in place.

“Please, please do not scream,” he said, his eyes pleading. She almost forgot what he was asking her because of how distractedly handsome his face was close to hers.

She nodded carefully before he withdrew his hand from her mouth. Laying under him, she realized her breath still came in ragged pants but not from the activity. Rather, she felt a flush come over her, a quiver in her stomach, feeling the closeness of his body on top of her.

He must have felt it too, looking down on her. His face hovered too close to hers. He smelled of whisky and tobacco, soap, and leather. She squirmed, trying to find a means to raise herself off the ground, only to feel the firmness of his arms and chest. She thought she might faint.

She had daydreamed about a moment like this, some romantic, desperate situation that might push them together. Hours spent, hiding in the corner of the library, watching him, quietly, as he visited with Edward, hoping they would not banish her from their presence. She had imagined what it would be like for him to press his mouth to hers…

Then he did. Before she knew what was happening, he had set his mouth firmly on hers. In surprise, her lips parted, and his tongue dove into her mouth. Desire clouded her mind, allowing the kiss to deepen. His hand slid to her breast and tingles radiated from her skin across her body.

Overcome by the sensations, she felt a rush of shock and heat wash over her when his tongue sought hers, tasting and teasing her tongue. She tried to gasp for air, her pulse racing in her throat. What came out was a soft moan.

He must have taken it for encouragement, for he used one of his knees to spread her legs just slightly wider, allowing him to nestle between them. She could feel him so keenly there, and she tried to pant, but his kiss continued. The warmth of him on top of her sent fire between her own legs, a sensation she hardly knew.

Footsteps echoed through the quiet night from the veranda. Celeste whispered, “Rowena?”

With the shock and realization of what had just happened, Rowena pushed Andrew quickly off her, scrambling to sit up. Andrew sat back on the grass while Rowena tried to stand, adjusting her damp skirts around her. Her heart raced in her chest, knowing that there was no way that she could avoid Celeste finding them. She could only hope that Celeste would value their friendship over propriety.

“Rowena! Where are you!” Celeste continued to hiss, coming down the path hesitantly. Her fear of being found alone herself seemed to keep her from venturing too far into the garden. Nausea washed over Rowena, knowing she was about to be found. With her knees shaking, she came to stand. Celeste caught her eye and rushed over to her with worry, stopping abruptly upon seeing Andrew sitting in the grass.

“What in good heavens is going on out here?” Celeste whispered, taking Rowena’s hand. “Are you hurt? What happened?”

“I –” she stammered, looking down at Andrew. “I stubbed my toe and lost my balance. I fear I must have taken His Grace out with me.”

Celeste grasped Rowena’s hand firmly, staring her in the eyes, daring her to tell the truth. “Did he hurt you, compromise you? Rowena, please, tell me nothing untoward happened. You would not lie to me, would you?”

“Nothing… untoward… happened,” Rowena explained desperately, pleading with Celeste. “Please, no one must know about this. How is my dress?” Hoping that getting Celeste to critique her dress would help distract her from the dire situation, Rowena jerked her head to Andrew, imploring him to stand. Celeste fanned the skirts of Rowena’s dress.

“No mud or muck that I can see,” Celeste sighed. “But you are strangely damp. Perhaps we can explain it away with some spilled lemonade or punch? We can go in straightaway to the refreshment table and arrange for you to be bumped into.”

Rowena could not think of anything to say to Celeste. She felt so overwhelmed that she simply had to surrender herself to the capable hands of her best friend. As soon as Andrew was vertical, he brushed off his coat and ran a hand through his hair. Rowena could see the traces of a wobble still, but he seemed to have sobered up quite dramatically. Celeste seemed distracted by his presence enough not to notice Rowena’s unresponsiveness.

“We must get you back inside,” Celeste whispered, shooting angry glances at Andrew. “As for you, you cannot be seen coming back with us. Can you come back another way?”

“Of course,” he agreed, quickly. He pointed in another direction. “I will just, yes…” Celeste nodded, and Rowena avoided his gaze, trying to collect herself. Her heart refused to slow, and her breath seemed to keep evading her.

“Edward was looking for you; I am sure he is trying to find me and you right now,” Celeste continued to explain, checking the ribbons on Rowena’s dress and the curls in her hair.

“There you all are!” All three of them turned about. As though whispering his name had summoned Edward, he strode down the path, looking thoroughly confused and annoyed.

“Does anyone care to explain to me what is going on?”

Andrew and Rowena looked at Celeste as though implicating her in the awkward situation. Rowena’s breath caught in her throat again, wondering how her friend might save, or betray, her.

“I found Rowena, and she needed to catch some air,” Celeste explained stiffly. “We just happened upon His Grace out here; we were about to come back inside.”

“This is entirely unacceptable,” Edward scolded. “Where are your chaperones? Who thought this possibly could have been a good idea?”

“Edward, I am sorry; I just was feeling light-headed,” Rowena begged. “Believe me, this is just a strange accident.”

“I was concerned,” Andrew told Edward, apologetically. “I made a rash decision to stay and make sure she was all right.”

Edward squinted at Andrew. “Since when do you have a gallant side?”

“Since she is your sister,” he retorted. “My apologies. Next time I will let her faint in the flowerbed.”

“Did you faint?” Edward asked, growing concerned. He finally looked to Rowena to make sure that she was, indeed, all right.

“I… did,” she stammered, looking down. She could feel Celeste’s glare at her. “I think it might be best to get home, now.”

“It is rather late,” Edward agreed, reaching out to take Rowena’s arm. He still eyed Celeste and Andrew both skeptically. “Miss Starford, come with me, please?”

Edward sent a scathing look at Andrew. Rowena took her brother’s arm, feeling dangerously guilty as Celeste followed behind them. She looked over her shoulder one last time to see Andrew standing in the dark, watching after them. With a gentle tug on her arm, she faced the ballroom again, clutching Edward’s arm for support.

 “I think I feel faint again,” she whispered, overcome by the realization of what had just happened. She had been nearly ravaged in the gardens of a soiree, just like the heroines in the books she had read. However, instead of a happy ending where the hero proposes and sweeps her away, Rowena was being led back home in shame.

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  • I enjoyed the preview and can’t wait to read the book. I see lots of potential in Daniel and Rowena!

  • So far I have enjoyed reading this, although I feel that Rowena is headed for heartbeat, can’t wait for the rest.

  • I am enjoying the preview & interaction between Rosena & Andrew & can’t wait to read in it’s entirety. Ah . . . the rules of society during this era. Somewhat sad but can also be amusing. Has the headstrong Rowena finally met her match with Andrew – will they survive this contentious relationship & live happily ever after ?

  • This does appear to be an excellent book. So far, grandma is my favorite. Spunky little thing that she is. I can’t wait to see what happens with Edward and Andrew. Rowena has her work cut out for her with him.

  • Very enjoyable privew!
    I think the plot is very interesting.
    Great cover.
    I sure every one will enjoy thus book

  • OMG…this preview has me knawing at the bit. Anxiously looking forward to the development of a relationship between Andrew and Rowena!!!

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