The Duke's Bride: Book 5 (The Clearbrooks), страница 1
The Duke’s Bride
Book 5, The Clearbrooks
The Duke’s Bride
Copyright © Teresa McCarthy, 2014
All rights reserved
Ebook, July, 2014, Teresa McCarthy
Cover Art, LFD Designs For Authors
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, copied, or transmitted without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Connect with Author
England - 1815
The day had started out quite promising until he had come along.
Garbed in a black velvet cloak, Miss Jane Greenwell who had just turned nineteen, leaned against a tent pole, her lips twisting into a pleased smile as she gazed at her aunt. Miss Agatha Appleby's pink-and-white-striped bonnet bobbed up and down as the older lady took a seat on a small barrel of ale located inside one of the vendors' tents.
They were at a country fair near Agatha’s home of Hemmingly Hall where jugglers, musicians, flame throwers, and bakers sold their wares. Smells of meat pies drifted to Jane’s nostrils, making her smile widen.
She pushed back a stray tendril of blond hair and watched in delight as Agatha unbuttoned her matching cloak, grabbed the mug beside her, and bent down, siphoning a bit of the brew to replace what she had already drunk. The older lady was a little round in places and had some trouble moving, but her brain was as sharp as a pin.
"I daresay, Jane"—the lady picked up a steaming meat pie with her free hand and took a bite—"is this not the most delightful pie you have ever had?"
"You say those exact words about every meat pie, Aunt Agatha. I recall when my parents brought me to my last fair. I will never forget the sweet scent of hot cross buns."
A sad look crossed Jane’s face when she thought about her parents’ death five years ago. She had loved them, but because the couple had lived in a marriage of convenience, the strain had taken a toll on Jane.
Even though she seemed poised and self-assured, inwardly, Jane knew she struggled with self-confidence.
Her guardian, Jared, now the Earl of Stonebridge, who was also her father’s cousin, had been living in India the past few years. So, it had been Aunt Agatha who had taken care of her like a mother after her parents had died, giving Jane the security and love she desperately needed.
Jane loved the lady. But Agatha did have her quirks, and that dreaded parasol of hers was not to be overlooked when she was angry.
“Speaking of food,” Jane said, looking about. “Emily must be famished.”
Jane’s friend, Lady Emily, was the daughter of a duke, and had wandered off with Jared to see the fair.
“Fustian, child. The girl is fine.” Agatha took another bite of her meat pie. "Believe me, those two children need to work out their differences."
Jane pushed off the pole and laughed. "I would not call Cousin Jared a child."
Agatha slowly raised her head, her eyebrows lifting suggestively. "And neither is our Emily, dear.”
Jane’s eyes went wide. Curiosity filled her as she asked more questions. However, minutes later, she began to frown when more people gathered near the tent, and the noisy display of vendors grew louder, overpowering their conversation.
Agatha pointed to the other side of the street near the stables. "Come, Jane. Over there. There will be less noise."
Jane grabbed the rest of the meat pies on the barrel and followed the older lady's lead across the graveled thoroughfare.
Agatha's black parasol crunched against the stones as she walked. “We will be heading to Town for the Season soon.”
Jane stood as the elder lady took a seat on a small wooden bench outside the stables. "The duchess did say Emily could stay with us in London, did she not?" Jane asked, knowing that Emily’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Elbourne, had also experienced a marriage of convenience. Emily’s father, the late duke, had never loved the charming lady and Society knew it.
“No,” Agatha replied. “Not precisely, my dear. It is her brother whom we will have to ask. On that point, I am not certain if Emily will be allowed to go with us at all."
Jane frowned, taking a seat beside Agatha. "And pray, why not? What reason would this brother of hers have to deny Emily the Season?"
"Her brother, the duke, my dear, is a very powerful man, and it seems that our Emily is the catch of the Season with her inheritance and her dowry. Her brothers have grand plans to find her a respectable husband of the ton, and believe it or not, while they are in the process of this grand feat, I do believe your guardian has been appointed Emily's protector without the lady the wiser."
"Her protector?" Jane shrieked. "You mean to say her brothers have hired Cousin Jared to watch over Emily?" Jane suddenly laughed. "Goodness, Emily will be quite vexed when she uncovers the harebrained plot."
"Quite so, Jane. Quite so." The crowd was becoming more boisterous by the second, and Agatha frowned. "I am having the London townhouse refurbished, so we will be staying elsewhere, I fear. I will have to rent a house."
Jane folded her hands across her lap. "Emily's brothers must have many eligible friends for her to choose from, so perhaps it will be an interesting Season.”
Jane also knew that Emily’s four brothers were quite the catch of the Season. Not that she was interested.
Agatha sighed. "I fear you did not comprehend my meaning, dear. Emily will not be choosing her husband. Her brothers have that honor."
"Her brothers?" Jane's face grew pale. "But they cannot do that. Emily should make the choice of her husband."
"Nevertheless, it seems her brothers have decided to protect her from a host of greedy suitors by choosing for her. That is the sole reason she was allowed to come to Hemmingly. It seems her suitors have gone so far as to hunt her down at Elbourne Hall."
Agatha looked suspiciously around. "And I tell you this, with the utmost confidence, Jane." She lowered her voice. "I have it straight from the duchess that one of Emily's suitors was found breaking into her bedchambers . . . through her window."
Jane clapped her hands together and bubbled with laughter. "How very romantic."
"Not when Emily's four brothers took the intruder by surprise and the gentleman in question fainted at the poor girl's feet."
"No?" Jane gasped in horror.
Agatha nodded. "Yes, indeed, my dear. So, I implore you not to bother that pretty mind of yours in defending poor Emily against
Jane's chin lifted in defiance. "Goodness, you of all people should know that I am not afraid of four men. We must help Emily this Season. It is our Christian duty. I will die before I let her brothers assign her to prison the rest of her life."
"Oh, Jane," Agatha sighed. "I fear it may be hopeless. You do not know the duke."
"It is not hopeless. I believe with Emily's help, we can forge a great alliance." Jane continued talking, but Agatha was not listening. She immediately stood, her wary gaze falling on a black glossy carriage parked on the outskirts of the village.
"What is it?" Jane asked, rising from her seat.
"My word, this is most untimely. Most untimely, indeed." The carriage door opened and Agatha grabbed her parasol. "Who would have thought he would show up today of all days? He must have stopped at Hemmingly. No doubt he accompanied the duchess, and she is settling in at Hemmingly as we speak."
Jane's eyes darted down the street, her eyes fixing on the black coach and four. "Who?"
"Goodness, Jane. That is the Duke of Elbourne's crest. I believe its owner has come to call."
Jane's eyes constricted into two slits of rage. "You mean the knave who is treating our dear Emily as if this were the Middle Ages and she were mere chattel?"
"Hold your tongue, my girl."
A tall, broad-shouldered gentleman, dressed in a well-fitted blue jacket, dark brown pantaloons, and a pair of freshly polished Hessians, strode in their direction.
"That is no ordinary gentleman, Jane. He must not be agitated on Emily's behalf. There are other ways around situations such as these."
Jane's lips thinned. "Indeed there are."
Agatha welcomed the duke and made the introductions. "Miss Greenwell, His Grace, the Duke of Elbourne, Emily’s brother."
Jane glanced up, put out her white-gloved hand, and gave the man a smile that would melt the most unyielding of kings.
The handsome duke inclined his dark head, grinned, and took her hand, bringing it to within an inch of his lips. "Delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Greenwell."
Jane was not a vain lady, but she knew her blue eyes and dark lashes were some of her better features, and she batted her eyelids like butterfly wings, sending the duke's eyebrows arching with interest as she pulled her hand back to her side.
"Delighted?" Jane gave him her sweetest, most innocent smile. "I fear I cannot say the same, Your Grace, since you are the odious barbarian who is to put our dear Emily into prison."
Roderick stared into those mesmerizing blue eyes and wanted to laugh. Why, the girl was enchanting. So, this was his sister’s good friend. Miss Jane Greenwell was barely out of the schoolroom, but as he looked around, he could see that many male eyes were upon her. She was delightful, especially with that haughty expression flashing over her creamy complexion.
His pulse quickened as he raised his right brow and glowered at the young lady. He was a duke, after all, and though he thought Miss Greenwell quite spirited, he would glare her into submission as he did most women. That is, most women, except his mother and his sister Emily, who would most decidedly shoot him down when they felt he needed it.
"Why, pray tell,” he said in his most stately tone, “would I want to put my sister in prison, my dear lady?"
Miss Greenwell folded her arms across her velvet cloak and had the audacity to glare at him. Devil take it, the girl had no qualms about setting his back up at all. He stood as stiff as a statue, but he had to admit, it was all rather refreshing. His eyes moved over her with a decided look, and instead of setting her down, he felt the air crackle about them like lightning in a storm.
"You, Your Grace, are a monster."
Miss Appleby gave the girl a nervous smile. "My, my, Your Grace, I had no idea you were coming to visit today. Lady Emily is taking in the jugglers over there." She pointed her parasol in the direction of the riotous crowd.
Roderick shifted his interested gaze from Miss Greenwell to the mob. He muttered an oath, his eyes simmering with anger. "Do not tell me that Emily is in that gathering of whooping men?"
Agatha frowned as she took in the frenzied movement of the crowd. "I assure you, it was not like that minutes ago. Jared is with her."
"She might have been better off with Fennington," he said, growling.
"Now, now," Agatha called, scurrying behind him as he strode toward the melee. "I assure you, Emily is in good hands."
Roderick stopped and turned on his heels, his jaw taut. "Good hands?"
Miss Appleby frowned. "A poor choice of words perhaps."
The mad roar of the panicking crowd stopped Roderick from saying any more. His stomach turned when he saw the billowing smoke.
"Fire!" Miss Greenwell screamed.
"Move!" Roderick grabbed both ladies by their elbows.
"But Emily's in there somewhere," the younger lady said in horror as Roderick hauled her across the street toward his carriage. Confound it! The girl was dragging her feet. Gravel and dirt kicked up in their wake.
"You have no need to worry about your sister," Agatha protested with a frown as Roderick lifted the older lady and placed her inside his carriage. "I am certain Jared is with her. He would never leave her."
"Certain is not good enough, Agatha," he growled, feeling his heart thumping against his chest. He had seen fire on the battlefield. It wasn’t pretty. "She may be killed in that hellish bedlam."
"What about my carriage and my footmen?" the older lady asked, clearly shaken by the strange turn of events.
"Leave them to me," he said quickly, and spun around to help Miss Greenwell into his carriage.
But to his shock, the lady had disappeared. His keen gaze darted about the street, and he cursed. The harebrained female was hastily running back toward the frenzied crowd, her velvet cloak billowing like a flag to be burned.
"Get back here, woman!"
Miss Greenwell glanced over her shoulder, her head lifted in haughty disdain. "Do not dictate to me, Your Grace. Pray, I will find Emily faster than you can give an order."
Roderick's shoulders strained against his jacket as he started for her. Anger surged through his blood. No one dared go against his wishes, especially when there was danger afoot. The lady was a deuced nuisance!
In six quick strides, he grabbed her waist and hauled her back to his carriage. Ranting and raving, the lady let out a gasp of surprise when she was dislodged onto the floorboard of his carriage with a gigantic thud.
"I beg your pardon!" she uttered, pushing herself back up on her elbows.
His hard gaze glittered down at her. But silently, he thought she had fit quite nicely in his arms.
Roderick felt captivated by her flushed face. Her beguiling blue eyes. Her jutting chin. His heart all but stopped at the stunning sight of those delicate blond tendrils falling over her forehead like some angel that had tumbled from heaven. He drew in a ragged breath. Dash it all. He had no time for romance now. His sister was in trouble.
He gathered his emotions and glanced over the lady with an indolent eye. By Jove, no woman had ever stolen his heart the way this one had at first sight.
"You may beg my pardon another time, Miss Greenwell. Another time, indeed.” He gave her no time to respond as he clapped the door closed and yelled to the driver, "Get a move on, man!"
Three hours later, Jane sat in the drawing room of Hemmingly Hall, barely paying attention to her needlepoint as she worried over Lady Emily, who had been trampled by the mob during the fire. Her friend was resting, but the entire house had been in an uproar since the lady had been carried into the house, limp and soot-covered.
“I believe she will be fine, Agatha. It was not your fault at all.”
Jane’s gaze traveled toward the hall where Emily’s mother was whispering to Agatha. The dowager duchess was quite young looking, even with the touch
Jane swallowed hard as she turned back to her needlepoint. A convenient marriage seemed nothing but heartache. She would marry for love. Her husband would have one woman, one lover, one mother of his children and that would be his wife whom he would love with all his heart.
A few seconds later, Agatha departed. Her retreating footsteps mingled with the approach of hard heels clapping against the marbled floor.
Out of the corner of her eye, Jane watched as the dowager duchess lifted her head. “Ah, Roderick, did you have a tray sent to your chambers? You must eat, you know.”
Jane caught her breath when the duke appeared beside his mother. In the candlelight, the man’s blue-black hair gleamed above a straight nose and firm lips. Broad muscular shoulders stretched across a neat blue jacket, giving the impression of a very powerful man in more ways than one. His tall form hovered over his mother in a protective stance, as if he were ready to catch her if she fell. But from what Jane had seen, the lady had turned into a tigress the minute Emily had been brought into the house.
Roderick laughed at his mother’s comment, making Jane’s heart skip a beat. “Mama, I do not believe you should be worrying about me having something to eat. It is you I worry about. And Emily.”
Jane could not look away when his mother took his large hand in her smaller one. “Oh, Roderick,” the lady replied, her voice cracking. “I am so glad you are here.”
The tall man kissed his mother’s forehead and gathered her against his chest. “Depend upon it, Mama. I will be here whenever you need me. Now, have you had your supper?”
The lady looked up and bit her lip. “Well…”
Roderick turned her gently toward the dining room. “There is a sideboard of cheese and meats waiting for you. Have a glass of wine to soothe your nerves, as well. You’ve had a long and tiring day. Emily would want you to keep up your strength.”
His mother smiled, took his advice, and disappeared down the hall.