Taming a Duke's Wild Rose: Taming the Heart Series Book 2, страница 1
TAMING A DUKE’S WILD ROSE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2016 Tammy Andresen
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Tammy Andresen
Lily in Bloom Series
Seeds of Love
Lily in Bloom
Taming a Duke’s Reckless Heart
Taming a Lady Wolfe
Fairfield Fairy Tales
Stealing a Lady’s Heart
The Golden Rules of Love
To my readers, I can’t begin to thank you for reading my books.
TAMING A DUKE’S WILD ROSE
Norfolk England, Autumn of 1854
Lady Rose Evelyn Wentworth sat by the river that flanked her father’s country estate. She had been coming here for as long as she could remember. Sometimes she would read. Other times, her mind would wander. As a child, she had spent many hours daydreaming in this very spot about the brave soldier who rescued her from some dastardly fiend. If she had a dilemma she couldn’t solve, this was the place she would visit.
She bit her lip. It didn’t matter how long she sat on this bank, Rose doubted any solution would come to mind. Her father had seen to that. Turning back, she watched her two guards stare blankly ahead. She knew better than to let their expressions fool her. They were watching her every move. If she tried to run, they would surely catch her.
Lady Rose was the only daughter of Lord Essex, Seventh Earl of Essex. As his only child, it was her duty to marry well and increase the family’s standings, both financially and aristocratically. Leastwise, that is what he had told her over and over again.
And so, he had arranged a marriage for her that he found incredibly satisfactory. In one month’s time, she was to marry His Grace, the Eleventh Duke of Wellington.
Rose shivered despite the summer heat. His Grace was a recluse, who was said to be disfigured. He had a sharp mind for business. Her father said he was wealthy beyond her imagination. His scars were not that bad, her father claimed.
No one knew how he had gotten them. Though everyone liked to speculate. War wounds and bar brawls were popular stories among the ton.
Rose could not care less how he had gotten them. She just didn’t want to marry those scars or the man who bore them.
Her heart was set on another man, Mr. Carl Lundberg, a true war hero who was handsome and dashing. Sighing, she conjured his image. They had tried to run away, but her father had caught her. Now she was trapped with two bodyguards and an impending wedding.
Her father said she was a rash fool but she paid him no mind. She also tried to ignore him when he said she had declared herself in love two other times before Carl. Or when he said that Carl was exactly like the others. “He’s a handsome empty headed imbecile. You will do better with a man who will ground your wayward tendencies.”
She huffed her breath at the thought of it.
“What troubles you so, my lady?” a voice called from the shade of the trees. While the sun still warmed her skin, the first autumn colors were beginning to emerge.
Turning her head slightly, she attempted to see who spoke. She couldn’t see his face. He stood in the shadows. She could see that he was quite tall and very broad. She sat a little straighter, eyeing her ever present guards. Why were they letting this stranger address her?
Her two chaperones were equally engaged as they giggled to each other further down the river, their heads bent in conversation. Useless pieces of fluff, she thought to herself.
“My troubles are the plight of women and unlikely to be very concerning to you.” Rose sniffed delicately looking back at the water.
She heard him give a small chuckle. “Perhaps you should try me.” His voice was deep and rich. It mattered not to Rose, she was already in love. But somehow she couldn’t help but note it.
“Forgive me, sir, but I do not know you.” She stood and her guards took a step forward.
“Of course, my name is Alexander Cross. A pleasure, Lady Rose. And may I say, you have far more sense than your father gives you credit for.”
Surprise jolted through her. Apparently she wasn’t nearly as strange to him as he to her. “You must be acquainted with him. He tells everyone he knows that I have no sense.” Rose stepped closer to the man. With an intensity she didn’t quite understand, she longed to see his face but it was still shadowed.
“He also spoke of your beauty and your intellect.”
A tinge of pink stained her cheeks and a smile of pleasure touched her lips. “You are most certainly making that bit up. He hasn’t said a kind word about me since the age of thirteen.”
“What happened when you were thirteen?” His voice was softer than it had been before and it pulled at her like an invisible force.
She took another step closer. “I met the first boy I thought was handsome and dashing.”
He laughed again. “Well, that would send a father into a tizzy. And why do you think he no longer holds you in his esteem?”
“Hmmm… I am headstrong, fickle, rash, and one mustn’t forget disobedient.”
“Do you get any points for honesty?” His voice rolled over her and his broad shoulders shook as he laughed.
“One would think, but I seriously doubt it. How do you know my father, Mr. Cross?” Her guard still had not moved and she could only assume that they knew who she was talking to or that they thought she had gone daft. She took another step closer. His chiseled jaw came into focus. Her curiosity intensified.
“We have intimate business relations.” He cleared his throat.
Her eyebrows lifted as she perched her hand on one of her hips. It was an elusive answer. “I have been very honest with you, Mr. Cross.”
“You have me there, but a woman always prefers a man who is a mystery.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
She took yet another step in his direction and then cocked her head to the side. “Am I supposed to prefer you, Mr. Cross? I find it unlikely as my father has already chosen a husband for me.”
“And how do you feel about your father choosing a husband for you?” Rarely was Rose asked such a question. It both put her at ease with this man but gave her the vague sense she was slowly being drawn into a web. She wanted to get closer but it seemed dangerous to do so. The hair on her arms lifted as a slight chill ran down her back.
“What I want matters not. It is my duty to do as I am told. In case I forget my duty, these two lovely gentlemen are here to remind me.” She gestured toward the guards.
“It seems excessive for such a delicate woman to have such men standing guard.”
“Well, now we are back to the part where I am rash and disobedient.” She took another half step toward him until his piercing eyes and full lips came into view. A little flutter rose in her stomach. He was right, mystery was exciting. Especially when it involved a tall, dark, and handsome man.
“It has been a pleasure, my lady. I would love to stay and chat longer but I have business with your f
Rose moved just a bit closer. He turned his head to the right and his profile came into view. Rich chocolate brown hair curled at his neck and around his ear.
“Are you staying for dinner, Mr. Cross?”
“Yes, I believe I am.”
“Well then, I am certain I will see you tonight.” She took one more step in his direction. Despite being close enough to touch him, she was still in the sun while he was in the shade, and his features became even less distinguishable, but Rose caught a hint of his scent. He smelled of pine, horse, and leather. It was masculine and rich, making her itch to get closer and investigate his heady aroma further. Had she ever noted a man’s scent before?
“May I ask you one more question, my lady?”
Her eyebrows rose again. “I have told you all about myself and you have shared nothing. It hardly seems fair for me to answer another question.”
The corner of his mouth that she could see turned up into a smile. “No wonder you have left a string of broken hearts. Smart, charming, and beautiful.”
“You flatter me, sir, but I can assure you the only broken heart is mine. Nor will I grant you any more answers. If you would like information, you will have to tell me something of yourself.”
“I do not flatter you, I speak the truth. I will most certainly share something of myself but regretfully, I must go. Perhaps, we can continue this conversation another time?”
“Of course,” she answered.
“Good day.” He turned away from her and mounted his horse. While it would have been easier for him to come into the sun and follow the river, he rode his horse into the trees remaining in the shade. She wished desperately to see the rest of his face.
Rose shook her head. He had intrigued her when most bored her to tears. Not even Carl had piqued her interest quite so much and her soldier talked of little else other than his bravery on the battlefield. Hopefully, her curiosity would soon be satisfied and she would learn more about the mysterious Mr. Cross.
Alexander Cross trotted slowly up to the Earl’s manor. He was in no rush now that he was almost here. His eyes closed for a second as he pictured Lady Rose. She was even more beautiful than he could have imagined.
Blond hair and luminous blue eyes topped full lips and perfect features. Her skin was a flawless shade of cream with pale pink lips. Gentle curves had swayed perfectly as she had approached him. A small smile resting lightly on her lips as she bantered playfully with him. By God, she was stunning.
The real challenge would be keeping her attention. Even the bonds of marriage wouldn’t secure her feelings. If a man was going to make Lady Rose his, he would have to do it in a way that completely captured her heart. Her father had been honest about her past. She fell easily in love and then lost interest after a time.
Sighing, he raked his hand through his hair. Fickleness was Lady Rose’s single thorn in her otherwise flawless beauty. Unfortunately it was also the most painful one for him personally. At another time in his life, he may have dismissed it confidently, assured that he could keep her attention. But now? Too much had happened to him to be secure in his own ability to hold her attention.
He dismounted from his steed and handed the reins to a stable boy. As he started up the steps to Essex’s country estate, he barely took in the scene. His mind filled with thoughts of Rose.
Her father stepped out onto the steps to greet him. “Your Grace,” he addressed Alex.
“Wonderful to see you again, Lord Essex.” He reached for the other man’s hand.
“Was Rose where I said she would be?”
“Indeed she was.” Alex kept his face neutral. For many reasons, it was best her father not see how much of an impact Rose had had on his senses. That mattered little. What he needed most was a wife to bear him an heir and be content in his home with him.
“She is all you said she would be.”
“That is like saying nothing at all, Your Grace,” her father grumbled. “May we continue our negotiations?”
“Indeed.” Alex gave a strained smile. The action still pulled at his scarred skin but he paid it no mind. Instead, visions of Rose played in his thoughts. Could she ever be trusted enough to be his wife?
TAMING A DUKE’S WILD ROSE
Her father and Mr. Cross had been locked her father’s study for hours. Rose attempted to read in the library but her eyes kept wandering to the door.
It was ridiculous to be so intent on this man. She was engaged to one fellow and in love with another. Why had he even stopped and talked with her?
Rose sighed and tossed her book aside. She stood and paced over to the window, trying to clear her head. A figure was skulking across the lawn. Her eyes widened. It was Carl.
She glanced at her guards. One had fallen asleep in his chair. Another looked lost in a book. Before either could notice, she slipped out of the room and down the hall. She gave the study door a quick glance as she passed by. Heading to the back of the house, Rose quickly crept down the back staircase.
Passing by the kitchen, she glanced about to see if anyone noticed her and headed for the service door. She checked behind her one more time and then slipped out the door, closing it softly behind her.
Turning back towards the yard, she started with fright, finding Carl was already next to her. His pale blue eyes crinkled at the corners. He was tall but it occurred to her that his shoulders were not nearly as broad as Mr. Cross’s.
He wrapped his lean arms around her. “My love.” His lips sought hers. She turned her face to the side and his lips landed on her cheek.
She was embarrassed to admit that she had never let him, or any man for that matter, kiss her before. Many of the ladies she knew regularly collected stolen kisses in the garden or the study but she had always resisted. The few times she had really wanted to, her father had managed to foil her plans.
She didn’t quite know why she hesitated now, but she wasn’t ready to give that piece of herself to Carl.
His lips kept kissing closer to her mouth until they reached the corner of her lips. An unpleasant shiver snaked down her spine, surprising her. She stiffened and pulled away. “Carl, we can’t do this. I am to be married―“
“I don’t want to hear that, Rose. We love each other. You told me so. You’ll marry me; I won’t let you marry anyone else. I told your father the same thing when he made his offer.”
Rose grimaced. The offer. The words left a bitter taste in her mouth. It was no secret that Rose was an heiress. Her father was convinced that each of her suitors was more interested in her money than her other attributes. She denied this each time and so her father had devised a test. Offer her suitor a wealthy sum to disappear. Her other two suitors had taken the offer with a look back. Only Carl had stayed. It meant something to her that he had. “I know you did. I am so grateful. I--”
“Tell me what you need me to do. I would do anything for you, anything.” He looked at her meaningfully.
Rose was dumbfounded. She didn’t even know what it was she could possibly ask of him. “I don’t… there isn’t…”
“If your father continues to stand in the way, we might have to take drastic measures.” His eyes pierced into hers and Rose tried to take another step back. Her hands, which had been around his neck, moved down to his chest as she tried to push away. Though she did not understand his exact intent, something in the offer was dangerous, sinister even.
His arms tightened around her. “Our feelings can’t be denied.” He lowered his head again.
Rose suddenly felt trapped but before she could protest, the door flew open.
She turned her head as both her guards stalked out of the door. They looked angry, not that they ever looked pleasant. She stepped away from Carl. “Mr. Lundberg was just leaving.”
He scowled at her then h
Actually, the entire conversation had been odd. What had he meant about doing anything for her? Or that they might have to take drastic measures against her father? She shivered again. It made her think she didn’t really know Carl at all.
One of her guards grumbled, “Back inside.”
Rose sighed to herself and stepped back through the door moving up the stairs with the guards close behind her. Her slippers tapped down the hall but even at this distance, she could see that her father’s study was now open.
A flutter rose in her chest. She peeked her head in as she walked by. Her father sat alone at his desk. “Papa?”
“What was Mr. Lundberg doing here?” His clipped voice grated her ears. Wasn’t it obvious? He wanted to see her. But she didn’t say it. Their odd conversation had her on edge. As did the arrival of Mr. Cross.
“I’m not exactly certain.” She entered the room. Normally she would have run from this conversation but she was suddenly confused. While her father found her maddening, he also loved her dearly. When she was uncertain, she relied on him.
He glowered at her. “Mr. Cross and I both saw him attempt to kiss you.”
Her cheeks filled with heat. “Then you must have seen that I didn’t let him.” She bit her lip. Uncertain of what was happening to her.
“I am curious to know why you didn’t.”
She shrugged. She wasn’t ready to articulate her feelings about Carl. “I am supposed to marry another man. One you have chosen for me.”
“I know you better than you think though, Rose. I would never choose a man you didn’t like.”
Her head dropped into her hand. “That is the problem, Papa. You chose him. Not me. Can’t you see that this is the most important decision of my life? Most women are given at least some choice.”