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Authors: Teresa McCarthy

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Teen & Young Adult, #Historical Romance, #Inspirational

The Duke's Bride

BOOK: The Duke's Bride
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The Duke’s Bride

Book 5, The Clearbrooks

 

 

By

 

Teresa McCarthy

 

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.

 

 

Chapter One

England - 1815

T
he 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 her
four brothers. They are powerful men, set and determined to find Emily a
husband. Depend upon it, child, very few can undermine any plans those four
gentlemen set out to do."

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!"

BOOK: The Duke's Bride
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