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Authors: Olivia Kelly

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The Lady and the Duke

BOOK: The Lady and the Duke
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The Lady and the Duke
Olivia Kelly
Olivia Kelly (2012)
Rating:
****
Tags:
Romance

Please be advised: This is a novella. Thank you!

Miss Audrey Ellis has failed to catch a wealthy, titled husband in her two London Seasons,and merely wishes to return to her quiet country life, leaving high society behind her for good. But when an unexpected encounter brings the Duke of Halford into her life, she will have to decide if she has the courage to change her prudent, unadventurous plans and reach for something more.

William Langston, the Duke of Halford, wasn't looking for love. He came to Town to track down his sister's blackmailer, hoping to head off a scandal in the making. But the Viscount Claremont is more elusive than the duke was prepared for, and leads him on a chase through society's drawing rooms and balls. Will soon finds himself distracted from his mission by Audrey's fresh beauty and lack of pretension, something scarce in his rarefied world.

The pair are drawn together despite their differences, but as scandal looms and rumors spread, danger is closer than ever before.

 

The Lady

and

the Duke

 

 

 

Olivia Kelly

 

 

 

The Lady and the Duke

Copyright © 2012 by Olivia Kelly

Cover Art by Andris Bear, Jezebel Press

 

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.

For more information about the author:

[email protected]

Oliviakellyauthor.weebly.com

 

 

 

Table of Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Epilogue
 

 

Chapter One

 

Miss Audrey Ellis was in need of a duke.

Not just any duke, but specifically, the Duke of Halford. London society considered him the ultimate catch and was absolutely mad for the man. He was young, handsome, rich, his family had more royal blood running through it than half the Houses in Europe and he possessed a full set of teeth.

He couldn’t be more perfect.

Or—at least that was the rumor.

None of the ladies Audrey knew had actually seen the duke in years. He tended to stay on his sprawling estate in Warwickshire when he wasn't in attendance at Parliament and eschewed most of high society's events when he was in Town. The woman of the
ton
were aflutter with the news that he had arrived just yesterday afternoon in a handsome coach and four, and installed himself in Halford House. The gossip flying through the drawing rooms the next morning had predicted Halford’s attendance at the Massey ball, but so far he had not made an appearance.

Audrey leaned against the wall behind the refreshment table and smothered a sigh. Before they had left home, Mama pulled her aside and given her strict instructions.

"You must remain available this evening. No one knows when the duke will arrive, but I don't want you to become caught up in a quadrille and lose your advantage."

"Mama, we are going to a ball. One generally dances when asked, at such an event. What do you suggest I do?"

"Really, Audrey, use your imagination. I am quite sure you can manage something." With an exasperated shake of her head, she had swept out the front door, leaving Audrey to trail in her wake.

But it seemed the conjecture surrounding the duke's probable choice of entertainment had been incorrect.

Her mother was so sure that if Audrey could just secure a waltz with the man, he would intuitively realize she would make the perfect duchess. No matter that it had not worked on the earls, barons or viscounts she had spent any amount of time with over the past Season and a half. Mama was positive that this time it would work on the Duke of Halford.

Well, Mama needed her eyes opened to the reality that the men of the
ton
did not want Audrey, and she did not want them. When the duke failed to notice her, Audrey would seize her opportunity to press her mother into abandoning the rest of the Season. Perhaps then they could go home to the country. Audrey could find a nice farmer to marry, and have a comfortable passel of rowdy children and dogs.

"What are you doing sulking at the edge of the ballroom, Audrey Ellis?"

Her good friend from the finishing school her mother had insisted upon, Charlotte Patterson, appeared at her side and slipped her arm into Audrey's comfortably.

"I am not sulking. I'm merely...yes, I admit, I was sulking." Audrey grinned, looking down at the slighter girl, whose smooth, rich brown locks were tucked into a lovely chignon—a direct contrast to Audrey's own wild curls. She envied her friend sometimes, for the ease in which the
ton
took her into its collective bosom and for her graceful beauty.

"Why are you not dancing?"

"It's a long story." Audrey was embarrassed to relay it, knowing she shouldn't have bowed under to Mama's silliness in a moment of weakness. Her occasional forays onto the dance were one of the few, rare pleasures of her time in London.

"Shall we walk then?" Charlotte glanced across the ballroom, her gaze focused on a dark-haired man intimately whispering in the ear of a lovely blonde lady. "I find myself quite...restless."

Audrey patted her friend's hand with sympathy. Though she had never admitted it out loud, it was clear that her friend was hopelessly fascinated by her older brother's closest friend, the rakish Earl of Belhaven. Audrey couldn't see that ending well, given the man's reputation.

That was the lesson of envying someone you thought perfect, she supposed. Everyone had their own set of problems.

The pair walked for a time, entertaining one another and trying not to focus on the things that troubled them. But there was only so long Charlotte's numerous suitors would be put off and soon Audrey found herself back at the refreshment table, at a loss to fill her time.

"Pour me some punch, would you?"

Audrey blinked at the sweetly condescending voice coming from her right. She looked over to see Beatrice Lettington, treasured daughter of the Earl of Newington, looking like an angel in white and gold. She gestured toward the punch bowl with her empty cup. Audrey looked at the cup blankly, then back to Beatrice, who gave her a wide smile. Just the sort of smile one imagined a cat would have as it cornered a tasty mouse.

"I thought to give you something to do, Miss Ellis. Since you seem to be at loose ends, that is."

"I..."

The girl tossed her gilded curls over one shoulder and set the cup on the table. "Do you think you're too good to do a friend a favor?"

"Not a
friend
, no." Audrey knew she shouldn't engage Beatrice, but she couldn't ever seem to stop herself. The girl narrowed her pale blue eyes and her smile sharpened.

"I'm trying to help you. Why are you so resistant to my efforts?"

Audrey wanted to push her into the punch bowl. "Help? How is treating me as your servant helpful?"

"Clearly you won't be getting an offer this Season, just as the last. I'm merely attempting to help you accustom yourself to the role of a companion. If you are adept enough, perhaps I could help you secure a position. I believe my grandmother is looking for someone." Beatrice smirked, smoothing her gown over her hips. "Please, do not thank me. I enjoy helping those less fortunate."

Audrey's fingers itched to pick up the ladle, fill it with the fruit laden drink and dribble down the girl's bodice, but she restrained herself. She dipped into a shallow curtsey.

"Once again, Lady Beatrice, you've exceeded my expectations." Before she could say something that could come back to haunt her, Audrey pressed her lips together into a tight smile and walked away. She would be the better person. She would. She would not cause a scene that would embarrass her mother.

Oh, but
she wanted
to cause a scene, one that would rival any scene caused in a London ballroom for decades.

Biting her lip hard to stave off tears of pure frustration, Audrey slipped out of the ballroom and hurried down the corridor to the retiring room. Once safely inside, away from prying eyes, she drew in a deep breath and walked calmly to the small mirror hanging on the opposite wall. Bracing her hands against the small table there, she peered at her reflection, checking to see if her temper showed. The downside of being extremely fair-skinned was that every emotion showed itself, turning her all different shades of pink.

Thankfully there were no ruddy blotches to betray her, but Audrey's overabundance of thick curls was once again threatening to explode from the elegant upsweep her maid had arranged. She gathered the tendrils that resisted all attempts of domination and pinned them back up in sharp, ruthless jabs. Her preference was to the coiled braid she usually wore when tramping around her father's country estate, but Mama said it wasn't elegant enough for Town.

Another corkscrew sprang loose and Audrey gave up.

She turned away, smoothing her gown over her hips, as if the motion could refine her decidedly curvy frame. The pale material was impossible to keep clean and fresh, and the high waist was less than flattering, but she quite liked the way the white of the muslin gave her skin a warm glow. It brought out the underlying gold in her wren-brown hair and the rose in her cheeks.

Audrey gave her skirts another shake, knowing she was merely putting off having to go back out to the assembly and watch the other debutantes dance while holding up her particular piece of the wall—not a completely foreign way for her to spend the evening. Well she refused to cower in the powder room and let that nasty twit Beatrice think she had driven Audrey off.

Dragging the door open, she stepped out and slammed into a hard body.

"Ooof!"

Audrey went one way, her reticule the other. Just before she tumbled backward to the floor in a flurry of skirts, she was saved by the firm grip of two hands around her waist, effortlessly lifting her back onto her feet.

"My apologies. I wasn’t watching where I was going," said a deep voice, as she was released. "Are you well, miss?"

"Yes, thank you," Audrey said distractedly, brushing at her skirt and picking up the reticule at her feet. Spying a small tear along the hem of her dress, she bit back a groan. Lovely. No duke
and
a tear in her new gown.

This night couldn’t end quickly enough.

"It was my fault, I am sure," she said with a sigh, glancing up from her now-bedraggled hem.

Audrey got her first look at the man who had nearly knocked her down. He was quietly attractive, with eyes and hair as brown as hers. Oh, he was not as handsome as the Duke of Halford was rumored to be, but quite nice looking, if one discounted the nose that looked as though it had been broken several times.

Audrey did not mind the nose at all.

She liked the sense of devil-may-care it lent to his countenance, which would have seemed almost too boyish and pleasant without it. His velvety brown eyes twinkled at her bold inspection, crinkling at the outer edges.

One edge of his mouth curled up in a teasing manner. "Do you usually run around knocking gentlemen down?"

"Yes." Audrey smiled back, pleased that he seemed as nice as his appearance suggested. It was a pleasant change from the sharp barbs or unctuous comments offered by most of the so-called gentlemen she knew. "It ever so enlivens an otherwise dull evening."

He chuckled and offered his arm. After a moment of inner debate, Audrey mentally shrugged and took it. After all, the evening was a total loss. She might as well steal a few moments of enjoyment for herself, before Mama hunted her down and lectured her on her failure to move another step closer to matrimony.

BOOK: The Lady and the Duke
5.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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