Read an Excerpt
The Duke's Obsession
By Frances Fowlkes, Robin Haseltine and Gwen Hayes
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Frances Fowlkes
All rights reserved.
The number ten had a soothing quality. Ten being, after all, the most perfect number, the basis not only of the entire decimal system, but also, according to Pythagoras, the whole of human knowledge. Simply counting to the number brought a sense of clarity and calm to Daphne Farrington's nerves. And given that her brother was about to make the biggest mistake of his thirty-five years, counting to the numeral seemed the most effective way to collect all the serenity she could muster.
Alas, Daphne hadn't quite made it to ten before barreling through the weathered door of the solicitor's office. And having stopped at six, the number associated with sin and imperfection, it seemed inevitable that temper, not tranquility, would have its day.
"Thomas. You haven't agreed to Mr. Burnham's offer yet, have you? His profit is double Father's. Did you not read through the figures in the agreement he prepared?"
Her brother stood against a cracked plaster wall, his bottom jaw dropping, a painfully familiar look of embarrassment and frustration flitting across his rugged face.
"Daphne!" His blue eyes, so similar to hers, rolled to stare at the chipped and crumbling ceiling. "Now is not the time."
"I did the figures twice, Thomas. Mr. Burnham is attempting to cheat us out of our portion of the profits. I have the calculations to prove it." She reached into her reticule and pulled out a small piece of foolscap, her eyes narrowing as she glanced toward Burnham and his wiry gray sideburns.
Thomas snatched the paper out of her hands, his expression revealing not the gratitude she had expected, but annoyance.
"We will discuss this later. I'm in the middle of a private meeting." He nodded toward two men who'd bolted to their feet beside tattered and ancient-looking chairs, both of whom stared at her with open curiosity.
Of course she had known the cheat Burnham would be in attendance, given that this was his office and the tampered documents bore his name. She had seen the man on two separate occasions since her arrival to this horrid country. But the other man who stood, his mouth curved into a crooked smile, was unfamiliar, and looked out of place in the dank and musty-smelling room. She would have believed him Burnham's associate had not his garments more closely resembled those of her brother than the outdated vest and fraying cuffs Burnham sported. In a rich brown velvet-trimmed jacket and tailored breeches neatly tapering into polished leather boots, the stranger looked every bit the gentleman, making his presence in Mr. Burnham's grimy business office even more curious.
Had she been in her father's sprawling Boston library, a scene such as this would be commonplace. One of Boston's wealthiest residents, her father always dressed as a gentleman, and so did his clients. But in this hedonistic country, only tradesmen and merchants were willing to negotiate with an American. The elite of society had no interest in foreign trade, especially when dealing with their all-too-recent adversaries and victors of the past two wars.
The man touched an elegant finger to the sapphire winking among the folds of his lacy cravat. "Will you provide an introduction, Mr. Farrington? I believe I am unacquainted with your ...?" The man paused, his blond eyebrows raised as he stared expectantly at her brother.
Daphne had no wish to be introduced to the man, well-dressed or not. She couldn't even look at a single Englishman without envisioning he was the captain of the Seraphina, dragging her brother off his ship, whipping and starving him until he perished. Never mind that his perusal of her person made her pulse quicken and her blood hum. He was the quintessential vision of English manhood: arrogant, lofty, and annoyingly superior. "Introductions won't be necessary, sir. Thomas, if you're satisfied with my figures, I'm sure we'll both be leaving ..."
Her brother pinched the bridge of his nose before sweeping his arm in her direction. "Forgive me, Your Grace. Allow me to introduce my sister, Miss Farrington. Daphne, His Grace, the Duke of Waverly."
"A pleasure, Miss Farrington." The duke's dark blue eyes watched her, no doubt waiting for her to give the expected deferential curtsy. Instead, she quieted the rapid pounding of her heart and gave the duke a tight-lipped smile. "It would be a pleasure, Your Grace, if my family was not about to be cheated by Mr. Burnham." She brushed past the duke, his eyes wide with what she hoped to be disbelief, and stood in front of the sniveling cheat of a man.
"What have you to say for yourself, Mr. Burnham? Do you acknowledge your attempt to steal from the Farrington Line?"
"Daphne!" Thomas exclaimed, his face now a deep shade of scarlet. Her brother's warm hand wrapped around her upper arm and pulled her toward him. "Where is your chaperone?"
If Daphne's suspicions were correct, her aunt Susan, who acted as a chaperone to both her and her trio of giggling female cousins, was hopefully engaged in conversation with the Countess of Dewbury — and not speculating over Daphne's alleged and suspiciously well-timed headache.
Daphne had meant no harm in her deception. She merely wished to take advantage of her aunt's and cousins' distraction to visit the river — and her father's stocked and Boston-bound ship due to depart in less than twenty-four hours.
"Thomas," she pleaded. "The calculations ..."
Rarely did her brother lose his composure; success in his business dealings depended on his patience and even temper. But on the rare occasion that he did, a large vein bulged on the left side of his temple, much like it was now.
"Gentlemen," Thomas began, his voice hiding the rage Daphne knew lurked behind it, "I apologize for this interruption. My sister is both young and unacquainted with the particulars of British decorum."
"British?" Mr. Burnham sneered. Pushing back his narrow shoulders, he squinted at Daphne with bloodshot eyes. "I daresay the girl lacks any regard for propriety, be she in England or in the colonies." Turning toward the duke, he added, "Now do you see why I advised against negotiations with Americans?"
"You did advise to proceed with caution," the duke agreed, giving Daphne a speculative glance.
"Is Mr. Burnham in your employ, Your Grace?" she asked, curious to know why a duke, of all people, would associate with the likes of Burnham. The pairing was odd, given the duke's social standing.
The duke's perfectly arched brow had gone skyward again.
His Grace appeared amused. If there was one thing Daphne detested more than an English duke, it was an English duke amused at her expense.
His Grace arranged the fall of white lace over his right wrist, his movement the languid indulgence of a man savvy enough to dither in the midst of a negotiation. "Indeed he is, Miss Farrington. While I am responsible for funding this investment, Mr. Burnham most graciously agreed to arrange the transaction."
"You wish to make money, Your Grace?" Why would a duke, a duke for heaven's sake, sully his name with trade?
"Why, yes," he said, smiling. "Should I not be interested in such an endeavor?"
Tall and lean, the duke stood a head above her brother, a giant compared to most of the men of her acquaintance. If one preferred a sharp jaw and unusually full lips, one might even consider the duke handsome.
"Even given my limited acquaintance with members of the ton, Your Grace, I know that few would seek to invest in merchant vessels. Are you certain you are, indeed, a duke?"
"Daphne," her brother scolded again, albeit more severely this time. The duke chuckled, her heart fluttering at the sound of his merriment. She hadn't known dukes were capable of mirth in any regard, and his chuckle was ... nice. Drat the man.
"My actions are nothing less than honorable and entirely sincere, Miss Farrington. I can assure you that my title is valid, and one easily verified by DeBrett's. As for my interest in investments and trade, I'm an opportunist."
He said this confidently, as if he knew full well she and most of her compatriots saw opportunism as a virtue.
"And is the chance for earning money through trade worth the tarnish to your reputation?"
He looked like he enjoyed Daphne's challenge. "Tarnish adds character, something I'm afraid too many of my peers lack."
She gave the man an appraising glance. "But why entangle yourself with mere merchants, when most of your equals would rather avoid us?"
Thomas, and even Burnham, now stared at the duke, their breath bated, awaiting his answer.
"I am not like most of my equals."
Wasn't he? In appearance, while taller than most, he bore the physical traits of a typical Englishman, his blond hair and blue eyes like most of the men she had seen since arriving in this wretched city. But his interest in foreign trade, in something other than landed interests, led her to believe that quite possibly, the duke was not as she first believed him to be. She might even be impressed, except for the simple fact that he was an Englishman.
Not that her opinion of him mattered. How had she even allowed herself to woolgather over what sort of man the duke may or may not be? He was in partnership with Burnham, a man whose character was in question. Was the duke attempting to cheat her father as well?
"Then what have you to say concerning the ridiculous offer Mr. Burnham put forth? Do you agree to the absurd amount of seventy percent profits in your shares as written by Mr. Burnham in his proposed contract?" she asked, her arms crossing in front of her.
"I say," he replied, his eyes falling first on Thomas and then on his associate, "that Mr. Burnham has done nothing but look after my interests. Should I not be recompensed for the use of my name?"
"But he is cheating us, sir," Daphne exclaimed. "Mr. Burnham has changed the terms in our contract from those previously agreed upon. I can only assume that you are knowledgeable of his behavior."
A flicker of annoyance passed over his face. "I'm afraid I am unaware of Mr. Burnham's suspect dealings, Miss Farrington. Are you able to produce proof of his alleged deception?"
"Her accusations are based on truth, Your Grace," her brother cut in, handing the contract to the duke. "On page seven, you will see where Burnham added the seventy percent share in your favor. Thirty percent higher than the forty percent to which Mr. Burnham originally agreed. I found the change last night." Her brother glanced at her, a look of reproof on his face. "I had hopes of discussing this with you and Mr. Burnham this afternoon. I feared that perhaps I had misread the item or miscalculated the dealing."
Her brother knew of Burnham's deceit but had not come to her first? A wash of anger swept over her as she glared into Thomas's disapproving eyes. He'd always treated her as an equal in their father's business, utilizing her skill with numbers to balance budgets and track revenue, to ensure outgoing expenditures were never more than incoming gain.
But that had been before they had boarded the vessel to England. Before they had crossed the ocean not only to repair family relations, but to recapture investors lost to war and embargoes. And certainly before their father had reminded her brother that the rules of business on this side of the Atlantic precluded the participation of the fairer sex.
It was, therefore, incumbent on her to remind Thomas how important her participation in this venture was, despite Father's admonition.
"A title hardly excuses greed, Thomas." She glanced at the duke with his head bent over the contract, his face alight with genuine surprise, and added, "Though given that His Grace appears to be unaware of Mr. Burnham's immoral activities, I think a business arrangement can still be made if His Grace would like to pursue one."
"Why, you presumptuous chit," Burnham spat. "You insult His Grace and then speak of him as if he was inferior to the likes of you?"
"Mr. Burnham," Thomas spoke, his deep voice laced with steel, "be very careful in your choice of words. I would hate for anyone to learn of your underhanded behavior."
"Do you honestly believe anyone would listen to an, an ..." Burnham twisted his face as if the words hurling from his mouth tasted sour. "An uncouth American? Might I remind you that we are on my side of the ocean, Mr. Farrington? My peers value my opinion. I would hate to relay the news that your merchandise is less than superior and that your competitors have a better variety."
"Mr. Burnham," the duke cut in, his tall form separating the cheat from her brother. "It seems the same woman you have labeled a 'presumptuous chit' is one exceptionally skilled in the science of mathematics. You have erred, Mr. Burnham, and I am appalled that you have sullied my honor by attempting to deceive the Farringtons in my name." He turned toward Thomas. "I'll have arrangements made to discuss details of our contract at a more convenient time. That is, of course, unless you feel the previously agreed upon terms are not to your liking?"
If the floor had opened up and the entire building caved into the basement, Daphne would have no more believed it than the words rolling off the duke's tongue. Had a man of English blood actually defended her honor? And in the same breath, offered to continue negotiations?
Mr. Burnham tugged on his limp cravat, the jerky movement doing little to belie his anger. "Your Grace, you can't be serious. As your advisor, it is my professional recommendation that you retract any offers made to the Farrington Line and cease connections with these," he sniffed, looking down his pointy nose at Daphne, "barbarians."
The duke ran a thumb over his signet ring, his pinched and withering gaze directed toward Burnham. "I would think someone capable of stealing would be considered far more barbaric than a mathematically inclined woman and her capable brother."
Burnham's eyes bulged, but he remained silent, his lips pursed together in a thin line.
Thomas placed a hand on Daphne's shoulder, pulling her to his side and edging her toward the door. "I believe the terms are still acceptable, Your Grace. I will await your correspondence."
"Excellent," the duke replied. "I shall be in contact with you soon."
* * *
Three things scared the absolute hell out of Edward Lambert Spencer Lacey, fifth Duke of Waverly.
The first, shared by all righteous Englishmen, was of course, a fear of God, the sovereign entity who rescued one from the lakes of fire and pits of despair. And while he didn't consider himself an entirely religious man, he did his best to live a moral life, his love of gaming aside, if only to avoid an afterlife spent roasting.
Second, and one he would have shared with a sibling, had his parents been given to the kind of relationship required for such a result, was the fear of his mother's retribution should he act in any manner other than in the way in which she expected. Since his days in leading strings, Edward had been awed by his mother's ability to deliver that look, where her unusual amber, almost golden-brown eyes bore into his with a fierceness that lent him to believe that God himself had given his mother a special power to right his immoral ways. The duchess was formidable and determined to steer her only son out of the gaming rooms and into the ballrooms. He was, in the eyes of his mother and society, a man in possession of wealth and fortune, and of an age when he ought to have a wife.
Third, and perhaps most harrowing, was a fear he was certain he shared with no one, a fear he hadn't even realized he held himself until his mother began her earnest efforts to push him into marriage: the fear of never being known, or seen, for himself. Edward knew this fear to be ridiculous, and did his best to quash it whenever he felt its maudlin pull. But still, it was a valid trepidation and one he knew would come to fruition should his mother select his bride. He was a duke, one who had been told since his first breath how to act, with whom to associate, and to which girls he could pay his addresses. His mother dared not interfere with his ducal responsibilities, at least those pertaining to the estate, but did not hesitate to meddle in his affairs concerning marriage when the responsibility in question was the continuance of the Waverly line.
Excerpted from The Duke's Obsession by Frances Fowlkes, Robin Haseltine and Gwen Hayes. Copyright © 2014 Frances Fowlkes. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.