Julia Bishop has led a very sheltered life. Protected by her family from those who might ridicule her for her secrets, she stays hidden away in the country. But she longs for more, if only for an evening. To kiss a rake in full view of the stable boy. Unchaperoned picnics. Romance. But she knows she’ll never experience any of those things.
That is, until a handsome duke with a mysterious past of his own arrives…
Duke Jasper DeVere left London to grieve his grandfather’s death privately, away from the prying eyes and gossips of the ton. Seeking solitude at a friend’s country manor, he’s surprised he finds himself drawn to the company of the shy beauty determined to present the epitome of proper behavior.
That is, until the mysterious woman makes an indecent proposal…
Julia can’t believe what she’s suggested to the duke. Nor that he agrees a distraction is what they both need. But what will happen when Jasper must return to his duties and leave Julia behind? Will the memories of their time together be enough for a lifetime of solitude for either of them?
Because Julia can never leave her country haven and a duke can never stay…
Each book the Tale of Two Sisters series is STANDALONE:
* The Importance of Being Scandalous
* A Scandal By Any Other Name
About the Author
Kimberly Bell is a 2015 RWA Golden Heart Finalist and 2014 Maggie Award winner. She writes historical romances from her home near the beach in San Luis Obispo, California. She lives with her shepherd-coyote mix rescue.
Read an Excerpt
Jasper DeVere tugged at the neck of the scarlet and ermine robe, desperate to have this asinine ritual over. The heat in the antechamber was suffocating. Or perhaps it was just the company. The Duke of Atherton was petulantly sprawled in a chair, scowling wordlessly at Jasper.
The writ of summons to confirm Jasper's new title as Duke of Albemarle required him to be presented to Parliament with the endorsement of a senior peer and a junior peer. While Jasper's outranking of Atherton was hardly a secret, the man was not pleased with having it paraded in front of Parliament as a form of ceremony. Or he could still be bristling over Jasper's twin sister, Ruby, rejecting his marriage proposal. If that was it, he was a bigger idiot than Jasper had initially gauged. Atherton was hardly the first proposal Ruby had turned down.
The Duke of Essex entered, closing the door behind him. He was dressed in the same ceremonial robe, no doubt sweating buckets beneath it. "Looks like we won't be bowing to the cloth after all. The queen is in attendance."
Meaning this nonsense would take twice as long at the minimum. "Why would she bother?"
"Oh, I don't know," Atherton drawled. "Perhaps because you're the first Duke to be confirmed during her reign — and her cousin."
Jasper would love nothing more than to abandon this entire ordeal, and go back to pretending his grandfather was still alive. He didn't want to be the Duke. Not yet. Maybe not ever. He desperately wanted to go back to the days when his grandfather sat stolidly at the end of the breakfast table, anchoring Jasper's world with his resolute presence. Jasper could not be the Duke of Albemarle. He would never be able to fill those shoes.
" ... Albemarle? Did you hear me?" Essex was staring at him with concern.
"The Black Rod's at the door. It's time."
The House of Lords usher might be there, but it wasn't time — not yet. Jasper shook his head and tossed the black hat and writ of summons onto a chair. The ermine robe followed.
Atherton's eyes went wide. "Albemarle?"
"Tell Victoria I'm sorry." Jasper clawed at the cloak, breaking the clasp in his efforts to get it off. "Something's come up."
"You can't just —"
"Your Grace, please —"
Jasper ignored them all. He opened the nearest door, praying it wouldn't be a closet. It opened out onto a shadowed hallway. He started down the corridor.
Ruby was going to kill him.
He couldn't think about that now, or the disappointment that was bound to settle onto his grandmother's face. They didn't understand. They mourned Jasper's grandfather with grief equal to his own, but they didn't have to try to become him. It couldn't be done, and attempting it would be an insult to his grandfather's legacy. Jasper would find a way to explain that to them, eventually.
Right now, he just had to find a way to escape the building.
A new door opened out onto a wider, brightly lit hall. Out of the corner of his eye, Jasper recognized the impeccable posture and dark-sable coiffure of his twin sister. He pivoted in the opposite direction.
"Jasper?" Ruby's confusion at his flight carried down the hallway.
He pretended not to hear. An exterior door revealed itself at the end of the corridor. He broke into a jog to get there before she caught up to him.
"Jasper DeVere, come back here this instant!"
"What's that, Ruby? I couldn't hear you." He let the high ceiling carry the message back to her.
"Jas, stop!" His sister chased after him, but she was impeded by the constructs of female fashion and good manners. Jasper was impeded by neither.
Outside, a groom was leading a saddled horse toward the stables.
"Pardon me, my good man, but I need to steal that horse."
"What? My lord, you can't —"
Jasper vaulted into the saddle. He could practically feel Ruby's rage behind him. "I'm deeply sorry. Please tell its owner I'll return it eventually. He can forward his complaints to Lady Ruby DeVere."
Ruby caught up with him as he wheeled the mount toward the gates. "Jasper, running away won't bring him back."
"Do you? Because you did the same thing when mother and father died."
He didn't want to think about their parents — not on top of everything else. He just needed it all to go away, just for a little while longer. "I can't, Ruby. I'm sorry. I just can't." Jasper put heels to his horse. They burst out onto the London streets, and he navigated the quickest route out of town at top speed, ignoring the veering carriages and shouting pedestrians. When they reached the outskirts of the city, it still wasn't far enough. He needed more distance. An ocean, perhaps. Maybe that would finally be enough space between him and all the things he couldn't reconcile inside himself.
His grandfather was dead. The larger-than-life man who'd anchored Jasper's world for twenty-six years was gone. He didn't feel gone. His voice still echoed in Jasper's mind, and it felt like, if Jasper just turned fast enough, he might catch a glimpse of the old Duke disappearing around some corner. Everything in London was a reminder.
After hours in the saddle, Jasper amended his ambition from leaving the continent to getting a day's ride outside of London. Neither his backside nor his horse would survive a continental journey, and he'd left the city going west. As far as he knew, there were no viable options for getting to America on foot.
The smartest thing to do would be to assess his situation over a nice meal in a private dining room somewhere, but — since he hadn't planned on making a mad dash out of the city — his lack of funds and luggage were going to prove problematic. He could send for both, but then Ruby would find him. She probably had men scouring the roads looking for him at this very moment. He needed to find somewhere to hide out until he could convince his heart that this was the world now; a world where Edward DeVere, Duke of Albemarle, did not exist.
As his horse overtook a farmer's cart plodding along the road, Jasper leaned over and tried to ascertain his whereabouts. "Excuse me. Could you tell me where we are?"
"Just outside o' Woodley, m'lord," the farmer answered.
"Serendipity!" The world had not completely turned on Jasper just yet. His best friend, Nicholas, had acquired a house in Berkshire after he married his new wife, Amelia, and — if he was not mistaken — it was near Woodley. Since Nicholas and Amelia were off traveling while Nicholas had a break between terms, it would be the ideal place for Jasper to try to reconcile his new situation. "Thank you, my good man. Your assistance has been invaluable."
The farmer answered with a noncommittal grunt. Jasper ignored it in favor of trying to determine which one of these blasted country lanes would lead to Nick's house. All of the tracks looked the same; polite little lines of birch trees surrounded by expansive fields. He found one with a likely signpost and headed down it at a leisurely walk — no sense making haste when he wasn't certain he was headed in the right direction — when the sound of hooves thundering at reckless speed caught his attention.
* * *
The Berkshire countryside stretched out, gently rolling hills covered in the bright new grass of spring. Julia's legs itched with the desire to spur her mount and race across them at breakneck pace, but if she did, Nora would be stranded.
"Can't you ride faster?" Julia asked.
"Maids aren't meant to be on horseback." Nora clung to the reins with both hands, her entire body jolting with every step of the horse. "Leisurely strolls? Absolutely. That's quite my speed."
"Well, it's not mine." On foot, Julia looked how Nora did on horseback, lurching along in awkward discomfort, but mounted Julia was unmatched. She could fly across the landscape with wind pulling her hair from her pins, outracing all the sideways glances and poorly veiled whispers. On a horse, Julia wasn't that crippled Bishop girl. On horseback, she was the Spartan princess Cynisca, racing to become the first woman to win the Olympic games.
Nora's face went pale. "I'm sorry, my lady. I didn't mean —"
"It's fine." She and Nora had reached an understanding weeks ago. It was a product of Nora's not constantly thinking of Julia as an invalid that allowed Nora to slip up, and Julia did not want to go back to the days when Nora treated her as if she were made of glass. "But we should pick up the pace. Tryphosa wants to stretch her legs."
Julia's mount shook her head side to side in agreement. Nora paled even further.
"Unless you think you can make it back to the house," Julia suggested.
It was a straight shot back to the manor, but the sightline to the house would be obscured on the low sides of the hills between their location and the stables. The sun was just beginning to set; plenty of time to get in a good ride and still make it back by dark. If they were at home, Julia would have abandoned Nora without a thought, or more likely never taken her in the first place, but they were visiting Julia's sister Amelia's new estate, and the countryside was new to them both. Julia found that thrilling — it was half the reason she'd decided to wait for her sister's return here, instead of at home — but Nora was possessed of a slightly less adventurous spirit.
"Since I can still see it, I think I can manage. I may not know how to ride, but I am not a simpleton. My lady."
Julia grinned. "Glad to have you back, Nora. Now leave."
Nora hesitated. "It's not proper for you to be riding alone."
"Because I might be compromised? Ruin my chances at marriage?" Julia's raised eyebrow expressed the ridiculousness of that notion.
"Just because nobody is going to marry you doesn't mean they might not try ..."
Julia crossed her hands in front of her, leaning in with a grin. "Try what, Nora? Please. Enlighten me."
The maid's face flushed crimson. She grumbled, "You're a devil, Lady Julia."
"That's what they say." And more. She couldn't seem to keep herself from mischief if she tried ... not that she tried very often.
"Fine. If some brigand wants to take his chances with you, may God have mercy on him. Get me pointed in the right direction?"
Julia nudged Nora's horse around to face the house. "When you get back, ask if they've had any news from Mia."
"You mean if your sister somehow sent word between the morning post and the evening post?"
Instead of answering, Julia slapped the rump of Nora's mount. It started toward the house at a trot — the poor animal's top speed. The way the maid shouted and carried on, Julia might as well have slapped her. Still, Nora didn't fall off, and she was headed in the right direction.
Satisfied, Julia turned her own mount toward the unexplored countryside. "Shall we, Tryphosa?"
The stocky little bay horse stomped her hoof in response.
Julia scanned the open country. Way off to the left, there was a copse of trees. There might be a stream there. To the right, the thin line of a stone wall snaked along the perimeter of the property line. "Which way do you think?"
This was why Mia needed to get back from her bloody trip. She'd barely been home since she married Nicholas, racing off to this place and that. In her absence, Julia had been reduced to riding with her maid and conversing with her horse. It was all well and good that Mia and Nick were having a splendid time being in love and making disgustingly adorable faces at each other, but couldn't they be in love in England?
Tryphosa tossed her head, jostling the reins.
"Right. Trees it is." Julia clucked her tongue, and Tryphosa burst into motion.
For a moment, everything else fell away. There was only the screaming wind and the pounding thud of Tryphosa's hooves against the packed dirt. The coiling and stretching of the horse's powerful muscles, catapulting them across the world. Julia looped the reins around the pommel and hooked her foot into the stirrup. Tryphosa's gait adjusted underneath her in anticipation. Like she had a hundred times before, Julia let go and bent her body backward over the padded seat of the saddle. The cushioning she'd added supported her back while her shoulders pressed against the churning haunches of the horse. Her vision filled with the blue of the cloudless sky. She stretched her arms out and closed her eyes, letting every part of her relax as Tryphosa's stride ate up the miles.
Julia had barely gotten to melt into the freedom of the open air when a shout nearly caused her to fall off. A streak of chestnut registered in her peripheral vision. A man raced toward her, reaching out. The bloody idiot was trying to gain control of Julia's horse. She pushed herself into an upright position, but it was too late. Surprise gave way to dread as she lost her balance and tumbled over the side of Tryphosa's flank.
This is it. You've finally done it. You've finally taken one risk too many.
The impact with the ground rattled her teeth, but the squelching mud buffered some of the fall. Julia lay very still, doing an internal inventory. There could be weeks of excruciating pain, or she could never recover at all. Please. Please don't let this be my last adventure.
Terrified, Julia tried to move her fingers. They fluttered. She tried her toes next, holding back the tears of relief when they wiggled. Her neck wasn't broken. She rolled onto her back, eyes clamped shut in anticipation of the pain. It didn't come. There were bumps, certainly, and there would definitely be bruises — but the dread of spending the rest of her days immobile faded away.
"Are you injured?"
No thanks to you. "I doubt it — I am covered in mud and who knows what else. Did you just shove me off my horse?"
"You've had a fright, I'm sure. Did you faint before or after your horse bolted?"
"Faint? I didn't —" She opened her eyes to a face that would make an artist weep. High cheekbones, full lips — only the square set of his jaw kept him from being too pretty. The dark brown eyes she'd never gotten to see up close, until now. "Oh. Oh, my. You're ..."
"Delighted you didn't fall to your death." He helped her up into a sitting position, holding her hand longer than necessity required. "Viscount Bellamy, at your disposal."
Julia knew Lord Bellamy very well. She had peeked at him between cracked curtains and listened through doors every time he came to visit with Amelia. Slowly, she had mined Nicholas for insights into his friend's private life. Alone in her room, within the confines of her imagination, Lord Bellamy had supplanted Prince Albert as the leading role in her fantasy love affairs. But they had never officially met.
Now he was here, holding her hand and staring at her mouth. While she was covered in muck.
"And you are?" he asked.
"You don't know me?" Surely he must have seen her sneaking away at least once, or would recognize her and Amelia's resemblance.
The slow spread of his smile was deliberate — it had to be. It was too charming not to be affected. "I don't, but I would like to."
"I'm Ju —" Oh, God. She couldn't tell him her name and all of the knowledge that would come with it. He didn't know her, but he knew about Julia Bishop. It was a stroke of luck that he hadn't recognized her already, and Julia couldn't stand to watch the interest leave his face. Not yet. " — niper. My name is Juniper. Fairchild."
Juniper? She had lost her mind. And her ability to lie. He would call her out on it immediately.
Lord Bellamy lifted her gloved hand, placing his lips against the butter-soft leather. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Fairchild."
The pounding of her heart went silent as the world around Julia stood still. Lord Bellamy's lips were touching her hand. Well, her glove, but it was close enough. No simple accessory would ruin this moment for her. A handsome lord was kissing her hand and telling her it was a pleasure to meet her. Julia smiled at him. It was a struggle to keep it from turning into a girlish giggle, but she managed.
"Let's get you stood up, shall we?"
Before she could protest, he lifted her to her feet. Any moment she would have to move and then he would know, but standing in the circle of his arms with his fingers shadowing her rib cage, it was difficult to remember that. The smoky scent of him with a hint of something fresh and possibly floral intoxicated her. She leaned in to the solid warmth of his chest.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Just a little off balance," she lied. She just needed a few moments of delicious closeness to etch into her mind for later, when she could unpack this experience and embellish it to her heart's content.
Excerpted from "A Scandal by Any Other Name"
Copyright © 2018 Kimberly Bell.
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.
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