Lord Alexander Pemberton, second son of the Duke of Bedford, has spent his life being reminded of his less than revered position in the family. So when he loses the love of his life, Lady Patience, to an arranged marriage with his brother, a heartbroken Alex joins the military. Four years later, he's called home to assume the title after his brother's death. Though he's unprepared for his new responsibilities, Alex is stunned to discover that Patience never married his brother. And that he's now expected to marry her
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About the Author
Charlotte Anne Dore has been recording audiobooks since 2011, most of which have been historical romances. She has worked in film and television, but she mostly works in live theater and performance, with a focus on historical reenactments, ghost tours, mystery shows, and storytelling.
Read an Excerpt
Bedfordshire, England, June 1814
Lord Alexander Pemberton, second son of the Sixth Duke of Bedford — and constantly reminded of his less revered position in the family — looked up from the book he was reading as he leaned against his favorite oak tree. A large carriage with a family crest rolled to a stop in front of his home, Woburn Abbey, about a half mile from where he sat. Since he was unaware of any planned visit, he viewed the scene with curiosity as the footman jumped down to open the door of the carriage.
An older gentleman alighted from the carriage, then turned to assist a woman of similar age. Once she shook out her skirts and moved aside, the gentleman reached in and helped a young lady out of the vehicle.
Alex closed his book and leaned forward, as if that slight movement would give him a better view. The girl appeared young, perhaps no more than six and ten years. Her golden blond hair caught the sun just right, so she appeared to be surrounded by a halo. A blue bonnet dangled from her fingers and swayed in the slight breeze. At a sharp comment from the older woman, the girl placed the bonnet on her head, tucked the glorious hair out of sight, and tied the ribbons under her chin.
From his distance, he could not see the color of her eyes, but wondered if they reflected the same shade of blue as her hat. He took in her pleasant face and budding woman's body. More than mere curiosity drove him to rise, shutting the book to tuck it under his arm.
His parents appeared at the doorway and descended the steps. Apparently, the family had been expected. Right behind them came his older brother, Cyrus, the Marquess of Tavistock, and heir apparent to the Bedford Dukedom.
The bane of Alex's existence.
Odd for his parents to leave their home to greet visitors coming up the path. His father had always made sure everyone who visited the Abbey, or any of his many other estate homes, recognized he was the duke and, as such, they came to him, not the other way around. Most likely this was an important visitor.
No longer interested in Mary and Charles Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, Alex strode to the house and reached the front door just as it closed. He quickly smoothed his always untidy hair and entered the house. The group had moved upstairs to the drawing room, the sound of their conversation guiding him.
Alex entered the room unnoticed and leaned against the wall, remaining almost invisible while the older couples conversed. Unbidden, his gaze wandered to the young girl, standing off by herself, a slight smile on her face.
His brother, Cyrus, glanced once or twice at the girl, then moved to the sideboard where he poured himself a brandy. Attempting to appear nonchalant, Alex strolled toward their young female guest. As he approached, she turned her head to look at him, and his heart stuttered.
No, her eyes did not match the blue bonnet. Instead, they were the most stunning shade of green he'd ever come upon. Close up, her countenance was more than lovely. She was beautiful. Plump, red lips revealed white, even teeth as she smiled at him. A genuine one, not the smile of girls at the assemblies who were trying their best to attract the attention of a gentleman.
Not that those smiles were ever cast in his direction. As the second son, "the spare," he held no status, and therefore, was of little interest to debutantes and their mamas looking for a splendid match.
"May I introduce myself, my lady?" He bowed, his heart still not recovered. With any luck, she did not notice the raspy sound of his voice.
At her nod, he cleared his throat, and continued, "I am Lord Alex Pemberton, second son." He tried not to say that, but he wanted her to know immediately that he was of no consequence, if she was here to snag a duke.
Hopefully, not. No woman deserved his brother, but least of all this angel.
She executed a perfect curtsy. "I am Lady Patience Browning, my lord."
He wanted to take her hand and kiss it. Nay, he wanted to grab her and tug her close, cover her mouth with his. Run his hands over her sweet curves.
What the devil was wrong with him? At one and twenty years, he certainly had tested the waters when it came to women, but none had ever affected him like this one.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Patience."
"Hey, boy, I didn't know you were home from university." His father, the Duke of Bedford, slapped him on the back so hard he was shoved forward a couple of steps.
"Yes, sir. I returned two days ago." Alex straightened his jacket and attempted to regain his dignity. The last thing he wanted was for Lady Patience to view him as a "boy."
"See that you make an appointment with my secretary. I need to go over a few things with you."
Alex glanced at Lady Patience who viewed his father with wide eyes. His father, the Duke, tended to make that sort of an impression on people.
Mother clapped her hands to gain the group's attention. "I am sure our guests are weary from their journey, so I have arranged for tea to be served in a half hour, to give you all a chance to retire to your rooms and refresh yourselves." She graced the company with her hostess smile, seldom seen otherwise, as she pulled the cord to have servants assist the guests to their rooms.
Alex watched Lady Patience follow her mother and a maid. She turned and gave him a slight smile before she left. He felt as though the sun had just departed the drawing room.
The duke — as Alex always thought of his father — directed Lady Patience's father to the sideboard for a drink. Since no one had bothered to introduce him, Alex still didn't know the name of their guests.
Except for Lady Patience.
"Give that chit a year or two and a ride between those sweet thighs would be memorable." Cyrus sipped his drink and smirked at Alex.
The muscles in his stomach tightened at his brother's vulgar words. "Close your filthy mouth. She is a mere girl."
"Ah, but mere girls of six and ten years turn into long nights and sweaty sheets."
So, since his brother seemed to be in the know, Lady Patience was six and ten, and not yet out. No surprise there. She didn't have the full body of a woman, but certainly held a lot of promise. Then he felt as dirty as his brother with his thoughts. Rather than continue to give Cyrus an audience for his disgusting comments, Alex retreated and headed to his bedchamber. It had been a mistake to return home when the term had ended at university. When would he learn?
Cyrus had always been the golden child. Some could accept that position and remain pleasant. Not his brother. He'd taken every opportunity to harass, tease, and beat "the spare." Alex's only reprieve had been when he'd been sent to Eton to enjoy the friendship of other boys.
It was time he made his own way in the world. He had lived at the duke's forbearance long enough. Despite the duke having several estates, he had never indicated that one day he would offer one to his younger son. Perhaps that was what he wanted to speak with him about.
Alex snorted. Not likely.
There had never been any love lost between him and his family. He was merely tolerated, held in abeyance in case something happened to the cherished heir.
Shaking off the somber mood, he changed into his riding clothes and left the house. He viewed the clouds overhead, noting the chance for rain sometime later that day. What he needed was a long, hard ride on his horse, Night Storm. A way to clear his brain to start thinking about his future.
An hour later, Night Storm raced over the ground, carrying his master deep into the estate, miles from where the unknown visitors, except for Lady Patience, would be having tea with the duke, his duchess, and his heir. His thoughts drifted to Lady Patience. Even now he felt drawn toward her. The aura of lavender and mint had surrounded her, making that his new favorite scent. Her voice, when she'd spoken, had teased his ears like the finest music he'd ever heard.
What a sop he was turning into! Next, he would be writing terrible poetry to recite outside her window. He shook his head and turned Night Storm, heading back to the Abbey before the skies opened and soaked his muddled head.
Patience nibbled on a biscuit and sipped her tea, quite disappointed that Lord Alex had not joined them. Although at sixteen years she was merely two years from her first Season, she had noticed the attention she drew from young gentlemen. But never had she felt anything in return.
Lord Alex was unlike anyone she'd ever met — handsome, with dark brown unruly hair, hazel eyes that seemed to reach into her soul, and a smile as warm as a sunny day. It startled her that she'd had the urge to go up on her tiptoes and kiss him. Now, even thinking about it made her face heat up. She glanced quickly at her mother to see if she noticed Patience's discomfort.
Thankfully, she was engaged in a deep conversation with the duchess, not paying any attention to Patience. Which left Patience with time to dream about Lord Alex.
She had been surprised by Father's announcement that they had been invited to the Duke of Bedford's country estate. She'd not known her father to be friendly with the duke. But then, she'd had very little to say to him for most of her life. As an only child, and a girl, she had been a disappointment, since he had no one to inherit his title and estate.
Patience had always tried to please the man, but by the time she'd reached ten years, she'd discovered it was best to stay out of his sight. Although everyone in the house pretended they didn't know, Patience was aware of the times Father had taken his hands to Mother.
Her mother would remain behind closed doors in her bedchamber for a few days, leaving word that she was "feeling unsettled." When she emerged, everyone ignored the face powder attempting to hide the remainder of the beating she had taken at the hands of the man who had promised to love, honor, and cherish her.
Patience placed the cup on the saucer just as Lord Alex strode past the room, obviously having returned from a ride. His hair was hopelessly mussed, his cravat loose, and his cheeks red. He glanced briefly as he passed and stopped once his eyes met hers.
She grinned as he quickly ran his fingers through his hair, then tried to straighten his cravat. Any other gentleman would have retired to his bedchamber to right himself, but she loved that Lord Alex did not. He entered the room and bowed to the two mothers, then made his way toward her.
"Good afternoon, my lady." He bowed briefly and took the seat across from her. Tea things sat on a low table between them. Instead of waiting for Her Grace to pour, or instruct a maid to do so, Patience took up the teapot. "Tea, my lord?" A blush rose to her face at her forwardness. If Mother had noticed, she would be in immense trouble later, but she was busy once again chattering away with the duchess. Patience relished seeing her mother enjoy herself. The poor woman had so few comforts in her own home, always walking on tiptoes when her father was about.
"I would love tea, my lady." He beamed at her, and short little flutters started up in her stomach once again. She tried, with some success, to pour his tea without sloshing it all over the table. Never had she had so much trouble pouring. Goodness, the man's presence rattled her. A foolish thought, since he was a man grown, and she a girl barely out of the schoolroom.
He took the cup from her hand, their fingers brushing briefly. Patience drew in a breath and attempted to cover up her unease by offering Lord Alex a plate with biscuits and tarts on it. She bit her lip when her hand shook as she held out the plate. Lord Alex covered her hand with his to steady it. Continuing to stare as his hand cupped hers, she felt an absolute fool.
"Lady Patience?" His deep voice only made her hands shake more.
"Yes." She stiffened her shoulders and looked him in the eye. She should not have done that. The concern and understanding there almost made her weep.
"I don't care for a biscuit, thank you." He lowered both of their hands to the table. The plate rattled as they set it down.
Her Grace and Mother both turned in their direction. "Is everything all right, my dear?" Mother said.
"Splendid, my lady," Lord Alex replied.
"Oh, dear me, Lady Wilton." Her Grace's hands fluttered "I believe I have been remiss. I never introduced my second son, Lord Alex Pemberton."
Patience threw a quick glance in Lord Alex's direction to see his lips tighten as he stood and bowed to her mother. "My lady, it is a pleasure to meet you."
Mother nodded in his direction, and Lord Alex sat again. No longer in the mood for tea, Patience pushed her cup aside. "You appear to have beautiful gardens here at Woburn Abbey, my lord."
Almost as if he had read her mind, Lord Alex pushed his cup aside as well. "I would love to show them to you, my lady." He turned to her mother. "Lady Wilton, may I have permission to show Lady Patience our gardens?"
Her Grace looked out the window. "It is raining."
Patience stifled a giggle at the look of surprise on Lord Alex's face. Even though he had just returned from outdoors, he apparently had forgotten the weather. Not wishing to miss the opportunity to speak with him without their mothers present, Patience said, "I noticed a lovely gallery on the way to my room before. Would it be permissible, Your Grace, for Lord Alex to show me his ancestors?"
The women glanced at each other, a silent message passing between them. She hoped it wasn't a condemnation of her forwardness. "I suppose it would be all right. We have about two hours before we need to dress for dinner."
Not sure what had caused the look, Patience stood and attempted not to grin at Lord Alex. As a true gentleman, he stood and offered her his arm. They proceeded out of the drawing room and entered the corridor.
"Are you truly interested in my ancestors?" he spoke quietly, close to her ears. "I surely am not."
Lord Alex shrugged. "They all look stodgy enough to scare small children. At least they did me when I was young. Honestly, I've never felt a part of the family."
Patience knew the feeling. While her mother tried very hard to show her only child love, the tension surrounding their home when her father was in residence kept her mother in a constant state of unrest. Thankfully, the Earl of Wilton was not at home much.
Although she knew very little about what went on between men and women in the privacy of their bedchamber, she knew from gossip picked up from the servants that her father had other women besides her mother. All things considered, Patience couldn't help but believe that was a relief to her mother.
"Here is my great-grandfather, John Russell, the Fourth Duke of Bedford," Lord Alex said, interrupting her thoughts.
Patience looked at the painting. Very dignified, sitting with his arm resting on a large chair, white hair, and a receding hairline. "He is pleasant looking." She turned and looked at Lord Alex. "You resemble him, you know."
"Indeed?" He moved his head one way, then the other, studying the portrait. "I do think you might be correct, although, I do not imagine my hairline is quite that far removed from my forehead."
Patience laughed. "Except for his hair."
"Ah yes, now I see. I just need a new suit of clothes as well. I am afraid the honorable gentleman's clothing is a tad out of date." He grinned at her and she had the happiest feeling inside. What was this thing that was happening to her? Did he feel it also?
His smile faltered as they stared at each other. "Has anyone ever told you that you have a beautiful mouth?"
The mouth he spoke of suddenly dried up. Patience shook her head.
"You do." He took her hand and tugged her close. "Have you ever been kissed, Lady Patience?"
Again, she shook her head. Slowly.
"What would you do if I kissed you?"
Goodness. Was she about to have her first kiss? Her heart pounded so hard she thought Lord Alex would certainly hear it. She barely heard her own voice over the sound. "I would do nothing, my lord."
"Nothing?" He studied her, curiosity in his eyes.
Excerpted from "Denying The Duke"
Copyright © 2017 Callie Hutton.
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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