"This unconventional, sexy tale—featuring a dominant duke with a fondness for rulers—brims with sensuality on every page. If you like a heavy dose of spice in your Regency romance, you'll love DISCIPLINED BY THE DUKE." - Joanna Shupe
The day her sister murdered their abusive father, Elizabeth Wilcox stopped being a gentleman’s daughter. Willing to do anything to save her sister from the hangman’s noose, now she is a spy... A servant. A liar. A thief. A submissive.
Masquerading as a parlor maid and entrenched in the Duke of Montague’s estate, Liz is willing to risk all to uncover the secrets that would save her sister. But submitting to the duke’s peculiar brand of discipline surprises her with a heady mixture of pleasure and pain. Eager to relinquish control of her messy life, Liz soon craves the rough hands of Montague and his powerful, passionate attentions. Can she succumb to the hot sting of his hand and the gentleness of his kisses without revealing her true identity and darkest secrets? And what punishment will she face when he realizes her betrayal?
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She dug her nails into her palms, deep enough to draw blood. Of everything she'd been asked to do to rescue her sister, this was the worst.
"My lord." She tried not to choke on the honorific. "Surely you can't mean that you want to steal from the Duke of Montague."
The Earl of Westmore swirled the brandy in his short, bulbous glass. He sat slouched in an ornately carved oak chair, his booted feet propped up on his desk. "My dear Miss Wilcox. Of course I don't want to steal from the duke." Her shoulders relaxed, and the creases by his mouth deepened with his smile. "You will steal from him for me."
Elizabeth Wilcox turned away, not wanting him to see her distress. These past months working for Westmore had shown that he took pleasure in the suffering of those around him. She stepped up next to his sofa, and gazed out his study window upon the bustle of Grosvenor Square. A girl about her age sat atop a curricle. She threw back her feather-plumed head, and laughed at the man seated next to her. Liz's stomach burned. She used to be that girl. Carefree. Coddled.
Shoulders rigid, she worried the back of Westmore's brocaded settee, her fingers scratching at a loose thread. Had he purchased it with stolen goods, along with all the other gilt furnishings and objets d'art that cluttered his home? He would profit greatly from her theft. But what more could he cram into his town house? It was already bursting at the seams.
Sighing, he dropped his feet to the floor and rose. The earl circled behind her. Liz's stomach coiled tighter as each step brought him closer. They stood in silence, his moist breath slithering across her ear. It was a power play, an attempt to intimidate, but fear of this man no longer motivated Liz.
"I spoke with your sister's judge just yesterday," he said. "Even with the money I pay him he is becoming most anxious over the respite he's given to your sister's sentencing. His fellow judges can't understand why a convicted murderess hasn't hanged yet."
A cold fist gripped her heart, and squeezed. Only sheer force of will kept her upright. "When you found me in the courthouse after ..."
"After your vicious bitch of a sister had been convicted." He stepped closer, the front of his falls brushing her hip.
She swallowed down bile. "Yes, after the conviction. You promised you would help her."
"For a price, Miss Wilcox. Never forget that. Everything comes with a price."
How well she knew that. Digging her fingers into the settee, she struggled for the appearance of calm. "I've done everything you've asked of me —"
"But not as well as I'd hoped." He sighed, and the short hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. "I had such high hopes for a gently bred woman such as yourself working for me. You've been rather a disappointment. You're fortunate I've kept your sister from the hangman's noose for so long."
She pressed her palm to her throat, and blinked back tears. She'd completed every task Westmore had given her, but this was part of the earl's game. Make her so scared for her sister's life that she'd obey without question. Make her doubt her own abilities to keep her dependent on his goodwill. Yes, she knew his game. But that didn't mean it still wasn't effective.
He dragged his hand across her shoulders, and she suppressed a shudder. She'd become proficient at hiding her feelings. "Miss Wilcox, once I have the duke's letter in my hands, your debt to me will be paid in full. You will have earned enough to ensure your sister's release. And I ..." — he paused and took another sip of his brandy — "I will have the information necessary to intercept some very valuable cargo."
Turning, she met his pale blue eyes. She and her sister had caught the occasional glimpse of this man at various balls last season, and thought him quite handsome. An earl had been far above their marital aspirations, even then. Although their great-grandfather had matched his title, there were too many second sons in their lineage to hope for that lofty of a union. Now, a year later, the idea of marriage to anyone was but a cruel jest; and one with Westmore, repellant. Ensuring her sister's release from Newgate Prison was her only concern.
She moved away from him and sat on an embroidered chair in front of his desk. "It is unusual for a duke to involve himself in business, is it not?"
"Most unusual. Montague isn't merely an investor; he started his shipping business, built it up to twenty-eight ships." Frowning, he opened a glass-fronted cabinet, picked up a small jade figurine. He scratched at a mark on it with his fingernail. "That business, combined with his other investments, has made the duke one of the wealthiest men in England."
And Westmore wanted a part of it. "How do you propose I go about obtaining this letter? I've learned much these past few months doing ... odd jobs for you, but I don't know that I have the skills to steal something from a duke's household."
Westmore replaced the statuette, and strode to his desk, lowering himself gracefully into his chair and steepling his fingers together. His gaze dropped briefly to her bosom. "My dear, no special skills are needed on your part." He pulled a piece of writing paper from a desk drawer and began scribbling. "I have a contact in the duke's service. He has recommended you, a Miss Elizabeth Smith, to the duke's steward for an open chambermaid position. You will go to your lodgings, pack some serviceable items, and take the morning coach to Leicestershire." He sealed and sanded the letter. "My contact will pick you up. Give him this letter."
"Then, my dear, you will be in the service of the duke. You will have access to his home and you will use it to find my letter." A letter that told the route of a very important shipment, according to the earl. A shipment he intended to steal.
She clutched at her faded skirts. He made it sound so easy. "My lord, I can't imagine that a chambermaid has access to all the rooms of a duke's estate. If I'm not assigned to clean his study or private rooms? What then?"
His mouth tightened with disgust. "Then you find another way. Surely it isn't such a difficult task for someone who is so eager to help her sister." He lifted one eyebrow, and smirked. Shame curdled her stomach. How had she ever found this man attractive? "And if all else fails use the skills that all women possess. I hear the duke has some unusual tastes that you can exploit."
She suppressed a shudder. How low must she fall to save her sister? First thief, then whore? She would make sure to be a successful spy, leaving any other skills unnecessary. "How will I recognize this particular letter, my lord? I'm sure the duke receives much correspondence."
A knock sounded at the door, and the earl hollered for the person to enter. A footman led in a young woman. She smoothed a stained hand down a garish orange gown. Her calculating smile was missing one tooth.
Westmore pushed back from the desk, and the woman dropped to her knees in the small space he'd created. Watching Liz over the prostitute's head, he said, "That shouldn't be a problem. It has a most unusual seal. Purple, a falcon clasping a hare in its talons. As soon as you retrieve it, bring it here to me."
Liz leaped to her feet. The woman was already at the last button on the earl's falls.
He smirked. "Leaving so soon? You're always welcome to join in my afternoon delight."
Swallowing her gorge, she kept her gaze above Westmore's neck. "I think not. I'd best prepare for my task." The earl had yet to demand her participation in his lewd behavior as a condition for Amanda's release. If he did she would agree. It would hollow her out inside, but she'd do anything for her sister.
"As you wish," he said. Liz released a deep breath. The earl slid his eyes shut as rude slurping noises filled the air. The footman shifted behind Liz.
"Get out of here," Westmore said, "and bring me my letter."
"And then you will file the writ of error with your judge? Have Amanda released?"
He opened his eyes to narrow slits. They glittered maliciously. "The very next day."
She bumped along in the back of a horse cart in Leicestershire. The earl's "contact" was a silent, surly man dressed in coarse garb and smelling of horses. He'd snatched the earl's missive in a mud-caked hand, and stuck it down the front of his wrinkled trousers.
Liz was impressed he had the literacy to read it.
One mystery was solved, however. Liz had wondered why, if the earl already had a man working for him inside the duke's employ, he had need of her services. But there was no way a groom would have access to any of the ducal estate's rooms. A chambermaid would stand a much better chance.
The cart threaded its way across rolling green hills dotted with oak trees and crossed by low stone fences. Over a far ridge, a tall figure rode an impressive black horse. Even from this distance, she could tell by the fine cut of the riding costume that he was a man of quality.
"Mr. Pike," she said. His name was one of the few bits of information her driver had imparted to her while tossing her trunk into the back of the cart. "Is that the duke?" She pointed in the rider's direction and saw the horse clear a high fence. The driver grunted and spat over the side of his bench seat. She took that as an affirmative.
The duke rode out of sight below the crest of a hill, and Liz sighed. She used to be a decent horsewoman. She would wear her jockey bonnet at a rakish angle, and lead the boys of the neighborhood around in a merry chase. She'd been out on her horse more than she'd been inside. Any excuse to be out of the house. And Amanda had suffered in her absence.
Liz turned resolutely forward. She was helping her sister now.
Over the next hill, a massive wall of juniper trees jutted from the earth. They stood at least thirty feet tall and were planted so thickly together as to fuse into one large barricade. Their lane widened into a driveway and disappeared around a curve through a gap in the middle of the wall of junipers.
They rattled around the bend, and Liz sucked in a quick breath, her stomach plummeting. Rising in front of her was the grandest building she'd ever seen, larger even than Westminster Hall. The creamy stone bricks of its construction, the unfailing symmetry, whispered of unparalleled elegance. The central structure stood four stories high. It was flanked by two wings that jutted back at right angles.
The driveway broke into two lanes, looping a circle around a large pond inhabited by swans and water lilies and a statue of a Greco-Roman female. Water poured from a stone bucket she held at her hip. At the far end of the circular drive, two staircases linked together in the shape of a horseshoe rose to wide front doors.
Mr. Pike turned the cart off the driveway, and circled around to a servants' entrance in one of the wings. He dropped her small trunk on the dirt and knocked on the wooden door. It was opened by a plump middle-aged woman with flaming red hair starting to streak with silver. "Mr. Pike! How are you this day?"
He spat to the side and jerked his head at Liz. "This here is the new chambermaid." Turning on his heel, he was back in the cart in no time, putting leather to the horse's flank, driving away.
The woman sighed. "Well, come in, dearie. I'll get one of the footmen to carry up your trunk. You must be tired and hungry after your journey." She hustled Liz into a kitchen three times as large as the apartment she rented in London, warmed by three fires and five stoves. "Take a seat, and I'll round up a bite for you."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"Oh, no 'ma'ams' down here. I'm Mrs. Johnson, the head cook, but you can call me Peggy. I was only married to Mr. Johnson for six months before he came down with smallpox, and sometimes it feels like I was never married a'tall. Some of the other servants like to put on airs and insist that you call them by their family names. Think they're something special because they work for a duke, they do. But down here in the kitchens we don't put up with those sorts. We know every man likes a bit of jam on his toast, from the serving lads to the king. There's no call to be snooty."
While Peggy spoke, she laid out a selection of scones, the equalizing jam, a round cake dripping with icing, and a plate of sliced ham. Two cups of tea joined the buffet on the table and Peggy sat down, out of breath.
Liz waited to introduce herself, wary of interrupting the tumble of words, but the cook only smiled.
"And I'm Elizabeth. Miss Elizabeth Smith." Living in reduced circumstances, she had grown used to the more immediate familiarity among the lower classes. It wasn't something Liz approved of, but in this circumstance it would be easier to respond to someone calling her by her true Christian name, rather than her false surname.
Peggy stirred a heaping spoonful of sugar into her tea. "And you're a cousin to our Mr. Pike, are you?"
"Second cousin," she said quickly. "Twice removed."
"I don't quite know how that works, dearie." Placing a slice of iced cake on the plate in front of her, Peggy dug in with gusto.
It was always a good recommendation when the cook enjoyed her own work, but Liz was too nervous to try anything. Besides, she wasn't in London to bring Amanda any decent food to eat in Newgate. It didn't feel right to eat richly while her sister was surviving on gruel.
Digging her nails into her palms, she willed away the tears.
Clearing her throat, she took a sip of tea and smiled at Peggy. "I'm not too certain on all the connections in our family tree, either. But Mr. Pike was kind enough to recommend me for this position, and for that, I'm grateful."
"I see." Peggy poked at her cake with her fork. "So, you're not close relations with Mr. Pike. Are you ... I mean, have you and Mr. Pike come to an agreement of some sort? Is that why he recommended you?"
"An agreement. Between myself and Mr. Pike?" Her shoulder blades snapped together at the thought. "Definitely not. He was merely doing a favor for a distant relation. Absolutely nothing more."
"Well, don't put your nose up. Single men are harder to find around here than you might think. Mr. Pike might have a little dirt around the edges, but that washes off." Peggy sniffed and took another sip of tea.
"Of course, Peggy, I didn't mean —"
She patted Liz's hand and smiled. "Of course you didn't. I'm just being contrary. And he is a bit older than you."
Liz didn't want to break the tenuous détente, but she had to know. The cook's face shone with kindness. Lines around her eyes attested to the fact that she liked to laugh. Liz couldn't imagine Pike smiling, let alone chuckling. "Peggy, have you set your cap at Mr. Pike?"
A flush as red as her hair swept across the woman's face. "Well ... I ... uh, that is ..."
"I apologize. It's not any of my concern."
The cook patted her hand again, and gave her a shy smile. "No, it's all right. I don't know Mr. Pike well. He's the strong silent sort, if you know what I mean."
Liz nodded weakly.
"He has a secure position, no deformities that I can see, and isn't known to go deep into his cups at the village tavern." Peggy sipped her tea. "Good husband material, if you ask me."
She wanted to curl her lip in disgust. Tell Peggy she would be wise to aim higher. She merely nodded politely. "Quite." Liz busied herself adding sugar to her tea. If Amanda and she had the same requirements for a husband they both would have been married years ago.
And their lives would have been much better off. Perhaps Peggy was the smart one.
"Well, if you're done with your tea I'll introduce you to Mr. Todd, the duke's steward. He'll show you around and get you settled."
Peggy led her up a back staircase. The cook knocked at an oak door and entered at the curt reply. "Mr. Todd, this here is Miss Elizabeth Smith, our new —"
"I know who she is, Mrs. Johnson. You may go."
Peggy left, rolling her eyes at Liz and brushing her finger under her nose. Apparently Mr. Todd was one of the servants who liked to "put on airs."
"Come in, Miss Smith, come in. No need to lurk in the doorway." His watery blue eyes glared at her under bushy gray eyebrows.
She entered and glanced about the chamber surreptitiously. She didn't think the duke would keep his important documents with his steward. But perhaps Mr. Todd handled the duke's correspondence for him. The room that Mr. Todd called his office was large and airy with windows that fronted on to a formal garden. One wall was comprised of shelves, holding folders of different sizes. The opposite wall had built in cubbyholes with papers and various bric-a-brac filling the slots. If the purple-sealed letter was among that it would take her a fortnight to find it.
Excerpted from "Disciplined by the Duke"
Copyright © 2017 Alyson Chase.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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