Devonshire, England, 1820
Determined to avoid the strife-filled marriage of his parents, Marcus, the Duke of Ulvercombe, wants an amenable, biddable wife, and has set his cap for a certain pretty miss. Unfortunately, her vastly opinionated, frustrating, and lamentably beautiful guardian, Lady Clara Tinniswood, keeps distracting him, tempting him to consider a far more tempestuous—and passionate—union.
Recently widowed Lady Clara Tinniswood wants only to organize a quiet new life for herself, beyond the control of any man. But one shockingly unguarded moment while confronted by Marcus’s gloriously naked body catapults her headlong into a forbidden passion and threatens to undermine all her well-laid plans.
Even if Marcus abandons his sweet ideal and surrenders to his growing desire for Clara, there's still one thing that could destroy their hopes forever...
Each book in the Wayward in Wessex series is STANDALONE:
* Distracting the Duke
* Unmasking the Earl
* Vanquishing the Viscount
About the Author
Elizabeth first started writing fiction when she was eight, encouraged to do so by her Head Teacher father, who needed something to keep her quiet during school holidays. Her favorite topics were mermaids, ghosts, Norman knights and quests, and she illustrated and decorated her own books. She emerged from the world of her imagination to read History at the University of London, after which she spent many years working as an archaeologist and artifact illustrator. She then became a primary school teacher, after which she moved to museum education work, and display and collections management.
Elizabeth has been involved in Medieval, Tudor, and English Civil War re-enactment and has enjoyed sword-play and traditional archery, excelling in neither. She lived for seven years on a Knights Templar estate in Essex where she pursued her interest in historical textiles, cookery and medicine. She loves anything to do with the past, and still looks down holes in the ground to see if there's anything archaeological in them. There generally isn't.
She has written fifteen historical romances since moving to the West of England in 1997, the landscape and history of which have inspired the "Wayward in Wessex" series.
Read an Excerpt
Distracting the Duke
Wayward in Wessex
By Elizabeth Keysian, Nina Bruhns
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Elizabeth Keysian
All rights reserved.
Kessington House, Devonshire, England
"So, what you want is a brainless, biddable beauty to bear you children, is that it?"
Lady Clara Tinniswood, just about to enter the summer drawing room in search of a place to hide from the gossips, retreated back into the hallway but remained within earshot. How would the host of the evening's ball here at Kessington House, the dangerously attractive Marcus Albemarle, fourth Duke of Ulvercombe, answer that question?
"Very alliterative, Snetty. But, yes, that just about sums it up."
Clara took an instant dislike to the duke but couldn't tear herself away from the conversation. As a widow, she'd learned what disaster opinions like his could mean for a wife and felt a powerful urge to storm in and put him right. She peeped round the doorjamb to see who else was in the room.
Ah, the duke's best friend, Frederick, Viscount Snettisham. Might he put in a word for the fairer sex?
"But what about when you're in your dotage?" Snettisham inquired.
"What use will a once-beautiful, still-stupid wife be to you then?" Bravo, Lord Snettisham! Clara thought.
Ulvercombe looked much struck. "By Jove, I hadn't thought of that.
Still, I daresay one might have a mistress, if only for the company."
Such insufferable arrogance! Did he think all he need do was crook his little finger for women to come shooting out of the cupboards and from behind the potted palm trees, ready to fall at his feet?
The grim reality was that the duke was probably right. He was extremely eligible, excellently proportioned, perfectly dressed, and had the face of a Greek god. Women would be tripping over themselves to catch him. Curse the man.
"Then intelligent, opinionated females such as, say, your new neighbor, Lady Tinniswood, wouldn't suit? She's very striking."
Clara suppressed a gasp. Why were they dragging her name into their horrid conversation? And how dare people who didn't even know her label her a bluestocking!
Ulvercombe threw back his golden head and laughed. "I should say not, Snetty! The very idea!"
Fury flashed through Clara as she backed away from the door. The nerve of the man! She marched down the corridor, gossips forgotten, intending to lose herself in the crowd that thronged the Duke of Ulvercombe's ballroom and to get as far away from the vile fellow as possible. She barely noticed the dazzling chandeliers, the lively music, or the stunning paintings of the Devonshire landscape. The duke's words had stung, and she felt like hating everything in the stately pile of Kessington House.
Except, of course, the Venus figurine which had once upon a time been taken from her own family by dubious means. She didn't hate that. In fact, she'd very much like to get a look at it.
Taking a steadying breath, she realized someone might be pleased to hear the duke's requirements for a wife. Her brother, Mr. Philip Weston. His — their — ward, Miss Eleanora Soper, sounded perfect for Ulvercombe — pretty, biddable, and sweet. But would Ulvercombe, with his shallow view of women, be perfect for her?
Clara doubted it.
Someone tapped her on the arm with a fan. "Ah, there you are, Aunt Clara," said Eleanora. "Uncle Philip said you'd be hiding from that gossiping Lady Fearnley, but I knew he must be bamming me. Everyone seems delightful."
Clara forced a smile. She doubted that, as well.
They linked arms and strolled back to the ballroom with Philip in their wake, then picked their way around the dance floor. Observing the dancers as they headed back to their seats, she said, "Ellie, you are surely the prettiest girl here."
"I concur," agreed her brother. "Eleanora, you do the Weston family credit."
Pain lanced through Clara at his words. She had brought the Weston family absolutely no credit with her catastrophic marriage to Lord Simon Tinniswood.
The scandalous outcome of that marriage, which her family was desperate to hush up, had forced them to move to deepest Devonshire where they weren't known and had put enormous pressure on their finances.
Their ward, Ellie, was an heiress, though she would not come into her inheritance for a good number of years. But if she made a good match this Season, she could help restore the family finances far sooner. The Duke of Ulvercombe, with his principal residence no more than half an hour's ride away from the Westons' new home at Lawton Court, was the most eligible — and the wealthiest — bachelor in the district.
As if that thought had conjured him up, Clara saw him stride into the ballroom, then stop, staring directly at them. Flushing, she turned away, but not before she'd seen him start beating a path in their direction.
"Ellie, get ready to make your curtsey," she advised.
"Oh no, is he coming over here?" Ellie asked worriedly. "When he greeted us at the door he quite terrified me. What shall I say to him?" Clearly, Clara had more work to do with her timid charge.
"Don't be cowed by his title," she said. "Beneath all the show, he's just a man, and — trust me — they have many weaknesses."
Ellie's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to remind you of Lord Tinniswood."
Fortunately, Ellie knew only that Simon was dead, not the horrible truth of what had happened during the marriage. Summoning up a bright smile, Clara said, "You're forgiven. Now you mustn't let anything spoil your enjoyment of the evening. Good, there's that winsome smile I like to see.
Don't let it fade again."
As they settled into their seats, she wondered if Ellie would be happy with a husband like Ulvercombe. Settling her in such an advantageous marriage would give Clara the freedom she so desperately needed. She could set up her own establishment and be at the beck and call of no man.
Despite loving her brother dearly, it rankled to have to follow his rigid rules of conduct. As if she weren't a grown woman, able to make her own decisions and her own rules.
Cheered by this happy vision of future freedom, she looked up, then chuckled. "Oh, dear, I see the duke has been waylaid by some matchmaking mamas. How miserable he looks! He must be anxious to reach you, Ellie, before your dance card is full."
Because, Lord knew, he wasn't coming to write his name in hers.
As the quartet tuned up, Philip left in search of his wife, Sarah, and Ellie was harvested by an eager young man with a stutter. Clara avoided making eye contact with any available gentlemen, not wanting to dance under the speculative gaze of the matchmakers and the tabbies. How many of them, she wondered, cared to remember that the lofty duke's grandfather had been an inveterate gambler and acknowledged cardsharp? He'd allegedly fought several duels and almost brought the Albemarle family to ruin.
Suddenly, just a few feet away, she spotted the garish satin turban of Lady Fearnley.
Bother! The woman was continually asking Clara questions about the late Lord Tinniswood and about what had happened to Clara's younger sister, Kate, rumored to have run away from home. This came nowhere close to the truth, but Clara wasn't about to discuss that subject.
Not with anyone.
Ducking her head, she pushed through the crowd of revelers and sought the darkest corridor Kessington House had to offer. She tried the nearest door and, finding it unlocked, gratefully slipped into the room.
Tears pricked at her eyes as she pressed her back against the door. It seemed Devonshire was not far enough to escape the rumors.
Would she never be free of the legacy of her sordid past?CHAPTER 2
Marcus Albemarle, fourth Duke of Ulvercombe, dragged his hands down his face. Damn these marriage-mongers and daughter-peddlers! Snetty'd warned him it would be like this, but he'd hoped that, under his own roof, he might be treated with more respect.
The number of matrons who'd forced themselves between him and the luscious young blonde he'd had in his sights was unbelievable! Surely, he'd invited some gentlemen to this ball, as well? Couldn't they keep their families in order and let their host enjoy himself?
It was about time for a little joy in his life. While his father was alive, Marcus had been forced to conduct himself with the utmost detachment, decorum, and dignity. Even after he came of age, he was forbidden to gamble or make madcap wagers about galloping horses down grand staircases, as his friends were constantly doing. He was threatened with disinheritance if he chased after light-skirts or dallied with neglected wives or lustful widows.
It was high time he had a bit of fun. He was determined that wife hunting would be enjoyable, even though he knew better than to waste any time. The death of Princess Charlotte whilst bearing a stillborn child had taught the entire English aristocracy it was advisable to sire more than one heir.
A stiff drink would help him cope with this damnably frustrating evening. There was a decanter of excellent brandy in his study ...
He checked the area. Good. Not a prospective Duchess of Ulvercombe in sight.
He'd barely reached the door when one of the footmen informed him a lady had entered the study just moments before.
"Damn it, Dawlish, that door was to be kept locked!" The brandy was a vintage '78 and worth a fortune. Also worth a fortune was his prized Venus statuette by the renowned sculptor, Augustin Pajou.
The footman bowed. "Would Your Grace like me to eject the lady?"
"No, never mind. I'll deal with it." If his luck was in, it might be the girl with the guinea-gold curls and rosebud mouth who'd come in with the Weston lot.
Marcus stepped into the room, clicking the door shut behind him. Alas! Not a golden head, but a brunette in a matronly turban.
She turned around with a start, then, inexplicably, her eyes hardened.
"Lady ... um, Tinniswood, is it not? I see you're admiring the Pajou."
Admiring it rather too closely. Didn't she know such a priceless piece was not to be handled? Moving closer, he judged the distance between her hand and the floor. "It would please me greatly, however, if you were to set it back upon its pedestal."
She frowned at him. What a sour-faced female! How old was she?
Thirty? Thirty-five, maybe? He realized he knew very little about her — or any of the Weston family to whom she and the blonde belonged. For all he knew they'd started out in trade, then distinguished themselves at Blenheim or some such battle. There was no reason to suppose they had a bloodline as noble as his own.
Even so, this woman knew quality when she saw it, even if she didn't know how to treat it.
He winced as she waved the statuette at him. "I suppose you consider this yours, don't you?" she said.
He most certainly did. He also considered it an appalling lack of manners not to greet him as befitted his rank. Deuce take it! Perhaps not even trade. Peasant stock, mayhap?
"I beg your pardon, madam?"
"You heard me perfectly well, Your Grace. I can't believe your family hasn't had the decency to return this to its rightful owners."
He couldn't quite believe his ears. He knew the story of the Pajou, certainly. His grandfather had won it in a game of cards. Such occurrences were not the least bit uncommon — many was the time a family's fortunes had been either ruined or elevated on the turn of a card. But to be taxed with this subject in his own private study by an invited guest was the outside of enough.
"I find your tone, Lady Tinniswood, unnecessarily brusque."
"And I find yours, sir, insufferably arrogant," came the retort.
His back stiffened and he took a step closer. It was now abundantly clear the priceless Pajou was in enemy hands.
But ... a younger enemy than he'd first believed. Not thirty. Perhaps even late twenties. His new foe had angry eyes that glittered like Whitby jet, and a red, downturned mouth — quite the opposite of the smiling pink lips of the attractive blonde.
"What has given rise to this exceptional outburst?" he asked coldly. "Has the music not been to your taste? Is your dance card empty? If so, I'm very sorry, but it's hardly fitting to vent your spleen on your host."
The air positively crackled around Lady Tinniswood. "My dear sir," she said, with infinite hauteur. "Had I wished to dance, I would have. But I did not. I've had enough of gentlemen, particularly those of your ilk, and came only to support my ward. I'm absolutely certain I shall refuse any future invitation which comes from Kessington House to Lawton Court."
"Then let me assure you, I shall make none." But recalling the blonde was apparently Lady Tinniswood's ward, he added, "However, as I see no reason not to be on good terms with my neighbors, I trust I'm at liberty to offer my hospitality to Mr. and Mrs. Weston and Miss Soper. I shan't take offense if you decline. But before we end this delightful interview, tell me what provoked your outburst about the figurine, and what, exactly, you were hoping to achieve?"
The statuette in question was still being held tightly in those long fingers, and since Lady Tinniswood was quite tall, it was too far above the ground for his liking. Even the best Italian Carrara marble might break if dropped on the polished parquet flooring.
"I seek to shame you, sir. Why must the crimes of the upper aristocracy be hushed up and forgotten, while those of lower status are vilified by everyone for even the smallest error?"
"So, it's a crime that my grandfather was lucky at cards?" The second duke had very likely cheated, but Marcus was too angry to admit that now. "Your logic quite escapes me, madam. I can't help but wonder if you came to this ball just spoiling for a fight, and I'm merely the poor unfortunate who inadvertently supplied the spark to your tinder."
"You can hardly call yourself unfortunate when you have all this." She spread her arms expansively, and his heart froze as he watched the precious Pajou being swung about so carelessly.
The time for talking was over. He stepped closer, until they were almost touching, and she was forced to tilt her chin to meet his eye.
"Your harboring of grudges, Lady Tinniswood, has rendered you bitter and cynical before your time. Most ladies come to balls in a joyous state of mind, not a sour one."
That clearly struck a chord. He watched a flush steal from her neck to her face. Her skin was so pale, it looked like wine being poured into an alabaster bowl. What would she look like without that hideous turban, with her hair styled loosely about her face? Might she be considered striking?
Good Lord. Why was he even thinking about this?
"Step aside," she almost hissed at him. "You go beyond the bounds of propriety. I wish to escape your odious company, and you're standing in my way."
Marcus snapped his head back. Odious? He'd never been called that before, not even by Papa at his angriest.
Enough was enough. He must take charge of the situation.
He held out a hand for the Pajou, only to find to his astonishment that Lady Tinniswood had thrust it behind her back. He reached around the other side of her, and it was held once more out of his reach.
Damn the wretched woman! This was no childish game. The Pajou was a unique and valuable work of art!
He took the only action he could think of on the spur of the moment.
He clamped her firmly against his chest and prized the statuette roughly from her fingers.
Her muffled cry of outrage was eclipsed by a bellow of fury that erupted from the door of the study.
As Marcus turned around, a powerful blow knocked him backward.
And his surroundings were snuffed out by darkness.CHAPTER 3
"Great heaven, Philip, why on earth did you strike the man? You've bloodied Ulvercombe's nose!" Horrified, Clara rushed between the duke and her brother, determined to prevent any further violence.
"Yes, Weston, why?" growled the duke, picking himself up from an awkward sprawl across his desk and holding a handkerchief to his nose. His blue-gray eyes burned with a cold rage, far more powerful and dangerous than the irritation he'd shown earlier with Clara.
She prayed he wasn't the sort to settle questions of honor by dueling. And the word of a duke in the wrong ear could do all kinds of damage to a vulnerable family ... and to Ellie's chances. Clara fought down a rising panic.
Philip rubbed at his knuckles. Unrepentant, he declared, "He was manhandling you!"
"His Grace meant no harm. We were being rather childish, I confess, but you have quite misread the situation, Philip. Please apologize at once."
Turning her back on her brother, she helped Ulvercombe to the padded chair behind his desk, wincing at the bloody stain now spreading across his white shirtfront.
Excerpted from Distracting the Duke by Elizabeth Keysian, Nina Bruhns. Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Keysian. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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