One of Entertainment Weekly’s 35 Most Anticipated YA Novels of 2017, this compelling and witty Regency romance is perfect for readers who like their historical fiction with a side of intrigue.
Lydia Whitfield has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.
Until the day Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's name unsullied and expose the one behind this devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she wants...
Fans of historical romance will delight in Duels and Deception, a young adult novel from Cindy Anstey, author of Love, Lies and Spies.
Praise for Duels & Deception:
“[Duels & Deception] is Jane Austen spiced with action, suspense, and humor.Young girls who enjoyed Anstey’s Love, Lies and Spies will snap up this adventure.” —Voya, Starred Review
"Anstey’s novel is a wonderful coming-of-age journey filled with entertaining characters and wild adventures." —School Library Journal
"Jane Austen fans in need of a good new book, look no further." —Entertainment Weekly
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Duels & Deception
By Cynthia Ann Anstey
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2017 Cynthia Ann Anstey
All rights reserved.
In which a sensible young lady must choose between the peril of a careening carriage and mud ... deep mud
Had Miss Lydia Whitfield of Roseberry Hall been of a skittish nature, the sound of a rapidly approaching carriage would have caused considerable anxiety. As it was, the clatter behind her did nothing to stay her steps. Besides, she recognized the bells on Esme's harness and Turnip's nicker of protest — poor creature hated to canter. The vehicle could be none other than the family landau.
However, as the nickering changed from protest to panic, Lydia was certain the carriage was now descending the steep hill too quickly. The road from Spelding was rocky and rutted, especially in the spring, and it made for a rough ride. Most drivers took it at a walk.
But not this driver.
With a glance over her shoulder, Lydia ascertained that said person was none other than Uncle Arthur. While the distance between them prevented a close examination of his facial features, there was no doubting the tension in the rigid way he held himself.
Uncle was in a mood.
With a sigh, Lydia frowned at the pretty rill beside her as it babbled its way down to the bottom of the hill. She was less than enthused with the idea of stepping off the road and into the deep mud. Instead, she quickened her pace. The rill veered away from the road around the curve, a more promising spot to allow a carriage to pass. She was confident she could make it to the turn before the landau barreled down on her.
As she hastened to safety, Lydia was surprised by a small sound as it broke through the noisy approach of her uncle. But then, the sound wasn't really that small.
It was a shout.
Lifting her head, Lydia examined the road ahead of her. The scene was nature at its finest, for not a house, chimney, or steeple was in sight. Even the sizable gates to Roseberry Hall were hidden around the corner. Past the entrance, the road rose again, coming back into sight from where she stood, and it was there that Lydia spied a carriage and an occupant.
It was a smaller vehicle than the one rumbling behind her ... a gig, perhaps; it was hard to tell exactly from this distance. And the driver appeared to be a gentleman of indiscernible age — again, because her squint could not render the figure any clearer. Still, it was definitely not a woman.
There seemed to be a problem of some sort, for the man was standing in his gig — not a wise thing to do even on the smoothest of roads. And he was waving. Rather frantically.
Lydia waved back to acknowledge the hail and increased her pace even more. As she did, she noted that the stranger dropped back onto his seat and flicked the reins, setting his horse at a quick trot. Trying to understand what necessitated this untoward greeting, Lydia considered the possibility that he might be lost or injured in some way. She would know soon enough, for their paths would meet just around the corner.
However, Lydia could tell by the increasing noise behind her that she did not have enough time to reach the dry ledge before the landau would be upon her. She was forced into the ditch — and the mud. Though she saved her skirts from the worst of it by lifting them higher than was seemly, her boots were covered in sticky brown goo clear up to her ankles. She was not best pleased.
As Lydia watched her uncle rush past, she was surprised he did not slow for the corner, taking it at a dangerous clip. Surprise turned into concern when she realized his anger was affecting his driving — erratic and ill-considered. Did he see the other carriage up ahead? The narrowness of the road would require one driver to give way, but at that speed, would either be able to react quickly enough?
The answer was not long in coming. The sound of a collision reached Lydia just before she rounded the corner. Horrified for men and horses, Lydia lifted her worsted Pomona green skirt even higher and ran.
The sight of the two carriages sitting on opposite sides of the road was at first a great relief. Both men were atop their seats, and the horses were neither down nor screaming in fright. However, with closer scrutiny, it became clear that the gig — while veering right — had broken its wheel on a collection of rocks and was listing rather dramatically, threatening to dump the driver onto the road. The stranger jumped of his own accord, likely preferring to land on his feet rather than allow gravity to deposit him in an undignified sprawl.
Uncle's carriage — or rather the Roseberry Hall landau — had fared better when it veered off the road, although its cargo had not. A large box, which must have been on the seat beside him, had slid to the ground, throwing the cover and contents into the rill. It was to this that Uncle Arthur was pointing when Lydia hastened toward him.
"There, Lydia, I hope you are happy. I was bringing you a surprise, a pretty little peace offering, a gift for your birthday. And you ruined it. Yet again your obstinacy and disregard for anyone but yourself has brought about a disaster."
Other than slowing her pace, Lydia did not know how to react to such a speech. It was laden with so much injustice that she could only stare in wonderment and question Uncle's grasp of reality. The accident had not been her doing; it had been his excessive speed. Had the road been clear of pedestrians or other carriages, his speed would still have made negotiating the turn without mishap near impossible.
Then there was his reference to obstinacy and disregard for others. Never had she been so accused. Her sister, Ivy — who was as stubborn as the day was long — carried that trait proudly on her ten-year-old shoulders. And as to disregard for others — well, perhaps he should look in the mirror, for he himself wore that characteristic, and it fit like a glove.
As to the peace offering/surprise/birthday gift, well, that, too, made no sense. It could not be all three things at once. ... And to make matters worse, the gift was nothing more than an allusion to what he perceived as her immaturity. For as Lydia's gaze followed the pointing finger, she saw that a large, exquisitely dressed porcelain doll stared up at her with its one unbroken eye. This was not a present for a young lady about to turn eighteen but for a girl of ten or eleven. In short, it was a mockery.
Anger and insult fought for supremacy and control of her tongue, leaving Lydia momentarily at a loss for words. Fortunately, Uncle was too wrapped up in his own emotional swirl to take advantage of Lydia's unusual speechless state.
"There. It's all yours. I hope you enjoy it," Uncle Arthur shouted in hypocrisy. And then with a great huff, and in complete indifference to the young man he had just run off the road, her uncle dropped back onto the seat and flicked the reins. Esme and Turnip reacted immediately, trotting through the Roseberry Hall gates and quickly disappearing down the long drive.
"I am terribly sorry your, um, present has been ruined."
Lydia started. She had momentarily forgotten about the stranger and looked up with surprise. Finding him standing a little too close, Lydia back-stepped off the side of the road and would have rolled her ankle had he not reached out to steady her.
It was all so naturally done that when she met his eyes, she was comforted rather than embarrassed by his touch. "I'm sorry," he said again, only this time Lydia was certain he was referring to scaring her rather than sympathizing about the disastrous doll.
The well-dressed gentleman looked to be twenty at most, with dark, wavy hair brushed forward in a windswept look. The style served to accent his square jaw and Grecian nose. A classic example of tall, dark, and handsome, and yet it was his eyes that were his most arresting feature. It wasn't the color — for they were an ordinary shade of brown — or the shape. No, it was the emotion emanating from them. Deep set under heavy brows, his kindness shone through, blanketing her, filling her with the calm she had struggled for not minutes earlier.
"Charming fellow. Relative of yours?" The stranger jerked his head toward the gates. "Seems a might dicked in the nob."
"Yes, I'm afraid I have to claim him. An uncle — my mother's brother."
"Drives like a demon, but he did bring you a present." Pivoting, they both stared back down at the figure on the soggy ground. "Very nice of him. Do you collect dolls? Large, frilly ones?"
The poor thing was covered in mud, the delicate lace dress was ripped, and the right side of its face was smashed. There would be no recovery from this accident.
"I did — once."
"I'm afraid she's quite done for."
His words sounded so tragic that Lydia looked up to reassure him ... and noticed his laughing eyes. "I think the doll was not bought out of charity but spite — meant to put me in my place, so to speak. Reestablish the pecking order," she said with no little asperity.
"Not terribly subtle."
"No, but then tact and delicacy have never found a home in Uncle." Lydia didn't usually speak so freely.
Strangers were few and far between in this little corner of Somerset, but Lydia found the unfamiliar territory quite pleasant. In fact, Lydia might go so far as to say exhilarating. She quite enjoyed the intensity of the stranger's gaze whenever their eyes met, and her sudden shortness of breath was not in the least alarming. Perhaps she should cultivate more encounters with strangers if this were to be the result.
They stood some moments watching the dirty water seep farther up the doll's white lace, and then Lydia sighed and turned toward the man's gig. It was a functional sort of carriage rather than showy. With burgundy leather seats and a folded black hood, it was well adapted to reasonable distances in a variety of weather conditions. However, one of its two wheels was splintered and wedged up the side of the incline; the man would not be traveling any farther today — at least, not in this vehicle.
"I am not an expert, but I do believe your carriage is in need of repair." Lydia scrunched up her nose and shook her head for emphasis. "Were you going much farther? The village of Spelding is within walking distance, but it will take you the better part of half an hour to get there. I can offer you a pause at Roseberry, should you wish us to attempt the repair. It is the least we could do considering Uncle — Well, our coachman, Mr. Hodge, is quite handy with this sort of happenstance."
"This sort of happenstance? Pushing strangers off the road? Does it occur that often?"
"No. You would be the first traveler abjectly affected by my uncle's ill humor."
"My luck, I suppose."
Lydia shrugged with a hint of a smile on her lips — an apology of sorts without using words. He seemed to be the sort of young man who understood these types of indications. Then she recalled the waving and his hurried approach. "Was there some sort of urgency to your journey?" His expression indicated confusion, so she quickly explained. "When I first saw you across the vale, you were standing in your gig, waving — in what I thought was a worrisome manner."
"Ah, yes. That."
"That? Was there a problem?"
"Oh, most definitely. I was trying to warn you about the carriage, the one behind you. I could see it racing down the road. ... And your back was turned."
"Oh, you mean the large, heavy carriage that clattered and clanked and rumbled so noisily that it might have woken the dead?"
"Yes, that would be the one."
"I was somewhat aware of its approach."
"Yes, so I gathered."
"I do appreciate the gallantry, though."
The stranger bowed. "It was my pleasure."
Lydia shifted her stance and tried to ignore the flush that was working its way up her cheeks. She did not lean toward the stammers and blushes of most young ladies her age and was surprised by her racing heart. Likely caused by too much sun ... or an awareness that time was passing. Yes, that was it. She could dawdle no longer by the side of the road; if she didn't return soon, there would be abject consternation — well, curiosity at the very least.
With renewed focus, Lydia turned the conversation back to the problem of the carriage wheel. "Would you like Mr. Hodge to take a look at your gig?"
She waited, giving him time to decide. She rather hoped that he would take up her offer; he was quite personable and didn't upset her sensibilities whatsoever. There would be shock and disapproval at Roseberry should she return with a stranger in tow, but an occasional deviation from the norm was good for one's character ... as long as one's actions never hinted of inconstancy. Lydia was certain she could never be so accused.
Hunkering down, the man checked the underside of his gig. "It might not be an easy fix; the axle might need to be replaced as well."
"All the more reason not to try for Spelding." Lydia leaned across the gig's seat. She grabbed the reins and then secured them to a nearby bush. "I'll have Jeremy fetch the horse, and we can leave the carriage in Mr. Hodge's capable hands — a very competent man in regard to coaches and carriages. He won't steer you wrong."
Standing back up, the man dusted his hands together in a slow, deliberate move. When he looked up, meeting her gaze, he nodded. "Well, it would be most convenient as Roseberry Hall was my destination."
Lydia frowned, straightened her back, and unconsciously lifted her chin. "Really, sir? You are expected at Roseberry Hall?"
"Might you be Miss Lydia Whitfield?"
"I might be." Lydia was uncomfortable with such a personal question issued from the lips of a stranger, no matter how handsome and gallant. It just wasn't done.
"Excellent, most excellent." The gentleman nodded, seemingly unaware of her sudden uneasiness. "I had hoped for a proper introduction. This is a little awkward, but one must make the best of a bad ... or rather an inelegant ... situation, don't you think?" As he spoke, the stranger reached inside his caped coat.
"I have here a letter of introduction. I was expecting to give it to your uncle, Mr. Kemble." Glancing at the gate again, where Uncle Arthur had disappeared, the young gentleman hesitated a moment and then continued. "But I think in these circumstances, I had best give it to you directly."
"Indeed?" Lydia was flummoxed. This was highly irregular; all delicacy dictated that she ... that she ... bother! The situation was such that she had no precedent on which to lean. She was quite at a loss.
"From Mr. Alfred Lynch."
Lydia's hand went out instantly, but she slowed it just enough to take the letter with great dignity and solemn interest. "Mr. Lynch of Bath? My solicitor?"
"One and the same."
The letter was not long and took mere seconds to peruse. "You are Mr. Newton? Mr. Robert Newton? Mr. Lynch's clerk?"
Mr. Newton leaned forward, looking down at the paper as if he were going to read it upside down. "Clerk? Is that what he calls me?"
Edging back, Lydia instinctively pulled the letter to her bodice. "Are you not his clerk?"
"Well, I am. But he offered me an apprenticeship just last week. Though I will admit he did not state exactly when it was to begin. Still, he might have referred to me as an apprentice-in-waiting."
"A somewhat unwieldy title."
"True enough. Though it's more likely that he forgot."
"Seems unlikely. The man's mind is as sharp as a tack."
"Been a while since you've seen him?"
"At my father's funeral, three years ago. Not that long."
"Yes, well ... a lot can happen in three years."
Lydia thought about how much her life had changed and reluctantly agreed — though silently. "Mr. Lynch's letter does not explain why you are here to visit us."
"No, it does not."
Lydia waited for him to continue, but he didn't seem disposed to enlighten her. "So why have you come all the way from Bath to Roseberry Hall, Mr. Newton?"
"Bath isn't all that far. It only took me a couple of hours." He glanced over at his gig and shrugged. "Would have been faster on horseback, but Mr. Lynch did insist. Thought it looked better. More official."
Lydia's heart skipped a beat, and she swallowed with a little difficulty. "Do you need to look official?"
"In some eyes, yes, I would say so."
"You aren't being very clear, Mr. Newton. Rather cryptic."
"Mr. Lynch said you were clever."
Excerpted from Duels & Deception by Cynthia Ann Anstey. Copyright © 2017 Cynthia Ann Anstey. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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