The Duke Next Door (Heiress Brides Series #2)

The Duke Next Door (Heiress Brides Series #2)

by Celeste Bradley
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Overview

The Duke Next Door (Heiress Brides Series #2) by Celeste Bradley

The dangerously beautiful Deirdre Cantor is determined to inherit her grandfather's vast fortune. All she needs is to marry a duke…and be the first granddaughter to walk down the aisle. After all, she has always dreamed of becoming a member of the haute ton. So when the proper Calder Marbrook, the Marquis of Brookhaven and future Duke of Brookmoor, is abandoned at the altar, Deirdre makes it her business to become his wife—in spite of the whispers about his past.

Soon Deirdre's visions of a lavish existence with the handsome Calder are shattered when she learns his shocking secret. Feeling betrayed, Deirdre seeks revenge by playing a perilous and seductive game of cat and mouse with her husband that threatens to drive them both to the heights of passion. She will not surrender to him, no matter how great her desire. But at what cost? Calder is determined to keep his secret under lock and key—and to make his stunning wife his in every way that matters. Even if it means winning her heart all over again…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429976565
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/01/2008
Series: Heiress Brides Series , #2
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 220,468
File size: 306 KB

About the Author

Celeste Bradley is the New York Times bestselling author of Scoundrel in My Dreams, Desperately Seeking a Duke, and the Royal Four and Liars Club series, among many others. Prior to giving writing a try, Celeste was a professional artist. Believing that storytelling is as much of an art form, she applies those skills to writing. She is a two-time RITA Nominee and winner of the prestigious Historical Storyteller of the Year from Romantic Times Book Reviews. Mother of two teen divas, Southern-born Celeste lives in the Southwest. Her hobbies include gardening, jewelry making and collage. She feels very strongly that literacy can change lives.


Celeste Bradley is The New York Times bestselling author of Scoundrel in My Dreams,  Desperately Seeking a Duke, and the Royal Four and Liars Club series, among many others. Prior to giving writing a try, Celeste was a professional artist. Believing that storytelling is as much of an art form, she applies those skills to writing. She is a two-time RITA Nominee and winner of the prestigious Historical Storyteller of the Year from Romantic Times Book Reviews. Mother of two teen divas, Southern-born Celeste lives in the Southwest. Her hobbies include gardening, jewelry making and collage. She feels very strongly that literacy can change lives.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

England, 1815

"The Beast of Brookhaven sets another bride to fleeing! Left him at the altar this very morning!"

Calder Marbrook, Marquis of Brookhaven, froze in his tracks at the newsboy's cant. Since that left him poised in the center of a very busy London street with an ale cart bearing down upon him, it was perhaps not the best moment for him to hear his life story brayed to the public at large.

The driver of the cart cried out a warning, causing Calder's body to react, if not his thoughts. After flinging himself to safety on the other side of the street, he ignored the carter's curses trailing on the breeze and searched the crowd for the voice he'd heard.

"Read all about the Beast! The Voice of Society says 'e can't keep his women from running off!"

The newsboy, who was actually a rather wizened fellow whose voice quavered slightly on the up notes, took Calder's coin and passed him a newssheet without a pause in his oratory. "The Beast of Brookhaven strikes again!"

Then the fellow's gaze flicked upward over Calder's face, then back down to the sketch of a brooding visage on the front page in his hand.

"Oy!" He peered up into Calder's face. "It's you, ain't it?" The man's momentary excitement faded before Calder's grim gaze. He tugged at his cap hurriedly. "Er ... good day, milord!"

Calder ignored the man's flight in favor of flipping the folded newssheet open. He began to read as he stood there, a solid, black-clad man-boulder, letting the river of London humanity swirl unnoticed around him.

"The Beast of Brookhaven ... Can it be denied that all his wealth and rank have never been enough? ... One must wonder at the mysterious cause of that tragic accident that left him a widower five years ago ... lovely Lady Brookhaven's untimely demise ... Has it happened again? ... Has another young flower of England decided to flee something dark and unnatural, despite the Beast's more obvious attractions?"

The rest was lost, crushed into Calder's tightening fists. Old pain flared, searing fresh scars newly formed. It was incredible how much the insinuations hurt. It was nothing but gossip, thinly flavored with half-facts.

True, this morning he had given to Rafe the woman he'd chosen for his own in a rather unorthodox ceremony in which he himself had reluctantly played the part of the groom. It seemed Society was going to have something to say about how he and his brother had thwarted its expectations with a proxy marriage.

He'd mistakenly believed that with Rafe and Phoebe, the disputed fiancée, safely off on the honeymoon he'd originally arranged for himself, Calder could simply lock himself behind the intimidating grand door of Brook House and hear no more than he chose to hear.

Apparently not.

The paper was thin and the fresh ink still smeared in his hands. It was only cheap fodder for the masses, small news for small minds ... yet still his chest ached and his breath felt like fire.

Thirty-four years of impeccable existence, of living by the highest standards of honor and decency — save for one mistake, one moment in an otherwise blameless life, and hadn't he done his damnedest to make up for that error? — all wiped away by the blithe hand of this self-proclaimed Voice of Society!

He became aware of the passing throng and the way their eyes slid over him in speculation ... or was it suspicion? Had they already read this alleged news? Was this morning's wedding already being discussed and dissected by the multitudes? Was his late wife's demise being chewed upon like gristle, the truth spat out again, mangled and twisted and unrecognizable?

All around him, eyes, everyone staring, judging, doubting, sneering ...

No, it isn't true, he wanted to shout at them. It wasn't like that. Not then and not now.

Except, unfortunately, that it was.

He'd changed since then. He'd made the decision never to lose command of himself again, for it had been a breakdown of his well-honed control that had been a precipitating factor in his first wife's, Melinda's, death five years ago.

He remembered that overwhelming sense of betrayal and enraged possessiveness which had gripped him in those dark days, but only as a memory of a memory, like the second act of a play he'd seen long ago.

This morning's loss, on the other hand, still burned like a Chinese rocket in Calder's gut. Years ago Melinda had turned from him, looking for someone more exciting, more romantic. Today, so had Phoebe.

While Society hadn't known the true story about Melinda, it had been bad enough being seen as the stoic and pitiable widower who couldn't keep his bride interested. The world had known nothing of the damage Calder had done to himself and to those he cared most about.

Of course, such a blessing had not lasted before the onslaught of the newest delicious scandal. So soon the tide of public opinion turned. "The Beast of Brookhaven sends yet another bride fleeing into the arms of another man ..."

The facade of Brook House loomed before him. Had he walked so far while deep in thought? His butler, Fortescue, appeared in the doorway. "Good afternoon, my lord." Then, as he took Calder's hat and gloves, "Miss Cantor wishes to speak to you. She is waiting in the front parlor."

Calder blinked. He'd forgotten — Phoebe's cousins and aunt still resided in Brook House. Originally invited to stay until the wedding only, Lady Tessa and her two other charges no doubt intended to plead their case to remain his guests indefinitely.

Not if he could bloody well help it! Oh, Miss Sophie Blake hardly made a ripple on the surface of Calder's consciousness, for she was a shy, retiring creature.

Phoebe's other cousin, Miss Deirdre Cantor, was highly decorative and passably witty — but she unfortunately came with that screeching harpy of a stepmother attached. Calder longed to permanently rid himself of Lady Tessa with the misty desire of a man in Hell yearning for a cool glass of water.

So Miss Deirdre Cantor wished to speak to him ... Picturing the blond, sapphire-eyed beauty, Calder decided that his wounded pride wouldn't suffer from a bit of female attention — even if it was only to beg his hospitality. Deirdre truly was a sight to look upon, with a delightful figure and a classic grace that reminded Calder of a Greek statue.

At any rate, it was better than standing here with "the Beast of Brookhaven" ringing through his mind!

MISS DEIRDRE CANTOR waited in the marquis's parlor, gazing raptly at the portrait over the mantel. It was of Lord Brookhaven's father — and a good thing, for what sort of man would hang his own portrait to look at day after day! — but there was enough of a resemblance that it might have been a glimpse of the future.

Like his father, Lord Brookhaven was a handsome fellow. Broad of shoulder and dark of hair and eye — the very picture of the brooding lord of the manor in those novels her stepmother didn't know she had read.

If only he would smile once in a while, he would be quite desperately attractive, if one liked the iron-jawed, tanned sort with alarmingly intense eyes.

Which Deirdre did in general, and this man in particular. Most women preferred the sleekly clad languid young men in Society — the sort who even now flocked to Deirdre's side, wanted or not — but Brookhaven had caught her eye years ago.

Over the man in the portrait, she painted Brookhaven the way she'd first seen him, when Tessa had taken her to watch the inquest into Lady Brookhaven's death, public sport that it was. Deirdre would never forget Lord Brookhaven's proud, haughty square-shouldered form and his forsaken eyes and his —

Oh, never mind his flat, hard stomach or his riding-toned buttocks! Get your thoughts together, Dee! —

She'd been instantly captivated. Then, devastated by his wife's death, withdrawn from Society's syrupy pity, he'd disappeared from her sight almost as soon as she'd discovered him.

She'd read every article in every newssheet left lying about by the careless Tessa. She'd gazed with fascination at the brooding profile sketched again and again by artists brave and enduring enough to lie in wait outside Brook House for a chance to spot the suddenly reclusive lord.

She still had every one of those sketches pressed into a book. Of course, she'd been only sixteen then — sixteen to his thirty years, an eternal division. She hadn't let that discourage her, however. Most people looked no further than the face and body she'd been born with, so they didn't realize she possessed a bottomless well of patience and determination.

That was fine with her. Being underestimated was entirely useful in her position, that of Tessa's captive stepdaughter, kept caged and ready in case of future usefulness.

She'd waited to grow up. She'd waited to enter Society until he reappeared. She'd waited for him to decide to wed again. She'd waited through those endless painful weeks when she'd believed Phoebe would go through with the marriage ...

But Phoebe hadn't. Now, Miss Deirdre Cantor didn't intend to wait one moment longer.

Logic and efficiency were the tacks to take — while looking as demurely undeniable as she possibly could. She reached up to the neckline of her day gown and gave it a quick wriggling yank as she inhaled greatly. It was a move she could do in a blink of an eye and which never failed to elicit a gleam of appreciation in men of all ages.

She smiled grimly at using Tessa's teachings at such a time, but she needed Brookhaven to listen to her, and everyone knew that men listened better to an attractive decolletage.

The door opened behind her. Here I go ... She turned gracefully and subtly inhaled, with a demurely pleased smile on her face. "My lord, I —"

Brookhaven loomed in the doorway, pausing in the shadow even as she stood in the light — which she had planned to best set off her golden hair — and for a startling moment Deirdre felt a stab of real misgiving.

This is not the sort of man to appreciate being toyed with. This man can be dangerous when riled.

Deirdre had a flash of hesitation. Five years ago on the road just outside of London, the late Marchioness of Brookhaven had died horribly, broken like a discarded doll in a terrible carriage accident. At the time, no one had breathed a word of suspicion of the man before her — but perhaps no one had dared.

This man had the power to make the world turn on its axis.

Or in her case, make it stop.

Her mind flashed a memory of this very morning, sitting in the church, watching Brookhaven stand at the altar with Phoebe saying the vows in a voice so low that Deirdre couldn't hear, though she strained to. The pain had been fierce, burning hot behind her eyes and threatening to sap the steel from her spine.

Then, when Lord Marbrook had stumbled in, filthy and starving and hollow-eyed, pleading Phoebe to stop the ceremony — and it had become clear that Brookhaven was not marrying Phoebe at all —

Deirdre's breathless, giddy relief at that moment had made one thing perfectly clear. This opportunity was not to be missed.

She had to have this man for her very own.

CHAPTER 2

God, she was lovely. Calder had somehow managed to put that fact out of his mind once he'd become engaged to Phoebe — who was very pretty herself, of course, though that hadn't been the primary attraction.

Miss Deirdre Cantor, on the other hand, wasn't pretty at all. She was stunning, sensational, an outrageously beautiful concoction of golden hair, sapphire eyes, milky skin and symmetrical features — not to mention a figure that would leave no man wanting.

Beauty is as beauty does. Her own stepmother, Lady Tessa, was a beauty — a ferocious viper, yet still very lovely.

Nonetheless, although he'd never observed Deirdre in anything but the semiformal setting of being his guest, he could not help the feeling that she had depths yet unplumbed.

Oh, damn. What an unfortunate metaphor. Now he was thinking about warm wet depths. More specifically, the intimate depths of the perfectly respectable woman who stood before him.

It had been much, much too long.

She approached him to halt just out of arm's reach, quite proper and yet still just a bit ... wary? Bloody hell, had she already read that atrocious newssheet rot?

"Are you afraid of me, Miss Cantor?"

She gazed at him for a long moment. "I am not."

"But you wanted to ask something of me, did you not?" Her eyes flashed over his face with such intensity that he nearly exclaimed. Then it was gone and she was as serene as ever. She took a breath. "I came to ask for your hand in marriage, my lord."

He leaned back at that, the panels of the door pressing into his shoulder blades. "Ah." She was not the first to wish it, but she was the first to state her request so baldly. How refreshing. However, he had not the fortitude for this today. He rubbed a hand over his face. "Ah, Miss Cantor, marriage is not really a topic I'm fond of at the moment."

"Why, because they're calling you the Beast?"

Here it was still, even within the safety of Brook House. He straightened, smoothing his waistcoat with a tug. "A flattering offer, I'm sure, but perhaps now is not the best time —" She stepped forward quickly. "Now is precisely the best time, my lord. You cannot allow them to run free with such rot."

He was a bit stunned, really. A woman who could dismiss such deliciously scandalous gossip was not often found, at least not in Society. Either panting to repeat it or desperate to avoid it was more the norm. "How do you know that?"

That wasn't what he'd meant to ask her, but now he found he truly wanted to know.

She folded her arms — really, what a stunning bosom — and gazed at him with one brow raised. "I hardly think that the same man who so kindly arranged to have his fiancée marry another man, simply to make her happy, is the sort of fellow to plot murder or wreak vengeance."

Yet, that is where you are entirely wrong.

On the other hand, it was quite diverting to be held in a heroic light. Oh, he'd been pitied and he'd been respected and he was now experiencing a fresh bout of notoriety, but never in his life had he been considered gallant. Not he, the somber elder brother, with his sometimes jarring directness and his lack of social banter. He was rich and respectable and important, but those qualities apparently did not a hero make.

She continued to gaze at him with absolute certainty. "You are no beast."

Oh, but I am.

Still, it seemed he was looking at the only woman in London who didn't think so. He tilted his head to gaze at her thoughtfully. "You wish to be my marchioness."

"Oh, yes," she agreed easily. "Who wouldn't?"

Melinda, for one. Phoebe for another.

"Can it be denied that all his wealth and rank have never been enough?"

"Miss Cantor, I —"

She gazed into his eyes, not flinching, nor yet beseeching. "I am not Melinda. I am not a spoiled, sheltered child. Neither am I Phoebe, dutiful but unsure. I know precisely who and what I am — and I know I would make you an admirable wife." Her expression became wry. "You could hardly do worse than you already have."

Well, that was true enough. "The gossips would have it the other way around."

Her eyes flashed with something that might have been fury. "Some people have nothing better to do but make up tales."

"How can you be sure?" He was the Beast, was he not? Terror of the Ton, Besmircher of Quivering Brides? Operating on some impulse he couldn't define, he moved toward her, pinning her with the intensity of his gaze. "Do you frighten easily, Miss Cantor?"

She did not drop her gaze or step back. "I wouldn't know."

He moved in close, too close, but by God she was lovely and he had had a very trying day. "How can you not know?" He bent his head until his words were nothing but a breath in her ear. "Everyone has fears."

She turned her head then, meeting his gaze with her own deep blue one. "I don't get frightened," she stated, her voice entirely calm. "I take vengeance."

He was almost startled into laughter. No fainting flower, she. He stayed where he was, challenging her. See me. Do not underestimate me.

"You're stalling," she said softly, her breath warm on his face. "I want to know ... will you marry me? Yes, or no?"

Enough of this game. Enough of the lot of them. He opened his mouth, prepared to send her on her way, packed off with her hellion stepmother, never to darken his door again. All he wanted was to be left alone, always, forever alone in this great, empty, rattling house —

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Duke Next Door"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Celeste Bradley.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Duke Next Door (Heiress Brides Series #2) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
BANGLEDANGLES More than 1 year ago
This is book number two in a trilogy about three girls who are trying to marry a Duke in order to gain their grandfather's inheritance. In this book, Deidre is the oldest of the three girls. Her stepsister, Phoebe was engaged to Calder Marbrook, Marquis of Brookhaven but left him at the alter. Deidre has been in love with Calder since the first time she saw him on his way to his wife's funeral. She asks Calder to marry her and he agrees. On the day of the wedding, Deidre comes home to find that Calder has a 6 year old daughter and he has brought her home for Deidre to raise. This starts their marriage on the wrong foot and it takes almost losing Deidre to convince Calder that he loves her. I love this trilogy. It is so worth reading all three.
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Shadyrose More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. I loved how Calder was constantly putting his foot in his mouth, it was funny. I liked Deidre's straightforwardness and strong will. Meggie's character was cute and hilarious. I rated this 3 stars because the ending seemed very rushed and didn't really fit in with the rest of the story, the "public house" scene while somewhat funny, was ridiculous and didn't do anything for the story. I also felt that there were a lot of loose ends that weren't tied up, I hope they'll be addressed in the 3rd book, but they really should have been finished in this one.
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