Helping a devilish Duke create a contest to pick his perfect mate is the kind of challenge Tessa Mansfield relishes. Her methods may be scandalous, but she's determined to find the notorious bachelor more than a wifeshe'll bring him true love. Yet when Tessa watches the women vie for the Duke's affections, she longs to win his heart herself. And after a stolen kiss confirms Tristan's desire, Tessa knows she has broken a matchmaker's number one rule: never fall in love with the groom.
About the Author
When she's not writing, Vicky enjoys reading, films, concerts, and, most of all, long lunches with friends. A native Texan, she holds degrees in English literature and marketing.
You can learn more at: VickyDreiling.com Twitter: @vickydreiling Facebook.com/vickydreilinghistoricalauthor
Read an Excerpt
How to Marry a Duke
By Dreiling, Vicky
ForeverCopyright © 2011 Dreiling, Vicky
All right reserved.
The belles of the Beau Monde had resorted to clumsiness in an effort to snag a ducal husband.
Tristan James Gatewick, the Duke of Shelbourne, entered Lord and Lady Broughton’s ballroom and grimaced. A quartet of giggling chits stood near the open doors, dangling their handkerchiefs as if poised to drop them. Determined to avoid playing fetch again, he strode off along the perimeter of the room.
With a long-suffering sigh, he conceded he’d contributed to this national disgrace. Ever since the scandal sheets had declared him the most eligible bachelor in England, he’d rescued twenty-nine lace handkerchiefs, five kid gloves, and twelve ivory fans.
If only he could have convinced himself to choose a bride based upon the inelegance of her fumbling, he might have wedded and bedded the most inept candidate by now. Alas, he could not abide the thought of spending a lifetime with Her Gracelessness.
He surveyed the crowd looking for the hostess of this grand squeeze, a useless endeavor. The crème de la crème swarmed the place like bees. The din of voices competed with the lively tune of a country dance, making his ears ring. He’d rather eat dirt than subject himself to the dubious delights of the marriage mart, but with his thirty-first birthday approaching, he could no longer pretend he was invincible. The dukedom had been at risk far too long.
Someone tapped a fan on his shoulder. He paused to find Genevieve and Veronica, two of his former mistresses. Seeing them together, he realized how alike the striking widows looked. Both were tall, dark-haired, and curvaceous. He canvassed the cobwebs in his brain and realized all of his past lovers had similar attributes. Well, those he could recollect.
Tristan bowed and lifted each of their hands for the requisite air kiss. “Ladies, it is a great pleasure to see you again.”
“Were your ears burning?” Veronica said in an exaggerated boudoir voice. “You are the subject du jour.”
“I am delighted,” he lied. He’d grown increasingly frustrated with the notoriety the papers had whipped up. How the devil he’d ever find a bride in this circuslike atmosphere evaded him. But find one he must.
Genevieve tittered. “We were comparing you to all of our other gentlemen admirers.”
He’d bedded more than his fare share of mistresses, but this situation was certainly unique among his experiences. “What did you conclude?”
Genevieve leaned closer and squeezed his arm. “We agreed you were the naughtiest of all our lovers.”
He regarded her with a wicked grin. “Praise indeed.”
Veronica glanced at him from beneath her lashes. “How does it feel to be England’s most sought-after bachelor?”
High-pitched giggling rang out from behind him. He rolled his eyes. Not again.
Genevieve’s shoulders shook with laughter. “Watch out, Shelbourne. A bevy of little misses are stalking you.”
He grimaced. “Rescue me?”
The two women laughed, blew him a kiss, and drifted away, leaving him to the predators. When he turned round, the four silly chits he’d seen earlier halted and stared at him, agog. Given their youthful faces and puritanical white gowns, he surmised not one of them was a day over seventeen. He needed a wife, but he’d no intention of robbing the proverbial cradle.
When they continued to gape at him as if he were a Greek statue come to life, he took a step closer. “Boo.”
Their shrieks rang in his ears as he walked off into the crowd. Ignoring the avid stares directed at him, Tristan squeezed past numerous hot, perspiring bodies, and not the kind one hoped to find naked and willing in bed. With more than a little regret, he banished thoughts of Naked and Willing in order to concentrate on Virtuous and Virginal. First he must locate Lord and Lady Broughton. Perhaps his hostess would introduce him to a sensible young lady of good breeding. Perhaps pigs would fly, too.
He might have avoided all this nonsense if his dear mama had cooperated. When he’d informed her of his bridal requirements a month ago, she’d swatted him with her fan and told him he had rocks in his head.
A loud bang nearly sent him ducking for cover. Feminine gasps erupted all around him. Alarmed, he sought the source of the disturbance and realized it was only the slamming of the card room door. The gentleman responsible for this discourteous act was none other than his oldest friend, Marc Darcett, Earl of Hawkfield.
Tristan hailed Hawk with a wave and walked in that direction. Intent upon reaching his friend, Tristan failed to notice the impending danger until something crunched beneath his shoe. A quick glance to the floor confirmed his worst fear—the thirteenth incident of a dropped fan. Damn and blast, he’d crushed it.
He lifted his gaze, expecting a devious mama and her blushing daughter. Instead, a petite young woman with honey-blond hair stood staring at his shoe. She said something that sounded suspiciously like ashes to ashes, dust to dust. With all the voices ringing in his ears, he assumed he’d misheard.
Though he was tempted to walk past her, he couldn’t ignore the fan he’d broken. “I beg your pardon,” he said, bending to retrieve the mangled ivory sticks.
“You are not to blame. Someone jostled my arm.”
Her excuse was the worst he’d heard yet. He didn’t even bother to hide his cynicism as his gaze traveled up her white gown. Blue ribbons trimmed her bodice, drawing his attention to her generous décolletage. He continued his perusal to her heart-shaped face. She watched him with twitching lips. Pillow-plump lips. He inhaled on a constricted breath. Lord, with that mouth she could make a fortune as a courtesan.
Her long-lashed eyes twinkled. “Sir, if you will return the remains, I will see to its burial.”
Her witty remark stunned him. Belatedly, he realized he was grinning up at her. She probably thought he’d fallen for her ruse. Exasperated with himself, he grasped the broken sticks, rose, and placed the ruined fan in her small gloved hands.
He met her amused gaze again, noting she did not simper or blush. She was no miss fresh out of the schoolroom. “I apologize for the damage. Allow me to make reparations,” he said.
“It is quite beyond repair,” she said.
“I insist upon compensating you for—”
“My pain and suffering?” She laughed. “I assure you the fan’s death is a relief to me. Look, you can see it is exceedingly ugly.”
They’d not had a proper introduction, and yet, she’d invited him to come closer. He decided to oblige her and find out if her intentions extended beyond droll quips. While she chattered about a dim shop light and putrid green paint, he stole another glance at her mouth, picturing those lips damp and kiss-swollen. Slow heat eddied in his veins.
She continued speaking in an unreserved manner as if they were old friends rather than strangers. “Even my maids refused to take the fan,” she said. “So I decided to carry the pitiful thing at least once.”
A footman carrying a tray of champagne paused before them. She lifted up on her toes like a ballerina to place the ruined fan upon it. Pint-sized she might be, but her flimsy skirts outlined a deliciously rounded bottom. He liked voluptuous women, and his practiced eye told him this one had the body of a goddess.
His blood stirred. He wanted her.
A warning clanged in his head. She was probably married, and he never dallied with other men’s wives. Then again, maybe she wasn’t. He found himself hoping she was a willing and lonely widow, but he meant to do more than hope.
“Poor little fan. May you rest in peace.” She pirouetted and gave him a dazzling smile. “There now, I’m done mourning.”
She was exceptionally clever, but without the brittle artifice common among the ton. He caught her gaze, willing her with his eyes. “Now that the funeral is over, perhaps you would allow me to escort you to the refreshment table.” And thence to a more private location.
“You are too kind, but I must return to my friends.”
Triumph surged inside him. She’d said friends, but made no mention of a husband. “Will you allow me the pleasure of your company a little longer? I mean to persuade you to accept my offer.”
“I have dozens of other fans,” she said. “Your apology is more than sufficient.”
She intended to play hard to get. Since he’d come of age, women had always pursued him. At the prospect of a chase, excitement raced through his blood. But he must proceed with caution. If he’d misjudged her, she would take offense. A smile tugged at his mouth. He knew exactly which card to play.
He reached inside his coat and produced his engraved card. “Take it. In the event you change your mind, send round a note.” If she refused, he’d have his answer. But if she accepted, he’d have her name. And soon her.
When she started to reach for the card, he held his breath. Take it, little charmer. I’ll ride you to the stars all night.
She hesitated and then peered at his card. Her doll-like eyes grew round as carriage wheels. She curtseyed, mumbled something he couldn’t hear, and disappeared into the crowd.
Her sudden departure caught him off guard. He took two steps, searching for her, but the crowd had swallowed her. Obviously she’d not known his identity beforehand. But why had she fled?
“There you are.”
At the sound of Hawk’s voice, Tristan turned.
“I tried to save you,” Hawk said, “but that dragon Lady Durmont waylaid me. So who was the latest clumsy belle to accost you?”
“I’ve no idea,” Tristan said. “I take it you do not know her.”
“I never saw her face.” Hawk frowned. “What the devil were you doing engaging a strange lady in conversation?”
“I stepped on her fan.”
Hawk made a sound of disgust. “Follow me.”
As he walked with his friend, Tristan frowned, wondering how he could have misread her signals. Then again, the women who pursued him made no secret of their illicit intentions with their risqué innuendos. The mysterious lady had surprised and intrigued him, but she’d not taken the bait, so he dismissed her from his mind.
Hawk led him over to a wall niche displaying a winged statue of Fortuna, goddess of fortune and fate. “Old boy, you’ve got to be more careful,” Hawk said. “These chits are desperate. One of them might trick you into a compromising situation.”
Tristan huffed. “A cautionary tale in reverse. Lady Rake seduces unsuspecting bachelor.”
“There are plenty of schemers on the marriage mart who would throw away their virtue to marry a duke.”
“Ridiculous.” He’d never fall for such tricks.
“Forget this bridal business for now,” Hawk said. “You needn’t rush to the altar.”
“I’ve left the dukedom unsecured for thirteen years.” With good reason, he silently amended.
Hawk released a loud sigh. “You’re determined to wed.”
“Determined, yes. Whether I’ll succeed is debatable.”
“As usual, you’re making matters much too complicated. You’re in luck. I have a brilliant plan.”
“This ought to prove entertaining,” he said.
“It’s simple,” Hawk said. “Choose the most beautiful belle in the ballroom, get an introduction, and ask her to dance. Then call on her tomorrow and propose. In less than twenty-four hours, you’ll be an engaged man.”
“You call that a brilliant plan?”
Hawk folded his arms over his chest. “What’s wrong with it?”
He huffed. “Most of the beauties I’ve met are vain, silly, and clumsy.”
“You want an ugly wife?”
Tristan scowled. “That’s not what I meant.”
“What the devil do you want?”
“A sensible, respectable, and graceful woman.” He wanted more, but he wasn’t about to confess his fantasies.
“If it’s a boring and plain bride you’re wanting, you need look no further than the wall,” Hawk said, indicating a group of pitiful-looking gels sitting with the dowagers.
Tristan had started to turn away when he saw the amusing lady he’d spoken to earlier. His heartbeat drummed in his ears. She led two gangly young cubs over to the forlorn girls. The chandelier’s soft candlelight illuminated her curly golden hair.
Within minutes, both cubs were escorting wallflowers toward the dance floor. The lady responsible for this turn of events clasped her small gloved hands. As she watched the couples, her plump lips curved into a dreamy smile, and her eyes softened. Transfixed, Tristan forgot to breathe. He’d last seen that expression on a woman after a vigorous bout between the sheets.
Then Lord Broughton and his new bride approached her. All signs of the temptress disappeared as the lady faced the couple. “That’s her,” Tristan said.
Hawk squinted. “Who?”
“The lady I spoke to earlier. She is standing with Broughton and his wife.”
“Lord help us. It’s Miss Mansfield.”
Miss Mansfield? She was a virtuous, unmarried lady? The devil. He’d almost made her an indecent proposition.
Hawk laughed. “You’ve never heard about her?”
“You’re obviously itching to tell me,” he grumbled.
“She makes matches for every ugly duckling in London,” Hawk said, wagging his brows.
Tristan scoffed. “You’re funning me.”
“I’m not jesting. She’s not called Miss Mantrap for nothing,” Hawk said. “The woman is a menace to bachelors. Good old Broughton is a prime example.”
Good old Broughton gazed down at his pretty blond bride. The man looked as if he were suffering from unbridled lust, a term women euphemistically called love.
Hawk regarded Tristan with suspicion. “Why are you so interested in her?”
“Mere curiosity,” he said with a shrug.
Hawk smirked. “Cut line. You thought she was available for dalliance.”
He’d never admit it. No doubt she was as poor as a church mouse, without noble family connections. She probably found matchmaking preferable to taking a position as a lady’s maid or governess. Most likely, she’d only received an invitation to the ball because she’d made Broughton’s match.
He wished she’d not refused his offer to pay for the fan. But he understood her pride all too well, and though he thought her chosen career odd, he couldn’t deny she’d made a successful match for Broughton.
Tristan’s skin tingled. No, he would not stoop to hiring her to find him a bride. He could practically picture the news in the scandal rags. The Desperate Duke has hired a matchmaker.
He was not desperate. He was a bloody duke. With a mere crook of his finger, he could have any woman he wanted. The problem was he didn’t want just any woman. He’d formulated requirements for his ideal bride.
All he needed was to find someone who met them.
He thought about spending week after week trolling for a wife in ballrooms. He thought about fetching fans, handkerchiefs, and parasols. He thought about his need for an heir. His chances of finding his perfect duchess seemed remote at best.
Tristan glanced at Miss Mansfield again and reconsidered. She needed money. He needed a bride. For the right price, Miss Mansfield would keep her involvement a secret from all but the chosen girl and her grateful family.
He frowned, realizing he was basing his decision on one example—Broughton. Hiring Miss Mansfield meant taking a risk, but if her efforts proved unsatisfactory, he could dismiss her. Truthfully, a larger risk loomed. Marriage was for life, and as matters now stood, he was in serious danger of tying himself forever to an unsuitable wife. Or no wife at all, at this rate.
Tristan sized up the situation and realized he had two choices: continue his haphazard search or hire Miss Mansfield. After weeks of pure hell shopping at the marriage mart, the matchmaker won hands-down.
Of course, he had no intention of enlightening his friend. “I’m off to pay my respects to Broughton and his wife.”
Hawk snorted. “This marriage business has addled your brain.”
“I fail to understand what you find so amusing.”
“Miss Mansfield is a happily-ever-after spinster.” Hawk clapped him on the shoulder. “Congratulations, old boy. You’ve just chosen the only woman in the kingdom who won’t wed you.”
Tessa Mansfield wanted to kick herself.
Heaven above, she’d practically flirted with that rake, the Duke of Shelbourne. She’d never seen him before tonight, but she’d heard about his reputation. The gentleman rake, they called him. Everyone said he didn’t gamble to excess. They said he never seduced innocents. Every other female, however, was apparently fair game.
She prided herself on her ability to spot a rake at twenty paces. This particular rake had fooled her with his agreeable manner. But she knew rakes used their charm to disarm their intended victims. She recalled the duke’s slow smile and could not deny she’d let his handsome face turn her head.
Tessa cringed as she recalled the way she’d chattered like a monkey. He must have thought she’d dropped her fan on purpose like all those silly girls she’d read about in the scandal sheets. Oh, how lowering.
She took a deep breath, reminding herself she was unlikely to encounter him again. Thank goodness.
“I am glad to see you, Tessa. I’ve missed you so.”
Tessa returned her attention to Anne, her former companion and dearest friend in the world. “I missed you as well.”
Anne’s eyes misted. “I never imagined I would make such a happy marriage. You made all my dreams come true.”
For nearly a year, Tessa had promoted the match between Anne Mortland and Lord Broughton. More than once, Tessa had feared all would come to naught, but true love and a dusting of luck had culminated in this fairy tale marriage.
Tessa glanced at Lord Broughton. “You both look well, my lord.”
Broughton gazed at his bride with adoration. “I am the happiest of men.”
Tessa’s heart contracted with a yearning for something she could never have.
Anne clasped her arm. “Tessa, look quickly. You do not want to miss seeing Jane dance.”
Tessa lifted up on her toes to see past the crowd. She caught a glimpse of her new companion, Jane Powell, but the fast approach of two fashionable and handsome gentlemen diverted her attention. As they neared, her heart thudded. She recognized the taller man with tousled black hair. It was the Duke of Shelbourne.
She turned round, hoping he’d not seen her. To her mortification, Shelbourne and the other gentleman approached Lord Broughton.
“Shelbourne, Hawk, this is an unexpected pleasure,” Broughton said, rubbing his hands.
Tessa gazed up at the chandelier, wishing she could melt like the wax oozing from the candles. When she’d run away, he’d probably thought she wanted him to chase her. Belatedly, she realized her behavior only made her look guilty and a little foolish. She planted a serene smile on her face as Lord Broughton introduced her to the duke and Lord Hawkfield. Then she curtseyed and rose to find Shelbourne gazing at her. In the light of the chandelier, she could see his eyes were marine blue and fringed by thick black lashes.
“Miss Mansfield and my wife are friends,” Lord Broughton said. “She is the one responsible for our happy union.”
Lord Hawkfield raised his brows in an exaggerated fashion. “I say, a matchmaker? If only I had known of your skills when my sisters were single, Miss Mansfield. You might have saved me the trouble of finding them husbands.”
His mocking tone vexed her. She’d encountered plenty of his kind before, always quick to ridicule her avocation. “I had no idea I had a competitor. Or do you only make matches for relatives?”
Before Lord Hawkfield could reply, the duke cut in. “His self-proclaimed talent is highly overrated.”
She arched her brows. “Should I be relieved?”
“He never stood a chance against you.”
His distinctive baritone voice sent an exquisite shiver along her arms. She mentally shook herself. He’s a rake, he’s a rake, he’s a rake.
The music ended. Lord Hawkfield excused himself and disappeared into the crowd. The duke glanced at her, and then he closed the distance between them.
She looked at him warily. Could he not see she wished him to leave her in peace?
“I apologize for detaining you so long earlier,” he said. “Without a proper introduction, I fear you might have taken offense.”
He’d apologized in a gentlemanly manner, even though she was equally at fault, perhaps more so, since she’d done most of the talking. “No apology is necessary. The circumstances were unusual.”
He inclined his head. Though he did not smile, there was a natural curve to his full lips. His was not the pretty face of a dandy, however. Oh, no, not at all. His thick brows, angular cheekbones, and square jaw were all male. Little wonder women reportedly swooned at his perfection. No, not quite perfect, she thought, detecting a faint shadow along his jaw and above his full upper lip. His valet probably had to shave him twice a day. Her skin prickled at this evidence of the duke’s masculinity.
“There is something I wish to ask you.” His voice rumbled, a sound as rich and irresistible as a cup of chocolate.
Her heart thumped at the low, seductive notes in his voice. She’d thought herself unsusceptible to such tricks, but evidently her traitorous body was not.
“May I call upon you tomorrow afternoon?” he asked.
“Your Grace, if this concerns my fan, I beg you to forget the matter.” There, that should settle his concern once and for all.
“It is not about the fan,” he said. “I have appointments early in the afternoon. May I call at four o’clock?”
She regarded him with suspicion. “Why not tell me now?”
“I prefer to discuss it in private, if you are amenable.”
In private? Did he mean to make her a dishonorable proposal? Then her common sense prevailed. A handsome rake like him would have no interest in a plump spinster.
His mouth curved in the merest of smiles. “You hesitate. I can hardly blame you after I discomposed you earlier.”
She lifted her chin. “I was not discomposed.” What a bouncer. She’d fled as if the engraving on his card read His Grace, the Duke of Devilbourne.
“I will of course abide by your decision.” Then he gazed into her eyes with such intensity, she stilled like a rabbit in the woods. He drew her in, mesmerizing her with his arresting blue eyes. She felt the pull of his will like a swift current. And everything inside her said yes. “Very well,” she said breathlessly.
“Thank you. Until tomorrow.” He sketched a formal bow and walked away.
She let out her pent-up breath. Good God, he’d seduced her into agreeing.
Anne approached, using her fan to shield her voice. “What were you and the duke discussing?”
Tessa thought it best not to reveal his intended visit until she knew his purpose. “Nothing of consequence.” But he wanted something from her. She suppressed a shiver.
“He spoke to you at length,” Anne said. “You must tell me what he said.”
“You make too much of the matter.” Why had she let him turn her head?
“He looked at you like a starving wolf. Stay away from him,” Anne said. “He is well-respected for his politics, but even Geoffrey admitted the duke has a notorious reputation with women. He probably has one hundred notches in his bedpost.”
Tessa scoffed. “I’m sure he has no interest in carving one for an aging spinster like me.”
“You are only six and twenty,” Anne said. “Why must you always demean your charms?”
She ignored her friend’s question. “Do not worry. I am in no danger of falling for a rake’s wiles.” Even if he’d persuaded her to let him call tomorrow, and she’d accepted against her better judgment.
Anne drew closer. “He has a reputation as a legendary lover. Women throw themselves in his path. I heard he can persuade a woman to do his bidding with his eyes.”
Tessa gulped, knowing it was true.
Anne surveyed the crowd and grabbed Tessa’s arm. “Look, there he is now by the hearth. Do you see that woman with him? That is Lady Endicott, a formerly respectable widow—until she met Shelbourne.”
Tessa glanced in that direction. A tall, raven-haired beauty with jade feathers in her bandeau slid her finger along Shelbourne’s lapel. Then the widow leaned against him and whispered in his ear. He turned his head and flicked her earbob.
Tessa gasped. Stars above. She’d invited that shameless rake to her drawing room.
His teeth flashed in a roguish grin. Then he winked at the lady and strode off.
“How could he engage in such brazen flirtation when his sister is present?” Anne said, her voice outraged.
Tessa swerved her gaze to Anne. “His sister?”
“Lady Julianne,” Anne said. “She is dancing with Lord Holbrook.”
The dark-haired young woman laughed as she skipped past her partner. Her complexion glowed with the radiance of youth, and her gold-netted gown set off her slender figure to perfection. A sliver of envy lodged in Tessa’s throat. Long ago, she’d missed her own opportunity to have a season. Most of the time, she refused to dwell on the past, but once in a while, regret shadowed her heart.
Anne regarded Tessa. “Lady Julianne is purported to have declined more than a dozen marriage proposals since her come-out three years ago.”
“She sounds very particular.”
“Perhaps it is her brother who is particular,” Anne said. “Some say the duke believes no man is good enough for his sister.”
Tessa stilled. Did he mean to ask her to make a match for his sister tomorrow? No, surely he would rely on his mother’s advice. Why then had he insisted on calling?
Excerpted from How to Marry a Duke by Dreiling, Vicky Copyright © 2011 by Dreiling, Vicky. Excerpted by permission.
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