Could finding love be his greatest scandal of all?
The Duke of Griffin has never lived down his reputation as one of the Rakes of St. James. Now rumors are swirling around London that his twin sisters may bear the brunt of his past follies. Hiring a competent chaperone is the only thing Griffin has on his mind--until he meets the lovely and intriguing Miss Esmeralda Swift. In ways he could never have expected, she arouses more than just his curiosity.
Esmeralda Swift considered herself too sensible to ever fall for a scoundrel, but that was before she met the irresistibly seductive Duke of Griffin. His employment offer proves too tempting for her to resist. She can’t afford to be distracted by his devilish charms because the stakes are so high for his sisters’ debut Season. . .unless one of London’s most notorious rakes has had a change of heart and is ready to make Esmeralda his bride in Last Night with the Duke, the first novel in the brand-new Regency Rakes of St. James series by New York Times bestselling author Amelia Grey.
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Amelia Grey read her first romance book when she was thirteen and she's been a devoted reader of love stories ever since. Her awards include the Booksellers Best, Aspen Gold, and the Golden Quill. Writing as Gloria Dale Skinner, she won the coveted Romantic Times Award for Love and Laughter, and the prestigious Maggie Award. Her books have sold to many countries in Europe, Indonesia, Turkey, Russia, and Japan. Several of her books have also been featured in Doubleday and Rhapsody Book Clubs. Amelia is the author of more than twenty-five books, including the Heirs' Club trilogy and the Rakes of St. James series. She's been happily married to her high school sweetheart for over thirty-five years and she lives on the beautiful gulf coast of Northwest Florida.
Read an Excerpt
Last Night With The Duke
By Amelia Grey
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Amelia Grey
All rights reserved.
Don't say in private what you don't want to hear repeated in public.
Miss Mamie Fortescue's Do's And Don'ts For Chaperones, Governesses, Tutors, And Nurses
Benedict Mercer's impatience was beginning to grow, and it didn't appear that the fourth Duke of Griffin's disposition would improve, judging by the fact that there was no one in the front office when he stepped into Miss Mamie Fortescue's Employment Agency. He removed his damp hat while noting the room was sparsely furnished with an old, inexpensive desk and a couple of chairs, but little else.
"Not even a bed of warm coals in the fireplace to take the chill off the wet day," he grumbled to himself, holding his hat under his arm while he took off his leather gloves. Even the walls were bare of adornment, though they were littered with nails and the holes where paintings, mirrors, sconces, or something else had once hung.
That no one was in attendance at the front shouldn't have surprised him, considering the way his luck had been running. It was bad enough hearing yesterday that rumors were swirling there might be retaliation against his sisters because of his past misdeeds, but then this morning he'd received word his aunt had taken to her sick bed and couldn't accompany the twins for the Season. He would keep watch on them as much as possible in the evenings and make certain they didn't fall victim to a prankster or any bachelor seeking to get even with him, but he couldn't go to every afternoon gathering those two would want to attend.
The last thing he wanted to do for the better part of six weeks was follow his sisters around to shopping adventures, card and tea parties, and daily walks in the park. Their constant chattering, high-pitched giggles, and occasional arguments would drive him insane. He needed a chaperone for them. Preferably a strong, commanding one for those duties.
But apparently he wasn't going to find anyone to help him with that today in this establishment.
Griffin started to turn around and walk out when he heard a woman's voice from an inside door that was open. Someone was present after all. Good, he thought impatiently. He wanted to get this annoying business settled as quickly as possible and get on with other things he had to do. He walked toward the doorway and listened while he waited for a break in the conversation so he could announce himself.
"Clearly that's not acceptable, Miss Pennywaite. You are a well-trained, fully capable governess and have been for the better part of a year. You should know how to handle ill-behaved children by now. What is the problem?"
Judging by the woman's words and authoritative tone, Griffin would say she wasn't happy with whomever she was speaking to.
"But what am I to do?" This question came from a woman who sounded on the verge of tears. "I've tried. He won't obey me."
"Then you haven't taken control of your charge."
"I've tried," replied the timorous voice. "He refuses to listen to me and do what I say."
"You must try harder," came the firm answer.
Griffin eased a little closer to the doorway. The woman was not backing down. Showing no mercy to the poor soul on the receiving end of the effective lecture.
"You cannot allow a seven-year-old boy to master you, Miss Pennywaite, even if he is by all accounts the master of the house and will be an earl one day. You must take him in hand; show him you are the adult, you are the teacher. Let him know without hesitancy that he is the pupil and he will behave himself and act as a proper young man should while he is in your care or you will tie him to a chair if you must and then put him to bed without so much as a crumb of bread to eat."
Griffin blinked at that last statement.
He heard the timid voice gasp and then sniffle before asking. "Have you done that?"
"Oh, for the love of heaven, Miss Pennywaite," came the stronger, frustrated voice. "Of course not! Don't look so stricken."
Intrigued, he moved closer to the door again. Now she sounded like just the kind of woman he was looking for. He needed a passionate-talking chaperone with an eagle eye that could spot a mischief-maker a mile away. All the better if she was tall, big-boned, and wore a perpetual scowl that could scorch a man with a glance from twenty feet.
"I've never had to be so unkind and neither will you. You won't actually tie him to a chair or starve him to the point of fainting, but he must believe you will by the stern look in your eyes and the unyielding tone in your voice."
If this woman was Miss Fortescue, Griffin had come to the right place. It would take someone of this fortitude to handle his two spoiled sisters and keep them in line as well as being on the watch for gentlemen who were only out to get even with him for a wager that had left all of Polite Society and the rest of London stunned and in no mood to forgive or, it seemed, to forget.
Griffin eased to the center of the doorway and caught sight of a tall and, from what he could tell, supplely built young woman with finely molded features standing behind a desk. At first he thought she was the one getting dressed down to her unmentionables, but then she spoke and Griffin was surprised to discover she was the confident one.
"Now lift your chin and square your shoulders, Miss Pennywaite. There will be no handwringing or tears from anyone associated with this agency. You will not lose this assignment over an unruly child. You have outstanding credentials and excellent references. You are quite able for this post. I have all faith you can handle this youngster with firm diligence. But you must believe in yourself first."
Unable to take his gaze off her, Griffin studied the woman with determined concentration. Her face was lovely. She would easily be the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, if not for her appearance. Her golden-blonde hair had been severely swept into a tight chignon at her nape and covered with a square of white lace. She wore a simple, long-sleeved high-waist dress in a dull and unbecoming shade of gray velvet. A brown woolen shawl hung loosely across her slim shoulders. He guessed her age to be near thirty yet she talked with the air and authority of one much older and wiser.
Perhaps he made a movement, a sound, or maybe she simply sensed his intense scrutiny, because he caught her attention. Something warm curled deep inside him when his gaze met hers from across the room. A flicker of shock in the depths of her eyes wasn't lost on him. Though she hid her surprise quickly behind the bold lift of her chin, a flush of pink lightly stained her cheeks, giving proof of guilt. She was unmistakably rattled for an instant to see him standing there watching her, listening to what could only be called a strong motivational speech.
She remained silent for a moment, taking in his unflinching scrutiny as intensely as he had hers. He knew she was trying to decide if he could have possibly overheard her conversation with the other woman, and if so, how much of it.
For now he'd let her wonder. He wanted to see how or if she tried to defend her rather hard perspective on what she considered the delicate woman's shortcomings.
Griffin watched as she inhaled a deep breath and drew on that confident strength she'd been displaying since he'd first heard her speak. She cleared her throat and in a quieter voice said, "We will continue this discussion at a later time, Miss Pennywaite. I suggest you return to your post now feeling resilient and more committed than when you left. I'm sure you'll do just fine."
The woman then adjusted the shawl higher on her shoulders and came around from behind her desk and walked toward him with a slow, assured stroll that allowed him time to peruse her lovely face. Her complexion was delicate and parchment pale. Her wide, golden-brown eyes were framed by fan-shaped brows and long dark lashes. She held a steady, uncensored gaze on him too.
There was a full, sensuous quality to her sweetly shaped lips. Her nose was small and nicely shaped. For the life of him, he didn't know why, but he had a sudden desire to reach down, kiss the tip of it, and say to her, "Well done." The corners of her beautifully formed mouth lifted slightly with a perfunctory smile, letting him know that whatever he may or may not have heard her say was not going to alter her appropriate response to him.
Her quick change in demeanor amused him, but impressed him too. He had a feeling she had no idea how much of herself she'd revealed to him in such a short time. For now, he wanted to keep that bit of information to himself.
As he watched her, he realized he was drawn to her in a way he hadn't been attracted to a woman in a long time. A very long time. He couldn't put his finger on what it was yet, but there was something more than just her understated beauty that beckoned him.
Griffin didn't know who she was, but she couldn't be Miss Mamie Fortescue. She was much too young. The employment agency had been a mainstay on the street for as long as he could remember. Perhaps she was a relative of the owner. One other thing he was certain of as she stopped a respectable distance from him and stared directly into his eyes as boldly as any man ever had — Griffin was already more than a little intrigued by her.
"May I help you, sir?" she asked as the other young woman hurried past with her head bent low and rushed out the main door without so much as a backward glance.
Oh, yes, he thought. But he said, "Possibly. I was looking for Miss Mamie Fortescue."
She clasped her hands together in front of her and answered, "I regret having to tell you she is no longer with this agency though it still bears her name. I'm Miss Esmeralda Swift, the administrator. Perhaps I can help you, Mr. —?"
He was silent for a moment as he pushed his cloak aside and stuffed his leather gloves into the pocket of his coat. Then he answered softly, "I am Griffin."
A flash of knowledge sparkled in her eyes and she quickly curtsied. "Your Grace, pardon me for not recognizing you. It's not every day a duke walks into the agency."
He'd wager on that statement.
He wouldn't have come inside today either, had he not noticed the sign as he was passing by and acted without forethought. All things concerning staff were usually left to his more-than-confident butler and housekeeper. However, on a rare streak of impulse, he decided he had to take matters into his own hands and exert a personal interest in who would be watching out for his sisters' best interest during the Season.
Ever since the ill-fated wager was made known years ago, Griffin seldom attended the large balls and parties where most of the ton assembled, preferring the smaller, quieter dinners during the Season. Now, he was forced to begin attending them again. He knew his sisters, and they wouldn't be easy to keep up with. It was up to him to escort them in the evening and keep an eye on them. It wasn't a responsibility he'd ever expected to have, and while he wouldn't look forward to it, perhaps it was the best he deserved for his past misdeeds.
"No need to concern yourself with that, Miss Swift. You may not have recognized me," he said ruefully, "but I can see there's no doubt you've heard of me."
Miss Swift opened her mouth to speak, but then as if thinking better of it, pressed her lips together and refrained from making a comment. He could only imagine what she must be thinking.
None of it good, he was sure.
Though he gave up worrying about what was thought or said about him long ago, Griffin's awareness of her as a woman who was not shy of courage continued to grow.
He wanted to know what she'd started to say, so he added, "Please don't be bashful with me, Miss Swift, or let my title keep you from speaking your mind. I assure you it won't upset me or alter the reason I'm here."
"Truly?" she asked with the first real sign of trepidation he'd seen her show.
He liked the fact she was inquisitive enough to want to test him yet wary enough to be cautious. "You have my word."
"In that case, aside from the fact that it's in my best interest to know the names of as many people as possible in Polite Society, I would venture to say every female between the ages of eight and eighty in all of England, Scotland, and Wales has heard your name, Your Grace, and knows what you and your friends did a few years ago."
So she had a sense of humor.
Her observance was cleverly stated. He smiled and relaxed his stance. It was refreshing that his being a duke hadn't intimidated her once he gave her permission to speak freely. All too often his title seemed to petrify young ladies. Most had no idea what to say to him or how to answer him with a direct response.
With a casual shrug, he said, "You forgot France, Portugal, Spain, and probably most of the Americas too."
A hint of good humor twitched at the corners of her mouth at the embellishment of what he stated. That pleased him too. Though in truth, he hadn't been many places that didn't know of him as one of the "Rakes of St. James."
"I stand corrected, Your Grace, but not surprised that Miss Honora Truth's Weekly Scandal Sheet is that widely known."
Her tone of voice lent veracity to her words, and his interest in her heightened. There was something about her self-confidence, and about how easy she was with it, that drew him.
"I have little doubt that writing about the Rakes of St. James these past weeks has made Miss Truth a wealthy woman by now, though the three of us have stayed out of Society the past few years except for an attending an occasional dinner party or ball."
"So I've heard."
He smiled again at that softly spoken comment. She wasn't fooling him for a moment. He felt certain that she read, no devoured, every salacious word the gossip columnist wrote — and all the other tittle-tattle sheets too. From what he'd been told by his aunt, most all of London did too.
"Miss Truth is obviously very good at what she does," Miss Swift added confidently.
"No doubt. Since she revived the old story weeks ago, she somehow manages to mention one of us at least once and sometimes twice a month in her scandal sheet."
"Perhaps that means there are times that neither position nor fortune can shield a man from his guilt no matter the lapse of time."
Miss Swift had pluck in spades. He'd give her that, and his affinity for her increased. "Well said, Miss Swift. I found out long ago that there is no use in trying to bury the ghosts of one's past."
"I am quite willing to admit that can't be done. The best to hope for is to hide them in the closet."
He gave her only the slightest of nods. "And then one can only do that for a time."
"That is probably everyone's greatest fear."
Her response caught him off guard and stirred emotions in him he hadn't felt in a long time. Griffin digested what she'd said, as compassion for her rippled through him with disquieting speed. So were there regrets in her past that she was hiding too? If so, what? he wondered. Emotional hurts or something else?
Silently, he wished she'd said more.
Griffin looked deeper into the depths of her golden-brown eyes and saw clearly that there were unburied ghosts lingering around her. He couldn't help but wonder if she'd worked as hard to put her demons to rest as he had his.
Instinct and a fair amount of curiosity bid him to question her at length. He wanted to delve into her feelings, explore her past, and determine what haunted her, but he didn't. The sudden fragile expression on her lovely face caused him to resist the urge. This was not the time for such talk. Perhaps another time would be, but for this day he would repress his acute interest in her past and not rummage into such affairs no matter if she would be willing. He wasn't looking to become enamored of this young woman, yet one thing was certain — she had evoked more than mere curiosity.
"So that brings us back to my reason for being here in this establishment. I find that I have need of your services."
"Yes, of course," she said suddenly returning to her more-detached tone of voice, all vulnerability instantly gone from her face and her deportment. She retreated to the competent woman and glanced around the room before motioning to one of the well-worn chairs. "Please take a seat and tell me how I can help you."
Griffin didn't bother to sit down and neither did she. "Though I would rather spare the ton my presence at all the usual gatherings of the Season, I'm afraid that won't be possible this year. My twin sisters, Lady Vera and Lady Sara, will be making their debut when the Season starts."
"Twins. How fortunate."
"I consider it a misfortune, Miss Swift," he said sardonically.
"Because they are your responsibility?"
Excerpted from Last Night With The Duke by Amelia Grey. Copyright © 2017 Amelia Grey. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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