Best Books of November - Bookriot
A lady with a noble mission. A duke looking for redemption. A forbidden love that cannot be denied, in The Good, The Bad, and The Duke by Janna MacGregor.
Lady Daphne Hallworth is ready to celebrate the holidays with her family. But when they accidentally leave her home alone, Daphne uses the time to work on her dreamopening a home for unwed mothers. But her quest isn’t problem-free: She’s in a battle to win the property for the home against her brother’s best friend-turned-enemy, Paul Barstowe, Duke of Southart. And that’s not all: someone has stolen her personal diary, which holds secrets that could devastate her family. Daphne has always harbored private feelings for the man her family scorns…though perhaps striking a bargain with the handsome Duke will solve both their problems?
Paul, long considered good for nothing, aims to open a hospital to honor his brother and restore his reputation. So when a conflict over the land brings him straight into Daphne’s life, they make a deal: He will help her find her diary if Daphne can change her family’s opinion of him. But before he can win her family’s affection, he has to win hers first. Maybe love was the answer to their family feud all along?
About the Author
Janna MacGregor was born and raised in the bootheel of Missouri. She credits her darling mom for introducing her to the happily-ever-after world of romance novels. Janna writes stories where compelling and powerful heroines meet and fall in love with their equally matched heroes. She is the mother of triplets and lives in Kansas City with her very own dashing rogue, and two smug, but not surprisingly, perfect pugs. She loves to hear from readers. She is the author of the Cavensham Heiresses series, which includes The Bad Luck Bride, The Bride Who Got Lucky, and The Luck of the Bride.
Read an Excerpt
Sixteen years later
The London residence of the Duke of Langham
Paul relaxed in the leather chair that sat directly in front of the Duke of Langham's mahogany desk. In so many ways, the piece resembled the duke — massive, dark, but with an inherent warmth that made a person want to settle in for a long afternoon of pleasure mixed with work.
That was the allure of Langham. As one of the most respected — not to mention powerful — members in the House of Lords, his acceptance of Paul by being the first to stand at the end of Paul's introductory address to the noble institution had made Paul's welcome by its members easier. Everyone had followed the duke's example and stood. As the sound of clapping and cheers echoed through the chambers, Paul finally had allowed himself to relax.
His peers accepted him.
However, the duke's nephew-in-law, Paul's oldest but estranged friend, Alexander, the Marquis of Pembrooke, had been one of the last to stand when Paul received a standing ovation for his speech.
The marquess's act of disdain that day still stung but wasn't much of a surprise. Their former friendship had been destroyed by Paul's selfish acts. But Pembrooke's brief note offering condolences on the death of Paul's brother three months ago meant the world to him. Paul kept it on his desk as a reminder of all the things he'd lost in his life, but it also represented hope. If Pembrooke thought enough to pen a note, then perhaps Paul could redeem himself in his former friend's eyes.
"I'm not the only one who has noticed the amount of work you're doing to familiarize yourself with the upcoming parliamentary session next year," Langham offered. "It shows your commitment. Lord Kenton may offer you a position on one of his committees. If you want it, I'll see that it happens."
"I'd appreciate your help. I can never repay you for your kindness." Paul glanced at his little finger where the large ruby in his signet ring flashed like fire. Every Duke of Southart had worn it since William III had bestowed the stone as a thank-you for the first duke's valiant service. For Paul, the ring was not a symbol of his father, but a symbol of Paul's family. It should have been Robbie's, but Paul wore it in Robbie's place. For that reason alone, it meant something to him. "I couldn't have made such strides without your thoughts and guidance."
The duke waved his hand through the air as if it were nothing. The fact that he'd allowed Paul entrance into Langham Hall after Paul had jilted the duke's niece years ago on the night of their engagement ball spoke of the duke's forgiving nature.
He swallowed, hoping to relieve his unease at such painful memories. He'd been desperate that night. Gambling recklessly trying to win back all the money he'd lost. Pembrooke had come to rescue him, but in return for buying Paul's debts, Pembrooke demanded that Paul release Lady Claire Cavensham, Langham's niece, from the betrothal. Based upon Paul's behavior at the gambling hells, Pembrooke thought he wasn't good enough for the duke's niece. Which in hindsight was true — much to Paul's own disgrace. He did as asked, not thinking of the ramifications, by breaking with her at their engagement ball, and Pembrooke had quickly married Claire within the week to save her from the ton's vicious rumors. Now Lady Claire was the Marchioness of Pembrooke.
"Langham" — he cleared his throat hoping that brief moment would summon forth the right words — "I truly am sorry for my previous behavior when I was engaged to your niece."
The duke slowly leaned forward and focused his hawk-like gaze on Paul. Moments slipped by, causing their earlier ease with each other to grow tense. Finally, the duke finished his examination and leaned back in his chair. "There's no need to revisit the past. What you need to concentrate on is your current and future actions. They'll define your worth as the new Duke of Southart."
Paul nodded. "That's one of the things I want to discuss. I'm starting a new charity, a hospital that specializes in the treatment of rheumatic fever, to honor my late brother, Robbie. It'll be a place for patients who have no other alternatives for care, and hopefully, it'll provide research opportunities for the top medical professionals in that area of study."
A smile tugged at the duke's mouth, and his blue eyes flashed with delight. "That's a noble cause, and one you should be passionate about."
"I am," Paul answered truthfully. He'd been thinking of starting this endeavor for years, ever since Robbie had first become ill.
"How can I help?" the duke asked.
"I've instructed my solicitors to find a suitable property. And I hoped you'd come to a benefit soiree I plan to host in several months —" Before he could continue, Pembrooke and Nicholas, the Earl of Somerton, entered the room. While Pembrooke had married the duke's niece, Somerton had married the duke's daughter, Lady Emma Cavensham, now the Countess of Somerton.
"Come in, gentlemen," the duke called out in greeting. "Southart and I were discussing his plans for a new hospital in honor of his late brother. Grand idea, don't you think?"
Paul stood and nodded in greeting.
Somerton answered Paul's nod with a brief one of his own, but Pembrooke visibly stiffened his shoulders and stared at him as if he were an intruder.
"It's an admirable goal," Pembrooke finally said. "However, completing such a project takes dedication, hard work, and gravitas. Traits you always seemed to lack. Unless you've acquired them in recent years." One arrogant eyebrow arched slowly. Silence descended at the curt denouncement.
Somerton shook his head. "Pembrooke, enough."
"Things haven't changed, I see." The duke exhaled and gently drummed the fingers of one hand on the desktop. "Perhaps you'd both like to join us, and we could discuss this in more detail."
Arm in arm with smiles on their faces, Somerton's wife, Emma, and Lady Daphne entered. Both women were attractive, but Paul's gaze fixated on Daphne. She'd turned into a real diamond of the first water. She was breathtaking.
As soon as Daphne saw Paul, her eyes widened. "Paul ... I mean, Your Grace. How wonderful to see you."
The excitement in her voice rang through the room. All he could do was grin. "Lady Somerton," he answered. "Lady Daphne, the pleasure is all mine."
Emma nodded in return, but Daphne's smile grew bigger. The brilliance in her unusual gray eyes reminded him of simpler times when they were all younger — and all true friends. They'd certainly been more at ease with one another's company.
She broke away from her friend, then approached Paul. Her happy greeting caused the tightness in his chest to ease.
He took her gloved hand in his. Though her hand was covered, he could detect the inherent softness of her skin. Unable to resist, he gently squeezed, signaling his pleasure at her welcome. "Congratulations. I understand your mother married Somerton's father. I wish both of them happiness."
"Thank you. I'll give Mother and Renton your regards." Still holding his hand, she executed a perfect curtsy. "We're all so happy for their union. An added benefit is that Alex and I have a new stepbrother, Somerton."
"And he has a new stepbrother and stepsister. I'm envious," Paul said. "But very happy for all of you."
"My condolences to you on the recent passing of your brother and father." She squeezed his hand in return.
"Thank you." He was desperate for the comfort she offered and made the mistake of holding her hand a little too long.
"Daphne," commanded Pembrooke.
She dropped his hand as if burned, then turned to her brother. "Alex, I didn't see you." She hesitated for a moment.
But it was long enough for Paul to see the division that lay between him and Pembrooke extended to Daphne as well. Without another word, she went to stand beside her brother. The awkwardness in the room grew until it became unbearable for Paul. He quickly took his leave from the duke and Lord and Lady Somerton, then forced himself to face Pembrooke.
Daphne's brother had his head bent to hers in a private conversation.
"Why not welcome him?" she murmured. "The duke has."
"He may be the Duke of Southart now, but he hasn't changed. He promises nothing but disappointment. Remember what he did to Claire." Alex bit out the words. "Stay away from him."
Daphne glanced his way while her brother engaged in a conversation with Langham.
A flush of heat threatened to overtake Paul.
She bit her lip, then dropped her gaze.
They both were aware Paul had heard every word.
Three months later — exactly three days before Christmastide The London residence of the Duke of Southart
Paul resisted the urge to straighten the cuffs of his shirt, a habit he acquired years ago when confronting his father in this very room. He stared into the glass of brandy. This particular vintage had been his father's favorite until he and his older brother, Robert, had replaced three bottles with rust-colored water. His father hadn't punished Robbie, but Paul couldn't sit down for a week without a pillow underneath.
"Would I what?" Paul glanced from the glass into the bottomless green eyes of Devan Farris. He was in London for Christmastide ready to receive his new assignment in the church. What made Devan unique was his steadfastness. He was the only man who hadn't given up on Paul, and he was Paul's last true friend in the world. It made little difference that Devan happened to be the most unusual vicar who had ever resided in Easton, a tiny village located five miles north of Paul's duchy.
It was still difficult to refer to Southart as such. Six months ago, his father — with probable infinite pleasure — had shocked everyone with his death just two days after Robbie's passing from rheumatic fever, a lasting souvenir from his severe bout of scarlet fever. Robbie's death had been expected, as his health had declined rapidly over the last three years, but their father's sudden passing surprised everyone. The doctor had concluded the duke's heart had suddenly stopped. Paul had a better diagnosis; his father had died of a broken heart. The contrary act had made Paul the new Duke of Southart, even though he still considered himself the second son, the spare heir — just like his father had.
Perhaps he always would. His gaze skimmed his azure merino wool dress coat with diamond buttons and black silk pantaloons. He dressed like a duke, but beneath the wrappings of his position in society and wealth, he was still the same man — one who had lived a life full of mistakes and regrets. However, he'd change all that with the creation of his hospital.
"Would you swive the new Duchess of Renton? Though she's old enough to be our mother, she's still grand looking." Devan rose from the settee and poured another glass of brandy. "How many times do I have to go through the entire Debrett's listing of married women in the ton? You used to be marvelous fun at this game. Now a day-old dumpling has more appeal. By the way, this swallows like a whore's —"
"For the love of God, Farris. You're a man of the church." Paul shook his head and chuckled. His old friend could always make him smile with his outrageous comments and game of "Would You Swive?"
"Need I remind you that I'm considered one of the most devout of my profession?" Devan's arrogance transformed into an expression of a dutiful clergyman ready to hear confessions. "Oh, I can give my flock a pious look. I can recite a couple of pieces of verse as I bow my head and close my eyes. As I whisper a trite prayer, they all think I'm the holiest thing that ever came into this world." He threw back his head and laughed. "I love my work."
The joy in Farris's face was contagious, and Paul grinned in return. For the moment, this was exactly what he'd needed to steal away his grief from losing his family — meaningless fun with a friend.
"Of course, if they only knew that I can swill whisky along with the best of men. Besides, I'm proud of the fact that I've raised my fair amount of hell and have never been caught," Devan boasted.
"I taught you everything you know," Paul quipped.
"No, I taught you ... except the women part. How in the devil you could seduce the Countess of Velton is beyond me." Devan squinted and shuddered.
His reaction reminded Paul of sour lemons.
"In defense of the old dame, it was out of respect." Paul had only bedded her once, but it was a fond memory. Twenty years older and with the patience of Job, she'd taught him all sorts of sensual delights. At the age of seventeen, he had known nothing about women. Lady Velton had sought his attention at a house party, then had kindly taught him every seduction technique she'd acquired in her thirty-plus years upon the earth. With all that bountiful knowledge, he could take a woman on a sensual journey in bed that she'd never forget. In return, he found his own satisfaction knowing that when he took a woman to bed she was treated like a queen. He lifted his glass in Lady Velton's honor for a weekend that had proved well worth his time, and he hoped that she considered him worth her time.
"You're a simpleton when it comes to women," Devan countered.
"Careful, my friend." Paul leaned back and regarded him with a half-lidded gaze. "I'm not a simpleton, but I am a simple man, one with simple tastes and simple goals."
Devan grunted in response.
"I adore beautiful women, vintage champagne, fine clothes, and the worst gambling hells I can find." Paul set the brandy aside and rose from the richly appointed mahogany desk. The Moroccan leather chair moaned, protesting like a cast-aside lover. He circled the massive piece of wood and made his way to the side table, where he poured a glass of champagne. He lifted the glass in the air, but Devan shook his head.
"I'm fine with this," the vicar answered. "By the way, how goes the search for a property for the new hospital?"
"My solicitors found a perfect location. I trust their judgment and directed them to place a suitable bid on the property."
"Sight unseen?" Devon raised a brow.
"Yes, I didn't want to lose it," Paul said. "Apparently, someone else is interested in it."
Both raised their glasses to each other.
"To the hospital," Paul toasted.
"To the hospital." Devan nodded. "And friends old and new."
Paul exhaled loudly. "Why did you choose a profession in the church? With your new assignment forthcoming, you'll likely settle in a small town with nothing to offer but a constant view of cows chewing their cuds."
Devan tilted his head as he considered Paul's question. "Well, as the fourth son of an earl, I didn't have many options in life. I could have gone into the military, but how bourgeois. There's only so much entertainment to be had in the daily cleaning of weapons." He leaned forward. "What other choice did I have? Let me tell you a secret few know. As a man of the church, I'm revered. I always have a tea or dinner invitation readily offered from the various families of my parish." He shrugged his shoulders. "I can flirt with the prettiest women in town, and no one bats an eye."
"Give it up. Come live at Southart. The duchy's rectory is a lovely place, and you could settle into a life that I guarantee will be fulfilling. You'll have my wretched soul to watch over. That should keep you busy until the end of your days."
When Devan examined him with a razor-sharp gaze, prickles of unease raised the hair on the back of Paul's neck. An image of Devan pulling away the layers of sins and misdeeds while trying to find something redeeming inside increased Paul's discomfort. Such a task as finding anything worthwhile in his rotten soul would take the vicar years or, most likely, eons.
"That came out of the clear blue. Feeling nostalgic this time of year, my friend?" Devan tilted his head.
"Hardly. I received another note and vowel from my father addressed to 'The Great Disappointment, my baseborn son.' The solicitor sent it over this morning."
"Christ," Devan said. "Your father's cruelty knows no bounds. What's the amount of the vowel?"
"I owe the Reynolds fifteen pounds. This makes the third one in three weeks. He's haunting me from the grave." He laughed, but the sound held no humor. "The vowels are all such little amounts. Why did he save them? I could have paid these amounts years ago."
Devan shrugged his shoulders, but his gaze never left Paul's.
"I'll tell you why. He's humiliating me." Paul allowed his carefully constructed image of a bored and pampered aristocrat to melt away. He commanded a deep breath to dampen the bite of pain that appeared at the most inopportune times. On most occasions, he managed to tame the misery residing close to his every thought and deed. This moment was a watershed. His grief over his father's sudden death was a constant mystery. He and his brother had been close for siblings, but his father had treated him as if he were something the cat had dragged into the house in the blackest part of night. When Robbie had discovered Paul's beating by their father's hand over the brandy prank, Robbie had entered their father's study and not emerged for an hour.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Good, The Bad, And The Duke"
Copyright © 2018 JLWR, LLC.
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.