Romancing the Scarred Duke Preview

A Historical Regency Romance Novel


About the book


"I can't give you the love. This marriage is only to remain of convenience."

Lady Veronica is a spinster and she vows to remain as such. Men only speak to her to get to her sisters, who have always overshadowed her chances of marriage. Because of that, she has come to a conclusion: she absolutely hates rakes. And she especially hates rakes like Duke Adam, a man who claims to be reformed...


Duke Adam is a cold and scarred man. With no respect for no one except for his ill and dying mother, he has never taken his responsibilities as a Duke seriously. Until his mother claims she has wish: she wants to see him married before she dies. And now, Duke Adam is on a search for his own Duchess and Veronica has caught his eye...


When Veronica gets injured and hurt, Duke Adam rescues her and takes her to the Castle. But the rumors spread and t
hey're soon forced into a marriage of convenience. But can it turn into love?

Prologue

 

Veronica Archer waited impatiently for her maid to finish with her brown hair. She was spending the season at Braywood Castle. Her parents were good friends with the Duke of Arthstone’s wife, Lady Katherine, and so they were always invited. But up until this year, Veronica barely had any time to spend with other children—most of her time was at home, with her governess who has since passed. Now, at only thirteen years old, she felt a new sense of freedom. For the first time in a while, she was finally able to have friends. 

She had been at Braywood Castle which was located near London for a week now, and they had already helped the cook make cookies and sweets, as well as plum pudding. They went caroling around the tenants who lived around Braywood and played parlor games. Since Christmas was only a week away, today Veronica had been invited with the older children to go outside and gather greenery to deck the halls with.  

“If you would just sit still, My Lady, I will be done in a moment,” Jane, her maid, said with a frown as Veronica again squirmed on the hard wooden stool.

“You need to hurry. I don’t want the others to leave without me because I was late,” Veronica pouted and then winced as Jane tugged on a difficult snarl.

“You won’t be late, unless you keep wiggling,” Jane retorted. “I’m almost done.”

Veronica sighed but did her best to hold still. Jane finally finished the last braid and tied a ribbon on the end.

“Finally,” she gave a loud sigh. Jumping to her feet, she picked up her wrap and hurried out her bedroom door. She almost ran into her two younger sisters, Hannah and Janette in the hallway. Their mother was with them.

“Veronica,” Lady Lydia chastised with a frown at her oldest daughter. “You are too old to be running along the hallways. This behavior must stop.”

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Veronica said contritely. “May I go downstairs with the others?”

Lady Lydia didn’t answer for a moment as she looked Veronica over with a critical eye. She must have passed inspection because her mother gave a regal nod. “You may. But make sure that you pay attention to your surroundings. It won’t do if you get lost in those dense woods.” 

“Yes, Mother,” Veronica replied. 

“I wish I could come,” Hannah grumbled. “I don’t want to spend the day in the nursery with the babies.”

Lady Lydia was about ready to give her middle daughter a lecture about complaining when there was nothing she could do about the situation, but Veronica spoke up. “Renae will be there as well, dear. I’m sure you will have fun together.”

Hannah perked up at that thought. 

“May I go, Mother?” she asked again.

When Lady Lydia again nodded, Veronica walked down the hall towards the stairs, doing her best not to run. When she arrived at the castle entryway, she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw three people waiting; John, Daniel, and Evelyn. They hadn’t left her behind. Her good friend, Ellen, appeared a moment later, equally breathless.

“Good morning,” Veronica greeted the group brightly.

“Hullo,” Ellen said. “We are just waiting for David, Stewart, and Caroline.”

“And Adam,” John spoke up.

“Of course,” Ellen replied, flushing at her obvious mistake of forgetting to mention the eighteen-year-old son of the Duke of Arthstone. 

Veronica felt comfortable with everyone here. She had grown up with most of them, although Ellen and her family had moved to London only a year ago. Daniel was her older brother. Stewart arrived in the entryway a moment later.

They waited silently for almost five minutes before David appeared.

“Adam said we should go without him. He’ll catch up to us momentarily,” David announced, his chest puffing out with importance that he was the one to be given the message. “Is this everyone?”

Everyone nodded or answered in the affirmative. 

“Let’s go then.” He turned and walked outdoors without a backward glance to see if the others were following him.

Ellen linked arms with Veronica, and they exchanged glances at the obvious slight David was giving them. His father was a Marquis and he always acted like he was better than everyone else. Since he was also a good friend of Adam’s, he took advantage of it.

She followed the group to the nearby forest, glad that the ground was dry, and she wouldn’t need to dodge around muddy puddles. She stayed by Ellen’s side, and they chatted about mundane things—sometimes the weather, other times the prospects of marriage. Well, if you could call talks of marriage as mundane. It was something they always had in mind. The weather was cold, but the sun shone through the clouds, and she lifted her face to feel the warmth. She pulled her cloak closer around her and listened as the boys boasted about racing horses and a charade game they had played the evening before. 

“Here comes Adam,” David said, pointing towards a large clearing. 

Veronica saw Adam Brennan was coming towards them on the back of a large black stallion. He stopped the horse just a few feet away from them and the boys gathered around with interest. 

“Great stallion,” David said with admiration in his gray eyes. 

“Where did you get him?” Stewart asked enviously.

“My father gave him to me for my birthday,” Adam boasted proudly as he reached down and patted the stallion on his massive neck.

Veronica noticed the horse appeared nervous as he danced on his feet and the boys crowded in.

“Back off,” Adam commanded. “You’re making him nervous.”

“What is his name?” Stewart asked as he took a step back.

“I named him Blaze,” Adam answered. “From the white spot on his forehead.”

“You should race him,” David dared.

“I can’t. He’s not ready to run,” Adam replied. He clicked his tongue and had the horse walk in a wide circle. “I just wanted you to see him.”

“I dare you,” John spoke up. “He’s trained. I know because your father bought him from our stables.” John’s father was an earl like Veronica’s father was, and raised thoroughbreds. 

“My father told me I could show you Blaze as long as I keep him at a walk,” Adam answered.

“Just run him a short length, maybe to that tree over there,” David said as he pointed to a large oak tree in the distance. “It’s not very far.”

“Yes, let’s see how fast he is,” Stewart added. 

Adam stared at his friends for a moment and Veronica held her breath, wondering what he was going to do. She didn’t have a lot of knowledge about horses, but she did know that if your father gave you an order, you had best obey it. 

Adam seemed to have made a decision because he looked his friends straight in their eyes. “Alright. I’ll do it.”

The boys began to cheer. Veronica wanted to speak up and encourage Adam to ignore his friends’ bad behavior, but she knew he wouldn’t listen to her; she was only thirteen, and still a child in his eyes. 

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Ellen muttered next to Veronica.

Veronica didn’t answer, but she was glad she wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Things weren’t going to end well. At the very least, the Duke of Arthstone would punish Adam. He was known for his bad temper. 

“Shouldn’t we spend our time cutting down greenery?”  Ellen spoke up hopefully. 

“We can do that after the race,” Stewart answered. “We’ll cut so much the servants won’t know what to do with it all.”

Adam moved his horse into place. “I’ll race Blaze to that tree, but no further.”

“Good enough,” David shouted, raising his fist in the air.

Adam leaned over Blaze’s back and whispered something in the horse’s ears, although Veronica couldn’t hear what it was. Then Adam kicked his heels in Blaze’s side. The horse instantly began to run.

As she watched, Veronica had to admit that Adam rode the horse well. He was a handsome young man with blond hair that was almost too long, and it flew in the breeze. Blaze seemed to enjoy being allowed to be given his head. The boys cheered as the horse moved closer to the designated tree. Veronica stood silently next to Ellen, although she wished she could also cheer. But she knew if her mother witnessed such unladylike behavior, she would be banished to the nursery for the rest of the holidays. It was better to act like the lady she was trained to be.

Suddenly Adam yelled out in fright. The next instance, Blaze stumbled. Veronica watched with horror as Adam fell to the ground. The horse instantly collapsed and then fell to the side. The animal did not get up and neither did Adam.

Everyone froze for a long moment, shocked at what they had just witnessed.

“Adam!” she finally called out. “Are you alright?”

But Adam didn’t move. Veronica’s shout must have gotten the boys to move because they all ran to Adam’s side. Veronica did the same, not bothering to stay with the other girls, even though Ellen suggested she stay behind. She somehow knew Adam was gravely injured. She was out of breath when she finally made it to the scene. Adam had fallen face down into the mud and his right arm was lying by his side in a strange and awkward position.

“Aren’t you going to help him?” Veronica screeched at the boys who stood around Adam, staring at him with shocked expressions.

“What can we do?” Stewart asked scornfully as if she didn’t have the right to ask that question.

“David went back to the house to get help,” Daniel added.

Veronica looked at the retreating figure of David who was running toward the Castle. She turned her attention to the other boys and glowered at them, her small fists at her hips. “We can’t wait until someone comes. He needs help now!”

When the boys still refused to help, Veronica knew she would have to be the one to assess if Adam was alright. She fell to his side, not at all concerned about the mud Adam was covered with and which now covered her. 

“Adam?” she asked as she shook his shoulder gently.

He groaned and tried to lift his head but was unable to. Veronica carefully turned his face to the side in an attempt to get him out of the mud. What she saw shocked her. There was blood all over his face and she could see at least two large, very deep gouges on his right cheek. His right eye was swollen, and he couldn’t open it. 

She pulled her white lacy handkerchief out of her dress pocket and used it to try to stop the flow of blood from the largest wound, but it didn’t help very much. Adam began to move at her touch and groaned again. 

“Let’s get you on your back,” she said and helped him roll over, doing her best to not touch his injured arm.

“You’ll be fine,” Veronica murmured as she placed his head in her lap. “Help is coming.”

Adam groaned again. “Where is Blaze?”

Veronica had forgotten about the horse and glanced at the animal that now stood a few feet away. Daniel had a hold of his reins. She was glad to see the magnificent animal was on his feet, but she cringed when she noticed that he was favoring his right leg. 

“He’s by Daniel. Your friends are caring for him,” she said soothingly, choosing to not tell him about the injured leg.

Those words seemed to calm Adam somewhat.

“I shouldn’t have run him. Father is going to be livid,” Adam muttered angrily. 

While Veronica agreed with Adam, she continued to say comforting words as she tried to keep the wounds from bleeding too much. It seemed like it took a long time before help finally arrived in the form of the Duke of Arthstone, as well as a man Veronica had never seen before. 

The Duke stood over his son with a fierce expression, but Veronica also saw worry and concern in his eyes. He looked at Veronica as if just noticing that she was there.

“Thank you, little one. We can take over now,” he said a bit gruffly.

Veronica nodded and allowed the other man to help her to her feet. 

“You had better go inside and get cleaned up,” the man said with a nod toward the castle.

Veronica looked at herself, and for the first time noticed that she was covered in mud and splatters of blood. She knew her mother wasn’t going to be happy with her; she had ruined one of her best dresses. But she didn’t regret doing what she could to help Adam. 

“Can you…” She paused, not sure she should ask her question.

“Yes?” the man prompted.

“Can you let me know how he is doing?”

“Yes,” he responded before turning his attention to the Duke and Adam.

Veronica began the long walk back to Braywood Castle, no longer interested in gathering greenery. She couldn’t see the others and wasn’t sure if they had been sent back to the house or were in the nearby forest cutting down pine boughs. 

As Veronica expected, her mother wasn’t pleased with her state of dress, even when she explained what had happened. Lady Lydia immediately ordered a hot bath and instructed her to come to her rooms when she was presentable again. Veronica’s maid, Jane, helped her bathe and dress into a clean gown. 

She went to her mother’s rooms as instructed and received a lecture on decorum. She didn’t even try to defend herself. Even though her mother felt she should have allowed someone else to help Adam, she didn’t regret what she had done. She didn’t voice her thoughts though. Her mother had threatened to keep her from continuing to be part of the festivities, but in the end, had allowed Veronica to continue to participate.  

It was the next day before Veronica found out that Adam had indeed broken his right arm. He had also needed multiple stitches to close the wounds on his face. But worst of all, his horse had needed to be put down because he had broken his leg and the injury was too severe to heal properly. 

She kept an eye out for Adam as she went through the coming days and activities, but she never saw him. 

And her family never spent a Christmas at Braywood Castle again.


Chapter One


Veronica strode slowly next to her two sisters, making their way to Hyde Park in London. Other young ladies and lords were also in attendance, finding comfort in the warm weather. She listened silently as her younger sisters, Hannah and Janette, chatted about an upcoming ball that was to be held at the Hoffman’s home. She knew without looking that Jane, her trusted maid, was trailing them. 

“I hope that William Grant will ask me to dance,” Janette giggled. “He is so handsome.”

Hannah waved a lily-white hand in the air. “He’s too young for me. I would rather dance with Charles Clark.” She named a man who was almost ten years older than her twenty years. 

“You think that any man who is close to your age is too young,” Janette scoffed.

“I want to marry a mature man,” Hannah said determinedly. 

“What do you think, sister dear?” Janette asked Veronica.

“I’d rather not think about the ball at the moment. I’m looking forward to the musical this evening that is being held at the Peter’s home. Aren’t you?”

“Cecelia doesn’t sing or play the pianoforte as well as she thinks she does, but it is a chance to see who is going to be around this season,” Hannah commented.

“I wish mother would allow us to give a musical soiree or even a garden party,” Janette said. “I wouldn’t mind singing or playing the pianoforte. Goodness knows how long it took me to learn Beethoven.”

“You have worked very hard on that piece,” Veronica agreed, although privately she was glad her mother wasn’t inclined to invite anyone into their home for a recital. She would be expected to perform, and she disliked being the center of attention, despite her talents at the pianoforte.

“Did you hear that mother has agreed that we each receive three new dresses for this season?” Hannah asked. “She has arranged for a seamstress to come to our house for a fitting in the morning.”

“I’m so glad she agreed to that,” Janette said with delight. “Aren’t you, Veronica?”

Veronica nodded as her sisters expected her to, although she felt she already had enough dresses, but she figured a young lady couldn’t have enough. She continued to listen as Hannah spoke about a new bonnet she wanted, and Janette stopped to greet an old friend she hadn’t seen in a long time.  

She didn’t enjoy these walks in the Hyde Park, but their mother insisted that they leave the house at precisely ten o’clock every morning to socialize. She would rather have gone to a quieter place, but of course, Mother wouldn’t approve.

“You shall be seen by the ton this sunny day,” her mother had told them.

Veronica had wanted to ask ‘what sun,’ since the sky had been mostly cloudy since their arrival in London. She also found it ironic that Lady Lydia wanted them to have a healthy complexion but insisted that they cover most of their skin from head to toe, not giving the sunlight the chance to shine through the clouds and touch their skin.

Three young men were walking toward them, and Veronica hoped that they would give them a polite nod and continue on. But her hopes were dashed as Hannah and Janette stopped in their path, determined to speak with them. Veronica gave a discrete sigh. She disliked talking with young men she hardly knew, but she was aware that her sisters loved any kind of attention a man gave them. 

“Good afternoon,” one of the young men said, “I’m Lord Wilson. Happy to make your acquaintance.” 

Veronica smiled politely.

“Isn’t this a beautiful day?” he asked.

She nodded, almost by rote. “Yes.”

“Will you and your sisters be attending the Hoffman ball?”

This was why Veronica disliked speaking with men. They acted like they were interested in her, but they really wanted to get her sister’s attention. She was very aware that she wasn’t a beauty like Hannah and Janette were. She had dull brown hair that always seemed to have a mind of its own, never staying in place. Her brown eyes were the same hue as her hair. Her lips were too full, and she always looked pale. On the other hand, Hannah and Janette had shiny blonde hair and blue eyes the color of the sky, when it wasn’t cloudy. She felt dowdy next to her beautiful sisters. 

“I believe so,” she answered. He smiled his pleasure as he glanced sideways at Hannah, letting Veronica know she was the sister he was interested in. She wanted to tell him to not waste his time, that she had it on good authority that Hannah wasn’t interested in Jack Wilson, but she kept silent.

Jack continued to speak about the weather, the pleasant walk in the park, and whether she and her sisters were planning on attending any plays this season. When the three men finally left, Veronica slid her arms through those of her sisters, determined to move on and walk as a three. But only a few minutes later, they were stopped by two other men. 

It is going to take all afternoon to get from one side of the park to the other, she thought with frustration as he watched these men talk animatedly with Hannah and Janette while ignoring her completely. 

She was getting very tired of being ignored while her sisters enjoyed the attention of almost every man who passed by. She wanted to return to the house on her own, but she knew she couldn’t, not until her sisters were ready to leave the park. She just wanted to enjoy the nice day with her sisters and not have every young man in the vicinity come along and ruin her walk.

 

***

 

Adam Brennan, the present Duke of Arthstone, signed the letter he had just written to one of his tenants with a flourish. He blotted the ink and then set the parchment aside to be delivered later. With a small sigh, he pulled a fresh sheet of paper in front of him. He clenched and then unclenched his hand because of stiffness from writing almost all day. He had written at least ten letters that day and he still had two more to go. 

He looked at James Singen, his secretary and valet, who stood at attention near his desk. “When is Lord Charles supposed to arrive?” he asked.

“At precisely two o’clock, sir,” James responded formally.

Adam nodded, resigned to the fact that he still had an hour until he could stop writing letters. If he hurried, he could finish one more letter. What he really wished for though, was to take a break, but he had too much to do. 

“Could we speak for a moment?”

Adam got to his feet. “Of course, Mother. Come in.”

He waited while she glided into his study. He gave her a welcome kiss on the cheek and waited until she sat down before doing the same. 

“What can I do for you?” he asked, determined to give his entire attention to his mother.

The Dowager Katherine didn’t answer as she slowly looked around the office. Sadness filled her eyes as she glanced at the family portrait hanging above the mantelpiece, and Adam knew she was thinking about the late Duke of Arthstone, her beloved husband. 

“You still miss him,” Adam observed softly.

She nodded. “I do. Even though it has been five years, I will always miss him.”

“Have you thought about… remarrying?” Adam asked, not sure if he should even bring up this subject. “I know that you loved my father deeply, but I hate to see you so sad all the time. Maybe it might be a good idea to at least find someone who can be a friend and companion to you.”

“I will not remarry,” Lady Katherine said with a frown. “I have no desire to do so. But you brought up the subject that I came here to speak to you about.”

Adam was confused. “Marriage?” he asked. 

She nodded. “Your marriage.”

He quickly shook his head. “I am not ready for that, Mother. There is so much to do. It takes all my time to keep our estate going and running smoothly. I don’t have time to find a woman to court.”

“The season is just starting. Won’t you consider at least attending some of the events? I’m sure you have been invited to many balls, parties, and musical soirees.”

Adam glanced at the growing pile of such invitations that sat on a corner of his desk. “I have, but there is so much that needs my attention with Braywood Castle. Maybe next year things will be running more smoothly.”

“Oh, Adam. You are so much like your father,” Lady Katherine said with a smile. “He always put the tenant's needs before his own. And I do admire your work ethic, but I also want you to be happy.”

“I am happy, Mother,” Adam said quickly, suddenly wishing that she would leave him to his work. 

“Are you?” she studied him. “I think you are content, even with how busy you are. But happy? My dearest desire is for you to find a young woman to love like your father and I had.” She smiled. “And I also would love to have grandchildren around while I’m still young enough to enjoy them.”

Adam laughed. “I think you might be worrying needlessly. You are only forty-three years of age and…”

Lady Katherine waved a hand in the air. “Oh, please don’t remind me of my age. Besides, Lady Georgette was my age. We attended school together as young girls

Adam thought of his mother’s dearest friend who had passed away just this last winter from pneumonia. He understood what his mother was not saying; that anything could happen to anyone, anytime. 

Without thinking, he reached a hand to his face and covered the scars that were there, reminding him of a time when he could have died as a youth. He pulled his hand away when he realized that Lady Katherine had seen his action.

“Your scars are hardly noticeable, Adam. You shouldn’t let them affect your future with a young lady."

Adam didn’t respond, but changed the subject, asking his mother about any visitors she had entertained over the last few days. She accepted his decision gracefully and they discussed a possible garden party she wanted to give. She left his study a few minutes later and Adam began to pace the elegant room, knowing that he did his best thinking on his feet. 

He touched his face again, knowing what he’d feel; jagged scars, four of them, each one longer and deeper than the other. He was grateful his mother didn’t encourage him to be self-conscious about them, but deep down, he was. He hated that he no longer had his handsome face, and he hated, even more, the reason why he had the scars in the first place. His mother told him many times over the last few years that the scars were no longer so noticeable as they had been after the tragic accident. But he had a hard time believing her words. He could see them in the large oval mirror in his rooms after all. He did agree that they were no longer red and angry. They used to be very tender when he touched them and that no longer happened. They were now white and thin against his tanned face, especially when he spent time outside with the horses. 

He thought about his mother’s request. He rarely denied her anything, but now he was tempted to ignore her words. Because of his station as Duke of Arthstone, he’d had many interactions with women over the last five years, with mixed results. Some seemed almost afraid of him because of how he looked. Others didn’t seem to mind his scars but were also more interested in his title and money than anything else. He rarely met a woman who showed interest in him as a man, not as a Duke. Because of these issues, Adam began to interact with women only for fun, playing the field as it were. When he met a woman he was interested in, he usually took her to dinner or to a play. He paid visits to her home where a chaperone was always in attendance. After a few weeks, he moved on to someone else. If the woman began to show interest in him to be more than friends, he immediately terminated the relationship. He had no desire to marry and had a difficult time trusting women’s true intent. 

“Your Grace.”

Adam stopped his pacing and looked up at James. “Yes?”

“You have received a message from Lord Charles.”

Adam took the folded paper and quickly read it. Lord Charles was requesting to meet on the morrow instead of that afternoon because something important had arisen.

“Tell him, yes,” Adam said. “We can try for tomorrow at the same time.”

James gave a short nod and disappeared. Adam glanced at the letter he had been trying to write before his mother had interrupted him. He suddenly had no desire to spend the rest of the afternoon writing correspondence. They would all still be there in the morning. He would do as his mother requested and ride to Hyde Park, not for the ladies, but to take a break he desperately needed.

After informing James that he planned to be gone for the afternoon, he went out to the stables and quickly found his favorite stallion, Apollo.

“Shall we ride out?”

The dark gray stallion tossed his head and Adam ran his hand over his neck for a moment and then led him out of his stall. It didn’t take him long to saddle the horse. A groom stood nearby ready to help if Adam needed him to, but he liked to take care of his own mount. 

Swinging on Apollo’s back, he gave a nod to the groom and urged the stallion down the long lane leading from the stables. He could tell Apollo wanted to run, but he expertly kept the animal under control. He always exercised Apollo in the early morning hours, so he didn’t need to really run. He was a thoroughbred, so was born to run, and if Adam allowed it, Apollo would run until he was exhausted.

Adam was very careful with his horses. He still felt sick every time he thought of his first horse, Blaze. His father had given it to him on his eighteenth birthday, and he had loved that horse. He had allowed his friends to egg him on and race Blaze when he wasn’t ready, and he had lost not only an expensive horse because of it, but a potential friend.

When Adam arrived at the edge of the park, he slowed Apollo down to a slow walk. He nodded as he passed the first group of young women, pretending not to notice their disappointment that he didn’t stop for some conversation. 

This continued as he moved down the path. He had to admit that he began to relax among the nature around him. It was a nice day to be in Hyde Park and to enjoy the rare sunlight that sometimes peaked through the clouds. It seemed like almost every young person in London was in the park, determined to let themselves be seen, as well as enjoy each other’s company.

The path curved and he saw another group of three women. Two of his boyhood friends, Stewart and Daniel, were with them. He had no desire to talk with them, having severed his friendship with them after his accident. Adam wanted to turn around until he recognized who the young women were. The three Archer sisters. If there was one woman he might be interested in, it would be Veronica Archer. 

He still remembered the help she had given him when he received his scars ten years ago. What had happened that fateful day had greatly defined his life over the years to come. Even though she had been very young, barely out of the nursery room, she had helped him get his face out of the mud and then used her fancy handkerchief to keep his scrapes from bleeding. He had been so dizzy, he couldn’t sit up, so she had kept his head in her lap even though he now knew he had ruined her dress with the mud and blood from his face. 

Once he had been taken to the house and the doctor had stitched him up, he had heard that she had gotten in trouble for ruining her dress. He had insisted she receive a new one and asked that his father made sure Veronica would still be allowed to participate in the holiday activities. He didn’t feel it was right that she be punished for something he had caused. 

Now, as he watched her, he thought Veronica to be one of the most beautiful women he knew. He noticed her brown hair when the sun hit it, with red highlights. She looked very different from her sisters with their blonde hair, but Adam found Veronica had natural beauty. She giggled at something her youngest sister said, and he wanted to say something to her so he could hear her laugh again. Stewart gave the ladies a short bow and then moved on down the path. 

Remembering his mother’s admonition, he slid off Apollo and walked in their direction.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” he greeted them with his best welcoming smile. 

Lady Hannah and Lady Janette smiled brightly at him. “Your Grace.” They dipped into curtsies, and Adam could tell that his appearance flustered them.

“Lady Veronica,” Adam said.

She didn’t give him the same welcome as her sisters had. Her eyes narrowed at him and even though she gave him the custom curtsy, he knew she wasn’t happy to see him.

“Are you ladies enjoying this sunny afternoon?” Adam asked, determined to pretend not to notice Veronica’s cold glance.

“We are,” Janette said as she linked her arm through Hannah’s. “We need to start back to our home, though. Would you like to join us for a few minutes?”

“I’d love to accompany you lovely ladies to your home,” Adam answered, pleased to be able to spend some more time with Veronica. He was puzzled though as to why she seemed not at all pleased to see him. While he didn’t expect her to act like some of the other women usually did, he wouldn’t have thought she’d be acting like she greatly disliked him. After all, he had rarely seen her over the last few years.

Adam kept up the conversation with the three sisters as best he could. Hannah and Janette eagerly answered his questions about the coming ball and asked if he planned to host his own dance this season. He tried to regretfully tell them he didn’t have plans to hold a ball. His mother hadn’t had a desire to have one at Braywood Castle since his father had passed away. Throughout the conversation, Veronica didn’t say a word. He finally was determined to get her to say at least one word to him.

“Tell me, Lady Veronica. Are the three of you planning on attending the Hoffman ball?”

“Oh, yes,” Hannah gushed, answering for her older sister. “We are looking forward to it. Will you be attending?”

“Of course,” Adam said, instantly deciding that he was also going to the ball. “I will look forward to dancing with each of you.”

Hannah and Janette giggled at his words. Veronica stayed quiet, studying the top of a tree they were approaching like she was very interested in the birds nesting there. 

“And shall I plan to dance with you, Lady Veronica?”

Veronica didn’t say anything, still staring at the tree as they passed under it. 

“Veronica,” Hannah elbowed her sister in the side. 

“What?” she asked, jerking her attention to them. 

“His Grace asked you if he should save a dance for you at the Hoffman ball,” Janette said helpfully.

“Oh,” Veronica replied, still not looking at him. “I would think that His Grace will be very busy dancing with all the other ladies who will be attending. He isn’t going to have time for me.”

Suddenly Adam realized what she was hinting at. She was treating him like he was a rogue and used women for his entertainment. 

What she didn’t know was that Adam wasn’t that type of man, but he did encourage the rumors that he was, to keep women away who continually tried to trap him into marriage. He wanted to correct her assumption of him, but he wasn’t sure how, without admitting the truth, and he knew she wouldn’t believe him anyway. 

“I will be busy dancing with all the lovely ladies at the ball, but I think I can fit you in,” he drawled, continuing his charade. 

He wanted to instantly take the words back at the hurt look that spread across her face. He cursed inwardly and wished there was a way to begin this entire conversation over again. Veronica didn’t say another word to him, even when he eventually left the three ladies standing on the steps of their house.


Chapter Two


“Can I borrow the pink ribbon you bought last week?” Hannah asked Veronica, her blue eyes sparkling with hopefulness. “It would go perfectly  with the mauve gown I’m going to wear.”

“Yes, but make sure I get it back,” Veronica replied.

“I will. Thanks,” Hannah said as Veronica handed her the ribbon. 

The three of them were in Veronica’s bedroom getting ready for the Hoffman ball. Her sisters were excited that the first ball of the season was finally here, but Veronica wasn’t as much. She remembered how she used to enjoy these balls, but now she wished she could just stay at home. She’d rather spend the evening reading, painting, playing the pianoforte, or even doing embroidery. Anything but dancing with men who weren’t interested in her at all but only danced with her so that they could then dance with her sisters. For some reason that she didn’t understand, Society expected men to always dance with the eldest sister first before they could dance with her younger sisters. There were many societal rules and expectations that were strictly followed during the London seasons that Veronica didn’t like, and this was one of them. 

“Wouldn’t it be nice if one of us met the man we are going to marry tonight?” Janette said in a dreamy voice.

“If you had a choice, who would you want to dance with?” Hannah asked.

“Lord Stephen,” Janette said in the same dreamy voice, naming a young man whose father was a viscount. “What about you, Hannah?”

“I hope that Lord Henry will ask me to dance,” Hannah replied as she held the pink ribbon against her face as if she imagined it already woven in her hair.

“Lord Henry? That is interesting. If he asked you to court, would you agree?” Janette asked.

Hannah laughed but didn’t answer her sister. Instead, she sat down at Veronica’s dressing table and began to brush her hair. 

She couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Is this all you two think about?”

Her sisters stared at her with shocked expressions. 

“What is wrong, Veronica?” Hannah asked.

“What do you mean?” Janette added. “Your face is flushed. Are you feeling well?”

“All you two talk about is getting married,” Veronica pointed out. 

Hannah looked confused. “Well of course. It’s what’s expected of us.”

Janette nodded. “You have to admit, sister, most women your age are married by now.”

Veronica frowned. “I’m not considered an old spinster, yet.”

“No, but if you don’t meet someone soon, then you will be,” Hannah teased.

“There are other things that are important in life, you know, besides getting married,” Veronica retorted.

“Like what?” Janette asked. Veronica thought her sister was teasing until she saw the serious expression. 

“Like helping those that are less fortunate or learning something new,” Veronica said. “Besides, Janette, you are only eighteen. You have plenty of time before you will be considered a spinster.” She looked at Hannah. “And you are less than two years older.”

Hannah placed a hand on Veronica’s arm in an attempt to calm her down. “But you are already twenty-two. We are just worried about you, Veronica. At least promise us that you’ll start getting serious about finding a husband.”

“Don’t you think it would be better if we attend this ball just to have fun?” Veronica dared to ask.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Janette looked confused again.

“Let’s attend this ball with the idea that we will have fun, enjoy our time with our friends, meet new people and have fun dancing. What we won’t do is constantly look at each man as if a potential husband,” Veronica said. 

Hannah looked at Janette and they began to laugh like Veronica had just made the funniest comment. 

Then Hannah looked at her. “Veronica, you know how this works, don’t you? You need to find a husband first. I can’t marry until you do.”

Veronica sighed and stared at her reflection in the mirror behind Hannah. She wanted to argue with her sister, but she also knew Hannah was right. Her parents were very set on things happening the correct way with their family. They followed society’s spoken and unspoken rules to the letter. Their father would never allow Hannah to marry before Veronica did. 

“I just wish that you would take the idea of finding a husband seriously,” Hannah pleaded. “Can you just try this season, for us?”

Veronica was about ready to refuse Hannah’s plea until she heard those last two words. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for her two sisters. She loved them dearly and wanted them to be happy.

“I’ll dance with any man who asks me,” Veronica finally promised.

“Even the Duke of Arthstone?” Hannah pressed.

“You used to be friends with him,” Janette added when Veronica didn’t respond.

“I am not interested in Lord Arthstone,” Veronica replied. “We used to be friends, but that was when we were children. Before he became a rogue.”

“Just remember, if you marry well, then we will also be able to have more advantageous marriages,” Hannah said. Then she looked thoughtful. “Maybe I should try to encourage Lord Arthstone to have interest in me, if you truly aren’t interested in him.”

“That’s a splendid idea,” Janette gushed. “Just tell me what to do and I’ll help.”

“I’m sure Father won’t insist on Veronica marrying first if an actual duke asked to marry me,” Hannah replied.

Veronica set her brush down and gave each of her sisters her most serious look. “I want you both to stay away from the Duke of Arthstone. Don’t give him any encouragement.”

“Why ever not?” Hannah asked.

“I don’t like the type of life he is leading. He isn’t the man he used to be. I don’t want either of you to be hurt.”

“Why would the Duke hurt us?” Janette asked. “Our families have known each other for generations. And he is now a duke.”

“He uses women for his own pleasure and then walks away without any concern for what he leaves behind,” Veronica tried to explain, not sure how to get them to see why she was concerned without being extremely indiscreet. “Just listen to me and stay away from him.”

Hannah exchanged glances with Janette. “I don’t know if I can do that, Veronica. If the Duke of Arthstone asks me to dance, you know that I have to accept.”

“Yes, or we’ll have to sit out the rest of the ball,” Janette reminded her with a shudder at the very idea. “Besides, from what I’ve heard, the Duke of Arthstone is a divine dancer.”

Veronica sighed and decided it was time to change the subject. The last person she wanted to keep talking about was the Duke of Arthstone. She allowed Jane to help her into the pale blue gown that had been designed specifically for the first ball of the season. She put on matching dancing slippers and then waited while Hannah’s and Janette’s maids helped them put their new gowns on. She had to admit that Hannah looked beautiful in her mauve dress while Janette looked very grown-up in her light green gown. 

Veronica had never voiced her thoughts to her sisters, but she felt very unattractive whenever she compared herself to them. Her dress was every bit as nice as theirs were. Jane had arranged Veronica’s hair on the top of her head and woven small white jewels among the brown curls. But she had always wanted her hair to be blonde like Janette’s and have sparkling blue eyes like Hannah’s. 

She turned away and moved to her wardrobe to find her wrap. After slipping them on, she sat on a chair, doing her best to keep her back straight so her dress wouldn’t wrinkle. She knew she should feel like a princess who was attending her first ball. But instead, all she wanted to do was stay at home, and she wished she had the freedom to refuse to go.

She had even hinted at such, that morning at breakfast to her mother, who had promptly insisted she go. In fact, Veronica was to plan on attending every event that they had been invited to with no arguments. 

Even though her mother hadn’t voiced her desire for Veronica to find a husband this season, it was greatly implied. She knew what was expected of her.



Chapter Three


Hannah sat with her back straight on a wooden stool while her maid, Lucy, brushed her hair and then layered it in curls on her head. She watched her older sister from the corner of her eye with concern. Veronica didn’t look happy, and Hannah wished she could do something to help Veronica see her worth as a young woman in London society, as well as in her own mind. 

Hannah was very aware that Veronica didn’t feel like she had been blessed with any beauty. While she had never heard Veronica verbally compare herself to herself and Janette, she had seen it in her sister’s eyes as she looked at Janette’s dress and then her own. Her eyes darted to Hannah’s blue eyes and then studied her own dark brown ones in the mirror. Yes, they were different. Veronica took after their father’s dark good looks while Hannah and Janette took after their mother’s light complexion. Couldn’t Veronica see that she was every bit as beautiful as her sisters? She did look different from them, but in Hannah’s mind, this was a positive thing. She stood out in a crowd instead of looking the same as everyone else.

She wondered what Veronica would say if she confessed that she sometimes wished her own hair shone as brightly as her older sister’s did in the sunlight. 

Hannah had always admired her older sister. Veronica was talented in so many things. When Veronica sang, she sounded like an angel. More than one person in the audience would get tears in their eyes when Veronica sang. She also was an accomplished artist with watercolor and embroidery. Hannah always felt that when Veronica picked up a needle, she used thread to paint a scene. She never needed a pattern, preferring to follow what she imagined in her mind, and when she played the pianoforte, it was like nothing anyone had ever heard, every note exquisite. In fact, Hannah sometimes tried not to feel jealous of her sister because it seemed that she hardly had to try when she wanted to learn something new. Everything seemed to come easy for Veronica, while Hannah had to work hard when she wanted to learn a new skill and it seemed to take twice as long as it needed to. She still cringed inside when she thought of the time last winter when she had decided she wanted to learn how to bake a pie. Her mother hadn’t been thrilled with the idea, saying that that was one skill Hannah never needed to learn how to do, but she had insisted, so in the end, Lady Lydia had agreed to the plan.

 Their cook, Mrs. Henderson, also hadn’t been happy with the plan but had agreed to teach Hannah the fine art of pie-making. She chose to make an apple pie and after many hours of instruction, she finally, and proudly, slid the pie into the stove. Less than an hour later, there was so much smoke in the kitchen, that part of the house had to be evacuated. When the smoke finally cleared, the pie was black as charcoal. Hannah determined she would never try to cook again.

There was a short knock on the bedroom door and their mother stepped inside, and Hannah smiled, glad to push away her shortcomings from her mind. 

“Good evening, Mother,” Janette greeted her. 

“You girls look absolutely beautiful,” Lady Lydia smiled at them. “You will be three belles of the ball this evening.”

“Thank you, Mother,” Hannah said as she gave her mother a kiss. “You look nice, too.” And she did, in her forest green gown and full skirt. 

“Your father is waiting for us downstairs,” Lady Lydia said. “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” Janette said as she linked arms with Hannah and then Veronica. 

They walked down the winding stairs together and soon they were tucked in the carriage and on their way to the ball. Lady Lydia began to give them instructions on how to act, talk, and move. 

“Mother, you have taught us well,” Veronica finally spoke up with a bit of impatience in her voice. “We promise we won’t embarrass you.”

Lady Lydia smiled. “I know. I am so proud of you, and Hannah and Veronica.” She looked at each of them as she spoke. “I am praying that this evening will be the beginning of an advantageous season for us all.”

Hannah stayed with her family while they waited their turn to be announced. When it was her turn, she curtsied to Lady Deborah and Lord Hoffman and thanked them for inviting them to the ball.

Once they were finally in the ballroom, she did her best to look bored while also keeping the awe off her face. The ballroom was magnificently decorated. There were many shining windows that were long and thin, reaching almost to the ceiling. Each window was covered with gold curtains that were pulled back to allow any light from outside to come in. The wooden floors had been polished to a high sheen. There had to be at least one hundred people in the room and half of them were already on the floor dancing. The other half were walking around the edges of the room with punch glasses in their hands, talking and just enjoying the atmosphere and the company. 

Hannah saw a good friend from her childhood, Laura Whitney, and walked in her direction.

“Hannah,” Laura exclaimed with delight and greeted her with a kiss on both cheeks. “I’m so glad to see you. I was hoping you’d be here tonight.”

“It’s good to see you too,” Hannah responded.

“How long have you been in London?” Laura asked.

“For a few weeks,” Hannah replied. “And you?”

“We arrived a month ago,” Laura answered. “Mother wanted to come early so we could do some shopping and of course, Father can’t deny her anything.”

“How wonderful that you’ve been in London for so long,” Hannah said, trying not to feel envious. Her father disliked London and was only here because he had three daughters he needed to marry off. The moment the season was over, her father would be more than happy to leave for their country home the next day. “Have you enjoyed your time here so far?”

“Yes,” Laura answered, her eyes sparkling. “We’ve attended the Paulson’s garden party and have seen a play.” She stopped talking for a moment and looked around as if wondering who might overhear her. “I have a potential beau.”

“Really?” Hannah squealed. “That’s wonderful. Who is it?”

“I’m not going to say anything, since it’s not official, but I’m hopeful.”

While they were talking, Hannah noticed a young man who was standing near a large window. She watched him for a moment until she realized who he was: Henry Walker. She had only seen him a few times in past seasons and had never been officially introduced to him. But she had always been impressed with him. He seemed kind and well-liked. She would enjoy a dance with him, but knew it wouldn’t happen unless they were officially introduced. But she doubted that would happen since they didn’t move in the same social circles.

“Lady Hannah, may I have this dance?”

She turned her attention to the young man who appeared in front of her, a hopeful expression on his face. 

“George, how nice to see you,” Hannah replied. “I would be honored.”

She allowed George to lead her to the dance floor, leaving Laura behind. Their families used to be acquainted, though a long time had passed since then. While she enjoyed the dance and the conversation with George, she didn’t mind when it ended, and another man approached her for a dance. In her mind, the Hoffman ball had officially begun.

The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk

~ Cicero 


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  • This new book has much potential. I cannot wait until the release of the total volume. Hannah Hamilton is one of my favorite authors and each new tome is eagerly welcomed.

  • You had me with the first sentence!
    Great cover.
    Love the preview!
    Can’t wait see how the Duke and the Lady’s
    romance turns out!
    We all know it will end up with them
    being madly in love.
    But it is a matter of how and why!
    Sounds like a 5 star review to me!

    • Thank you so much! That’s exactly!. In everything we write or do, the most important thing is to say it in our unique way that we feel the love!

  • I find myself easily getting so wrapped up in your book. Can’t wait to hear what happens to the three ladies and look forward to your book when it is released. Definitely a page turner!

  • Very intresting!
    I don’t know how you write such 5
    star books time after time!
    Great plot,great characters.

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