The Duke’s Convenient Bride (Preview)


It was so cold, and the rain was an added misery, each drop hitting her soaked skin and thin, drenched garments like a stinging needle of ice. Her chest, on the other hand, felt like it was on fire, every ragged, sobbing breath like coals dragging over her throat and into her ribs instead of the needed air.

It didn’t matter, just like the bruising pain of cold hard cobblestones under her chilled bare feet or the squelching, grasping cold of mud when she stumbled into a puddle. The ache in her legs, worse than the stitch in her side, didn’t matter either.

None of it mattered. All that mattered was that she keep running, running, and running to get as far away as she could from him.

She wanted to go home — wanted it so fiercely she would have cried, if she’d had breath or tears left. But the streets all looked alike to her, and she was hopelessly lost with no one in sight to help her, to guide her or give her shelter.

It was as if there was no one in the world but her… and him.

Without warning, she hit a slick patch in the road and went down with a shrill cry, her child’s voice cracking with both pain and fear as she tumbled to the paving stones, skinning her hands and knees with a force that would leave bruises. Still sobbing, she levered herself up, fighting to get to her feet.

But her legs wouldn’t work. She couldn’t stand, and she couldn’t run. She couldn’t even seem to find strength to crawl.

And then she heard it — the distinctive tap-tap-tap of his cane on the stones and the chilling sound of his deep, cold laughter, harder than the stones and cold as ice.

Fear froze her as effectively as her unresponsive legs did, but desperate fear gave her a voice through her sobbing breaths. “Help me! Someone, help me please! Help me!”

She let out a wretched sob as she looked for anyone to come to her aid. “Someone… please… he’s going to take me away! Please, take me home! Please, someone… anyone… help me.”

The rain seemed to swallow her cries before they could truly form, even as the cold, cruel laughter echoed louder and louder around her.

Then a hand came out of nowhere, seizing on the back of her neck with more force than a collar and with all the harshness of an iron chain at her throat. A cold, smooth voice echoed in her ear, “There is no escape. You’re mine, now and forever, little bird.”

She screamed in terror and pain, in desperate anguish and hopelessness, as she was dragged back into the darkness. The rain swallowed her shrieks of despair as it had swallowed her cries for help. She flailed helplessly, mindlessly, in one final effort to escape…

She thumped her hand on the headboard of her bed, catching hold just before she rolled off the thin mattress.

Diana Milwood blinked in the darkness of her small room, breathing hard as she realized where she was.

She wasn’t a child, trapped in a cage. She wasn’t a child running through the streets to escape a pursuer. She was safe in the little room she’d occupied for several years now, in the small flat Mr. Gilbert helped her maintain.

The scream had been real enough, and her throat was still aching from it. She was a bit cold, but that was the cold sweat from her nightmare, not the cold she remembered from her dream.

The rain was real enough—only, it was drumming down in sheets outside her window shutter. It wasn’t falling on her head or soaking her to the skin. It was only a sound to trouble her dreams, not something she could take chill or hurt from.

With a sigh, she rose and got a cup of water from the chipped pitcher on her small, secondhand nightstand. She drank to sooth her throat, her free hand straying to the brooch she wore close to her heart.

That brooch was the one thing that remained to her from her life before the man who haunted her dreams had taken her away and locked her in the dark. Why he’d never taken it, she didn’t know, but she clung to it for all of that.

It was the one thing she had of her family. Her memories of those “before” days were hazy, but she remembered—or thought she did—that she’d always had this one piece of jewelry. It was gold, simply decorated with an abstract knotwork design and with a single stone in the center—her birthstone.

It was a wealthy family’s brooch, the type that might be given to the beloved daughter of a well-off merchant or even, perhaps, a child of the noble class. It would not be from the highest families in the land—for she had no doubts she’d have been found by her family long before if that had been the case—but some form of nobility nonetheless.

Diana sighed, finished her water, and slipped into bed, hand still firmly clasped around the brooch as she slid back under the thin sheets and the warm coverlet. Her eyes went to the window and the sound of the drumming rain.

The faintest light of the windblown and beleaguered street lamp outside flickered through the slats, but it was enough.

There had been no light and little enough of sound when the man—the monster, rather, for that was how she thought of him still—had taken her. There was very little light or sound save when he opened the door to feed her in the dark, windowless room she’d been kept in.

Here, there was the flicker of a streetlamp and the hissing tumble of the rain. They were reminders that she had escaped, that she was no longer a frightened child, trapped by a shadowy man and held captive.

She’d escaped, and she was free. And, thanks to Mr. Gilbert, she was warm and safe enough, with food in her belly and clothes on her back and hope still in her heart.

And that was enough to be going on with, no matter what nightmares might come.

With a deep breath and a final sigh, Diana watched the windows and let the falling rain lull her back into slumber once more.

Chapter One

The rain was frigid and uncomfortable but not half so much as the impact with the cobblestones that followed a mere second or so later.

Edmund Hampton grimaced as he dragged his head from the pavement he’d crashed into. His waistcoat, shirt, and trousers were already soaking through, and this close to street level, the smell of mud and offal was impossible to escape. He wrinkled his nose blearily and tried to shove his way to his feet.

It was harder than it seemed, not just because the street seemed inclined to sway under his hands. There was also the heavy greatcoat that thumped into his back a moment later, followed by the bellowed words from the club owner, “Be off, you wastrel, and don’t be showing your face around my establishment again!”

Ah, that was right. He’d been thrown out of the club he’d been attending…again.

Two sets of feet came to stop on either side of him, and he rolled over to gaze through alcohol-blurred eyes at the bemused expressions of his two friends, Peter and James.

James was first to move, offering him a hand before bending to get his other hand under his elbow and haul him, swaying, from the muddy pavement. Once he was on his feet, more or less, Peter slung his damp coat around his shoulders.

James grinned sloppily at him. “Well, good show that, Edmund.”

Peter snorted in what was probably meant to be a disapproving tone but was too filled with mirth to come across that way as he attempted to support Edmund’s other side. “Good show? That’s the third club this month we’ve been barred from. If you keep on like that, dear chap, we’ll have no club at all to attend.”

Edmund blinked. “I was…I was defending my…my honor. There’s no–nothing wrong with that.” It was harder than it ought to be to form words, but he hardly cared. The warm glow of alcohol in his blood was far more important. “I’mma lord. I am…a duke even.”

“You’re not a duke yet, Edmund, as you well know. And in any case, that’s hardly a reason to be trying to thrash a fellow for losing a single hand of cards. The stakes weren’t even all that high.”

James laughed. “Well, drink and a temper, and you’ll have both I suppose, Edmund. And you and me, Peter, we knew it well enough.”

“That’s as may be. But where shall we go now?” Peter grimaced. “The weather is truly foul, and there’s no point in wasting the warmth of good liquor on this chill rain. I’d rather a trip to somewhere more congenial, if you don’t mind.”

Peter, as the least encumbered and inebriated, went to find their carriage. Edmund stood, leaning on James’ shoulder and trying not to look as drunk as he felt. His head felt foggy, but under the fog, there was a thread of mingled remorse and resentment.

Peter wasn’t wrong. And nor was James. The Viscount Harcort hadn’t won all that much off of him. But his pride had been pricked by the sly comments the other was making, and in the haze of his fifth (or was it sixth?) shot of scotch, it had seemed unreasonable that the man could have beaten his full house with the cards he had and intolerable that he should make such mocking statements about how quickly he’d be draining Edmund’s purse.

And why shouldn’t he have challenged the man?

He wasn’t quite sure how it had gone from that to the attempted fisticuffs that had resulted in his being thrown bodily from the establishment. Even with the cold rain clearing his head somewhat, he only had vague memories of shouting before a lunge around the table had brought the club owner’s wrath down on his head.

The carriage clattered around, and James and Peter helped him stumble his way into it. He blinked rain out of his eyes as he slumped into the seat. “Where shall we go now?”

“After being subjected to that weather, I think I’m for home and a hot brick and a hot meal, to say nothing of a hot toddy in front of my own fireplace.” Peter grimaced and huddled into his own greatcoat. “In any case, it’s late enough, and I’ve business to be attending to in the morning.”

“That’s a fair point.” James nodded. “The weather’s not fit for man or beast, and the evening is getting on. It might be best to call it an evening.”

A part of him wanted to protest. The rest of him was tired and wanted nothing more than his own rooms and his own bed. He sighed, then heaved himself up and thumped on the roof of the carriage. “To my flat, then deliver these fine gentlemen to their own homes before you turn in for the evening.”

“As you will sir.” There was a muted snap of the wet leather of the reins, and the carriage lurched into motion.

Soon enough, they clattered to a stop, and he looked out through the spitting rain to see his own front door. He heaved himself out of the seat and lurched toward the carriage door, steadied by James, and he shoved it open and stumbled forward with uneven steps.

The door opened before he reached it, revealing the stiff-backed and disapproving form of his valet, Collins.

Behind him, the carriage clattered away into the rain, leaving him to shoulder the full force of Collins’ displeased expression. Edmund grumbled under his breath, then made his way forward, passing Collins to the warm dryness of his own moderately lit hall.

Collins’ disapproval was nothing new. The valet might be his in name, but the truth was that Collins was his mother’s man through and through, hired by her when he announced his intentions to reside in London. He was above all loyal to her, though Edmund was supposedly responsible for his salary and his living conditions.

He knew Collins reported to his mother on a regular basis. But what use was there in trying to find a new valet or trying to stop him? It would only upset his mother further.

Collins took his greatcoat, hat, and gloves. “Your evening, sir?”

“Well, I shan’t be attending that particular club again.” He grimaced. “Is there a fire laid in my rooms?”

“There is.”

“Then have bottle of brandy brought up. It’s bitter weather out.”

“Is that wise, sir? You seem to have had a fair amount at the club.” Collins, drat the man, managed to sound disapproving while also sounding utterly correct and well within his role as a valet.

Edmund exhaled sharply in annoyance. “None of that. And don’t give me that disapproving look either. You put me in mind of my mother when you look all stiff like that.”

Mood soured, he turned his steps to the cellar, intending to get his own bottle if Collins was going to be tiresome. But the stairs seemed to waver out from under him, and he found himself stumbling off-balance against the wall instead, grunting as his shoulder impacted the brickwork.

He heard Collins sigh, and then firm hands took his arm and levered him back to his feet. “Come, sir. I’ll see you to your rooms—with a dram, if you must insist on continuing this behavior. At least you’ll be in private, I suppose.”

Edmund scowled. “And what reason is there that I shouldn’t do what I like, in my own home or out of it?”

Collins sighed again as he guided him into his rooms and into a seat by the fire. “If I may be so bold, sir, a man’s reputation is everything, and yours is not…favorable. But that aside, your mother would surely be distressed to see you in such a state.”

“And what of it?”

Collins said nothing for a moment, but his lips pressed together in evident disapproval. Edmund groaned, holding his slightly aching head. “Out with it, man. You may as well speak your mind, rather than skulking around with that scowl on your face for days.”

Collins studied him for a long moment then moved to stand in front of him, back straight and hands behind his back. “Then, if I have permission to speak plainly, sir, I will say this. Your mother permitted and facilitated your move to London so that you might find some purpose to your life and learn those things a proper gentleman needs to know about conducting oneself in the circles to which your birthright entitles you entrance. Instead, you seem content to sink deeper and deeper into this dissipated lifestyle of indulgence in alcohol and loose women.”

Edmund scowled at the fire, feeling like a chastened schoolboy. “And?”

Collins voice softened, “Your mother worries for you and for the future of the Hampton title. She sent you another letter today, and it would well behoove you to answer her and at least assure her that you are in no dire straits, even if you can assure her of nothing else.”

Edmund sighed. He would have preferred to be angry at Collins and his accusations, but at the same time, he had given his manservant permission to speak freely. And in any case, it was not as though Collins had said anything untrue.

The alcohol glow seemed to be fading, leaving him weary and with a sore head. And yet, he had no more desire for the brandy he had previously requested. With a grimace, he rolled his head to look at Collins. “Perhaps there is something wrong with me, do you think?”

Collins studied him for a moment then shook his head. “Not at all, young master. You’ve perhaps lost your way somewhat, but I would not say that you are a hopeless case nor that there is anything wrong with you that some discipline and a proper purpose to your life would not mend.”

It was comforting to hear, even if he wasn’t entirely sure that Collins was being truthful. “Thank you, Collins.”

His valet nodded. “I’ll return with your nightcap and a tonic for your head, sir.” He bowed once then turned and disappeared through the open door of the bedroom.

Alone, Edmund cast his gaze over his room. The large bed dominated the room, piled high with pillows and blankets, including a heavy duvet that would be a welcome addition on a night like this. Beyond that, there was a pitcher of water and a wash basin on the chest of drawers.

Then there was a nightstand over between the bed and the windows, with a lamp standing ready to be lit with the taper over the fireplace. Between the lamp and the bed sat a shallow dish with several missives stacked neatly.

He didn’t need to see the handwriting to know that they were all from his mother—all unopened and unread.

Collins was right. Ignoring his mother would make things no better between them nor was it kind to her. With a grunt, he heaved himself to his feet and made his way with careful steps to bedside table to look at the gathered letters. He stared at them for a moment then scooped them up and returned to his seat.

He opened the one dated from several weeks prior first and read it through, then the next and the next. Finally, he opened the one that had arrived while he was out.

It was exactly like the dozen or so before it.

My Dear Son,

I have not heard from you in nearly two months, and yet, I have heard much reported of your activities, and I am full of sorrow and consternation as to the way you have comported yourself, if the rumors I have heard are to be believed. And how can I not give them countenance when I have heard no word otherwise from you?

What am I to think when I hear of your continuous attendance at the most disreputable clubs and dance halls in London or when I hear of you engaged in dalliance after dalliance, and all of them with girls of lower class or poor repute?

What I am to think when I receive such high bills from the liquor sellers of barrels and bottles delivered in such high quantities to your dwelling?

What am I to think when I have heard that the few proper gentleman’s clubs you have managed to gain entrance to, you have summarily been banned from for fighting and other conduct unacceptable in any gentleman, much less one of your status?

I fear you have gained a reputation of a rogue and a gentleman of dissolute and untrustworthy character, my son, and I beg of you to cease such disgraceful behaviors before your reputation becomes tarnished beyond any hope of repair.

A young man, an heir to his father’s title, might be expected to err somewhat, to act in a somewhat wild manner for a short space of time. Young men run hot-blooded and hot-tempered after all. But, as for my son…

My son, you will soon no longer be simply the heir to your father’s title of Duke Hampton. Soon, very soon, the title will pass to you from your uncle, as is proper. And a duke cannot have such stains to his reputation and his character, not if he wishes to retain the honor and the financial success of his title. If you wish to maintain the wealth and status of your birthright, you must take steps to secure yourself a reputation and character that will befit such a position.

I beg you, my dear son. Cease this drinking and dissipation and consorting with uncouth women of low or dubious character. Find yourself some appropriate occupation and some company of the sort that befits a noble of such status as yours.

And, if you must have female companionship, then find a young lady of proper breeding and temperament to be your partner. I do not require a formal understanding of you, but I would ask that you find a lady who is of a more acceptable reputation and bearing.

My dear son, I know no young man likes to receive such words from his mother, but please understand, I wish only every happiness and success in life for you. I admonish you only with your welfare and your future in mind.

Believe this, my son, and know I love you deeply and wish only to hear that you are well.

Your Loving Mother,

Christine Hampton, Dowager

Edmund groaned and leaned against the wing of the chair, staring at the letter in his hands, head aching and gut churning.

He knew, if he forced himself to think properly about the matter, that his mother was correct. He needed to find something productive to do with himself. He had fallen to bad habits in his schoolboy days and continued them afterward.

But how was that his fault, when his father was a laggard who’d renounced his title and run off with his mistress when he was only a boy of tender years? He’d been raised to adulthood by an uncle barely old out of boyhood himself when he’d taken temporary custody of the title, the estate, and his child nephew’s rearing.

It wasn’t his fault. And yet, reading his mother’s admonishments, he could taste the bitterness of disappointment and an awareness of his own faults of character.

He hated disappointing his mother. He didn’t want to continue to do so. And yet, he’d no idea how to start meeting the demands she’d made of him.

With a scowl, he threw the letters into the fire, watching them curl and burn with little sparks of randomly-colored fire where the heat ignited the inks in the paper.

He needed to find a proper gentleman’s club and build a proper reputation.

He needed to drink less as well, though even the thought of foregoing his regular evening drinks was uncomfortable.

He needed to find a lady with whom he could establish a relationship his mother would approve of. He was far from looking for a wife, a marriage, or even a fiancée, but perhaps he could foster the illusion of such a relationship. They’d have a cordial courting, and then he could say they didn’t suit after all.


Edmund straightened as a thought came to him. Why should he go through a farce of meeting a lady, courting her attention, and all that tiresome behavior? It wasn’t actually necessary to do so. It was only really necessary to let his mother believe he had done so.

That could be accomplished with a simple letter.

Edmund lurched from his seat to the side table and reached for the clean paper stock, pen, and inkwell that rested there.

He lit the lamp for better illumination then uncapped his inkwell, pulled free a sheet of paper, and after a few moments of consideration, began to write.

My Dear Mother,

I do apologize for the absence of correspondence, dear mother. And I will confess, I am not so unaware of my faults of character as you seem to fear I am. But there is one matter in which I fear you have been misinformed, and that is the matter of what sort of female companionship I keep.

To wit, my dear mother, in recent days, I have been seeing a young woman, one whom I imagine you would heartily approve of if you could but meet her.

You will not have heard of her, either her name in conjunction with mine nor in any society pages or other such correspondence, for she is quite dreadfully shy. Likewise, she is perhaps of poorer prospects financially than many of our circle usually associate much with and somewhat discomforted by this fact.

Nonetheless, Mother, she is a girl of good and modest character, with a graceful nature and becoming behavior and appearance. It is but early days yet between us, and I cannot say yet if matters will progress in the manner you and I might both hope. However, to date, I find her a most charming lady, and I have some hopes to properly court her. Should my suit be accepted, I may even be proposing marriage in the coming months.

I apologize that I have not communicated such to you sooner, but I have been rather cautious in my advances, a necessity with the reputation which, as you pointed out, I have so unfortunately gathered. I did not wish to reveal my efforts, should they meet with failure. Nonetheless, that is how matters stand.

Perhaps I will have better news yet for you in coming days, but for now, I beg you be satisfied with this news.

Your Devoted Son,


He finished the letter with drying power then folded it up and worked it into an envelope just as Collins entered with a discreet knock and a tray holding a tumbler of brandy and a larger glass of tonic.

Doubtless the man had delayed to give him time to sober up and languish in the headache overindulgence brought in its wake. In any case, Edmund thought he saw a glimmer of surprise in the man’s eyes to find him at the little-used side table that served as his bedroom desk rather than in his bed or still in the fireside chair.

“Collins.” He gestured for the valet to place the small tray on the side table. “I…well, you’ve made your point, about my mother. I read her correspondence while you were fetching my medicine.” A raised eyebrow but no comment greeted those words as he continued, “I’ve written her a reply.” He handed over the letter. “See that gets in the morning post to Bath, will you?”

“Of course, sir.” Collins took the letter and tucked it into his pocket. He laid out Edmund’s nightclothes and helped him change then stoked the fire and took his leave, shutting the door behind him.

Alone at last, Edmund knocked back the tonic then sipped at the brandy to wash away the taste. Once the last drops were drained, he blew out his lamp and settled into his bed with a sigh.

Perhaps he might need a change, but tomorrow was soon enough to be thinking of it.

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

  • Great introduction to the story. There are so many possible options that the storyline can explore. Can’t wait to read this book!

  • I want to know more. How will the story go on? Liked the introduction of the 2 main characters.

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