I'm currently working on Book III in the Scandal & Scoundrel series, which I pitched to my editor as "Old School TMZ" -- Modern celebrity gossip with a pre-Victorian twist. Basically, this is my way of convincing my husband that all those glossy magazines in our house are "work necessities."
The one woman he will never forget…
Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven, has lived the last three years in self-imposed solitude, paying the price for a mistake he can never reverse and a love he lost forever. The dukedom does not wait, however, and Haven requires an heir, which means he must find himself a wife by summer’s end. There is only one problem—he already has one.
The one man she will never forgive…
After years in exile, Seraphina, Duchess of Haven, returns to London with a single goal—to reclaim the life she left and find happiness, unencumbered by the man who broke her heart. Haven offers her a deal; Sera can have her freedom, just as soon as she finds her replacement…which requires her to spend the summer in close quarters with the husband she does not want, but somehow cannot resist.
A love that neither can deny…
The duke has a single summer to woo his wife and convince her that, despite their broken past, he can give her forever, making every day...
THE DAY OF THE DUCHESS
Scandal & Scoundrel, Book III
June 27, 2017
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DAMPENED DUKE DISAVOWED!
August 20, 1836
House of Lords, Parliament
She’d left him two years, seven months ago, exactly.
Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven looked to the tiny wooden calendar wheels inlaid into the blotter on his desk in his private office above the House of Lords.
August 20, 1836. The last day of the parliamentary session, filled with pomp and idle. And lingering memory.
He spun the wheel with the six embossed upon it. Five. Four. He took a deep breath.
Get out. He heard his own words, cold and angry with betrayal, echoing through him with quiet menace. Don’t ever return.
He touched the wheel again. August became July. May. March.
January 20, 1834. She is gone.
His fingers moved without thought, finding comfort in the familiar click of the wheels.
March 17, 1833.
The way I feel about you… Her words now—soft and full of temptation. I’ve never felt anything like this.
He hadn’t, either. As though light and breath and hope had flooded the room, filling all the dark spaces. Filling his lungs and heart. And all because of her.
Until he’d discovered the truth.
Where had she gone?
The clock in the corner of the room ticked and tocked, counting the seconds until Haven was due in his seat in the hallowed main chamber of the House of Lords, where men of higher purpose and passion had sat before him. His fingers played the little calendar like a virtuoso, as though they’d done this dance a hundred times before. A thousand.
And they had.
March 1, 1833. The day they met.
So, they let simply anyone become a duke, do they? No deference. Teasing and charm and pure, unadulterated beauty.
If you think dukes are bad, imagine what they accept from duchesses?
That smile. As though she’d never met another man. As though she’d never wanted to. Until him. He’d been hers the moment he’d seen that smile. Before that. Imagine, indeed.
And then it had fallen apart. He’d lost everything, and then lost her. Or perhaps it had been the reverse. Or perhaps it was all the same.
Would there ever be a time when he stopped thinking of her? Would there be a date that did not remind him of her? Of the time that had stretched like an eternity since she’d left?
Where had she gone?
The clock struck eleven, heavy chimes sounding in the room, echoed by a dozen others sounding down the long, oaken corridor beyond, summoning men of longstanding name to the duty that had been theirs before they drew breath.
Haven spun the calendar wheels with force, leaving them as they lay. November 37th 3842. A fine date—one on which he had absolutely no chance of thinking of her.
He stood, moving to the corner of the room where his red robes hung—their thick, heavy burden meant to echo the weight of responsibility they represented. He swung the garment over his shoulders, the red velvet’s heat overwhelming him almost immediately, cloying and suffocating. All this before he reached for his powdered wig, grimacing as he flipped it onto his head, the horsehair whipping his neck before laying flat and uncomfortable, like a punishment for past sins.
Ignoring the sensation, Haven ripped open the door to his offices and made his way through the now quiet corridors to the entrance to the main chamber of the House of Lords. Stepping inside, he inhaled deeply, immediately regretting it. It was August and hot as hell on the floor of Parliament, the air rank with sweat and perfume. The windows were open to allow a breeze into the room—a barely-there stirring that only exacerbated the stench, adding the reek of the Thames to the already horrendous smell within.
At home, the river ran cool and crisp, unsullied by the filth of London. At home, the air was clean, promising summer idyl and hinting at more. At the future. At least, it had done. Until the pieces of home had peeled away and he’d been left alone, without her. Now, it felt like nothing but land. Home required more than river and rolling hills. Home required her. And so he would do this summer what he had done every moment he’d been away from London for the past two years and seven months. He would search for her.
She hadn’t been in France or in Spain, where he’d spent the summer prior, chasing down Englishwomen in search of excitement. The woman he’d tracked in Constantinople the month after she’d left had been a charlatan, playing at being an aristocrat. And then there'd been the woman in Boston -- the one he'd been so sure of.
Not her. Never her. She had disappeared, as though she’d never existed to begin with. There one moment, gone the next, laden with enough funds to vanish. And just when he’d realized how much he wanted her. But her money would run out, eventually, and she would have no choice but to stop running. He, on the other hand, was a man with power and privilege and exorbitant wealth, enough to find her the moment she did.
And he would find her. Just as soon as the damned session was through.
He slid into one of the long benches surrounding the speaker’s floor, where the Lord Chancellor had already begun to speak. “My lords, if there is no more formal business for this session, we will close this year’s parliamentary season.”
A chorus of approval—fists pounding on seatbacks around the hall—echoed through the chamber.
Haven exhaled and resisted the urge to scratch at his wig, knowing that if he gave in to the desire, he would become consumed with its rough discomfort. “My lords!” the Lord Chancellor called. “Is there, indeed, no additional formal business for the current session?”
A rousing chorus of “Nay!” boomed through the room. One would think the House of Lords was filled with schoolboys desperate for an afternoon in the local swimming hole instead of two hundred pompous aristocrats eager to get to their mistresses.
The Lord Chancellor grinned, his ruddy face gleaming with sweat beneath his wig as he spread his wide hands over his ample girth. “Well then! It is His Majesty’s Royal will and pleasure…”
The enormous doors to the chamber burst open, the sound echoing through the quiet hall, competing with the chancellor’s voice. Heads turned, but not Haven’s; he was too eager to leave London and his wig behind to worry about whatever was going on beyond.
The Lord Chancellor collected himself, cleared his throat, and said, “…that this Parliament be prorogued to Thursday, the Twentieth day of October next…”
A collection of disapproving harrumphs began as the door shut with a powerful bang. Haven looked then, following the gazes of the men assembled to the now closed door to chambers. He couldn’t see anything amiss.
“Ahem!” The Lord Chancellor said, the sound full of disapproval, before he redoubled his commitment to closing the session. Thank God for that. “…Thursday, the Twentieth day of October next…”
“Before you finish, my lord chancellor?”
The words were strong and somehow soft and lilting and beautifully feminine—so out of place in the House of Lords, off limits to the fairer sex. Surely that was why his breath caught. Surely that was why his heart began to pound. Why he was suddenly on his feet amidst a chorus of masculine outrage.
It was not because of the voice itself.
“What is the meaning of this?” The chancellor thundered.
Haven could see it then, the cause of the commotion. A woman. Taller than any woman he’d ever known, in the most beautiful lavender dress he’d ever seen, perfectly turned out, as though she marched into Parliamentary session on a regular basis. As though she were the Prime Minister himself. As though she were more than that. As though she were royalty.
The only woman he’d ever loved. The only woman he’d ever hated.
The same, and somehow entirely different.
And Haven, frozen to the spot.
“I confess,” she said, as though she were at a tea party, moving to the floor of the chamber. “I feared I would miss the session altogether. But I’m very happy that I might sneak in before you all escape to wherever it is that you gentlemen venture for…pleasure.” She grinned at an ancient earl who blushed under the heat of her gaze and turned away. “However, I understand that what I seek requires an Act of Parliament. And you are…as you know…Parliament.”
Her gaze found his, her eyes precisely as he remembered, dark as midnight, but now, somehow, different. Where they were once open and honest, they were now shuttered. Private.
Christ. She was here.
Here. Nearly three years searching for her, and here she was, as though she’d been gone mere hours. Shock warred with an anger he could not have imagined, but the emotions where nothing compared to the third feeling. The immense, unbearable pleasure.
She was here.
It was all he could do not to move. To gather her up and carry her away. To hold her close. Win her back. Start fresh.
Except, she was not here for that.
She watched him for a long moment, her gaze unblinking, before she declared, “I am Seraphina Bevingstoke, Duchess of Haven. And I require a divorce.”