Monday, May 26, 2014

Excerpt: 'The Accidental Duchess' by Madeline Hunter

by Joyce Lamb)

USA TODAY and New York Times best-selling author (and HEA contributor!) Madeline Hunter shares an excerpt from her upcoming Regency romance, The Accidental Duchess (book four of the Fairbourne Quartet). It comes out June 3.

First, here's the blurb about The Accidental Duchess:

An Unruly Lady

A Powerful Duke

An Unexpected Union

When Lady Lydia Alfreton is blackmailed over the shocking contents of a manuscript she once wrote, she must go to desperate of measures to raise the money to buy back the ill-considered prose: agreeing to an old wager posed by the arrogant, dangerous Duke of Penthurst. At least Penthurst is a man she wouldn't mind fleecing—and she's confident she'll win.

Penthurst long ago concluded Lydia was a woman in search of ruinous adventure, but even he is surprised when she arrives at his house ready to bet her innocence against his ten thousand pounds—a wager he only proposed to warn her off gambling.

When she loses to a simple draw of the cards, Lydia is shocked. Now, her problems are twofold: a blackmailer determined to see her pay and a duke determined to tame her rebellious ways.

And here's the excerpt (copyright © 2014 by Madeline Hunter):

Trilby crossed his arms and pouted. "If you can't see your way clear, perhaps your brother can."

The notion of Southwaite seeing that novel, and heaven forbid, reading that love scene, almost undid Lydia.

"If my brother learns of this, more likely he will call you out and kill you for daring to try to blackmail me."

He took a step back at the threat, but stood his ground again fast enough. "Blackmail? I seek to protect you from the worst speculations regarding your character and loyalty, and you accuse me of such a thing? I am wounded."

"You are not wounded. You are impatient and greedy."

"Such insults are not to be borne. If Southwaite won't cooperate, I'm sure I can find another use for the journal. There's those who pay smartly for such things. The rest of that list there, for example. Maybe the government would pay to see it."

"I keep telling you it is a novel, not a journal, so no one will reimburse you for all your trouble except me. Would it not be better to have part of the funds soon and the rest later, anyway, than all of a much smaller amount right now?"

Still acting insulted, he thought it over. She turned away from him and crossed her arms to wait. It was then that she noticed a man standing against the house, as if he had just stepped through the French doors. He looked around until his attention settled on her. At that very moment she felt a touch on her shoulder, as Mr. Trilby called for her attention.

The man at the door noticed that touch, she was sure.

He seemed to grow taller. He strode forward and the lamps' illumination caught him. Impressive in height, he wore a distinctive midnight-blue frock coat that sported discreet but expensive gold embroidery along its edges, as if its owner had relinquished the more fanciful costumes of the past with regret. The tiny glints of reflection off those gold threads told her who it was.

"Lady Lydia, can I be of service?" The voice confirmed his identity just as his face became distinct. The Duke of Penthurst's deep- set eyes did not look at her so much as at Mr. Trilby behind her. Golden, brittle lights showed in those eyes as he neared, making him appear dangerous.

Trilby froze in surprise.

Penthurst glared more directly. "Sir, unhand the lady, please."

"You had better do as he says, Mr. Trilby. His Grace on occasions kills men in duels over minor matters such as this. Being a duke, he is allowed to."

Trilby snatched his hand away as if her shoulder burned. He took two long strides away from her. "I—That is, I—"

"Penthurst, it is always a pleasure to see you." She curtsied. "Do you know Mr. Trilby? We happened upon each other out here and he was confiding how he does one of his magic tricks."

"We have not met, although I have heard about the tricks. I did not know they involved importuning women."

Trilby's mouth gaped. "Impor—? No, never. I— I—"

"Hardly importuned, sir. A mere tap on the shoulder, to indicate the trick was ready," she said.

"More than a tap, I'd say."

"You might, but I do not. Had you not startled him, I am sure it would have been a very brief tap indeed."

Penthurst's severe expression did not soften.

To divert the confrontation into something less dramatic, she made introductions. Penthurst did not appear glad for that. Trilby could barely contain his relief. He sputtered and fawned for half a minute, making disjointed conversation, which the duke did little to help.

"Well, I must— That is, I should—" All but tripping over his own legs, Trilby took his leave.

Penthurst looked out to the garden, his profile limned by the lamps' light. Lydia took a step toward the doors too.

"Did I interrupt something, Lydia?"

She pivoted. "Only a conversation."

"You appeared angry when I first came out. Was that man imposing on you?"

"Only with his boring talk."

"His hand was on you."

"He sought my attention, that is all. He is a bit of a fool, I am afraid."

"It appeared you agreed to meet out here with him." He turned and looked at her. "It was noticed."

"By you, obviously."

"And others. Such things always are noticed."

"How careless of me, then, to indicate I needed some air in front of him. Although I cannot be responsible for who wants air at the same time as I do, can I? If you followed in order to save me, it was not necessary. While the gesture was gallant, I am not your concern."

"As a friend of your brother, and of your family, and as a gentleman, I could not allow you to be the victim of a Trilby or of the possible gossip that might result from his pursuing you out here, even if your own behavior invited it."

That last bit sliced at her already frayed composure. Due to him, she still had to settle things with Trilby. As for Penthurst's manner—she possessed a grievous dislike of the duke for several excellent reasons. One was that he really did fight duels with lesser men, and get away with it. The other was this proud way in which he spoke to her from on high, but also with too much familiarity.

The latter had to do with their very long history. He had been Southwaite's friend for years, and in the family's circle ever since she could remember. He had never liked or approved of her, however. Even when she was only a child, if she got into a scrap that her brother and his other friends thought amusing, Penthurst would often have a more critical view of it, and, like now, offer an occasional correction.

The way she saw it, maturity had a few benefits, and one was not having to suffer the Duke of Penthurst more than absolutely necessary anymore. She had no intention of indulging his arrogance now, on a day when a very big problem had entered her life.

"How good of you, sir, to remind me of my failings so I can improve. I am honored that you troubled yourself on my behalf. Now, lest there be gossip about us, perhaps we should return to the salon." With that she marched to the doors.

He reached them first, and opened one. "Why are you even here? I thought you were to attend a dinner party tonight."

"I am sure you are mistaken." She breezed past him and reentered the chamber.

He fell into step at her side. "Your brother mentioned it in passing just this afternoon when I saw him. A small informal dinner at Ambury's, he said, with you and a few others. Did you forget the date, or has the lure of the games gotten the better of you and you could not resist it even for one night?"

She considered agreeing with the second reason. That would probably invite another scold, much as everyone else scolded her for her gambling. However, she could hardly explain she had begged off the party to meet with a blackmailer.

Faulty memory it would have to be.

"Oh, dear, I believe you may be right. Perhaps I did forget." She blinked hard and pretended to be dismayed. "For some reason I thought that dinner was tomorrow night. How horrible of me. I will have to write to Cassandra in the morning and beg her forgiveness."

He pulled out his pocket watch. "You can still make it. You will be late, but excusably so."

"I do not think—"

"Wait here. I will collect my aunt and call for the coach, and take you there on our way home."

"That is not necessary—

But he was gone, striding across the chamber.

She almost stomped her foot. Now she would show up at the dinner, after begging off, which would only provoke questions from her brother and everyone else there. Penthurst should mind his own business.

She spied Trilby. She caught his eye. He pulled at his collar, grimaced, then smiled. He acted as if they shared a conspiracy that had just had a close call.

At least he did not look insulted anymore. Hopefully that meant he would wait on doing anything rash, like approaching her brother.

With Mr. Trilby appeased for the time being, she aimed for the door, to find Penthurst and his aunt.

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And don't miss Madeline's HEA column about historical romance, Romance Unlaced, every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Check out her latest (May 14), Let's talk about sex, baby, and be sure to stop back in at HEA this Wednesday for her next Romance Unlaced column.

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