The Devil Duke Takes a Bride
The Devil Duke Takes a Bride
by Rachel Van Dyken
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
THE DEVIL DUKE TAKES A BRIDE
Copyright © 2012 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art Designed by AM Design Studios
This one is for all my readers who have stuck with me since the first regency in the Renwick House Series, The Ugly Duckling Debutante. I hated to let that series go and after many conversations over Facebook, Starbucks, and Twitter, all of you inspired me to write another story based on those characters I loved so much! Thank you so much for your kind words, inspiration, and support! It’s been great meeting all of you at conferences and book signings. I would not be where I am today without you! I love you all from the bottom of my heart, thank you for making my job the best job in the world. ☺ Enjoy!
An Unfortunate Turn of Events
Cough, cough, cough. “So, you see, my boy, there isn’t another option. I am at the end of my life and in need of this final boon in order to pass into the land of our ancestors.”
Benedict Devlyn, Duke of Banbury, was determined not to roll his eyes as he squinted at his more-than-healthy aunt. “Forgive me, but I highly doubt the sniffles will be the death of you. Unless you have some other sort of illness that has you spouting off nonsensical death wishes. Oh wait, yes, did your dog bite you? And it’s become infected? Yes, must be it. That’s why you’re dying, certainly not from sitting too near Lady Renwick when she was ill last week.”
“Impetuous man, look at me!”
He was looking at her. And all he saw was a woman at the prime old age of one and seventy, with the uncanny ability to hug a man so tightly he nearly lost his countenance. Well, that and he had the sneaking suspicion that for one reason or another, she was lying through her teeth. For his aunt, of all people, to summon him wasn’t normal. Nor was answering her every beck and call something he made a habit of doing.
For one thing, it was common knowledge that she was slightly mad, and the other complication was that he and his aunt hadn’t been on speaking terms since last season when he decided he would not take her dog to Almacks — to her great disappointment. She’d been feigning death ever since.
Her coughing brought him back to the present. Peculiar that it was now changing to a more drastic coughing fit than before. “Is that all then? You wish for me to go find a girl and be done with this whole Devil Duke business?”
“Before I die!” Aunt Agatha interrupted, thrusting her hand into the air. “You are a stain upon the family name.”
The witch didn’t mince words, did she?
“I see,” he said, though truthfully he didn’t see. After all, his reputation had been legendary. Every young buck wanted to be him, and every high-stepping mama who threw her debutante his way was given ruin and disaster in return. After ten years of his infamous exploits, women not only gave him the cut direct, but he had it on good authority they now placed his name next to devil on all of the finishing school lists when warning debutantes against ruin. In his mind, it was an accomplishment of gigantic proportions.
She trained a cold glare on him, momentarily giving Benedict pause. “Is that it then? You will never marry, even if it’s my dying wish? And you plan to enjoy the short years you have left living a life that even the devil himself wouldn’t approve?”
Truly it wasn’t as bad as all that. She was given to exaggeration. If he was that bad, well, he wouldn’t be accepted into Society.
And he was accepted everywhere.
He lifted his eyebrows as if waiting for her to continue speaking. When she didn’t, he said, “Well, as you can see, I am firm in my belief that I will not change. Good day.” He made a move to leave.
She coughed and held up her hand.
Patience was not one of Benedict’s virtues, nor was being used by any sort of woman, especially one who still held a grudge the size of London. Devil take it, a blasted dog at Almacks? To see him married before she died? Clearly his aunt was mad, perhaps they had room in Bedlam for one more…
“I truly am dying.” Agatha held a trembling hand to her face and winced.
“Ah yes, forgive me for forgetting that minor detail.” He took a seat opposite her and waited.
“Hmmph.” Agatha crossed her arms and coughed again. “I need to see you settled down before I die, Benedict. My acceptance into heaven depends on it.”
That, he believed.
“And what will you give me in return for my obedience? After all, who knows what kind of notion you’re bound to get, considering you’ve been cooped up in your bed all day with the ague. What’s to say you won’t demand I suddenly begin sprouting children all over the place? Or take up dog-breeding? Or, heaven forbid, offer a smile?”
Aunt Agatha had the good sense to blush before answering. “Believe me, Benedict, finding a bride may prove more difficult than you realize. The idea that you think this to be easy is quite laughable, if I do say so myself.” Cough.
Laughable? Truly? Biting back a curse, he turned around and ran his fingers through his hair. Mad, his aunt was truly mad. Either that or she had a death wish. How was it that his aunt had the nerve to insult him when the rest of the ton was so deathly afraid of him and his reputation that he was rumored to be the spawn of Satan himself?
Not that it kept any sort of married female away from him. Laughable? His aunt didn’t know what she was talking about. Perhaps she was truly dying, for the day a woman had the audacity to say no to the Devil Duke would also be the day he would promptly eat his shirt and buy a lap dog.
“And I’ve already done all the work for you, my boy!”
Why was he not surprised? She probably had a special license underneath that dratted chair she was sitting in, as well.
“And who is to be the victim, Aunt?”
Did her eyes just twinkle? Impossible! The woman was seldom amused. “Lady Katherine Bourne. I do believe you are acquainted, though I also have another female in mind, considering Lady Katherine is a little high in the instep for you, my boy, but not so much for another young fellow I know.”
If he would have had a drink in his hand this would have been the opportune moment for him to throw back the remaining contents or slam it against the floor. As it was, he was having a devil of a time keeping himself from cursing in the presence of his aunt, even though one could hardly call her a lady with the way she threw around French expletives.
“You truly mean for me to align myself with that, that...” Obviously his mind was having trouble conjuring up an adequate word to describe the girl in question. So much, in fact, that he could only concentrate on the simple idea that his aunt wanted him in the same room as the chit.
“She’s lovely,” his aunt pointed out. “And need I remind you that she’s a Kerrington? Why, every young man within the city wants to be with the Kerrington family; they are, after all, closely related to the regent himself, and I’m not one to brag—”
Benedict stopped listening when the word lovely was mentioned. It seemed this would be the opportune time to remind his aunt of her need for an heir, or at least nie
“Absolutely not,” he interrupted, or at least he hoped he was. Nothing made him happier than interrupting his aunt when she spoke.
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t understand.”
Typical, the word no wasn’t in her vocabulary.
“I mean,” Benedict sent up a silent prayer for strength, “That I wouldn’t marry the chit if you offered me all the money in the world!”
“She’s as clumsy as she is mad!” Benedict roared.
His aunt squinted and tossed her head from right to left, most likely trying to give him the impression she didn’t agree, though it seemed that she was closer to having an apoplectic fit than arguing.
“I disagree.” She lifted her chin in the air and sniffed. “You have no proof she did those dreadful things. After all, it has been three years since you’ve seen her! She’s a girl of three and twenty now! Nearly on the shelf.”
“I wonder why,” he muttered under his breath.
“Oh posh, how much harm could she have done?”
“Harm?” Benedict repeated. “Harm?”
“You said that.”
“Harm,” he said again, mainly to provoke his aunt. At her scowl, he continued, “She nearly killed me—”
“Truly you exaggerate.”
It was obviously time for a drink; Benedict walked to the sideboard and poured three fingers of brandy. “I hardly exaggerate the story. Need I remind you there were witnesses? The girl followed me home. Hid, Aunt! Hid in the bushes and nearly scared my horse out of its wits, tossing me from its back! I was bedridden for a week!”
“Silly accident.” His aunt waved it away.
“On our second meeting,” he continued, gaining more courage to argue from the amber liquid swirling in his belly, “she decided to race Lord Rawlings through the fields of the estate and nearly fell of her horse! I had to rescue her, naturally, because Rawlings had so obviously bested her, and when I came upon the fair damsel, she told me to stop, and at that precise moment, I was hit in the face with a tree branch!”
“Again, I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose.”
Benedict growled low in his throat. “Bedridden, again, three days. Need I go on?”
“Oh, please do.” Aunt Agatha sipped her tea. “I do love to hear of your exaggerations. It’s as if someone is telling me a bedtime story.”
Benedict held up his finger and pointed at his aunt. “The third and final time I was in that girl’s presence, and notice I say girl because to call her a woman would be an insult to the sex, I offered to dance with her. Wanted to bury the hatchet and all that. We danced, she was amiable, and then she looked faint. I, being the gentleman that I am...” Aunt Agatha coughed. Saucy wench. “Took her to the outside air. Upon reaching the balcony she leaned over and dropped her reticule. I leaned down to fetch it and managed to topple over onto the ground. Somehow hitting my head a third time. Truly, I’m lucky to be alive.”
“Aren’t we all so thankful that you are,” Aunt Agatha said dryly.
“I won’t do it.” He poured some more brandy and repeated that same sentiment over and over again.
And when he left, his head ached something fierce. Even the girl was plaguing him from afar. He wouldn’t do it. Couldn’t do it. He would simply have to find someone else. And fast, for his aunt had something up her sleeve this Christmas, and he wasn’t all that sure he wanted to be caught with his drawers down.
Benedict approached the following night’s ball with as much enthusiasm as a criminal facing the hangman’s noose. At this point, he would have welcomed such an end.
He wore his ducal frown, and managed to get in a few distinct growls at his footman before he made his way up the marble steps into The Duke of Montmouth's townhouse.
It was to be the first ball hosted by the duke and his bride, and although it was a time of merriment, all Benedict could truly think of was the fact that the word merriment began with merry, which of course reminded him of being married, which then made his head hurt, and for some odd reason gave him the distinct impression that he was about to be injured for the fourth time.
Benedict made his way directly to the whiskey and poured himself a healthy glass, not turning to his right or left to make conversation. His sole focus was on the dry liquid as it poured down his throat. It was his job to be scandalous. He knew drinking so early in the evening would be frowned upon, but he didn’t give a whit about anything except forgetting he had to participate in the night's festivities.
“That bad?” a male voice said next to him.
“Rawlings?” Benedict could hardly believe his eyes. The once-rakish Lord Rawlings was said to be in the country with his wife. “What the devil are you doing here?”
“Oh, a favor. It seems one of our mutual friends is to be in Town, and my wife hadn’t the heart to say no to showing some interest in the girl and showing her about at the parties.”
“Ah.” Benedict gave a quick smile. “Thus she is floating around the social circles, and you’re next to the whiskey?”
“Did I mention that the girl is not but sixteen? And has the distinct pitch of a lap dog getting hit by a carriage?”
Benedict let out a hearty laugh. “Then cheers, old friend.”
“Old friend?” The Duke of Tempest approached with a cheery smile on his face. “Just what are we toasting to, and who’s trying to steal my friends away?”
Benedict gave a short bow. “Benedict Devlyn, Duke of Banbury.”
Tempest laughed, his eyes twinkling. “That sounds about right. What brings you into Town, Devil Duke? I haven’t seen you about this Season.”
“He avoids it,” another male voice cut in.
Truly it was as if the entire male sex could sense that Benedict needed support and were now coming to his aid in throngs.
“Lord Renwick, a pleasure,” Benedict said.
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you knew who my wife was talking to at this very moment.”
“Please do not finish telling me that story if it has anything to do with my—”
“Lovely aunt?” Renwick finished. “Perhaps I overdid it when I said 'lovely'. I’m sure we can conjure up a few more words to adequately describe the—”
“Chit?” Tempest offered.
“Meddlesome bag?” Rawlings input was quite useful.
“Incorrigible, quick witted, opinionated piece of…” Benedict stopped himself when his eyes set on the vision in front of him.
A beautiful woman walked into the room. Her profile was perfect, as if an artist had conjured her from heaven. Her lips, though he could only see the sides, were plump and a pale pink. Golden hair cascaded loosely around her shoulders, falling out of her messily placed bun. And her silver dress wrapped around her perfect form as if it was sewn onto her.
As if his mind had communicated with hers, she turned and looked at him. His stomach dropped, as did his whiskey. He cursed in every language he knew, not caring that the men around him probably thought he caught some sort of madness from his aunt. But he knew, even as she walked toward him and his stomach clenched, and his head pounded like the devil… This was the very same “girl,” who had nearly stolen his life three times. The only question hanging in the air between them was whether or not he’d leave this party dead or alive…
A Matter of Honor
Katherine glanced at the Devil Duke. His face was a combination of smooth planes and perfect form. A muscle twitched in his jaw when he set his eyes on her, and for a minute they darkened, causing her to feel like a nervous girl still in pigtails. And then his once smoldering face turned to something much more predatory. Nostrils flared, fingers clenched at his sides, and then he raised his hand to touch the back of his head as if it ached.
Taking a steadying breath, she straightened her shoulders and made her way toward the man. An apology w
Of course it did nothing but make her more curious if her mind had conjured up the same image she had just gazed upon.
He was far more attractive than a man of his reputation should be. She straightened her shoulders and shook the foreboding thoughts from her head.
Regardless of his reputation, she needed to at least acknowledge that all those silly incidents were her fault and her fault alone. Especially if she was to catch the eye of the duke's cousin, whom she knew would be in attendance this very night.
The Dowager Duchess of Durbin had said as much in her letter. And Katherine was thrilled that she would finally get her chance with the Scottish duke. The only man standing in her way was the Devil Duke himself, and she wasn’t about to let the obviously negative man get in the way of her happy future.
She swallowed and gave a quick curtsy, slowly raising her eyes toward him and waited. It was most improper for her to even use his last name instead of his title, but to her, the name fit. His last name of Devlyn described him quite perfectly for he was most assuredly descended from the devil himself. Dark hair, dark eyes, wide unforgiving lips, and a sneer fit for a true aristocrat. His eyebrows furrowed as a mocking smile danced across his face.
“Lady Katherine, it has been too long.” If she was a betting woman, which she most assuredly was not, she half expected him to continue in that same sentiment, adding that it had not been long enough. Banbury bent over her hand and bestowed a kiss upon it.