A Duke’s Devilish Plan (Preview)

Chapter One

The dining room at Lacey Hall was awash with conversation, as always. Lady Rose Lacey could barely hear herself think above the din. Her little brother, Virgil, laughing uproariously, tipped over the dish of peas as he reached for his glass of water. This made the whole table laugh harder as the maid, stony-faced, cleaned up the mess. Rose almost felt sorry for the poor girl. It must be hard working for a family like hers.

The only lull in the conversation came just after dessert. Rose’s father, the Marquess of Lacey, picked up his wine glass. His face was uncharacteristically solemn as he addressed the table, taking advantage of the silence.

“My dear family,” he said, clearing his throat dramatically. “I have good tidings. A chance to take a summer trip and dance until the sun comes up at a grand ball.”

Everyone turned and stared at him. Rose’s sister, Maria, took a deep, curious breath. Virgil’s mouth fell open. Rose’s mother, the Marchioness of Lacey, raised her eyebrows almost to the ceiling. Rose smiled to herself. The family loved the Marquess’s dramatic announcements. They almost always heralded fun, frivolity, and adventure, which the whole Lacey family existed for.

“Do tell, dearest,” breathed Rose’s mother, leaning towards her husband across the table. “I am all agog.”

“So am I,” chimed in Virgil, almost jumping up and down in his chair in anticipation.

The Marquess dabbed at his mouth with his napkin. “Very well, my dears. I shall put you all out of your misery.” He paused, smiling widely. “I received an invitation, just yesterday, to the Duke of Salisbury’s annual Midsummer Ball at Withington Manor, his summer abode. What do you have to say about that?”

Virgil cried out in joy, clapping his hands together. The Marchioness nodded approvingly. Rose felt her heart uncharacteristically start to sink, almost hitting the floor. For one full moment, she almost couldn’t breathe.

Withington Manor. The Duke of Salisbury’s Midsummer Ball. How could she endure going there again?

She felt frozen to the spot, unable to even move a hand. Maria was staring at her across the table, a look of sympathy upon her face. Maria knew what Rose was thinking and feeling. She was the only one at the table who would. No one else was aware of why she might be reluctant to travel to Hampshire for the Duke’s ball. They were all ignorant of what had happened there, all those years ago. A fact that Rose had fiercely protected. 

“How wonderful,” beamed the Marchioness, sipping her wine. “Why, we have not been to Withington Manor in a veritable age! How long ago was it, my dear?” She gazed at her husband expectantly.

“Two years?” said the Marquess, frowning. “Or is it three? Time gets away from me nowadays. It has been far too long, at any rate! And I must admit I am a bit shocked that it has been so long, considering our close friendship with His Grace.”

The Marchioness smiled. “Too long, my dear! I believe it was two years ago, exactly. We stayed the whole summer at Withington Manor, remember? Oh, what fun it was! Picnics, riding, croquet…a blur of wonderful, bright days that ended all too soon….”

“Yes!” cried the Marquess, thumping the table with his fist in his sudden excitement. “I simply cannot believe it has been so long! But I suppose we all lead busy lives, after all. And I do believe the Duke cancelled the ball last year due to illness. But he is obviously fit as a fiddle now and raring to go.”

Rose knew she must speak. She must establish one very important fact before her parents became swept away with this idea. She knew what they were like. Once they had made up their minds about something, it was extremely hard to dissuade them. The Marquess and Marchioness of Lacey lived for fun and frivolity and would hardly ever give up an opportunity for both.

“It has been an age since we were last at Withington,” she said carefully. “Tell me, is Lord Clifford still abroad? I know he left abruptly before the summer was out, and I have heard talk he has never been back to England since.”

Her father looked pensive. “Leo? Why, yes, I do believe he is still on the continent, along with Will. They have been attending to the family business in Paris, as well as travelling throughout Europe. They are both still there as far as I am aware.”

Rose’s heart flipped over in her chest. It was the first time she had heard his name mentioned in casual conversation in a very, very long time. So long that it was as if they were talking about a stranger. But Leo had once been very far from a stranger to her. As far from a stranger as it was possible to be.

Maria was still gazing at her, a worried expression upon her face. Rose’s heart flipped over again. 

“So, they shall most definitely not be in residence at Withington then?” asked Rose, holding her breath.

“No, I think not,” said the Marquess, taking a sip of his wine. “Why do you ask, Rose? Were you hoping to catch up with Leo? I recall you did get along well with him. I hope you are not too disappointed.”

“Oh, I was just wondering,” said Rose, trying to keep her voice impassive. “But Papa, how can I attend a ball without Bertie? Is it entirely proper to dance with other gentlemen when I am betrothed?”

Her father waved a dismissive hand in the air. “Oh, Rose, you are rather too proper for your own good! It is only one ball. We shall only be gone for a few days.” He winked at her. “I think you can bear to leave your betrothed for such a short amount of time, can you not?”

Rose smiled tightly, thinking about her fiancé. Sir Albert Rivenhall was the personification of propriety. He was steady, safe, and predictable. Bertie wasn’t dashing or romantic at all. He didn’t make her heart race wildly. She didn’t go into paroxysms of delight when he walked into a room. She didn’t hang on his every word. But that was all to the good. Rose had experienced all that before and knew the danger of it.

She took a deep breath. She wanted a safe, predictable man. A man who wouldn’t shock her suddenly nor break her heart. Bertie was perfect in every way. Who cared if it wasn’t the romance of the century? Romance was overrated. And it was perilous. Leo, Lord Clifford, the heir to the Salisbury duchy, had shown her that.

“We shall start packing tomorrow,” declared the Marquess, his voice booming down the table. “It is a long trip to Hampshire! What do you think? Should we break the journey at an inn?”

“Oh, yes, Papa! Yes, please!” said Virgil, his eyes shining. “It shall be an adventure!”

“So it will,” smiled the Marquess, nodding. “Another Lacey family adventure! It has been a while, my dears. Tally ho!”

Rose relaxed into her chair, exhaling slowly. It was going to be alright. She wasn’t in any danger. Leo was very far away. He wasn’t going to be there. And now that the threat of him was out of the way, she felt a stab of excitement. 

The Duke’s Midsummer Ball was always a huge affair, so much fun, and Withington Manor was spectacular. And she would be able to catch up with Lucy, Leo’s younger sister, as well. She had always gotten along well with her, but they had lost contact after all that had happened. Something that still saddened Rose from time to time.

She felt her anxiety lessen. It was going to be alright. And now, all she needed to do was start packing for the trip. And tell Bertie, of course, she thought guiltily. But it was only for a few days, after all, as her father said. She was sure her doting fiancé could manage without her for such a short amount of time. She deserved some fun, didn’t she? Life couldn’t always be about duty. She had been doing quite enough of that recently, playing the dutiful, strait-laced fiancée.

Rose took a deep breath. The summer awaited. She felt a tingle, just thinking about it. And what harm was there in dancing and drinking champagne without her fiancé by her side, for just one evening? Why, no harm at all.

***

Rose was sitting at her dressing table, staring at herself contemplatively in the mirror. Behind her, Nellie, her maid, was brushing out her hair in long, even strokes in preparation for bed. It was quite lulling.

A soft knock sounded on the door before it opened. Maria, smiling serenely, drifted into the room. Rose smiled at her in the mirror. She had been expecting her sister. They often came into each other’s chambers before bed, just to talk about the day. And Rose knew Maria would want to talk about the news that had been announced at the dinner table that night.

“I will take over, Nellie,” said Maria. “You may retire for the night.”

“Very good, my lady,” said the maid, handing the brush to Maria before curtseying and leaving the room.

Once they were alone, Maria started brushing her hair, gazing at Rose in the mirror.

“How are you feeling, dearest?” asked Maria.

Rose smiled tremulously. “I think I am quite well, Maria. The shock of the announcement has passed, and now that I am certain that Leo will not be there, I am quite excited for the ball and the trip.”

Maria nodded. “It was a relief to hear it, was it not? Of course, our parents are completely oblivious to what happened between you and Leo all those years ago. They cannot know how the announcement of going back to Withington would affect you.”

Rose smiled faintly. “Of course not. I do not blame them in the least. All they are thinking is what fun is to be had.” She took a deep breath. “Honestly, I am quite alright, dearest. You do not need to worry about me.”

Maria frowned slightly, still brushing her hair. “Papa only thinks Leo will not be there, Rose. He truly does not know. He has not seen the Duke in an age and is not up to date with what has been happening with the Clifford family.”

Rose nodded. “Yes, I realise that. But I think it very unlikely. He and Will have been away for so long now. What are the chances that Leo will be back at the exact same time as our family going to his home after so long?” She paused. “It is only a short trip, after all. We shall be there and back before we know it. It shall be fine.”

She smiled bravely in the mirror at her sister. She must believe it was true. It was only a few days, and she couldn’t think of any excuse to be left behind without her parents questioning her intently. She didn’t want to talk about her real reservations about not going to this ball. And knowing her parents, even if she did tell them the real reason, they would probably just brush it off and insist she go anyway.

Rose sighed heavily. There were some disadvantages to being a part of such a tight-knit family, who were always together. 

Maria’s lips pressed together. “Well, I hope for your sake the cad is not there. I can barely imagine seeing and talking with him after what he did to you. I cannot think how hard it would be for you, dearest, even if it was so long ago.”

Rose’s eyes filled with tears. Maria was always so supportive of her and fiercely protective. It was her sister who had held her hand as she wept, broken-hearted, all that time ago. It was Maria who had dried her tears, quietly listening to her, offering pearls of wisdom to get her through it. Rose simply did not know what she would have done without her.

She kept the tears at bay. She was heartily sick of crying over Lord Leopold Clifford. She had done enough of that. Enough tears to fill an ocean. And she had moved on successfully with her life now, at any rate. He no longer had the power to hurt her. She was about to be successfully married. She and Bertie were already looking at houses in the district. The wedding hadn’t been planned yet, but they would start soon. Her future was bright.

“I shall be fine, Maria,” she repeated. “You do not need to worry about me at all, dearest one. Have I not recovered brilliantly? Why I barely even think about Leo Clifford any longer. He is just a shadow in my memory.”

Maria nodded, looking unconvinced. “If you say so. But if you feel overwhelmed at all when we are at Withington, do not hesitate to tell me. We can find spaces of time to talk about it.”

Maria placed a reassuring hand upon her shoulder. Rose reached back, placing her own hand over her sister’s. Dearest Maria, who had always been her rock. They had been so close since girlhood. There was only one year’s age difference between them, and they had always been more like twins than normal sisters. 

She smiled faintly. It had only been she and Maria for so long that the birth of Virgil had been a shock. She didn’t think that her parents had been expecting their longed-for heir, either. She thought they had probably quite given up on the possibility. But Virgil’s arrival had been such a joy to the family. She and Maria clucked like mother hens over their little brother, who was such a mischievous, high-spirited boy.

Rose nodded. “I will do that, dearest. You have my gratitude. But I am certain I shall be fine. Time heals all wounds, as they say. All will be well.”

Maria smiled, setting down the hairbrush. “Very well. I shall leave you to your rest. Good night, dearest.” She drifted out of the room, closing the door gently behind her.

Rose sighed deeply when she was alone at last. She stood up, blowing out the bedside candle, climbing into bed. She was tired, but she couldn’t sleep.

Suddenly, she was beset by memories of Leo and Withington Manor, as vivid as they had ever been. She sighed again, gazing up at the dark ceiling. It was disappointing, but to be expected, she supposed. She had been reminded of all of it just this evening. These days she almost never thought about him at all.

Her heart twisted. They’d had one perfect summer. She and Leo had always been friends. Their families were close, after all. But that summer, things had deepened between them in the most unexpected of ways. It had been the first love for both of them. At least, it had been for her, and he had told her it was the same for him.

She had only been nineteen. He had been three and twenty. Before that summer, she hadn’t seen him for a very long time. He had matured, grown taller, broad-shouldered. Leo Clifford had suddenly turned from a gangly youth into a man. A very attractive man, indeed, with his commanding presence, auburn hair, and vivid green eyes. He had been a sight to behold. The memory of him then still made her heart skip a beat.

They had snuck away from their families at every opportunity. He had kissed her for the very first time beneath an old oak tree, making her dizzy, declaring to her that he had never felt this way about a woman before. They had stolen out of the manor at night, swimming in the lake. It had been a very hot summer. Leo had aroused feelings within her that had been shocking as well as delightful.

Rose blinked into the darkness as the memories washed over her. They had grown so close that she had dared hope he would propose to her, even though they were so young. She had told him she loved him, and he had declared himself in love as well. It was all going so beautifully that when the abrupt ending had come, it had left her reeling with shock.

One day he had been there, and the next, she woke up to the news that he had gone. He hadn’t just left the manor. He had left the country entirely with his older half-brother Will, headed to the coast, to sail away on the first ship to France. Rose had known that Will was leaving to attend to some family business on the continent. But Leo had never intimated—not once—that he had intended to go with him. It had come as a complete surprise.

He hadn’t even said goodbye to her, never mind telling her that he was leaving.

And she had never heard from him since. Not even one letter of explanation. Not one.

It had hurt so very much. Broken-hearted, she had tried to stagger on, hiding her pain from everyone but Maria. It was only when they were back home that she had collapsed under the pain and pressure of it. She had told her parents she was ill and taken to her bed, weeping copiously. Maria had nursed her patiently. It was Maria who had saved her.

Rose blinked back the tears again. She had survived. She was a survivor. Leo Clifford couldn’t hurt her any longer. Her heart was armour-plated now. It was so strong and coated with iron that she doubted even a small needle could pierce it. She was immune to the vagaries of love. Leo had seen to that.

She had a whole new life with a proper fiancé and a promising future. And she could withstand the memories of that old, doomed love for a few days. If anything, it would only make her see how strong she was now. How strong she had been forced to become because of him.

Chapter Two

Lord Leopold Clifford, the heir to the duchy of Salisbury, leaned over the billiard table, lining up the shot. His eyes narrowed in concentration before he suddenly flicked the billiard cue, sending the ball shuttling into the pocket of the table. He grinned, straightening.

Will, his older half-brother, cleared his throat. “I suppose you think that you are rather clever with that shot, old boy. But the game is far from over. You should not be grinning like an ape quite yet.”

Their father, the Duke of Salisbury, chuckled to himself, leaning on his cue. “Boys. It is just a friendly game of billiards, remember? You both have always been so competitive with each other.” He sighed. “It brings me back to another time. It has been so long since we have done this. It is like the good old days again.”

Leo gazed fondly at his father. The Duke was looking older now. It had been quite a shock when they had arrived back at Withington. His father had always had such a strong, commanding presence, but in the intervening years since Leo had seen him, he seemed to have shrunk a little. And his hair was totally white now, whereas it had only been laced with silver before. 

His father was getting old, which was a shock.

“It has been an age, Father,” said Leo. “I must say, it is good to be back at the old place. I could hardly quite picture it in my head anymore, it has been so long.”

“You always did exaggerate, Leo,” said Will, in an amused tone. “It has only been two years, after all. Not quite long enough to dislodge all memories of the house you grew up in.”

Leo laughed. Will took his shot, sending the ball flying into an opposite pocket. Their father sat down with a sigh, picking up his brandy. “It is good to have you boys back home. I was starting to think you both would never come back to England again.” His eyes sparkled. “And just in time for the Midsummer Ball! I am over the moon.”

Leo laughed again. “The ball! I must say, we had forgotten about it entirely. It was just an unexpected lull in business that has brought us back. All of Paris seems to pack up and flee to the countryside in summer.” He shrugged. “It seemed as good an opportunity as any to see you again, Father. And it is good to be back home, of course.”

“Here, here,” said Will, grinning. “The fair shores of England! And the ball shall be a bit of fun, I daresay. Are you expecting quite a crowd, Father?”

The Duke nodded. “Oh, yes. It is going to be quite spectacular. I have people coming from far and wide.” He paused, sipping his brandy. “Only yesterday, I received word that the Laceys are coming all the way from Suffolk. I am so pleased! Why, the last time I saw them was when you both were here, two years ago.”

Leo stiffened. “The Laceys?” he said slowly, trying to keep his voice neutral. “They are coming for the ball?”

His father nodded. “They are indeed! The Marquess expressed his delight, saying that his family are all looking forward to it. They shall be staying for a few days on account of the distance they are travelling. It shall be a grand reunion.”

Leo’s heart started to thump uncomfortably. The Lacey family. They were old family friends. He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. But he had managed to push aside all thoughts of who would be coming to this ball. Suddenly, he wasn’t so pleased that he and Will had timed their visit to coincide with the ball.

He exhaled slowly. “And is the entire family coming?”

The Duke nodded. “So the Marquess says. He says they are all looking forward to it, seeing it as a bit of a summer adventure. You know what they are like. They love distraction and are always flitting from here to there in search of it.”

Leo nodded cautiously. He could feel Will’s eyes upon him, but he refused to look at him. Will would know which way his thoughts were running, although they hadn’t spoken of her at all in the ensuing years. Will was of the opinion that one just buried things and got on with life. And Leo had never had the courage to tell his older brother just how much it had taken to get over Rose Lacey. The raven-haired beauty with skin like porcelain and lips as red as a divine ruby.

He took a deep breath.

“Are the Lacey sisters married now?” he asked in the same neutral tone.

The Duke shook his head. “I think not. I would have heard, wouldn’t I? At any rate, they are all journeying here. Robert would have told me if one of them was not.” He smiled. “Such beautiful girls, with that black hair. And the young boy is a character. Such a playful young fellow if memory serves.”

Leo nodded. “Yes, he was. Virgil. The long-awaited son and heir.”

He frowned, thinking of those beautiful Lacey sisters. Well, one in particular. The beauteous Rose, who he had always considered the most beautiful of the sisters, even though she and Maria were very similar in their looks, like two peas in a pod, really. And their summer of love two years ago, when they had both been swept away by the wild passion that had inextricably sprung up between them when neither had been expecting it.

He stirred uncomfortably as memories of Rose suddenly assailed him. It had been such a fierce passion. But they had both been so young at the time. He had convinced himself it had only been infatuation, a passing fancy, as ephemeral as the weather. At least, that was what Will had convinced him when he asked him to accompany him to the continent on family business at the last minute, suddenly severing his relationship with Rose completely.

He flushed with mortification. He still felt bad about it. He should have at least left her a note or written to her from Paris. But Will had said that he mustn’t encourage her, that it was better to sever all ties completely, for fear of getting the girl’s hopes up. There were so many lovely ladies to discover in the world, after all, before he finally settled down.

 

Leo grinned to himself. He had discovered many lovely ladies in Paris and beyond. Cosmopolitan, sophisticated ladies who had taught him a thing or two about life and love. But none had captured his heart. He had moved on completely from Rose Lacey, but he had never felt that youthful passion again. The feeling that anything was possible with such a woman by his side.

What would it be like seeing her again?

He dared a glance at his brother, who had just taken another shot. He couldn’t tell Will about his ambivalence about seeing Rose again. Will would just roll his eyes and tell him that it was all in the past and to get over it. He had always maintained that Rose was just a staid country lady who would settle for a dull life eventually. Not good enough at all to set her sights on becoming the next Duchess of Salisbury. 

Leo sighed, staring out the window. He loved his older brother. Worshipped him, really. And he knew that a part of it was that he had never even known of his existence until ten years ago. Will was his father’s illegitimate son, born before the Duke married Leo’s mother. The Duke had quietly supported Will since his birth and then decided to introduce him to Leo and his younger sister, Lucy, just after their mother’s death. The Duke told them that he had kept Will a secret from them because it was too painful for the Duchess, but with her passing, he wanted them to get to know each other and become a family.

Leo could still remember the shock of it. He was still reeling from his mother’s death. Will had been a surly eighteen-year-old, unsure of his place in the family, a bit overwhelmed by the grandeur of Withington. But slowly, the brothers had grown close. Will had chambers at the manor now. He was an integral part of the family, even though he was illegitimate. The Duke entrusted him with business. But even though Will was the oldest son, he could never inherit the title, of course. It would always be Leo. That was just the way it was.

It had been so wonderful to suddenly have an older brother. They did everything together. Leo looked up to Will, seeking his advice in all things. So, when Will had taken him aside the day before he was due to sail to France two years ago, urging him to come with him, Leo had listened. Will had told him it was time for him to put his head down and work—that it would be the making of him. He was going to be the Duke of Salisbury one day. Did Leo want to spend his life like a dandy, existing only for pleasure?

Leo’s eyes grew misty with remembrance. He had demurred, telling Will about his secret love affair with Rose. His brother had been shocked, then contemptuous. A real man didn’t shirk duty and responsibility because of a summer fling. Because that was all it was, according to Will, an infatuation that would pass. Leo would forget Rose Lacey within weeks. And there were a lot lovelier ladies on the continent.

He had to make his mind up immediately. Impulsively, he had decided to do it. He had only been three and twenty, after all. He had always wanted to travel but had never had the chance. And he wanted to be a good duke when the time came. He wanted to learn the ropes of the family business. And his adored older brother, who never failed to give good advice, was telling him it was the best thing for him. The chance for him to finally become a man.

Leo’s face burnt brighter. In the end, he had been a coward. He could have told Rose any time that day that he was leaving for a ship at first light and would be gone for a long time. But every time he opened his mouth to do it, he had halted. He couldn’t bear to see the look of disappointment and devastation upon her face. Because he knew that she wouldn’t take the news well. Not after they had declared their love for one another.

After he and Will arrived in France, he could have written her a letter. But he had baulked at that, as well. It was just as Will said. Much better to sever all ties and not give her any cause to hope that they had a future. It was just infatuation. Rose would get over it, just the same as he would. They were both young and immature. That was what he told himself, at any rate.

And now he was back. And Rose Lacey was coming to Withington within days. How could he bear to see her after his cowardice? What would she say to him? Would she slap him across the face if he dared even talk to her?

“Your shot, old boy,” said Will, giving him a penetrative glance.

Leo collected himself, strolling to the billiard table. But the thought of Rose and seeing her again had broken his focus on the game. Half-heartedly, he took the shot. The ball missed the pocket by a yard. He shrugged, walking away, trying to think what to do.

He had been looking forward to the ball. It was a chance to catch up with many old friends and neighbours. The Midsummer Ball at Withington had been an institution for many years. Indeed, his mother had started it as a way to celebrate the summer. His father had continued on with it in her memory. It had grown bigger and bigger, to the point that it was now one of the major society events of the Season in Hampshire and beyond. Many people travelled long distances to be here for it.

He sighed deeply. It was only a ball, after all. And it was more for Rose’s sake that he probably shouldn’t be here for it. Yes, they had only arrived back last week, and it would be an interruption to his plans, but he had many friends he could go and stay with while the Laceys were here. Many friends he wanted to see after all these years away, who weren’t coming to the ball.

Leo turned and walked back to his father. “When are the Laceys arriving?”

The Duke smiled slightly. “They promise to be here by Friday. It is a long trip for them, and they are planning to break it along the way, staying at an inn. I should tell the housekeeper to prepare the chambers today.”

Leo nodded. “Father…would you mind so terribly if I was not here for the ball?”

The Duke’s face fell in disappointment. “Whyever can’t you be here? You have been abroad for years….”

Leo took a deep breath. “I know. But I promised old Mulberry that I would go and stay with him and the family when I returned. They are heading off to Scotland next week, and I shan’t get another opportunity to see them before the summer is out.” He paused. “He is one of my oldest friends. We have been close since Eton and Cambridge, you know.”

The Duke frowned. “Oh, yes. I remember Freddie Mulberry. A good lad. He has a family now, you say?”

“A lovely wife and two sons,” said Leo. “Freddie is very settled and content. It has been an age since I have seen him. I didn’t even get a chance to catch up with him the year before I left England. It will not be for long. I promise to be back within a few days, and we can spend the rest of the summer together.”

His father nodded, looking appeased. “Freddie is one of your best friends. It would be a shame to miss him. Of course, you can miss the ball, Leo. I daresay it shall be much the same as every other year.”

Leo let out a silent sigh of relief. It had been easier than he thought it would be. His father was pacified. And he could escape Withington before the Laceys even got here, missing the ball entirely and only returning after they had left. His father had said they were only planning to stay for a few days. The coast would be well and truly clear by the time he got back.

His heart twisted. A part of him was very disappointed. He would have liked to see Rose again if only to see if she was still as beautiful as he remembered. But it was the best decision for everyone under the circumstances. His presence here would make Rose very uncomfortable. It would be awkward for them both. This was a way of avoiding any unpleasantness. The Laceys could enjoy their trip, and he could have a long overdue catch up with an old friend. 

He sighed again. Will was staring at him now. He knew the reason for his impulsive decision to visit Freddie Mulberry. But Will wouldn’t challenge him about it. His brother was on his side. And it truly was the best decision for all of them, without a shadow of a doubt.

***

That afternoon, he wandered through the palatial gardens at Withington. There were so many childhood memories here, as well as more recent ones. He stopped, lingering at a rose bush, its pale pink petals blooming with abandon.

Walking here with Rose. Snagging himself on a thorn as he tried to pick one of these flowers for her. It had drawn blood. They had both laughed. He had handed her the flower, grinning, so deliriously in love, it had seemed like the beautiful day had been made just for the two of them.

“A rose for Rose,” he had whispered. “You are far more beautiful, though.”

A shadow fell across his path. He jumped, frowning. It was his little sister, Lucy, twirling her green parasol. She had grown up so much in the two years since he had seen her. She was a proper young lady now, with her golden ringlets and lowered hems. Lucy had made her debut last Season and could now go to all the balls and society events.

He swallowed a lump in his throat as he gazed at her. Lucy was looking more and more like their late mother with every passing year. The resemblance was almost uncanny.

“How are you, little bean?” he asked affectionately.

Lucy smiled brightly. “All the better for having you home, Leo. It has not been the same without you. Papa and I are like ghosts haunting these halls.” She hesitated, frowning. “Papa just told me that you are going away again. That you plan to miss the ball entirely.”

Leo shrugged slightly. “Yes. But it is only for a few days, Lucy. I shall be back before you know it and we can spend lots of time together. Shall we go on picnics to the river, like we always used to? You can ride your pony if you like. What is his name again?”

But Lucy wasn’t going to be distracted. She pouted prettily, giving him a wounded look. “It is not fair, Leo. I wanted to dance with my dashing older brother at the ball. Show you off to all of my friends.” She paused, giving him a strange look. “It is not because the Laceys are coming, is it? Do you wish to avoid Rose?”

Leo squirmed, looking down at his feet. He had forgotten that his younger sister had been aware of how close he and Rose were once upon a time. Lucy had always been perceptive. He had never confided in her about his feelings for Rose, and he knew that Rose hadn’t talked about it with Lucy either, but somehow, his sister had known.

“Leo,” she said, sighing. “I am waiting.”

He sighed. “I cannot get anything past you, can I, little bean? The answer is yes. I do wish to avoid her, for both of our sakes. It will make Rose very uncomfortable if I am here. We have not communicated in two years. It is all water under the bridge now, but I think it best if we do not see each other, just the same.”

Lucy’s frown deepened. “I do not see it that way at all. I know Rose was upset after you left so abruptly with Will. She never said anything to me, but I could tell. The Laceys didn’t stay long after that, and we have not seen them since.” She paused. “Why did you do it, Leo? Why did you just leave without even telling her?”

Leo flushed. “I had to make a quick decision. The ship was leaving the next day. Will needed me. I do not expect you to understand at your age, Lucy, but it was just infatuation. A summer romance. I had to do my duty.”

Lucy didn’t look convinced at all. “I see,” she said slowly. “And it was Will who persuaded you of this? That your feelings for Rose would pass and were not genuine?”

Leo nodded. “Yes. But he spoke the truth. It was time for me to grow up. I had been bandying around for years, flitting from place to place, bored and restless. I was too young to settle down. I had a lot to see and do, Lucy. It was for the best. It truly was.”

“If you say so,” said Lucy, sounding sceptical. “I still think you left it unresolved. That perhaps you and Rose should talk about it. I have always been so fond of her. She is such a wonderful lady, Leo. Almost like the sister I have never had. I miss her….”

Leo’s heart twisted. “Well, you shall see her very soon. It will be good for the two of you to catch up, unburdened by my presence.” He paused. “It is only for a few days, Lucy. Honestly. You can do without me for that long, can you not?”

Lucy laughed, hitting him lightly on the arm. “You beast. You always like teasing me. Of course, I can survive without you.” She paused. “Shall we go for a walk together to the lake? It is such a nice day.”

Leo nodded, feeling relieved. “Certainly.”

They started walking. Lucy twisted her parasol, smiling shyly at him. He had forgotten how much she had always adored him. When she had been a little girl, she had always trailed after him, wanting him to play with her. And even when he had gone through a horrid patch, putting frogs in her pockets and that sort of thing, she had still adored him.

She had never really warmed to Will. She was polite to him, but they were distant with each other. Leo supposed it was because they hadn’t grown up together. Will liked Lucy, but he didn’t try as hard with her as he did with Leo. Perhaps it was just because Will liked having a brother more than a sister. It was a bit of a mystery.

He smiled slightly. Perhaps both Will and Lucy were vying for his affection. Who knew?

When they eventually reached the lake, he gasped. He had forgotten how beautiful it was, especially on a bright summer’s day, with the sky a blue dome above it. It was surrounded by willow trees, swaying in the breeze. 

He was suddenly beset by an entirely sensual memory. Rose, wading into the water, her raven black hair loose, falling almost to the small of her back in shimmering waves. Her skin, so pale it was dazzling. Her long legs and statuesque figure, looking like a queen. Those velvet brown eyes that seemed to see into the depths of his soul. Those crimson red lips, so full, so enticing….

He stirred uncomfortably, so aroused by the memory that it was slightly embarrassing. He was here with his little sister, after all. How could he be lusting after the memory of a woman he hadn’t seen in years? A woman who he had thought he had gotten over completely.

It was inexplicable, indeed. But ever since he had returned to Withington, it had been happening. Even before his father had mentioned that the Laceys were coming to the ball. It seemed that every corner he rounded, she was there. 

He exhaled slowly. He couldn’t get away from here quick enough. He would write to Freddie this afternoon, telling him that he would be visiting the day after tomorrow. The Laceys weren’t due here until Friday. He would be well gone by then.

His heart twisted again. It was still so tempting to see her, just glimpse her. Did she still have the power to move him, like she always had? Or had Rose Lacey matured into a staid country biddy, just like Will had always claimed she would?

He smiled wistfully. He couldn’t believe it. Rose was a sensual woman. The passion lurked just beneath the surface. A passion so fierce that he had almost been consumed within its flames.

How had the years changed her? Was she still as beautiful? Was she still the woman who sometimes appeared to him in dreams, even after this long?

He gritted his teeth. Best not to know. Much better for everyone.



“A Duke’s Devilish Plan” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

After a scandalous summer of passion, Lady Rose Lacey has managed to leave her first love behind, once and for all. With a respectable fiancé and the promise of a well-ordered life ahead, the tantalising Rose cannot risk her heart again after Leo deserted her, all those years ago. However, when her family is invited to Withington Manor, Leo’s ancestral home, for the annual Midsummer ball, everything is about to change…

What could ever go wrong between two past lovers?

The wicked Lord Leo Clifford, heir to the Dukedom of Salisbury, has just returned home from two fascinating years abroad. A life of duty abroad made him finally grow out of the aimless rake he used to be. However, leaving behind his past self also meant abandoning the tantalising Rose, and the lustful adventure they had together…

When he sees her again, what will the devilish Duke come up with in order to tempt her to surrender?

As the promise of another sinful summer unfurls around them, Rose and Leo try to resist the attraction that still burns strong between them. A past, doomed romance and a summer of possibility, torn between duty, desire and people who want to tear them apart… Will they be wise enough to bury their passionate affair deep in the ground or will they risk it all to reignite the fire of their lost love?

“A Duke’s Devilish Plan” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

3 thoughts on “A Duke’s Devilish Plan (Preview)”

  1. Leo and Rose seeing her again will be intersting, I know he will end up seeing in some place, can’t wait to see what happens, as long as Will stays out of it, I don’t trust him, I thing he is up to something.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and support, dear Joyce. I truly appreciate it!

      So glad you enjoyed the story! Make sure to stay tuned because I have more coming!

      Thank you again and have a lovely day!

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