Never Play with a Rakish Duke (Preview)

Chapter One

Isabella Northwood leaned forward in the chair, sipping her tea thoughtfully, as she contemplated the young gentleman sitting opposite her. The gentleman who was talking so politely with her mother. But she had noticed the shine in his eyes as he gazed at her from time to time.

Isabella looked down at her teacup, pretending to contemplate the delicate floral pattern on it, as the conversation washed over her. His name was Mr Laurence Wilson, a local gentleman, who had been very correctly wooing her recently. A walk in the park, properly chaperoned, of course. Morning tea, a few times a week, as they were doing now.

She gazed back up at him, her eyes sharp. He was a moderately handsome man, pleasant- looking rather than striking, with brown hair and dull brown eyes to match. His conversation was perfectly respectable if a little on the dull side. But Mr Wilson was from a well-to-do local family, with status rather than much wealth, and she could do a lot worse. She was two and twenty now, after all. Teetering on the edge of turning from an eligible young lady into an old maid if she wasn’t careful.

He turned to her now, fixing her with those brown eyes in an almost speculative manner. “You enjoy painting, then, Miss Northwood?” he asked slowly. “I am a rather prolific amateur artist. A keen interest.”

Isabella nodded. “I do enjoy painting, Mr Wilson,” she replied. “But I would not boast that I am particularly talented in that regard …”

“Oh, you are being too modest, Isabella,” interjected her mother. “You are very talented, my dear. Why, your drawing master praised you mightily when you were a girl.”

Isabella stared at her mother. It was a downright lie. Mr Kite, the drawing tutor her parents had hired for their daughters when they were growing up, had never praised her at all. It was Jane, her eldest sister, who had been the talented one, in that regard. But then, maybe Mama had just got them mixed up.

“If you say so, Mama,” she said slowly, sipping her tea.

Mrs Northwood nodded decisively. “My youngest daughter is very accomplished, Mr Wilson,” she said, turning to the gentleman. “Isabella is a credit to her father and I. We are both extremely proud of her.”

Mr Wilson looked pleased. “I can discern how exceptional your daughter is, Mrs Northwood,” he said, nodding. “She has a very special aura about her, which I noticed immediately. It does not surprise me in the least, that she is as accomplished as she is lovely …”

Isabella bristled, just a little. They were both talking about her as if she wasn’t even sitting here in this room. As if she were a prize calf being paraded at auction. She wasn’t sure if she liked it at all.

She knew how the courtship game played out, but this part of it was always mildly offensive to her. It seemed so … bloodless and calculating. She had played this game with other young gentlemen over the years. A game which had led to tame flirtations, but never an offer for her hand.

Her best friend in the world, Eleanor, assured her she just hadn’t met the right gentleman yet. Isabella wasn’t so sure. It wasn’t as if she had any wildly romantic notions about courtship and marriage. She had read all of the Gothic romances as a girl but had never believed that the contents were real, as some young ladies in her acquaintance did. All she had ever wanted was a decent, respectable gentleman who would treat her well. Romantic love was for the fairies, as far as she was concerned.

She sighed deeply as Mr Wilson and her mother kept talking about her accomplishments as if they were ticking off a list. No, she did not have any romantic expectations, but suddenly, she strangely yearned for something more. Mr Laurence Wilson left her cold, as polite and respectable as he was. 

She berated herself silently. Mr Wilson was a catch, and she should be very grateful that he was paying any attention to her. She wasn’t so young anymore. She would end up on the shelf entirely. Her two older sisters, Jane and Fredericka, were already well married and settled by her age, she reminded herself.  And Mama was always saying that she had been married at the ripe old age of eighteen.

Mr Wilson turned to her now, crossing his legs as he balanced his teacup in one hand. She squirmed slightly, beneath his gaze.

“You enjoy music, Miss Northwood?” he asked. “I have spare tickets for the symphony next week at the Palladium.” He paused. “Perhaps your good mother and you could accompany me if you are so inclined.”

Isabella smiled. “I am already attending with my dear friend, Miss Eleanor Weston, and her parents, Mr Wilson,” she replied quickly. “But I am sure that we can mingle at intermission …”

His face turned a bit sour. “Yes, of course,” he said. A pause. “But my family has a private box. You would see much more if you attended with me. A bird’s eye view of the orchestra …”

“Oh, you are so lucky, Mr Weston,” said her mother, her eyes sparkling. “A private box, no less! Perhaps we could be so inclined to let Isabella attend with you, instead of going with Miss Weston and her family, if I chaperone, of course …”

“Mama,” said Isabella sharply. “I have already promised Eleanor. It is not a polite thing to refuse her invitation. Especially if it is to take up another offer.”

Mrs Northwood reddened slightly. “But I am sure that dear Eleanor would not mind so much, my dear. You go everywhere together, after all …”

Mr Wilson laughed. “Oh no, Mrs Northwood, your daughter is correct,” he said. “I should not have put her in such a position.” He turned to Isabella. “I should not have put you in such an awkward spot, Miss Northwood. It was not polite at all. Please, accept my apologies.”

Isabella inclined her head. At least he had backed off gracefully. It was true he should not have asked her again after she had told him the circumstances. It was not proper etiquette in any way. And she was a stickler for proper etiquette. Eleanor often teased her about it, saying that she needed not to be quite so rigid. That etiquette wasn’t everything in life, after all.

“Of course I accept your apology, Mr Wilson,” she said. “I trust you do understand that it would be entirely rude to suddenly decline my dear friend’s invitation, to accept another, to the very same event.”

He smiled, looking very pleased. “I think that is another thing that I greatly admire about you, Miss Northwood,” he said slowly. “Your propriety. You are obviously very aware of what is the proper process. Unlike some young ladies, who are rather more flexible in that regard. It shows a lack of respect, in my opinion.”

Isabella’s smile froze on her face. Had his insistence that she go to the symphony with him rather than Eleanor been some kind of test to see if she followed proper protocol? Again, she was beset by how calculating it all was. Sizing her up shrewdly to see if she was a proper young lady in all regards.

But before she could answer, he stood up, placing his teacup on the tray. “I am afraid that I must be away,” he said, still looking pleased with himself. “I have another appointment, and it would not do to be late. Would it, Miss Northwood?”

Isabella stood up, smoothing down the creases in her gown. “No, of course not, Mr Wilson.”

Her mother stood up, too. “Thank you for your visit, Mr Wilson.”

He bowed slightly towards both ladies. “Thank you, Mrs Northwood, for letting me into your charming home and having the company of two such lovely ladies.”

Her mother blushed slightly. “Oh, the pleasure has been entirely ours, Mr Wilson.”

He walked up to Isabella, taking her hand and pressing his lips against it in a perfunctory manner. “I hope to see you at the symphony as promised, Miss Northwood.”

Isabella inclined her head. “As I hope to see you there, as well, Mr Wilson.”

The next minute, he was gone, striding out of the room. Isabella turned to her mother. “Well, that was interesting,” she said slowly. “I am not quite sure what to make of Mr Laurence Wilson at all.” She paused, biting her lip. “But he is a respectable, polite gentleman, to be sure.”

Her mother nodded. “He is a catch, Isabella. His family is genteel and moderately wealthy if not flush with it.” She raised her chin. “You could do far worse, my girl. Time is ticking. Your sisters were married and had their own homes at your age, remember.”

Isabella reddened. “Yes, Mama, I am well aware of that fact,” she said, feeling diminished, as she always did when her mother talked about how she wasn’t getting any younger. 

But at that moment, before she could say anything else, her father suddenly strode into the room. His face was mottled slightly with some strong emotion. Isabella felt her heart start to beat a little faster. It was unlike Papa to look animated. He was usually so self-contained. What was going on?

“Isabella,” he barked, without further ado. “I have good news, daughter. Very good news, indeed.”

“What is it, Papa?” she asked slowly, mystified.

He beamed at her, looking like the cat that had just eaten the canary. “I have just accepted an offer for your hand in marriage, that is what,” he said triumphantly. “A very good offer, indeed.”

“From Mr Wilson?” asked Mama quickly, looking shocked. “Well, that was quick work. He only just left us …”

Her father looked irritated. “No, not from Wilson,” he said. “Who the deuce is he, anyway? Just another dandy, idling with our girl’s affections, from a moderately well-to-do family.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “No, my dear, this is a far better proposition, I must say.”

Isabella’s heart started hammering. What on earth was going on? This morning was taking a very strange turn, indeed.

“Well, from whom then, husband?” asked her mother, looking gobsmacked.

Her father took a deep breath. “From a duke, no less, my dear.” He turned to Isabella. “Jasper Blackbourne, the Duke of Penthurst! Now, what do you think about that?” His eyes gleamed with triumph.

Isabella’s head began to spin. A duke had offered for her hand? Impossible. She was a perfectly respectable young lady from a good family, but she didn’t run in those circles. They were very far above her, indeed.

But as her father’s words started to sink in, something jarred within her. Quite violently. She had heard of this duke, before. His name was strangely familiar to her.

“The Duke of Penthurst?” she repeated. “But … I have heard of him …”

She strained to put her finger on what she had heard. Vague rumours. A dashing duke, who had led his family on a merry dance. Running wild. Ruining his reputation in every way possible. Her blood ran cold.

“No, Papa,” she gasped. “The Duke of Penthurst, while having great title and wealth, is not a respectable gentleman, at all.” She paused, feeling herself begin to shake. “You cannot accept him. You must see that.”

Her father glanced at her sharply. “I am afraid it is too late, Isabella,” he said. “I accepted the offer. It is done.” He drew a deep breath. “You are now betrothed, my dear. Well, what do you have to say to that?”

She stared at him, not believing it on any level. And yet, he looked serious. He was serious.

Her father had just got her engaged to a rogue duke. A gentleman she had never met, not once, in her life. And a gentleman who was no gentleman at all if the rumours about him were correct.

Her heart sank into her feet. Her life was over. There would be no hope of any happiness for her now. None at all.

 

Chapter Two

Jasper Blackbourne, the eighth Duke of Penthurst, sighed with irritation as he adjusted the book in his hands. He had been trying to read the thing for over twenty minutes now, but not one word had managed to sink into his mind.

The candle next to him was starting to burn low and sputter. He glanced around at the library, where he was sitting. The heavy embossed curtains were drawn firmly closed, but he could see smidgeons of bright sunlight through the cracks. He hadn’t even realised that the sun had dawned, and that morning was upon him. Another damn morning.

He sighed again. He had been out all night, at a party in a disreputable area of the town, and should be abed, sleeping it off. But as soon as he had crept into the house, trying not to wake his father, he had felt suddenly drawn to the library. His mind was still whirring, his blood pumping, and he knew that he needed to calm down a little before he could sleep. Reading in the library until he finally felt tired would be just the ticket.

He squinted, against those bright pockets of light. Another morning. He glanced down at the book again. It was useless. It wasn’t calming him. He couldn’t concentrate at all. His mind was spinning, almost incoherently, in his tiredness. Those same thoughts, tumbling over and over again. He thought he would be well rid of them by now, but it seemed that he was accursed. It was going to haunt him forever, and no amount of wild parties, or running around as if he were trying to escape his own skin, was going to change that.

He jumped, his heart pounding as the door suddenly flew open. His father was standing there, staring at him, with a slightly contemptuous look on his face. And then the older man strode into the room, muttering under his breath, pulling back the curtains so that the bright sunlight suddenly streamed into the room, causing Jasper to draw back sharply as if he was a vampire confronted by the day.

His father rounded on him. “This is disgraceful,” he rapped. “I know very well that you have not even been abed yet. That you stayed out all night, yet again. The servants informed me.”

Jasper smiled weakly. “Yes, well, I thought that I would read for a while, you see. Settles the mind …”

His father leaned over, blowing out the candle. “You need to pull yourself together, my boy. You do realise that, do you not?” His eyes flickered over him. “I have been very tolerant of you. Very tolerant indeed. But you are seven and twenty now. You are the duke since I had to give up the title due to my health. Not a young lad, sowing his wild oats, anymore. You have responsibilities …”

Jasper’s head started to pound. He was in no mood for a lecture, not after having not slept a wink. And he could see by the manic look in his father’s eyes, and the way that his mouth was working furiously, that the old man was only just beginning.

It was going to be a tongue lashing, indeed. His head pounded harder.

“Why do you do it, Jasper?” asked his father, shaking his head. “We have talked about this, over and over. About how you must quieten down and start to lead a more respectable life. Many fathers would have cut you off a long time ago. And I am starting to regret my decision to pass the duchy to you. If I were still a strong man …”

Jasper felt a flicker of guilt, which he tried to suppress. There was no point to guilt. He was who he was. He had tried to change, quite desperately. He had tried to escape the torment of his own mind and lead a better life. But it never worked. Or not for very long, at any rate.

He was very well aware of the rumours circulating about him. They were greatly exaggerated, of course, as all rumours seemed to grow and develop a life of their own, as was their way. But he had done enough to start them. He knew that the very proper, respectable families did not want him to go to their prim dinner parties any longer, and tried to keep their prim, respectable daughters away from him, even though he was a duke.

He smiled again at his father. It wasn’t good for the old man’s precarious health, to get this worked up. He had better stand up, say sorry, and that he would endeavour to do better. And then retire to bed.

But just as he was about to do so, his father took a deep breath.

“I am telling you it must stop,” he said, in a quiet, determined voice. “And I have taken matters into my own hands to make sure that it does.” He paused, drawing himself up, to his full height. “I have put in an offer of marriage, on your behalf, to a young lady who lives in the district. Her father has accepted. You are now engaged to be married, Jasper.”

“What?” spluttered Jasper, standing up, his head pounding harder. “You have done … what?”

“You heard,” replied his father grimly. “And I do not know why you are acting so surprised. I always told you that you must be married by the age that you are. You need to produce an heir so that the future of our great family is assured. That is your duty, and by God, I will see that you do it, before I draw my last breath.”

Jasper ran a hand through his hair. This was a disaster. He didn’t want to get married at all. The very thought of it was anathema to him.

But of course, he shouldn’t be surprised. The old man had been threatening it for years. He had managed to stave him off, in one way or another, but it had always been there, hovering over his head like the sword of Damocles. Threatening to end his life of restless drifting, once and for all.

He swallowed painfully. It had caught up with him, at long last. Marriage. 

He digested the awful news slowly. “To whom have you put in an offer of marriage, on my behalf, Father? Can I at least know that?”

His father nodded grimly. “Of course you may, Jasper. A perfectly respectable young lady, by the name of Miss Isabella Northwood. Her parents are wealthy landowners in the district. God-fearing. Pillars of society.” He paused, smiling with satisfaction. “Exactly what you need, my boy.”

Jasper strained his mind. He couldn’t remember ever hearing of Miss Isabella Northwood before, even in passing. And he most certainly had never met the lady. Probably another pious, proper young lady. They were a dime a dozen in this small community. And they had never interested him at all. Too much to live up to.

No, he preferred the slightly more risqué ladies, who did not adhere so rigidly to society’s rules. The artistic, flamboyant ones, who often flirted with their reputations. They didn’t place any demands upon him. They didn’t ask him questions. They let him be exactly who he wanted to be.

His lip curled. He could just imagine what this Miss Northwood would be like. A dull church mouse, who arranged flowers in the church for Sunday service and ran her life like clockwork. It would be too much to hope for anything more. He was doomed to a life of eternal dreariness.

A deep upsurge of sorrow took him by surprise. That it had come to this. That his life had not panned out the way that it had been meant to. If only things had been different. If only fate had not snatched away the best thing in his life, all those years ago …

“What do you have to say?” barked his father, interrupting his reverie. “Do not even try to back out of it, Jasper. I have given you every chance to find a proper young lady of your own to wed, but it has become increasingly obvious to me that matrimony is not on your mind, where ladies are concerned …”

Jasper took a deep breath. “I cannot say that I am thrilled, Father. But yes, you have always said that I must be married by this age. So I shall demur and accept your edict.” His lips tightened. “Are you satisfied?”

His father stared at him hard. “Yes, well, that is a slightly better attitude,” he concurred. “I am pleased, at least, that you are not fighting me over the issue.” He suddenly sagged slightly, looking pale in the sunlight. “You cannot run forever, Jasper. It has been years. A long time to get over it all …”

Jasper turned his face away. He didn’t want to talk about it at all. It never helped. It was like a rat gnawing on a piece of hardwood. 

He took another deep breath, turning back to his father. “Yes, well,” he said in a sour voice. “I will marry the proper Miss Northwood, as you demand. And now, I really must retire, Father. If there is nothing else …?”

His father looked suddenly sad. “No, there is nothing else, Jasper. And you should go to bed. Sleep it off, and then, think about turning over a new leaf entirely, now that you are betrothed. You cannot continue the way that you have …”

“Indeed,” said Jasper tightly. “Well, I am away.”

He turned and walked out of the room without another word. He didn’t glance back at the figure of his father, standing there, looking bereft. He could never give the old man what he wanted, anyway.

His feet dragged as he climbed the staircase towards his chambers, feeling like blocks of lead. Around him, he could hear the noise of the household. Maids scurrying like mice from room to room doing their chores. It seemed to fade in and out, in his ears.

His bed was cold when he fell into it. For one moment, everything started to spin quite violently. His heart started to hammer again in his chest.

A wife. A perfectly proper young lady. How on earth could he live up to the expectations she would place upon him, whoever she was?

He turned her name over in his mind. Miss Isabella Northwood. What would she be like? He could just imagine her disapproving eyes as she gazed upon him. If she hadn’t heard of his reputation, she soon would. It was a wonder that her respectable father had even agreed to the engagement at all.

He was doomed to disappoint her, even if he tried, which he did not incline to do. It would be a disaster in every way. But it was his duty, and he couldn’t run away from it forever. He was a duke, after all. Sometimes he wished fervently he hadn’t been born into such a lofty title. What must it be like, to be truly free?

His eyes closed, and he could feel his mind melting into slumber, at long last. A deep sense of letting the world go. But just as he was about to drift off entirely, she appeared before him like an apparition. Just standing there, as she always did, sheathed in darkness, with a halo of light behind her. Beckoning to him. Whispering to him.

He punched the pillow in pure frustration. Would she ever leave him? Would he be forced to endure this forever? Even while that perfectly proper young lady, who was destined to become his wife now, lay beside him?

 

Chapter Three

Isabella hesitated for a moment, staring at the closed door to her father’s study. Then she took a deep breath, knocking quickly. There was a pause before she heard her father’s voice on the other side, allowing entry.

She opened the door, trembling a little with trepidation. Her father was sitting at his desk, quill in hand, writing letters. He glanced up at her, sighing, before placing it down.

“Isabella,” he said slowly. “I was expecting you.”

She stifled her surprise. “You were?”

He nodded. “Of course. I could see when I told you the news that you had a thousand questions.” He sighed again. “Come in. I will order tea for us, and we can talk if you like.”

She settled in the armchair near the fire while he rang the bell, ordering tea for them. Then he sat opposite her, gazing at her steadily.

“Well, daughter,” he said. “Ask away.”

Isabella hesitated again, staring at her father. He was portly and grey now, but she could still see the slimmer, black-haired man that he had once been when she had been a little girl. The man who had always listened to her and treated her so well. The man who must surely not wish for her to be married off with such haste to a rake, even if he were a duke.

She took a deep breath. “Papa, what do you know of the Duke of Penthurst?”

He kept gazing at her steadily. “You are concerned about the man. I do understand that.” He paused. “The Duke of Penthurst is a noble gentleman, from a very old, illustrious family. He resides with his father at Rivergate Manor, a very grand estate, which has extensive land attached to it. Besides that, he owns a few properties in other areas of the country …”

Isabella sighed. “Papa, that is all very well and good. Yes, he is a noble, and has great wealth and assets.” She took another deep breath. “But what I said in the parlour when you informed me of the match is true. He does not have a very good reputation at all. Do you wish me to tell you what they say about him?”

Her father raised an eyebrow. “I am surprised at you listening to scurrilous gossip, Bella. That is not like you at all. You have always said that you much prefer to judge a person at face value, rather than hear stories about them, which may or may not be tainted by exaggeration or spite.”

Isabella reddened slightly. “It is true that I try not to judge, by gossip.” She hesitated. “But I also believe that there is no smoke without fire, Papa. And as far as the Duke of Penthurst goes, there is much smoke … believe me.”

Mr Northwood smiled grimly. He was just about to speak when the tea arrived. For a moment, they were both silent, as Flora, the parlour maid, poured the beverage from the silver teapot, handing them both a teacup before departing.

“Now, to the rumours, about the gentleman,” said her father, after taking a long sip and placing his cup down. “The Duke’s father, the previous duke, is an old acquaintance of mine. We do not know each other so very well, but we respect each other. He told me about the troubles his son has had over the years. He was most upfront about it when he came to me, offering the engagement …”

Isabella put down her teacup. “The Duke’s father offered for my hand? Is the Duke even aware of it … and happy about it?”

“Mere trifles, daughter,” replied her father, waving a hand in the air. “You must know that it is often the parents who approach on their children’s behalf, in such matters. I am sure the Duke is very well aware of it and most pleased with the match.”

Isabella gazed at him doubtfully. She was suddenly very suspicious that the Duke of Penthurst had no more desire to marry her than she did him. That perhaps he had even be railroaded into it by his father. It did not reassure her at all about the man. In fact, it made her feel ever more unsure about this match.

“Anyway,” continued her father. “His father informed me, quite bluntly, that his son the Duke has been a bit of a tearaway, in previous years. Nothing too sordid … just running around town a bit, as young gentlemen are wont to do, in their salad days.” He paused. “He assured me that those days are over and that His Grace is ready and willing to settle down, into holy matrimony.”

Isabella stirred uneasily at her father’s rather liberal assessment of the Duke’s reputation. Especially considering that he was usually such a stickler for convention. Papa was a God-fearing man and did not tolerate loose and lascivious behaviour in anyone. The fact that he was brushing off the Duke’s exploits was out of character, to say the least.

“Papa …” She bit her lip. It was hard to speak of such things with her father. But she had to do it. “There are rumours that he regularly attends parties in disreputable areas of Chilwich, to all hours.” She paused, swallowing painfully, as she felt her colour deepen. “That he associates with ladies of questionable reputation, and overindulges in strong liquor, and cards …”

Her father looked offended as if a strong, unpleasant smell had just entered the room. “You should not talk so boldly of such things, Isabella. It does not become a young lady, in the least.”

Isabella’s colour deepened further. “I do not like to talk of such things, Papa, but nor do I wish to be betrothed to a gentleman who actually does them.” She hesitated, struggling for words. “While the Duke of Penthurst is perfectly respectable on paper, the reality of him is quite different. Can you not see that, now?”

Her father’s face darkened. “The Duke’s father assures me that his son’s … indiscretions are a thing of the past. I have his word, Isabella.” He took a deep breath. “The match is an excellent one, daughter. A noble, with vast wealth. You will have status beyond your wildest dreams. You will be a duchess. Surely, that must impress you.”

Isabella stirred uneasily, again. Yes, she had never imagined that she would ever become a duchess. It was very strange, indeed. But neither had she ever aspired to such lofty heights. She was a perfectly respectable middle to upper class young lady who would be well satisfied with a gentleman who was her equal. The fact that this gentleman was so far above her socially was a cause of consternation for her, rather than joy.

Why did such a noble gentleman wish to marry her, rather than a lady, who was his social equal? She was a nobody, in such high circles. That made her very suspicious, too. It showed that the Duke’s reputation was perhaps so tarnished that no lady who was his equal would consider him. He and his father were forced to lower their standards.

It did not make her feel good. It did not make her feel good, at all.

Her father sighed heavily. “The Duke’s father has told me that his son went through some trials when he was younger,” he continued thoughtfully. “It is the reason that he has been a bit wild in the past. But he also assures me that his son is a very decent man, considerate and charming and that the troubles of his past are well behind him.”

Isabella frowned, still unsure. The fact that the Duke’s father was openly acknowledging his son’s somewhat tarnished reputation was honest, at least. He might have said nothing about it, hoping that her father and herself would remain ignorant of them. 

But there was another side to it, as well. It reeked a little of desperation. Had the Duke’s father tried to betroth him to higher ladies, who would not have a bar of him? Was that why he was trying to be so open, almost anticipating the troubles they might have securing a fiancée? And they only had the Duke’s father’s word that the troubles of the gentleman’s past were now behind him.

“I do not know, Papa,” she said in a small voice. “It does not feel right to me at all. I am very worried about this gentleman’s reputation, despite his father’s reassurances, that he has turned over a new leaf.” She paused. “Could we perhaps delay the decision, to become betrothed, until we have fully investigated that the gentleman is now reformed …?”

“Isabella,” said her father sharply. “I have a respectable and honourable gentleman’s word on it. And you shall be marrying into great privilege and wealth. It is a most excellent match, way better than we could ever have hoped for.” He paused, his eyes narrowing. “You should consider yourself very lucky, daughter. You are not getting any younger. The time for fussiness, in this regard, is well over.”

Isabella turned her face away, trying to hide her hurt. Why did it always come back to that, with both her parents? Thoughtless words that her youth was slipping away, and with it, her chances at a good matrimonial match. She was very well aware of it, without them constantly reminding her.

But she was not so desperate for marriage as to compromise herself entirely. Tears filled her eyes. Now, she wished that Mr Laurence Wilson had been the one to make an offer for her, before this disreputable duke’s offer had arrived. He was safe, respectable, and her social equal. Yes, it would not have been such an illustrious match, but it would have suited her much better than this. Even if the man himself did leave her a bit cold. But what did that matter, after all?

She stood up. “I can see that your mind is set, Papa,” she said, trying desperately to hold back the tears. “I have shared my concerns. Hopefully, everything is as you say, and there shall be nothing to worry about in the event.” The words seemed to stick in her throat.

Her father looked relieved. “Yes, of course, Isabella. All shall be well. You should be overjoyed, daughter! A duchess!”

Isabella smiled weakly. “Indeed.”

Her father stood up. “Now, your mother and I have decided to hold a dinner party tomorrow evening. The Westons are coming. Eleanor shall be there …”

Isabella took a deep breath, trying to rally. “I shall like to see Eleanor …”

“Yes.” Her father’s eyes gleamed. “And the Duke of Penthurst shall be attending as well, Bella. You shall get to meet him for the first time. I have no doubt that you shall be impressed.”

Isabella nodded reluctantly. She didn’t think she had less desire to meet a person in her life.

But there was no point in saying that. She took her leave quickly, running up the staircase to her chambers, flinging herself on her bed.

She had tried, and she had failed. Her father was determined that she marry the rake. In all good conscience, she could not fight him any longer. She was a dutiful daughter, in all ways, and the thought of being at loggerheads with Papa filled her with horror. She could only hope and pray that the Duke’s father’s assurances were true, that he was reformed. But what did it say about the gentleman’s character, even so?

She groaned, punching the pillow in her frustration, her thoughts drifting back to bland, respectable Mr Wilson. If only he had put in an offer, none of this would be happening.

She rolled over on the bed, gazing at the ceiling. Tomorrow evening, she would meet the disreputable duke for the very first time. Her stomach was already churning with distress at the very thought. 


“Never Play with a Rakish Duke” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Isabella Northwood has never believed in romantic love. What she wishes for is a gentleman of staid propriety, who can take care of her and provide her with a life full of love and passion. But, when a devilish Duke puts in an offer for her hand in marriage, she is forced to reconsider her position entirely. The prospect fills Isabella with horror as the rumours of the Duke’s wicked past run wild; rumours that have been the fodder of society gossip for years…How can her father just hand her over to such a rake? When she gets to know his real self, will she be able to lay aside her doubts for a chance at love?

Jasper Blackbourne’s life turned upside down when his childhood best friend and his mother died one after the other. With his life shattered into a million pieces, he took these losses to heart and has never been the same ever since. No matter how hard his father tried, he could barely manage to keep public opinion in his favor. Jasper knows he has no choice but to give up his life as a bachelor and settle for something less than a passionate affair. But when he finds out he is about to marry a very seductive young Lady, he finds himself trapped in a painful dilemma. Could this fiery Lady be the salvation he has been looking for? Or will he be condemned to live in pain forever?

As Isabella gets to discover the most magnetic man she has ever met, she is petrified that her heart could be fooled. Even though he makes her blood run like fire whenever he touches her, it takes time to see his old ways slowly turning into love and affection. Can she ever hope to win his trust, along with his heart? Or are they doomed to a life of perpetual longing?

“Never Play with a Rakish Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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12 thoughts on “Never Play with a Rakish Duke (Preview)”

  1. I liked the preview very, it will be funny to see comes out, she is a a funny girl not sure what she wants, maybe they will get to gather. Thank you writing such good books.

  2. Liked what I’ve read so far and cannot wait to read the rest of their story and see how her story develops and how they come to love each other. Very promising story!!

  3. Look forward to reading this story when it finally comes out has me at the edge of my seat in anticipation.

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