What a Wicked Duke Demands (Preview)

Chapter One

“Beth!”

Beth Campbell jumped with a gasp, the needle jabbing into her finger. Flinching, she put her embroidery aside and sucked on her finger. That really hurt. She glared at the tall, slim young woman who was hurrying towards her from the house.

“For goodness sake, Flora, don’t do that! You scared me!”

“That’s only because you weren’t listening.” Flora Campbell huffed, planting her hands on her hips. “How else was I supposed to get your attention?”

“Not by shouting my name at the top of your voice,” Beth shot back.

“I was not,” Flora scowled. “I said your name three times, and you didn’t even twitch. You were so engrossed in that ridiculous embroidery again.”

Beth said nothing to that, sucking on her throbbing finger. Flora was not one to sit still and do a simple ladylike task; she preferred to be up and about, on the move. She was a social animal, and having to be confined to the house after her previous actions was driving her mad.

It was driving Beth mad as well. Her younger sister just would not stop. She kept coming to Beth with ideas on what to do, most of them outrageous. Beth did relent on occasion and say they could go to the park with Beth’s maid Tatiana chaperoning them, but that went as well as could be expected. People stared, people whispered, some of the older women came up to Flora and told her she should be ashamed of herself for showing her face after what she did. Flora was a confrontational person when angry, and Beth ended up having to drag her sister away. Those were not days Beth enjoyed.

Flora had to have known what she was doing when she ran off with the second son of a duke. She had really believed they would get married. But that hadn’t happened, and she had been left alone in a tavern, touched by more than just scandal. Their mother and father had brought Flora back, but she was under strict instructions. Instructions Flora often broke.

It was like losing a man she believed that she loved had changed something. Flora just didn’t seem to care what she was doing. Beth was worried every time Flora came to her with another thing to do that wasn’t sitting staring at four walls.

Beth preferred to stay still and read. If only Flora would do that.

“I’ve just heard of something from Mary the between maid,” Flora declared as she dropped heavily into the chair across from Beth at her little table. “There’s a celebration going on in Vauxhall Gardens right now. Hosted by the Prince Regent himself. I think she called it something like a grand fete.”

Beth sighed.

“I know about that. It’s been in the newspaper. It’s for the Battle of Vittoria victory last month. That’s no secret.”

Flora pouted.

“If it’s no secret, why haven’t I heard about it?”

“Because you don’t read the newspapers.”

Beth knew all about it. She pored over the papers every morning once her father had finished with them. The Battle of Vittoria was a triumphant campaign against the French, and the Prince Regent had immediately started planning a celebration upon hearing about the victory. It wasn’t the Season; everyone had gone back to their country estates, so the nobility had to travel back to London so they could drink champagne and celebrate beating the French in war.

Beth and her family were only in London because it meant enjoying the capital with fewer people around. It was quieter, and therefore fewer people to openly stare at them and whisper. The whispers would continue, but the summer months were quieter, calmer. Beth liked them. She didn’t mind being in their home in Suffolk, but she loved London. Flora had tainted it with her actions, so Beth wanted to make the most of it.

Even then, with that scandal and Edward Campbell’s financial situation, they weren’t invited to the fete. Both of those problems closed doors and a lot of them.

“Well, how about we go and have a look around there?” Flora suggested. Her eyes were bright. “Have a bit of fun? It’s a beautiful day, and I’ve heard there’s a lot of entertainment there. Clowns, jesters, magicians, and lots of food stalls. I want to go and soak it all up.”

“You want to …” Beth sat up. “What did Father say about this?”

“I haven’t told him.” Flora waved a hand carelessly. “Besides, he and Mother have gone out to have lunch. They won’t notice we’ve gone.”

“We?”

“You’re coming with me, of course.”

Beth stared. Her sister actually wanted her to go into a crowded place, people practically pressed up against each other, and try to have fun. Flora knew that Beth didn’t like big crowds or confined spaces. It was why Beth preferred to be at home reading instead of dancing with everyone. It wasn’t something Beth was comfortable with.

Flora had to have gone mad. She really couldn’t …

“Flora, you know why we can’t go to the celebrations!” Beth hissed. “Besides, I hate big crowds.”

“That’s because you’ve never given it a chance.” Flora pouted and folded her arms. She was looking less like a twenty-five-year-old woman and more like a five-year-old child who had been told she couldn’t have any sweets. “I want to have a bit of fun. It’s a gorgeous day, and we’re stuck in here. We can have some fun at this fete. Meet some people and catch up on some old friends.”

“I’m surprised you have any friends now.”

“I still have a few. They write to me.”

“But I’m sure that won’t be the same when you’re out in public.” Beth sat forward. “Flora, you’re the reason we can’t go there. Everyone in the ton knows exactly what you did and what it did to this family. Add to that Father’s financial ruin …”

“Everyone has monetary problems. Why is Father’s any different?”

“Father’s is different because it’s tied to your scandal,” Beth pointed out. “You really want to go and mingle with people who have openly called you a harlot?”

Flora’s face went red. It was true that Flora running away with a duke’s son meant that Edward Campbell’s business deals dried up. No one wanted to be associated with his family after that. And Flora knew it.

“But I need to do something, Beth.” Flora’s voice came out in a whine. “I can’t sit at home twiddling my thumbs all day. I’m bored.”

“How can you be bored when there’s lots to do?”

“What is there to do except stare at the walls?”

Beth gestured at her embroidery on the table, along with her newest Jane Austen novel.

“You can read – Miss Austen’s new book is really good – you can do some sewing, some embroidery, or even play the piano …”

Flora snorted rudely.

“I’m not for any of those, Beth. You know that.”

“You play the piano,” Beth pointed out. “And you loved to play it. You were a natural.”

“I played the piano because Mother told me to. She said it would grace me better in Society. Besides,” she added, “playing the piano reminds me of … him.”

Him. Flora had met the young man she ran off with a few months before when she had been playing the piano at one of her friend’s soirees. He had been there and had been captivated. The two of them had even played a duet to their delighted audience. Beth could understand why Flora flinched whenever the piano was mentioned; she had lost her love for it after having it tainted.

“But what about the other things?” Beth asked. “Surely, on a lovely day like this, you can just sit out here and read. You don’t need to do anything and just soak up the sunshine.”

Flora rolled her eyes.

“I’ve already told you, Beth, but your little ears don’t seem to be taking it in. I don’t do anything with a needle, and I hate reading.”

“You loved it once.”

“Only when I had no choice. Books are boring.”

Beth bit back a response. Flora was a sociable person, and she loved to go out and talk to people. To her, books hindered her social calendar. Although her social calendar had virtually disappeared after what had happened. No one wanted to associate with someone who would willingly run away with a young man she wasn’t married to or promised to. Flora may have declared the two of them were on their way to Gretna Green to get married, but they never even got past Leicester before the young man ran away. That was embarrassing to anyone, and Flora was sorely reminded of it whenever anyone in Society gave her a wide berth.

Beth felt pity for her sister over the way everyone was treating her. But she had brought it upon herself.

“Look, I missed the chance to be a married woman because the man I believed I was in love with was a coward.” Flora lifted her chin defiantly. “But if I can find another gentleman who sees me for me and not the reputation others have given me, all the better. Everyone who is anyone is going to be there, and that would be beneficial.”

“Beneficial to whom?” Beth asked. She shook her head. “As if any of them will converse with you. Everyone knows what happened.”

“It’s been six months now.”

“And it was a big scandal due to who your young man was,” Beth shot back. “It’ll still be fresh in their minds. I doubt you’ll even be let in. The Prince Regent is going to be there, and he sent out the invitations.”

The thought of being in the same place as the Prince Regent was something to be proud of. He wasn’t very much liked at all, but people still fawned over him because he was royalty. Beth wasn’t one of them, and Flora certainly wasn’t one, either.

“Just because the Prince Regent will be there doesn’t mean I’m going to talk to him or be in the same space. In any case,” Flora said grinning, “who said anything about going in the regular way with everyone else?”

Beth stared.

“You’re going to sneak in uninvited? Flora, I know you’ve been reckless lately, but this is getting ridiculous.”

Flora rolled her eyes and shook her head in disappointment.

“You’re such a bore now, Beth. I remember a time when you were actually fun. And you were a good sister.”

Beth bristled.

“Don’t be rude, Flora. Besides, after what happened with you and Lord Thinesley, I think there is a need to be cautious. Mother and Father are suffering from both financial ruin and your scandal. They don’t need me to add to them as well.”

“That’s because you’ve always been a little mouse.” Flora sneered. “You wouldn’t say a word even when you needed to. You’re more of a wallflower than I am.”

Beth said nothing to that. Flora was a wallflower by design, through fault of her own, whereas Beth was a wallflower through choice. She didn’t like going out to meet people, and the few times she had courted it had turned out badly because Beth became tongue-tied and forgot herself. It was difficult to be yourself when you were trying to impress a potential future husband. Becoming a spinster was not something Beth liked, but it was less hassle than trying to show that she would be a good wife for anyone casting their eye over her.

And after Flora’s scandal, there would be little to no chance of getting a husband for herself. Beth had resigned herself to that a long time ago. Flora clearly hadn’t.

“If you keep talking like that about being cautious and refusing to take risks for your benefit, you’re never going to find yourself a husband,” Flora went on.

Beth rolled her eyes and reached for her glass of water. She took her sip, looking away and over the garden. For their modest-sized house, it was a beautiful garden. A place where Beth wanted to escape and soak up the world. Not so much in the winter months, but Beth loved to be outside. She made the most of it whenever she could, although the only place outside they could go was their garden until the whispers of Flora’s scandal died down.

That wouldn’t happen anytime soon, she was sure of it.

“Flora, after what you did, I have no chance of gaining a husband who wants to marry the sister of a scandalized woman with no prospects or dowry.” Beth put her glass back on the table. “I resigned myself to being alone a long time ago. And I’m not that lucky to find someone who’s prepared to look past all that.”

Society was far too shallow. It didn’t make it very exciting for Beth. Flora sighed and reached over, taking Beth’s hand.

“Come on, Beth,” she pleaded. “Please? I want my little sister back. The one who would follow me around and get into trouble just as I did.”

“We were children back then. And I stopped doing that when I was twelve.” Beth pulled her hand away. “I’m not going.”

Flora huffed and sat back, folding her arms with a scowl.

“I suppose you would rather stay in Suffolk forever than stay here in London?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I couldn’t sleep last night, so I went to get something to eat. I heard Mother and Father talking.” Flora pursed her lips in disapproval. “Father said that maybe we should go back to our home in Brandeston, that it was a mistake to even consider future Seasons after everything going on. But if we leave London, we’re never coming back. No more visits and this house will be sold.”

Essentially, cutting themselves off from everyone else. Beth felt a flicker of panic. She loved their country house, but she adored London. Her parents knew that. Surely, they could ride out the scandals happening. If what Flora had overheard was true, she did tend to sensationalize things that she heard. Flora wanted to hear something more exciting than what was really being said.

Beth knew that Edward was unhappy about being in London with his businesses falling around him, but she thought he loved London as well. It was a place to be seen, and Edward had two daughters. Even though they were past the ripe age for marriage, they were still attractive enough to be considered.

They had been. Not after Flora’s indiscretions. No one would want to be associated with that. The benefactors of Edward Campbell’s many businesses had been proof of that. He would want to get away from it all, his tail between his legs. Beth knew his mood had been low lately, but nothing like this.

“Father wouldn’t do that,” Beth murmured.

But Flora was nodding.

“He would. And I know he and Mother are going to do it. Then we won’t get a chance to find ourselves a husband and better ourselves.”

Beth held up a finger.

“First, we don’t have a chance of finding a good husband after everything that’s happened. And second,” she held up another finger, “I thought you didn’t want to marry anymore. That you were put off by it after that disaster.”

“Disaster is just about right,” Flora grunted. “And unfortunately, there are times when I haven’t got a choice in the matter. I want to be married with children, have a comfortable life. Even if it’s with someone I don’t love. That’s better than going through life unmarried.”

Beth didn’t think being unmarried would be that bad. The older they got, the more freedom they would have. There was that, at least. She didn’t like having to marry and be passed from father to husband. If it happened, Beth would bow her head and let it happen – she couldn’t argue with her father on the matter – but she was content with how she was right now.

Clearly, her sister wasn’t.

“Are you going to come with me?” Flora pressed. “This might be our only chance to find someone before we’re taken out of London for good. I know you love our home, but I know you love London more. Do you want to be cut off from it for the rest of your life? Because you know it’ll happen.”

Beth knew it would. If they retreated to Brandeston, they would barely get off the grounds. The whole family would become isolated. Beth knew the reasons why, but she knew Flora wouldn’t accept responsibility for it all. Then again, it was unfair to put it all on her sister. She went believing they would be getting married. She never expected to be deserted far away from everyone and having to come back with her head down.

She was right. If they were going to get a chance to find a potential husband, it would be at this fete. Even if the thought of being in a crowd scared Beth.

#

Gerard Thinesley, Duke of Rossdale, stood on the edge of the crowd and scowled at his surroundings. This looked less like a celebration for a battle against the French and more like a brawl on the cusp of an orgy. Anything the Prince Regent set up often turned into debauchery. Whenever something was done with him in charge, it was done to excess. Gerard could see it unfold before him, and it always made him uncomfortable.

Hopefully, that would hold off for a while longer. Gerard didn’t want to be a part of anything the Prince Regent had in mind. He had been offered it in the past, but Gerard always refused. Allegra was more important than being in the Prince Regent’s good books.

He wasn’t losing his wife over a man who didn’t seem to respect his ill father’s wishes.

Gerard couldn’t believe he had been charged a fee to get into Vauxhall Gardens. This was meant to be a celebration, to show that they were in charge over their enemies, and yet they were being paid to come in. The food was barely there, but the drink was flowing. A lot. Gerard stuck to one glass and watched as several of the Prince Regent’s favourites got drunker. A couple of the women were now beginning to dance with some of the people dressed up as clowns and jesters, their husbands standing nearby laughing.

It was embarrassing.

If only he had turned this invitation down. But Gerard was doing this for Alexander. His little brother had been at Vittoria, and Gerard always supported their armies because of his brother. Alexander was still in France, recovering in a field hospital from some injuries he sustained. It was going to be some time before he was fit enough to return, and Gerard wanted Alexander back. Things just weren’t the same without him.

If Alexander hadn’t been there, Gerard would have turned the invitation down, even if it meant getting the Prince Regent angry. No one turned him down.

“Lord Rossdale?”

Gerard turned. A tall, statuesque woman with dark hair and porcelain skin was approaching him, her skirts swishing softly around her. Two shorter women, both as pretty as their mistress with blonde hair curled up on their heads, hurried behind her. Gerard gave the woman a smile and bowed.

“Your Highness.”

Princess Charlotte gave him a smile and took his hand.

“Come on, Gerard, you don’t need to bow to me. We’re friends.”

“I still need to remember my manners in public.” Gerard rose. “You may be a friend of my daughter’s, but that doesn’t mean I speak to you below your station.”

Princess Charlotte laughed. She had a clear laugh that seemed to make her whole body glow. At only seventeen years old, the Prince Regent’s daughter was quite a prize. And a beautiful one. Gerard had watched her grow up, his mother being a close friend of Queen Charlotte, the Prince Regent’s mother. Gerard’s eldest daughter was close to Princess Charlotte in age, and the two girls had played together when they were younger. Gerard had no idea how the princess had grown to how she was when she had a father like Prince George.

“Are you well?” Princess Charlotte tilted her head to the side, a little frown passing across her face. “You seem a bit … out of sorts.”

“A little bit.” There was no point in lying, not to her. Gerard sighed. “I wish I’d never come here. I wanted to celebrate the victory, not turn into … this.”

He made a gesture at his surroundings. Princess Charlotte nodded.

“I understand. I came here for the same thing. But Father’s got something planned a little later for his close friends. Thankfully, I’m not a part of it, but I have told him that it’s not appropriate.”

“What did he say to that?”

“Nothing I can repeat in public.” Princess Charlotte nodded at her attendants. “It would make their ears burn.”

Gerard didn’t doubt that. The man certainly had a colourful way of talking about things. It was why Gerard made his appearances with the Prince Regent far and few between. As the Duke of Rossdale and a friend of the royal family, that was not easy, but Gerard did what he could. King George’s sons were a little wayward, but they were decent conversationalists, and his daughters were sweet enough. Prince George, on the other hand, just seemed to be the typical rebel child, even though he was in his fifties now. The eldest child who never appeared to have grown up.

Princess Charlotte had a lot to deal with, and her strong-willed behaviour was often in contention with her father. Gerard did feel sympathy for her on that. It was a miracle that neither of them had come to blows. Prince George refused to let anyone dictate things to him; he believed as the de facto ruler, he could do whatever he wanted. Parliament was in distress over his antics, and Gerard had sat in many sessions at the House of Commons listening to it all. If parliament couldn’t tell Prince George what to do, it was doubtful that his own daughter, still essentially a minor, could do any better.

“Will you walk with me for a moment?” Princess Charlotte cast a glance over the crowd. “I don’t particularly wish to talk to many of the guests right now.”

“But you would talk to me?”

The young woman smiled.

“You and your family have always been respectful towards me and my family. I appreciate your company.”

So young and so mature. Gerard wished his daughter was like this. Hermia had been turning into an angry child who lashed out at anything ever since Allegra had died. She had taken her mother’s death the hardest, and Gerard was at a loss with what to do regarding her. She had driven away so many governesses in the last fifteen months that no one would go anywhere near them to look after his children.

Hermia needed to be taken in hand, but she wasn’t even listening to him. Too strong-willed, much like Allegra had been when she was the same age. It was no wonder Gerard had fallen in love with her. But in Hermia’s case, it was detrimental and not something to use for her advantage.

Gerard cocked his arm at the princess, and she slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, giving him a grateful smile. They began to walk slowly around the figures of the fete. Many people going past would curtsy or bow at them, and the people at the stalls nodded and smiled at them. There was much gaiety, and those who were on the edge of the Prince Regent’s sphere kept at a distance from the activity in the middle. They knew when to take a step back; it was only those who thought keeping the Prince Regent on side was a good thing.

Gerard looked down at the princess, who was almost tall enough to be on eye-level with him, and Gerard was a very tall man. Her mother, Caroline of Brunswick, had been a tall woman, and Princess Charlotte clearly took after her mother. With her closeness in blood to King George, her beauty, and her composure, she would be a perfect bride for anyone. And Gerard knew Prince George was planning on organizing a marriage, taking advantage of the victory.

“I hear on the grapevine that he’s planning to match you to a man in royalty, Your Highness,” Gerard commented.

Princess Charlotte raised her eyebrows at him. A smile tugged at her mouth.

“I thought you didn’t approve of gossip and rumours, Gerard. It’s what I like about you.”

“I don’t approve of it, true, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stop listening.” Gerard nodded at her. “Especially if it concerns you. As a friend, I feel it’s a duty to make sure you’re safe.”

“You’re very kind, dear sir. It’s nice to have some good friends.”

“It is.”

Princess Charlotte sighed, allowing Gerard to ease her around the jugglers.

“Father does his own thing, as always. Parliament has been in discussions about it, I know, but Father has his own opinions on marriage.”

“You mean he has a choice that parliament might not think is right?”

“Sort of. I’ve heard a lot of rumours as well. Beatrice says that there are talks about the heir to the Prince of Orange, William.” Princess Charlotte sighed. “Apparently, my mother is against the match, which is probably why Father is pushing for it.”

“What do you think about it all?”

“It means I will have to move to the Netherlands, which I’m not comfortable about doing. But I won’t make any further opinions until I meet him.” Princess Charlotte looked up. “It’s unfair to cast judgement on someone when you don’t really know them.”

That was a very mature way of going about it. Gerard had heard of young women complaining loudly about their supposed matches that were orchestrated by other family members. They wanted to have the choice to marry whoever they wanted, which was something not often allowed in their Society. Even if they could choose, their parents would have to approve.

With Princess Charlotte, she didn’t have the luxury. She needed to marry into royalty or a very high nobleman. Nothing less would do. Gerard didn’t envy her about that. He was just glad he had been matched to Allegra when they were children; his parents had read his mind.

“You are an incredibly down-to-earth woman considering your upbringing, Your Highness,” he commented.

“I like to think my governesses made sure that I kept my feet firmly on the ground.”

“That’s something.” Gerard winced as some music started up close by, the sudden noise hurting his ears. “I wish I had said I was still in mourning. Then I could stay home with the children.”

“Your mourning period finished three months ago, Gerard. And you know that Father would have made you come if you had said that.”

She did have a point. Even if you wanted to, you didn’t say no to the Prince Regent. Gerard sighed and scowled at their surroundings.

“This may be a celebration against our enemies, but it doesn’t mean everyone has to get drunk and play the fool.”

“Not everyone is doing that, but I can see your point.” Princess Charlotte gave him a smile. “You’ve been here a while already, so you can say you’ve shown your face. You could slip away now and claim that you had a message about one of your daughters.”

That could work. Gerard knew the back routes out of Vauxhall Gardens. He could slip away and walk home and no one would be any the wiser. Hopefully, Prince George wouldn’t notice that he had disappeared. But he was not the man’s servant. He was a subject of the British Crown. In Gerard’s eyes, the monarch was still alive, and that was who he bowed down to, not the Prince Regent.

“What about you?” he asked. “Are you going to be all right?”

“I’m going to slip away in a short time as well. At my age, I can get away with claiming tiredness.” Princess Charlotte shrugged. “Father will be too much in his cups and … other things … to notice.”

That was not something a child should have to say about their father. Gerard looked at the princess and wondered if she had been born a boy that her father might have taken more interest in her and not seen her as a burden.

Then again, it was Prince George. He treated everyone as a burden if they couldn’t give him what he wanted. Including his own daughter, who pushed back whenever he tried to get her to do whatever he wanted.

“Perhaps I will go now.” Gerard looked around them. “Do you think anyone would notice it I slipped away now?”

“I’m sure nobody will notice the Duke of Rossdale tiptoeing out the back way.” Princess Charlotte laughed. “Make the most of everyone being distracted and leave. I won’t think badly of you. I’ll take my own leave shortly.”

“Thank you.” Gerard turned to the princess and bowed, kissing her hand. “Your Highness.”

“Your Grace.”

Princess Charlotte curtsied and then walked away with a flick of her fan, her two female attendants following her. One of them looked back at Gerard, fluttered her eyelashes, and smiled at him before hurrying after her mistress. Gerard couldn’t help smiling at that.

Looking around and finding himself close to a gap in the hedge, Gerard made his way through and into an alleyway lined with hedges. Once he got to the end of the path, he would be out onto Godling Street. It was just a short walk to his house by Pedlar’s Park, and Gerard was looking forward to the walk.

As long as he didn’t come upon any canoodling couples. It was a lover’s lane. People snuck away to have some moments alone. If they got caught, there were repercussions, but quite a few didn’t mind being watched. It was a weird thing to find attractive, to be watched while touching a woman intimately. Gerard didn’t see the attraction.

Hopefully, he wouldn’t meet anyone who wanted attention. Or who wanted a fight because of what he stumbled on.

Then Gerard heard some shouting. It was close by. One of them sounded like a woman. And she didn’t sound willing.

Gerard broke into a quick trot in the direction of the shouts.


“What a Wicked Duke Demands” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Unlike her sister, who ran away with a duke’s son and disgraced herself for life, Beth Campbell has always been the careful one…until she passionately kissed a stranger who saved her life in a lover’s lane. This kiss threatened to ruin her reputation, and the dashing Beth vows she will not let passion rule her ever again. Even though she strives to never see him again, their paths will cross shortly after. Will she be able to stay true to her word when they meet again?

The one thing Gerard didn’t expect, when he rescued an attractive young woman who was being mugged, was a burning kiss in return. He had not felt such tension for years, after having mourned his wife for a long time…When fate intervenes and Beth comes back into his life, Gerard knows he needs to do everything in his power to keep her. Will this undeniable desire end up destroying his life once again?

The desire that sparks between them cannot be denied, but soon their lives will turn upside down. He knows about Beth’s family and her sister’s disgrace, but he doesn’t know that the mysterious man she ran away with is a lot closer to home than he realized… When the shadows of the past threaten their future, will Gerard and Beth find their way out or will the threatening darkness destroy their passionate affair once and for all?

“What a Wicked Duke Demands” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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