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Whitby moved to stand beside him. “You know as well as I do that Bertie enjoys a novelty, especially one with wit and beauty, and what the Prince wants, the Prince gets.”

“And the Set is only too happy to oblige him.”

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At that moment the heiress laughed, revealing perfect, straight white teeth.

Whitby raised his chin at her. “She and her mother are residing with the Countess of Lansdowne for the Season.”

“The Countess of Lansdowne, of all people,” James replied dryly. “Another American huntress—one who has already bagged her title. She’ll coach the new recruit, I suppose.” James knew the countess all too well, and subtlety was not her strong suit.

James and Whitby walked together across the room. James wasn’t even sure why he had decided to come here tonight. He despised the London Marriage Mart, for he was not seeking a wife, nor did he wish to seek one. He loathed being pursued by the avaricious mothers of single daughters, who would marry their babies off to a reputed monster just for the pleasure of knowing their own blood would run in the veins of a future duke.

Yet this evening, something had lured him out into society…

James paused beside the marble mantel, draped with a gold-fringed valance and topped with a vase full of carefully arranged white feathers. He couldn’t help looking at the American again, all flash and glitter.

“You’ve met her?” he said.

Whitby watched her as well. “Yes, at an assembly three nights ago.”

“And what about the Prince?”

“He met her last week at the Wilkshire Ball. He danced with her twice—in a row I might add—and from what I hear, her silver salver has been overflowing with ivory cards ever since.”

James leaned an elbow upon the mantel and watched her converse easily with their host.

“You’re not declaring an interest, are you?” Whitby asked, sounding surprised.

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“Of course not. I rarely declare anything.”

But perhaps tonight, he thought, there was some element of
interest
shifting around inside his head. Shaking things up. She certainly was exceptional to look at.

He let his gaze wander leisurely down the length of her gown, over the soft curves of her body. Such slender arms she had, beneath those long, tight white gloves.

His experienced eyes roamed over her graceful hand—holding on to a champagne glass, sipping from it all too rarely—along to her dainty elbow, then up to her smooth, opulent shoulders and across her enticing collarbone. Her full breasts were tightly constrained by the close-fitting evening gown, and he imagined what they would look like, free from the constraint and falling out into his waiting, hot-blooded hands.

“Is your mother still nipping at your heels about taking a wife?” Whitby asked, interrupting his private observations.

James brought his mind back around. “Daily. Though I doubt I’ll have to answer questions about any Americans. Mother enjoys running the house too much. She’s hoping for some little insignificant chit— British, of course—who won’t complain or attract any attention, one who’ll be content to stay in the shadows.”

James nodded amiably at Lady Seamore as she passed by on her way into the gallery, where a recently acquired Rembrandt was on display. It was widely known in the best houses of London that the painting had come from the Marquess of Stokes—who had been forced to sell off a cartload of art to keep his estate from falling into disrepair. (And it was indulgently whispered in drawing rooms everywhere that his wife had not spoken a single word to him since.)

“An American, especially one as flashy as her,” James added, trying not to think any more of the Marquess of Stokes and his money problems, for it hit too close to home, “would be Mother’s worst nightmare. My worst nightmare, too, I suppose. If I ever decided to marry, I would choose a woman who would fade into the wallpaper and let me forget that I’d
been
married.”

Marry

A group of gentlemen in the far corner laughed at some private joke, then the room fell to a conversational murmur again.

“You’re the only peer I know who says ‘
if
I was ever to marry,’” Whitby commented. “You are such a rebel, Wentworth. You always were.”

“I’m not a rebel. I just don’t have it in me to be anyone’s doting husband. I want to put it off as long as possible, or perhaps even avoid it altogether.”

“Oh, how hard could it be? You live in a house big enough that you’d never have to see her, except when you wish it.”

James scoffed at the simplicity of Whitby’s opinions. “Women are a little more complicated than that, my friend. Most don’t like to be ignored, especially if, God forbid, they fancy themselves in love with you.”

Whitby nodded at a gentleman as he passed, then leaned in closer to James. “A wife can be a business matter, if you handle it right.”

“Perhaps. But I am fortunate enough to have a younger brother to fall back on if I wish it, as far as an heir is concerned. Martin will definitely marry. He’s not like me or Father. He’s softhearted and he enjoys falling in love.”

For somehow, Martin had escaped what James had inherited—the passionate nature that had dragged his ancestors into a dark, inhuman hell on earth. James couldn’t help hoping that his younger brother’s calmer nature would put an end to the cycle of violence. At times, James felt as if he was merely holding down the fort, so to speak, managing the dukedom until Martin was old enough and wise enough to understand that he was the family’s greatest hope—the most promising link in the hereditary chain.

Whitby conceded, and James knew he had distracted the man from asking any more intrusive questions.

The heiress turned to glance his way then, and he found himself locked in a titillating moment of acknowledgment.

They gazed at one another. God, her eyes were enormous. Feeling his brow furrow with bewildered awe, James noted the paradox of her full, dewy lips. They were sweetly innocent, yet at the same time brimming with bewitching, irresistible sexuality. He found himself imagining all kinds of things he would like to do in the dark with those appealing, wet lips.

A base, masculine instinct to take the steps necessary to indulge himself with her shook him from the inside out and unnerved him exceedingly. He had not felt a pull quite like it in years. Since he was a defiant adolescent, to be exact. These days, he never played games with young, marriageable women. He kept his affairs discreet and respectable—limiting himself solely to lovers who were already married.

After a time, the heiress nodded cordially toward him. He inclined his head in return, then she calmly returned to her conversation with Lord Bradley.

That was it.

She touched her host’s forearm, reacting to something he had said. Lord Bradley glanced down, quite evidently shocked at her informality. He recovered fast, however, with an ardent blush and a new sparkle in his eye that made him look ten years younger.

James felt the corner of his mouth turn up slightly.

Indeed. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had stirred the long-buried embers of his susceptibilities.

For a fleeting, reckless moment, he ignored his principled inner voice—the voice that told him to look away—and thought he might like to meet her after all. To be properly introduced that is, and see where a casual acquaintance might lead. He had been complaining of boredom lately.

But was it really boredom? he wondered with some uneasiness. He wasn’t altogether certain. He’d become so adept at strangling his desires that he couldn’t really remember what they felt like anymore.

Better that than the alternative
, he thought, further reminding himself that he was still the son of a hot-tempered beast and the grandson of a paranoid killer, and to unleash his passions—passions of any kind— would be perilous.

With that, he quickly crushed the impulse to meet the heiress and prudently joined a group of gentlemen in the gallery discussing politics.

Mrs. Beatrice Wilson watched helplessly from across the crowded drawing room as the handsome Duke of Wentworth walked out. She glanced up at her daughter, Sophia, conversing attentively with an aging marchioness, blissfully unaware of anything going on around her. In particular the departure of the most prestigious and difficult catch in all of London. Hadn’t Sophia noticed that he was leaving the room?

When the marchioness excused herself, Beatrice led Sophia to a quiet corner. “Darling, let us go and find the countess. You
must
be presented to the duke. What’s the matter? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Sophia pressed a hand to her forehead. “Mother, I’m afraid I don’t feel very well.”

“You don’t
feel
very well? But the Duke of Wentworth is here, and from what I’ve heard, he rarely attends drawing rooms. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by.”

It had been a long year of struggles for Beatrice Wilson, who was growing tired and weary of the exertion. Sophia, in her innocence, did not understand the importance of her marriage—how crucial it was that she marry
well
. She did not know that romance and passion would not last through the years. She still believed that she should marry for love and love alone, and that nothing else mattered.

Beatrice loved her daughters too much to let them make poor choices and have to live unhappily with those choices. Beatrice wanted security for her girls, safety, and she knew how easily money could come and go, and how easy it was to be cast out of good society when the money
went
.

British titles, however—there was something that would last. Here in the aristocracy, all a woman had to do was birth her babies, and her child’s social position would be guaranteed.

“Are you ill?” Beatrice asked, touching her daughter’s forehead.

“I might be. I don’t think tonight is a good night to meet the duke. Can’t we go home?”

There it was again—that immovable resistance. Sophia had always been strong-willed.

There was, however, something else tonight— something different in Sophia’s disposition. Beatrice wished she could put her finger on it. “Didn’t you like the look of the duke? I thought he was very handsome.”

Her daughter considered the question. “To be honest, Mother, I didn’t. He is not the sort I’m looking for.”

“How can you make that judgment without even speaking to him? It will not do any harm to be introduced. Then you can decide whether or not you like him.”

“I don’t want to be introduced.”

“Sophia, you must give the man a chance. You cannot afford to be so picky. The Season will not last forever, and your father has invested a great deal to—”

“Mother, you promised you would let me make my own choice.”

Beatrice’s heart squeezed painfully at the reminder. Yes, she had promised.

Feeling drained and in no mood for a battle, Beatrice cupped her daughter’s chin. If she wasn’t feeling well, she wasn’t feeling well. What could be done? “Let’s get our cloaks then.”

She walked out with her daughter, wondering if she should have stood her ground and insisted upon an introduction to the duke. Once again, she felt the uncomfortable weight of her shortcomings. Her husband had always said that she was too easy on her daughters, that she spoiled them. But how could she help it, when she loved them so very much?

The next morning, James went thoughtfully to his own study to read the
Morning Post
and deal with correspondence. As he settled into his chair and leaned back, his gaze fell upon the oak-paneled wall, and for some reason he thought of the American heiress.

He wondered what she would accomplish while she was here—what chubby little impoverished lord she and her mother would snare. They certainly wouldn’t have any problem charming the ones they wanted. Lately, the American girls were putting the average country squire’s daughter to shame. The Americans, after all, were off traveling the world, learning science and art and languages from the best tutors money could buy and seeing for themselves the beauty of the Tempietto or the Sistine Chapel, while the English girls were being educated by a governess or two in a drafty, second-floor schoolroom in the rural English outback.

James was suddenly angry at himself. He was probably one of many gentlemen sitting in his study this morning, staring at the wall and thinking of
her

No more.

Efficiently, he dealt with the first letter on top of the huge pile, then reached for the next. It was from one of Martin’s instructors at Eton—the headmaster in fact.

James read the note. Martin was in trouble again. He’d been caught with a bottle of rum and a laundry maid in his room. The headmaster intended to suspend Martin, and wished for instructions as to where the boy should be sent.

No, not Martin.

Tipping his head back in the chair, James contemplated how to handle this. Martin had always been the quiet, well-behaved child. What was this about?

Perhaps it was simply the natural recklessness of youth. “Boys will be boys,” some said.

James, who had always kept his distance from his family and had no intentions of altering that habit, knew he was not the person to provide guidance to Martin. James had been the victim of harsh discipline all his young life, and he would not put himself on the other side of that fence. Nor did he know of any other alternative methods, for he knew only the example set by his father.

After some consideration, he decided to send Martin to their aunt Caroline in Exeter—his mother’s sister— who would be better equipped to deal with this kind of thing. James penned the necessary letters, then firmly swept that problem from his mind and reached for the paper folded on his desk, still warm from the butler’s iron.

He had just glanced at the front page when a footman knocked and entered, carrying the gold-trimmed salver. He held the small tray out to James. “This just arrived for you, Your Grace.”

James took the letter and recognized the handwriting. It was from his agent, Mr. Wells. The footman departed and James broke the seal.

My Lord Duke,

I regret to inform you that there has been some damage to the roof over the state room. A few days ago, it sprung a leak, causing some unsightly stains in the carpet and furniture. The carpenter I sent for was a rather portly man, and the roof collapsed quite violently under his weight. We now know that the roof was thoroughly rotted, which leads me to wonder how the rest of it will fare over the coming winter.

As you are aware of the state of the finances, I will refrain from repeating the gravity of the situation. I am only hoping you will make a decision regarding the sale of the French tapestries in the west wing, as well as the works of art we discussed in the gallery.

Description The Spinster Heiresses, Book Three

Publisher: Avon
November 27, 2018
THE DUKE THAT I MARRY:

Spinster Heiresses
Book Three
ISBN-13: 978-0062655783
ISBN-10: 0062655787

Order Now:

THE DUKE THAT I MARRY

Available November 27, 2018

Once upon a time there were three young ladies, who, despite their fortunes, had been on the marriage mart a bit too long. They were known as “the Spinster Heiresses” . . .

Is it wrong for a woman to want more?

Not if she is a Spinster Heiress. They do not settle. Any young miss would be very lucky to find herself promised to a man like the Duke of Camberly. However, Miss Willa Reverly has watched her friends marry for love. Camberly may be the prize of the season, but she will not be “sold” to any man. She wants his devotion or she wants nothing at all.

When is a Marriage of Convenience inconvenient?

Newly named to the ducal title, Matthew Addison is determined to discover the secrets behind Mayfield, the bankrupt estate he has inherited. He doesn’t have time to coddle a headstrong heiress who is determined to ditch him over something as silly as “love.” Little does he know that his questions will place her in jeopardy. Now he must do what he must to save them both.

Could it be that in running from danger they might be racing headlong into a truly unexpected fate: falling in love?

Read THE DUKE THAT I MARRY Excerpt
THE DUKE THAT I MARRY
By Cathy Maxwell

An excerpt . . .

The day before the wedding, Matthew Addison, Duke of Camberly receives a terse message from his intended Willa Reverly. Granted he’d been dragging his heels about the wedding, no one jilts a duke . . . well, except for the surprisingly headstrong Miss Reverly–

The trip to London had not been an easy one. The overcast day had given way to rain and mist, and the only horse available to Matt from Mayfield’s stables had been a difficult mare with her own mind. Matt and the blasted animal had argued from the moment he’d left his stable door until the reins had been turned over to a street lad to keep the mare walking to cool her down.

So Matt was not in a conciliatory mood.

Especially toward females.

He had also not bothered to stop at his London home to change. He wasn’t afraid to let Miss Reverly see him in his mud-splashed boots and breeches. Let her know that he had taken her letter seriously.

And he had.

Her terse wording was branded in his mind: We are not suited. I am releasing you of any obligation to me. Sincerely, W. Reverly.

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What was she, a solicitor? She was releasing him with two sentences?

Miss Reverly’s curtness was not how a woman should write to a man to whom she’d been promised. She hadn’t minced words but had been clear she was willing to mince him.

The closer he’d come to London, the more he’d wanted to know why. What had he done to set her off? He hadn’t even been in London since the evening of their betrothal party.

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And now here he was cooling his heels in Reverly’s palatial London home that spoke of money and power. All the furniture was gilt-painted wood. There wasn’t a worn carpet or threadbare pillow in sight. The air was scented with beeswax and the room showed the meticulous care of dozens of well-paid servants.

Gracing the walls were as many paintings as could be found in any stately house. A few were of landscapes or good horseflesh. Most were portraits, although Matt doubted if any were of Reverly’s ancestors. The man had supposedly come from humble roots, worked hard, and married well.

Matt suspected some of those paintings could have been those sold from Mayfield. Reverly was known to have a fondness for a bargain. He’d turn any agreement in his favor. “Greedy as a fox,” one lord had warned Matt.

Well, God willing, the man would be his father-in-law.

Matt paced the length of the receiving room, struggling with his pride and temper and considering how best to approach the rebellious Miss Reverly.

Someplace in the house, footsteps could be heard. A clock chimed the hour. Late afternoon. He’d made good time from Mayfield.

A footman had taken his greatcoat and hat. However, his hair was damp. He combed it back from his face with his fingers just as he heard voices, feminine ones. He squared off with the closed double doors.

One half opened—and Miss Reverly seemed to float into the room.

For a moment, he was caught off guard. He’d forgotten how graceful she was. She reminded him of a petite opera dancer. Perfectly formed, no movement wasted, comfortable in her own skin.

And lovely. Far prettier than he remembered.

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Four months ago, Matt had still been preoccupied with thoughts of Letty. Now, he was struck by what he hadn’t noticed about his intended.

Yes, Willa Reverly was a mite of a thing . . . but there was something about her presence that made her seem taller and stronger than her size indicated. Dark, thick hair and clear skin made her conventionally pretty. What set her apart was the intelligence in her snapping blue eyes and the determination in her attitude.

For the first time, Matt realized perhaps one shouldn’t underestimate an heiress.

She was not alone. To his surprise, Cassandra, Soren’s wife, was with her. Any other time he’d be delighted to see her because this meant his good friend was in town.

However, now he struggled not to frown. He had no desire to have an audience for this interview. At least he liked Cassandra. Soren had chosen well. And yet, there was nothing he could do about the matter of her presence but play his part.

“Your Grace.” Miss Reverly made the barest of curtseys.

He returned with the barest of ducal bows. They were as formal as strangers.

“Miss Reverly, you could put a garden full of flowers to shame.” One thing Matt had learned about London ladies, they lapped up this nonsense. He truly believed it was impossible to overflatter one of them.

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Willa Reverly disputed his theory. Annoyance and, yes, disappointment crossed her face. “One should expect a better compliment from a poet.”

So much for pleasantries . . . and his assumption that Willa was like all London ladies.

Riding had given Matt time to think and face some hard truths about himself. He had taken her sizable dowry for granted.

His sojourn in the country? Yes, it was true that Letty had broken his heart, except that, to be honest, he’d latched on to her because being named Camberly had been overwhelming. He’d never imagined he’d take on the title, even after his uncle had died. He’d naïvely assumed his grandfather would live forever. The old man must have thought the same or else he would have helped Matt become better prepared.

However, a blackmailer and a sharp-tongued heiress were waking Matt up.

Unfortunately, he was not liking Miss Reverly very much.

Perhaps because she was right? He hadn’t given much thought to her. Guilty as charged?

He turned his attention to Cassandra. “How are you, Lady Dewsberry? Married life appears to suit you.”

“It pleases me very well, Your Grace,” she replied smoothly, with enough of a twinkle in her eye that he knew Willa had confided in her about the note.

Did that mean Willa had also spoken to her father? Perhaps Leland Reverly was even behind the message? If that was the case, there would be no dowry.

Keeping his smile determinedly fixed on his face, Matt said to Willa, “May we sit and talk?”

“I have said all I wish to say,” was her rude reply.

“And yet, I apparently have much to explain.” His voice sounded genial, but tight. It was the best he could manage.

“Why, Your Grace, I have no interest in hearing explanations.”

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She delivered her insults with a sweet, false smile, the sort of smile that meant she was furious with him—and that was good. Women never had strong emotions for things that didn’t matter to them. His sisters had taught him that.

The time had come for him to take command.

To Cassandra, he said, “Would you excuse us, my lady? Miss Reverly and I require a private moment.”

“Don’t you leave this room, Cassandra,” Miss Reverly countermanded. “My guests are not to be dismissed.”

“Not even to discuss an issue of importance between us?” Matt asked. He attempted to sound polite. Instead, he came off testy.

“I’ve reached my decision. There is nothing to discuss.”

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My decision. Interesting, and hopeful. Her father might not be aware of what she’d done. “I ask that you hear me out.”

“Your Grace, you may talk, but I will not listen.”

“Then perhaps I should discuss this with your father?”

Her shoulders came back, her chin forward. “He has nothing to say to you.”

“Then our conversation will be brief. I will have your butler ask him to join us.” Matt took a step toward the door.

She stepped in his path. “He is not at home.”

“He doesn’t know about your letter, does he?”

Miss Reverly looked to Cassandra, who had an I-warned-you expression on her face. Matt decided the time was right to repeat his earlier request. “Lady Dewsberry, I wish a word with Miss Reverly.”

“Yes, I believe that would be wise.”

“Cassandra, don’t leave.”

Her friend was already to the door. “I must, Willa. This is really between you and His Grace. My husband has taught me there are some conversations that should be private. But, please, give him a chance. Like women, men often do foolish things.” She gave Matt a considering look and then shrugged her shoulders. “He might make a decent husband in the long run.”

“Long run?” Miss Reverly echoed, her brows rising as if she couldn’t imagine such a thing.

“It all depends on how quick he is to train. No husband is perfect,” Cassandra allowed, and then added, conspiratorially, “If all else fails, the offer of our hospitality is still open. We will have the coach ready at midnight.” With those words, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

“The coach ready at midnight?” Matt repeated, intrigued.

“You would not understand,” Miss Reverly said dismissively. As if she was the queen of Sheba, she moved to the middle of the room and sat on one of the many brocade upholstered settees. “Speak your piece, Your Grace. Let us hurry through this. I have plans for the evening.”

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