The Duke's Heart (Distinguished Rogues series #11)
The Duke's Heart (Distinguished Rogues series #11)
When perpetual bachelor Sinclair, the Duke of Exeter, ventured out to old haunts in disguise for the short-lived thrill of a dalliance with a stranger—he’s captivated by an equally secretive lady intent on the same purpose. Will he finally get what he’s been waiting for his whole life?
- Silver Fox Duke
- Reunited Lovers
- Mature Couple
The Duke of Exeter may have failed to marry, but he’s determined to find a bride for the cousin who will unwillingly inherit Sinclair’s title, and his overwhelming responsibilities when he dies. With a pinch of artful planning, a hint of competition, and a healthy dose of romance, he’s sure that he’ll get his heir wed in no time at all. What he never expected was that his disagreement with an old friend would herald the return of the lady he lost long ago—and that her return to society could upset his budding matchmaking scheme.
Lady Catherine Forbes, Kitty to dear friends, is astonished that her brother’s disagreement with the powerful Duke of Exeter has gone so far. She has had no choice but to return to London to take her stubborn family in hand. Meeting the duke again was no doubt inevitable, but being drawn to him so strongly at her age is something that takes her by complete surprise. They were never meant to be, but old habits are hard to break. Are they too set in their ways to risk their hearts or will the needs of others separate them a second time?
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
“Livery again, Teddy?” Sinclair grumbled, glancing sourly at his heir’s current attire with unchecked frustration as the young man entered his study carrying a dusting cloth and a happy smile. “You do know I can afford to furnish you with a proper wardrobe.”
“I do not want anyone to give me a second glance,” Thaddeus Godfrey Berringer, Sinclair’s distant cousin, argued, pulling down a large book from a high shelf. “Dressing like this will keep my identity a secret, and it has. No one looks twice at your servants. They are too blinded by the distinguished Duke of Exeter’s handsome face.”
Teddy grinned impishly as he swiped the cloth over the binding, but Sinclair ground his teeth. They had been having this same argument for the last few months and getting nowhere. He was heartily sick of the deception. He sized up the young man, looking for new ways to argue his point and win. “I would rather they turn their attention to you instead. After all, you will need a wife soon.”
“You need one more. If you could just choose, I would not be needed.”
“Do not start that again, sir,” Sinclair grumbled.
Marriage was not something that Sinclair seemed fated to enter into, and quite frankly he’d given up on love too.
He studied Teddy as he continued to pull book after book from the shelf, dust it and put it back. The future rested in Thaddeus Berringer’s very capable hands. One day, the young man would share Sinclair’s faith in him.
But not until he stopped thinking himself unworthy of the title and all the responsibility that came with the vast inheritance.
The resemblance between them was only very slight and no one suspected Teddy was anything but the handsome servant he appeared to be. Teddy was four and twenty years, quite a bit younger than Sinclair. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, where Sinclair was fair with blue eyes. Muscular when Sinclair was more lanky and sleek. Teddy’s current appearance might suggest to others that he was quite ordinary, but the mind beneath the façade was another matter entirely.
When no one was looking, Teddy did not only dust the books. He read them cover to cover, and sometimes twice through. Teddy soaked up information like a sponge and argued, out loud occasionally, with every single book or document Sinclair had handed to him. He had a fine intellect that would take him far in life if only he believed in himself. Dressing as a servant was an unnecessary disguise, given his prospects were extraordinary, but Sinclair could not seem to talk him out of it yet.
Teddy was the only Berrington left to inherit the title of Duke of Exeter when Sinclair died, but Sinclair was forbidden to speak of it to others. It constantly surprised him no one guessed since Teddy was always at his side lately.
Sinclair had never imagined Teddy so retiring, or so stubborn when he’d fetched him from obscurity to learn at his side. He’d thought the young man would tire quickly of the ruse too. Teddy’s father, Godfrey Berringer, had been loud and quite full of his own importance. Sinclair had never really liked the man. Godfrey, his second cousin, had promised everyone he’d inherit Sinclair’s estate, right up till the day he died.
Teddy, almost an exact opposite, was unwilling to tell anyone he was Sinclair’s heir or would inherit a fortune in land and funds. Everyone assumed the title would become extinct when Sinclair passed away.
The only way Sinclair had got Teddy to London was to promise to keep his identity to himself. The restriction chaffed, but he kept his word at all costs for fear that Teddy would run away and do a better job of hiding next time. That overdue revelation of Teddy’s identity would halt a lot of gossip about the duchy’s seemingly uncertain future.
Not that Sinclair was dying, or about to. He felt fit as a fiddle but very vexed right now.
“Lord Wade has arrived, your grace,” the butler announced after a knock on the door.
“Good, send him in.”
Teddy raced to put the book he had started flipping through back on the shelf. “If there is nothing further, your grace, I’ll come back later.”
Teddy would prefer to be dismissed. Sinclair had other ideas today. “You will stay.”
Although he looked unhappy to be detained, Teddy moved to the side of the room and stood at attention.
Sinclair stood to greet Lord Wade and shook his hand across the desk. “Thank you for coming.”
“I am always happy to be of service, but I do not have good news today,” Wade warned. “My inquiries have yielded no positive recommendations, unfortunately.”
“I trust you were discreet?”
“I was so hoping you would see something in one of them,” Sinclair murmured. “Not so long ago, I thought I might have found someone myself. However, it turned out otherwise. Quite awkwardly for me.”
“I have not heard a word of that, your grace,” Lord Wade replied without meeting his gaze. The viscount likely did know about Sinclair’s attempt to win the heart of a woman half his age last year. Sinclair liked that Wade pretended ignorance on the subject. He also liked that half society’s secrets fell into Wade’s hand and he never admitted to knowing them. Lord Wade had not required taxing explanations to begin this task, either, but he did not know the bride he sought was not intended for Sinclair. Telling him the truth would have meant breaking a promise to someone more important than the viscount.
“I am determined not to face a similar situation again,” Sinclair announced. “That was why I came to you for a second opinion of the ladies we are both acquainted with.”
“I see.” The viscount cast a glance at Teddy, his expression growing puzzled as he took a much-folded paper from his coat pocket.
Sinclair reached for the document and locked it away in his desk drawer promptly. “What I wanted was not for you to find me a bride from that list but to confirm my own conclusions.”
The viscount studied his hands. “And because I dismissed all of the names you gave me as unsuitable for one reason or another…”
“I am back to square one, as it were.” Sinclair shook his head in disappointment. He had suspected he had become too particular in his old age. Not that Sinclair felt old, or even looked his age, apparently. He’d be another year older soon, and the years were beginning to bear down on his spirits. He had never been a father, though he’d helped raise his twin sister’s children after her death. Those children had children of their own now. He was not quite a grandparent, though he sometimes felt he must seem that way to members of the family.
It was all so terribly uncomfortable for him to have failed at the one duty expected of him. Now he must make inquiries on someone else’s behalf.
He smiled quickly. “Thank you very much for your time and effort, Lord Wade. I should not like to keep you from your bride any longer.”
Lord Wade had recently married, and very well for himself, too. He knew a thing or two about matrimony and the trials of courtship. However, the fellow shrugged and appeared in no rush to stand up. “I did not mind the time apart from her.”
Sinclair looked at the man in astonishment. Lord Wade had married an heiress, and on the surface, it seemed they had little in common. If one looked at all marriages in that fashion, though, one would be an idiot. Wade had been devoted to his bride, even when she seemed destined to marry someone else. “Has the allure of marriage already soured for you?”
“Hardly. However, the allure of the house has.” Wade chuckled. “We have grossly underestimated the effort required to clear space to live in. The dust is appalling. I have had to purchase two dozen new handkerchiefs to tie around our faces so we do not sneeze all day.”
“Hire more servants,” Sinclair told him, losing interest in the subject. Sinclair employed more than a thousand staff across his all properties to keep them in good order. He did not need to know the particulars about how the work was done to clear away dust. Wade was a rich man now. He must learn to act like one again.
He shook hands with Lord Wade, ready to show him to the door personally just to get rid of him. Lord Wade had done him a great favor in assessing those women discreetly. None of the women known to him would make an acceptable duchess for Teddy. He’d misjudged none of them. He’d have to seek a bride for his heir elsewhere.
Halfway to the door, he heard the sound of breaking glass behind him and ducked for cover. “Again?” he complained to no one in particular.
Lord Wade, who had taken shelter too behind a chair, had his arms raised to cover his head. “What the devil was that?”
“Stay there,” Sinclair warned. “Or better still, leave now, quickly.”
Teddy rushed across the room, headed for the broken window. He threw the drapes across both windows and turned around. “Is anyone hurt?”
“The window is,” Wade remarked as he regained his feet and looked around the now dark chamber warily. “I am undamaged.”
Broken glass crunched underfoot as Teddy crossed the room toward Sinclair. He thrust out his hand and helped Sinclair to stand again. “Your grace, you really must to do something about him.”
“I know. I know.”
Lord Wade drew near. “What is going on?”
“Nothing to worry about. Ask a servant to show you out the back way today.” He shooed Wade off with his hands as he moved to the unbroken window and parted the drapes a little. He could only see a tiny slip of the street outside, but he could hear enough noise from below and a familiar voice, too, that yelled “ready” at the top of his lungs.
Sinclair recoiled and pressed his back to the wall. “No, we’re not!” he shouted back.
“Hold them steady now,” the voice called out.
Sinclair swore under his breath and covered his face. “This is beyond the pale.”
“You said that last time,” Teddy complained as he sought safety himself. “I assumed you had dealt with him.”
“I would if I could catch him and that blasted contraption,” Sinclair grumbled.
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Praise for The Duke's Heart ...
★★★★★ “Fantastic 10 stars! A well written wonderful romance of two people who fell in love thirty years ago and were separated by circumstance.” ~ Nell
★★★★★ “A lively and sweet second chance at love for two lovers still drawn to one another.” ~ Elodie Nicoli
★★★★★ “This is a beautiful romance and love story was a joy to read.” ~ Daisy
★★★★★ “A beautiful second chance romance for Exeter and Kitty. I love that Heather took this mature couple and gave them all of the happiness and romance they deserved.” ~ AngDia