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Dare a Duke
Book 2 of the "Sons of Scandal" trilogy
Abigail Shaw is a proper young lady, hardly the sort to boldly offer a deal to London's most distinguished and perfect duke. But Abigail, desperate to save her father's newspaper business, is after a good scandal. She'd have the sensational headlines that would keep the ton talking--and the family business thriving--if only she could uncover the secrets of Christopher Cabot, the Duke of Madingley. What better way than a pretend romance? Yet, with all his seductive glances and stolen caresses, she somehow has to keep from succumbing to temptation.
Christopher Cabot finds Abigail--and her proposal--intriguing. A fake romance with the stunning commoner would allow him time to choose a suitable wife from among the would-be duchesses nipping at his heels. It seems like a perfect plan...as long as he can keep her from uncovering his one deep, dark secret. But as he falls for the cunning beauty, he will be tempted to reveal all--his secret, his heart, and his soul.
"...Readers will enjoy the preceding trysts, secrets and passion."
"Ms. Callen pens an endearing read in the second of her new series. The characters'
steamy sexual tension is fun to watch as they grapple with lies between them."
"There are some surprises, a few laughs, and lots of delicious romance in this well-written novel. NEVER DARE A DUKE has a unique premise and an engaging set of characters. Don't miss this delightful book."
Romance Reviews Today
"Ms. Callen is a master storyteller and once again has written a tale that stole my heart.
...Never Dare a Duke is a mesmerizing read."
Coffee Time Romance
"NEVER DARE A DUKE is by far one of Ms. Callen's best books to date."
"I read NEVER DARE A DUKE in one sitting...not once...but twice....A fantastic storyline with wonderfully written characters and romance that nearly set the pages on fire."
A Romance Review
(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)
(Story Setup: Abigail needs a scandalous story to save her father's newspaper. She sets her sights on Christopher Cabot, the Duke of Madingley, known as the perfect duke, the only one in his family without a scandal attached to his name. She decides there must be a story somewhere, so she goes undercover at a house party given by his mother to help her son settle on a bride. Here she is following the duke and two of his potential brides.)
When the luncheon was over, the duke strolled toward the ruins, a lady on each arm, and Abigail couldn’t resist following. The remnants of the ancient castle were composed of parts of walls, some still high enough overhead that she avoided walking near them lest they fall. Moss and ivy overran much of the stone, yet there were still passages that were passable, because she saw the duke and his escorts disappear within. She followed.
remained near enough to hear their casual conversation about the chance
ghost in the ruins, Abigail didn’t have to pretend interest
in exploring the
old castle. She had always had a vivid imagination, and as she entered
round turret, part of the defensive wall, she imagined knights in armor
guarding the home of their lord—the home of ancient Cabots.
What must it be
like to trace one’s relatives back so far? As far as she
knew, her paternal
grandfather had been a poor boy hawking newspapers on
Light grew dim within the castle, only peeping through the occasional hole in the wall. The voices of the two women ahead of her echoed with giggles, and Abigail hesitated, not wanting to alert them of her presence. To her surprise, the duke suddenly appeared in front of her, and as she gaped at him, he put a finger to his lips and pulled her aside, deeper within the gloom. He was far too close, capturing her between him and a wall, so that she was trapped. If she moved, their chests would touch. The air settled around them, with dust glimmering in a beam of light beyond them. And inside her, warmth spread like wild flowers.
“Where did he go?” came Lady May’s plaintive voice.
“He said he saw something in the shadows and went to investigate,” Lady Theodosia said with caution. “He didn’t want us harmed by following him. Surely there are loose stones.”
Abigail could see them now, looking about with desperation. But she said nothing, conscious of the duke’s large hand still holding her upper arm as if she would flee.
“You do not suppose it was the ghost.” Lady May’s voice came out like a squeak. “His Grace wouldn’t want us to remain where we might be in danger.”
Abigail’s nose began to tickle. She stopped breathing, trying desperately not to sneeze. Pressing her free hand beneath her nose, she saw by the duke’s frown that he was aware of her situation. The tickling was becoming unbearable, and her eyes went wide and watered. If she revealed the duke’s location, she would lose a chance at his trust.
“Let us leave,” Lady Theodosia said. “The duke knows his way out.”
“If the ghost lets him,” Lady May countered.
The absurdity of that, coupled with her need to sneeze, had Abigail shaking. Her shoulders brushed the wall, dislodging even more dust. At last she gasped for air, and the duke stepped back.
“They are gone,” he said with relief.
She started to sneeze and couldn’t stop. She felt a handkerchief pressed into her hands, and she made use of it with only a little embarrassment.
“Thank you,” she finally said, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“No, thank you for not revealing us,” he answered, looking down on her with faint amusement.
She chuckled. “You seemed quite desperate for my silence. I do not know why you don’t simply ask them to give you a measure of peace.”
“It is not necessary to hurt their feelings.”
“Or your mother’s feelings.”
His teeth were a white flash in the gloom. “You think me a mama’s boy.”
“No, I think you’re a man who is considerate of his mother.”
When he didn’t answer, their silence became awkward. Now that the ladies were gone, Abigail realized they were alone in a dark place, and that he could think she was—
“Spying on me again?” he asked almost conversationally.
She sighed, meeting his dark eyes. “We came here to eat and tour the ruins. I’m touring the ruins, just as you are. Or as you were forced to, anyway.”
“I was not forced to. It is only right for me to converse with everyone.”
“Especially the eligible young ladies,” she said, not bothering to hide a smile.
“I am conversing with you, am I not?”
“But I am not the same.”
He leaned his shoulder against a column as he studied her. “And what do you mean by that?”
“We both know that I am not the sort of woman who could be your potential wife. In a sense, you’re safe with me.”
One side of his mouth curved up. “Safe, am I?”
There was deep timbre to his voice that almost made her shiver. He was teasing her, she knew, but she ignored it. A plan had come into her mind, and she didn’t have time to give it more than the briefest consideration.
“Safe,” she answered firmly. “I am not interested in marrying you—the thought of becoming a duchess frightens me to no end.”
He was almost grinning now, and she was startled by how much more appealing it made him. He suddenly seemed like a different, very dangerous man, rather than a responsible duke. And he was far too intriguing like that, for it made her remember his wild side. Where had it gone?
“I have only been raised on the fringes of your world, Your Grace.” And that was the truth. “I like the anonymity. But I have a proposition that might appeal to you.”
His smile vanished, and his eyes moved languidly down her face. “A proposition?”
A blush of mortification heated her cheeks. “Do not read more into that word than is proper. I only meant that I had an offer for you.”
He arched a brow, and then she really started stuttering.
“I—I mean that I’m making a proposal you should consider.” She closed her eyes so she didn’t have to look into his handsome, amused face. “Let me just say it then. I am not looking to marry a duke, and I know that you are going to marry a woman from your world, someone far above me in consequence and dowry.”
“So now I’m a snob looking only for money.”
“I know you don’t need money,” she said with exasperation, waving her hands about as if two castles were not enough proof. “But there are certainly expectations for a man in your situation. Lady May and Lady Theodosia both realize this. And though it has obviously not occurred to them, their open pursuit of you is ruining their chances at becoming your wife.”
He cocked his head. “Is it now? Do tell me what I’m feeling.”
She ignored his sarcasm. “I only have to study your expression to know that. You are not quite as enigmatic as you think.”
He suddenly put a hand on the wall beside her head and leaned too close. “Then do tell me what I’m thinking, Miss Shaw.”
She was glad that there was still a playfulness about him, but she knew that this situation could easily get out of hand if he wished it to.
“You are looking for a wife,” she said, inwardly wincing at how her voice had become a bit breathless. She had to force herself not to look at his arm, so close to her, his hand, which was so large splayed against the rough stone wall. He was making her feel trapped again, but now it was a far too intriguing sensation. “You want to look at your leisure, and make a logical, well-thought-out decision. But with the two ladies pursuing you, you can’t even think, let alone relax. How can you possibly make a choice when their behavior is annoying you? I can help you with that.”
She didn’t understand what was happening between them, why he was looking down at her from his great height, standing too close. He had women trailing after him, for heaven’s sake. Why was he teasing her like this?
“You could pretend that you wish to spend time with me,” she finished in a rush. “The other ladies will be disappointed, but will leave you alone to make your decision in your own way, in good time. And they would hardly choose another man as husband, not until you’ve made your decision. And since we both agree that there is no future between us, you will be safe.”
But would she?
Christopher stared down at the surprising Miss Shaw. Was she actually offering to allow herself to be used, to be gossiped about, and someday to be pitied when he didn’t choose her? It made no sense.
And though he didn’t know her well, he already guessed that she was too smart a woman not to realize the consequences.
So why was she doing it? He didn’t trust her motives, but he would discover them.
Though he had her backed against a wall, she didn’t seem afraid. There was a forthrightness and courage about her that he wanted to admire, yet his suspicions kept getting in the way.
She thought she understood him, did she? After only twenty-four hours in the same house? She obviously trusted him in naiveté, for he could do anything he wanted to her, and only his version of the truth would count. He could be a lecher out to deflower her, by God.
Yet she stood there so brazenly offering her services.
And he found himself thinking about what a real offer from her would be like. For just a moment, he said nothing and let himself look his fill. She was not a classical beauty, but that gave her an air of openness and honesty, as if she were used to men seeing her as she was, rather than fantasizing about her.
And there were those eyes, the deepest brown, lit by gold from within. A man could lose himself in there, forget everything. Her eyes looked wider and wider, and he suddenly realized he was bending too close.
He straightened and stepped away from her, disappointed by his own behavior. Again, he’d wanted to kiss her, when he didn’t know anything about her. All he had was her word that she had no wish to marry him. That was so a rare proclamation, that he didn’t trust it.
Oh, he was beyond thinking about himself as quite the handsome catch, although he’d been that stupid briefly in his youth. When one married a duke, the groom was only a part of the package, which included wealth and comfort, luxurious homes scattered across several countries, and of course the title of duchess. He had long since gotten over the notion that a woman would ever love him for him. And as long as he and his wife got along well enough, and they desired each other, that would suit him.
Miss Shaw cleared her throat. “So my suggestion has shocked you into speechlessness.”
It was too easy to smile around her, so he resisted the urge. “I was only considering the merits of the idea.”
She wrinkled her nose. “While you’re considering, can we move into a different chamber? My sneezing is threatening a violent return.”
“And how foolish of me, but I only have one handkerchief.”
He lifted a hand toward the far wall, where a perfectly preserved arch led into the next chamber. He’d been there with the two ladies, but he had not taken them beyond. He found himself ushering Miss Shaw through, up several stone stairs into another room, where part of the wall had fallen away. The roof was long gone, and sunlight warmed them. The hedge-rowed countryside spread out before them, uneven squares of farm and pastureland.
“It is lovely,” she murmured. “Do you own it all?”
“Almost all. Not quite as far as the eye can see—in this direction.”
She smiled, even though she didn’t look his way. And he wanted her to look up, so he could look into those darkly fringed eyes again.
He had to get this foolish lusting under control. He’d never taken a woman of his own class to bed, and he wasn’t about to start now, especially an innocent virgin under the protection of his own roof.
As they stood side by side, Christopher asked, “Why are you making this offer of your services, Miss Shaw? You must know that when I choose someone else, Society will pity you.”
“And perhaps even ridicule me,” she added in an unconcerned voice.
“And you do not care how it might look to your family?”
“My family is in
“How will it feel to you?” he asked in a softer voice.
She glanced up at him. “You need have no worries about my tender feelings. I will see it as an adventure in my otherwise boring life. And then I’ll return home and find a sweet country squire to marry, someone as settled and simple and dull as I am.”
“Dull?” He resisted the urge to tip her chin up to face him. He didn’t want to feel how soft her skin might be, how warm. “I would not call you dull.”
She suddenly seemed a bit skittish, as if she was surprised by his attention. “Then settled and simple.”
He laughed, and it felt strange to do so with a woman who wasn’t related to him. He had become so guarded, so careful, all out of need.
He could not allow himself to feel so relaxed, not even with a woman who professed no interest in him—and whose motives he still didn’t understand.
“I will give your suggestion some consideration, Miss Shaw,” he said at last.
She nodded gravely, but her eyes were alight with amusement. “You do that, Your Grace.”
He turned to face her. “You, too, should understand what you are getting yourself into.”
“I already said I did.” Her expression was full of confusion.
“I will be taking your hand often.” He did so now, her small, gloved hand nestled within his. “I will lean near and speak to you in an intimate fashion.”
She licked her lips, her only betrayal of uncertainty, yet her nod was firm.
“I have already considered that. I will use it as practice for when I return home and look for my own husband.”
He considered her with amusement. “I have never before been used as a ‘practice’ suitor.”
“That you know of,” she countered.
And then she winked.
And something inside Christopher flamed higher with a need that had to be fought.~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(Story Setup: This is an earlier excerpt, from just after the duke arrives home, knowing nothing of the house party planned to hurry along his marriage. He confronts his mother in the conservatory, then realizes someone is eavesdropping.)
Christopher caught a glimpse of bright blue in the middle of greenery. Someone was listening.
“Christopher?” his mother said, when he didn’t continue. “What have you been doing to distract yourself?”
He gave her a brief smile. “I’m not sure that you deserve to know, after what you’ve done here.
She rose to her feet, scowling. “You cannot tease me and then withdraw. It is…” She looked like she was struggling to find the right word.
“Maddening? Now you know how I felt when I arrived today.”
She reached up and pinched his cheek as if he were five years old. “You never could keep a secret from me for long.” And then she whirled and walked away.
Christopher remained still, staring into a woman’s wide eyes, waiting for his mother to be gone. The woman didn’t run away, and reluctantly, he had to admire that. And then he reached for her and pulled her right through the bushes. He heard her gasp, saw the way a strand of her hair caught on a branch before pulling out of her chignon to trail across her shoulder.
It was Lady Gwendolin’s friend, Miss Shaw. She stared up at him. And he realized that along with her brown hair, he’d thought her brown eyes would match—but he’d been wrong. They were flecked with a warm gold, like hidden treasure. He thought a guilty woman would tremble, but she didn’t. She was breathing fast; if he put his hand on her heart, he would feel its frantic pace.
He suddenly realized the strangeness of his thoughts. Hand on her heart? By God, her family would be demanding marriage before the day was through.
He gave her a little shake before he let her go. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Forgive me, Your Grace,” she said, and bit her plump lower lip as if with chagrin.
What would those lips taste like?
The girl had been spying on him, and all he could think about was kissing her?
“I did not mean to catch you unawares,” she continued. “I was exploring, and when I heard you with your mother, I did not want to disturb you and have you think that I…”
She trailed off, fluttering her hands as if with helplessness. Why did he get the feeling that she was anything but helpless?
“I mean…we have only recently been introduced,” she finished lamely.
Christopher didn’t understand his anger. This was nothing a half dozen women hadn’t tried before. He almost felt…disappointed in her, and he wasn’t certain why. He didn’t know her—he didn’t need to know her.
But he kept noticing random things, like how her voice was pleasantly modulated, a bit deeper than normal, but without a northern accent, though Lady Gwendolin had said she’d come from Durham.
“Surely you visit Lady Gwendolin often,” he said.
She looked baffled at the direction of their conversation. “Uh…yes, I do.”
“But with this recent visit to
She cocked her head. “I am not quite sure that feeling uninvited and bothersome to my dear friend and her hosts counts as having ‘won the prize.’”
He arched a brow as he stared down at her. From their first meeting, he had appreciated that she was a woman who could still speak coherently when talking to him.
“My mother would not have included you if she hadn’t wanted to,” Christopher said shortly. “You are not bothersome to her, or I’m sure to Lady Gwendolin—only to me.”
“It will not happen again, Your Grace,” she said softly.
But she did not lower her head in meekness, only continued to stare at him. And in that moment, he had an insane urge to push her back against a tree and kiss her, to discover if her body was as soft and welcoming as it looked. There was a crackling moment of tension between them, and what brought him out of it was that she seemed just as surprised as he was.
They both took a step back.
“Might I leave, Your Grace,” she said, “before my face is so red that I shan’t be fit company?”
She turned and left, not hurrying, and he was able to watch the sway of her hips, the way her skirts almost seemed to shimmer. Between the lush curves of her hips and breasts, she had a narrow waist that made her almost look delicate.
But he guessed that Miss Shaw was not the delicate sort.
Had she gotten away with a deliberate offense against him? He would have to keep an eye on her—and subdue his impractical thoughts. He had not had a woman in several months; surely that was the reason he was noticing everything feminine about her.
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