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cover of The Duke in Disguise

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The Duke In Disguise
by Gayle Callen

Book 2 of the "Sisters of Willow Pond" trilogy
(The books do not have to be read in order.)


Who is this man?

The Duke of Thanet may have hired Meriel Shelby as a governess to his six-year-old son, but there is something…different about the man standing before her today. He seems to study
her with an intensity she never noticed before, and he is certainly more charming than the last time they met. Was there always an alluring glint in his dark eyes? But the duke has a notoriously scandalous reputation, and Meriel will not let herself succumb.

Masquerading as the duke was not the simple solution Richard O'Neill had envisioned. When his ailing half-brother, the real duke, asked him to protect his young heir from a greedy enemy, Richard agreed. But he never thought he'd be attracted to the inquisitive governess, or that each moment in her intoxicating presence would tempt him. Letting down his guard could prove dangerous…especially to Richard's own heart.


"Callen demonstrates her unique ability to create a taut mystery alongside
an equally wondrous love story, proving why she's a master of the genre."  
Romantic Times Magazine



(The following is the property of the author and Oliver Heber Books, and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)

(Set up:  Meriel was hired as a governess by the Duke of Thanet months before.  He has just returned to his estate for the first time, and has asked to see his six-year-old son, Stephen, who is accompanied by Meriel.)

Ramsgate, England, 1844

     Little Stephen opened the door, and to Meriel's satisfaction, he entered at a walk instead of a run. The room had long tall windows that cast sunshine across the floor. It took her a moment to see the duke's desk in a corner, surrounded by bookshelves and glass cabinets. The last time she'd met the man, he'd seemed very bored with the need to interview a mere governess. He'd been talkative, but so easily distracted by anything on the desk, or an everyday item he'd never noticed in the room before. He'd been only a man she needed to impress; titles had never overawed her. And then he'd been recently ill. She'd warned Stephen to be prepared for this.
     But now something was different. The duke had obviously recovered. Indeed, he was a picture of good health, as he lounged to one side in his leather wingback chair. His head rested against the back, his posture as casual as she remembered it. He had black, close-cropped hair, but gone were his muttonchop sideburns and his mustache. His face looked strangely bare-masculine cheekbones above a mouth thin and sensuous.
     Sensuous? Where had that come from?
     His dark eyes seemed to study Stephen with an intensity that she would never have thought him capable of. It vanished a moment later, leaving her to question if she'd really seen it.
     Why did she feel so…off-balance? She'd met the duke before; other than his facial hair, nothing had changed. But now she was nervous, and staring at him too much, and she wanted to fidget. The room seemed too hot.
     "Stephen, it is good to see you," the duke said, rising to his feet.
     She'd once thought his gracefulness a vain, practiced art, but now it seemed very much a part of him.
     What was wrong with her?
     The duke came around the desk and stood in front of them. Meriel had to look up at him. She was short in stature, which made him not all that tall for a man, but he seemed…taller, powerful, broad through the shoulders, stocky through the chest. He was dressed as immaculately as before, in bright patterned London colors, a man who obviously took pride in the clothing that adorned him like the brushstrokes necessary to a masterpiece.
     She wanted to groan. Since when had she become a secret poet? She was a woman with a head for figures: mathematics was her specialty. She taught literature only because it was expected of her. Words were not something that called to her soul.
     But she found she wanted to…describe the duke. Luckily, his attention was for his son.
     Stephen stared up at his father, and Meriel found herself touching the boy's shoulder. He remembered to bow then, but he still looked up at the duke with curiosity. How long had it truly been since they'd seen each other?
     "Hello, Father," Stephen said, wariness making his voice sound even higher than normal.
     Meriel was glad to put all her concentration back on her pupil, where it belonged. He would need her comfort when his father dismissed him. Mrs. Theobald had warned her about the duke's disregard.
     To her shock, the duke knelt on one knee to look in the boy's face.
     "You are well, Stephen?"
     "Of course, Father." The little boy was tense, his fidgeting gone.
     "I see you've begun your studies. I hope you've been behaving for your governess."
     "Yes, Father. I like her."
     They discussed her as if she wasn't there. Even after all these months, it still took Meriel a moment to remember that she was almost a servant now.
     "She likes numbers, just like I do," Stephen continued, his words rushing faster and faster as if he might be stopped. "We go on long walks and we even find things in the woods, like birds' nests and beetles and flowers. Miss Shelby knows everything."
     A blush swept from her chest up to her face as Stephen's praise caused the duke to look up at her. Under his regard, she tried to remind herself of his poor reputation, of his preference to look at pretty servants. But his black eyes, fringed with more lashes than a man had a right to, trapped her within his gaze. She couldn't look away, couldn't remember to feel affronted by his regard.
     "Miss Shelby is an accomplished teacher," the duke said softly.
     He got to his feet and moved away, and she breathed a sigh of relief. He looked out the window with a restlessness that made her feel more at ease.
     Stephen followed him and began to talk about their studies, his reading and writing and the simple history she'd begun to interest him with. He had a good mind, and she knew she could teach him much, if only he could focus better. He'd spent so much of his young life in the outdoors that she tried to set at least one lesson outside each day.
     But although his father looked out the window as if the grounds interested him more than his son, they spoke together for several minutes, both of them used to doing the speaking. They each gestured with their hands. Meriel found herself backing away to sit in a corner of the room, not wanting to disturb this small amount of time Stephen had with his father.
     To her dismay, there was a part of her that knew when the duke was looking at her. Never before had she met a man who could captivate her attention, who could make her know deep inside that he was man.
     She had thought she was learning to conquer her traitorous emotions. Her heart had betrayed her where her parents were concerned-she hadn't seen the truth until it was too late. She'd vowed that only sound logic would rule her life. But her reaction to the duke confirmed her worst fears. She was once again leading with her emotions, rather than her intellect. It was a weakness she could not afford. She would conquer it.



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