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For Miss Charlotte Windham, the best way to maintain her spinsterhood — and her independence — is a teeny, tiny brush with scandal. She chooses wealthy, handsome upstart Lucas Sherbourne as her unwitting accomplice. He’s intelligent, logical, and ambitious. What Charlotte doesn’t count on is that one kiss will lead them straight to the altar. Sherbourne has no love for polite society, nor is he keen on being anybody’s husband of last resort. He is attracted to Charlotte’s boldness, though — and her family’s influence. Without a title, he knows he’ll never truly be part of their world, even as he and Charlotte inch closer to a marriage that means much more than convenience. But a scheming business partner is about to test that tenuous trust, forcing Sherbourne to make a drastic choice: his wealth or his wife. “Smart, sexy, and oh-so romantic.” — Mary Balogh “If you’re not reading Grace Burrowes you’re missing the very best in today’s Regency Romance!” — Elizabeth Hoyt
“Heed me, Miss Charlotte, for mine is the only offer you’re likely to receive, no matter that your uncle is a duke. I am a viscount, and you shall like being my viscountess very well.”
Charlotte Windham had no choice but to heed Viscount Neederby, for he’d taken her by the arm and was nearly dragging her along Lady Belchamp’s wilderness walk.
“My lord, while I am ever receptive to knowledgeable guidance, this is neither the time nor the place to make a declaration.” Never and nowhere suited Charlotte when it came to proposals from such as Neederby.
He marched onward, simultaneously walking and pontificating being one of his few accomplishments.
“I must beg to differ, my dear, for receptive to guidance you most assuredly are not. Married to me, your sadly headstrong propensities will be laid to rest. My duty and pleasure as your devoted spouse will be to instruct you in all matters.”
His lordship sent her a look, one intended to convey tender indulgence or a disturbance of the bowels, Charlotte wasn’t sure which.
“Might we circle back to the buffet, sir? All this hiking about has given me an appetite.”
Neederby finally halted, though he chose a spot overlooking the Thames River. What imbecile had decided that scenic views were a mandatory improvement on Nature as the Almighty had designed her?
“Were you being arch, Miss Charlotte? I believe you were. I have appetites too, dontcha know.”
Neederby fancied himself a Corinthian, as accomplished at all the manly sports as he was at tying a fancy knot in his cravat. Hostesses added him to guest lists because he had a title and had yet to lose either his hair or his teeth in any quantity.
In Charlotte’s estimation, his brains had gone missing entirely.
“I haven’t an arch bone in my body, my lord. I am, however, hungry.” The occasion was a Venetian breakfast, and Charlotte had intended to do justice to the lavish buffet. The roaring water more than ten yards below the iron railing had carried away her appetite.
“One hears things,” Neederby said, wiggling his eyebrows. “About certain people.”
Charlotte heard the river thundering past and edged back from the overlook. “I have no interest in gossip, but a plate of Lady Belchamp’s buffet offerings does appeal.”
His lordship clamped a gloved hand over Charlotte’s fingers. “What about my offerings? I’m tireless in the saddle, as they say, and you’re in want of a fellow to show you the bridle path, as it were.”
Equestrian analogies never led anywhere decent. Charlotte escaped Neederby’s grasp by twisting her arm, a move her cousins had shown her more than ten years ago.
“I’m famished, your lordship. We can return to the buffet, or I’ll leave you here to admire the view.”
Neither option could salvage Charlotte’s morning. The gossips would claim that she had taken too long on this ramble with his lordship, or that she’d returned to the party without his escort, both choices unacceptable for a lady.
As the only remaining unmarried Windham, Charlotte had earned the enmity of every wallflower, failed debutante, matchmaker, and fortune hunter in Mayfair. The little season brought the wilted and the wounded out in quantity, while Charlotte—who considered herself neither—longed to retire to the country.
Neederby moved more quickly than he reasoned, and thus Charlotte found herself trapped between him and the railing.
“When anybody’s looking,” he said, “you’re all haughty airs and tidy bonnet ribbons, but I know what you fast girls really want. Married to me, you’d be more than content.”
Married to him, Charlotte would be a candidate for Bedlam. “I need breakfast, you buffoon, and I haven’t been a girl for years. Get away from me.”
Charlotte also needed room to drive her knee into his jewelbox, and she needed to breathe. His lordship took a step closer, and Charlotte backed up until the railing was all that prevented her from falling into the torrent below. Her vision dimmed at the edges and the roaring in her ears merged with the noise of the river.
Not now. Please, not here, not now. Not with the biggest nincompoop in all of nincompoopdom flinging his marital ambitions at me.
The thought had barely formed when Neederby was abruptly dragged three feet to the right.
“Sherbourne,” his lordship squawked. “Devilish bad taste to interrupt a man when he’s paying his addresses.”
Lucas Sherbourne was tall, blond, solidly built, and at that moment, a pathetically welcome sight.
“If that’s your idea of how a gentleman pays his addresses,” Sherbourne said, “then I’d like to introduce you to my version of target practice at dawn.”
“His lordship was not paying his addresses,” Charlotte bit out. She clung to the rail in hopes of remaining upright, and yet, she needed to get away from the precipice.
Sherbourne peeled her fingers free one by one and offered his arm. “Then I misread the situation, and his lordship merely owes you an apology.”
Sherbourne glanced at the river, then at Neederby, as if measuring angles and distances. Charlotte’s heart was beating too fast and her knees were weak, else she might have managed a dignified exit. Instead, she held fast to Sherbourne’s muscular arm—needs must—and conjured a mental image of her grandmother Holsopple’s fancy tea service.
“My apologies,” Neederby muttered, yanking on his waistcoat. “I’ll wish you good day, Miss Charlotte.”
He turned his back on Sherbourne—a lord’s privilege where a commoner was concerned, but rude treatment of a lady—and stalked off in the direction of the next scenic view.
Sherbourne switched positions, so he stood between Charlotte and the railing. “If you were any more pale, I’d be measuring you for a winding sheet. Come sit.”
On some other day or in some other place that offered no dratted scenic vista, Charlotte would chide him for his peremptory tone.
“Your store of flattery is wanting, Mr. Sherbourne.” She could not possibly sit on the bench he’d led her to. “The prospect does not appeal.”
“The prospect of being seen in my company? Perhaps you’d prefer the pawing and snorting of Lord Nettlebum, or one of his equally blue-blooded—”
Charlotte waved a hand. “The prospect of the river. So far below.”
Sherbourne glanced past her shoulder. “A long leap, I’ll grant you, but hardly…Are you about to faint on me, Charlotte Windham?”
The curiosity in his tone—no outrage or dismay—had Charlotte standing straighter. “And fuel the talk already circulating? What do you take me for?”
Sherbourne was a social upstart, but he was a wealthy, single upstart who had the good fortune to be neighbors with the Duke of Haverford in Wales. That fine gentleman had recently married Charlotte’s sister Elizabeth, and thus Sherbourne was a well-connected, wealthy, single upstart.
Also a pest, but not a fool.
Charlotte watched him adding facts and observations, and coming to the logical conclusion.
“Have you taken any sustenance?” he asked. “The buffet line was long earlier. Perhaps a spot of tea would appeal?”
“A spot of tea would be heavenly. Thank you.”
That Sherbourne would be both kind and discreet was miraculous. Later, Charlotte might find the resolve to resent him for both—why had he been the one to interrupt Neederby, why not some meddling cousin or devoted auntie?—but for now, she was grateful simply to leave the river’s edge.
* * *
“Writing to one of your sisters again?” Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, asked his duchess.
Elizabeth had taken over the tower room known as the Dovecote for her personal corner of Haverford Castle. She set aside the page she’d been working on and rose to hug him.
“I’ve missed you, Haverford.”
He’d been gone less than three hours. “I’ve missed you, too. I promised Sherbourne I’d keep an eye on his acres, and that requires the occasional glance in the direction of his property. His steward isn’t exactly an advertisement for modern agricultural practices.”
Elizabeth remained in Julian’s arms, and that was fine with him, for he loved to hold her. They’d met when she’d attended his summer house party. From the first day, Elizabeth had begun setting Haverford Castle and its owner to rights.
Now that she was the chatelaine, the property boasted a lot fewer musty old books, also a lot less dust and mildew. Windows had become spotless, carpets once again had luster, and not a single chimney dared smoke.
Being a duke had never been such a comfy, pleasant undertaking, while being Elizabeth’s husband…
“I’m in need of a nap,” Julian said. “Cantering all over the shire tires a fellow out.”
“You need luncheon first. Napping with your duchess requires stamina.”
“Point to the lady.”
A tap sounded on the door, and Julian admitted a footman bearing a tray. As usual, Elizabeth had anticipated her spouse’s appetites, not merely his desires.
She settled beside him on the sofa and let him fix the tea. Then she let him feed her a piece of shortbread, then she let him kiss her until he was more or less lying atop her, the tea growing cold.
“We have a perfectly lovely bed,” Julian said. “Why am I compelled to accost you on sofas, benches, and picnic blankets?”
“I made the overtures on the picnic blanket,” Elizabeth said, stroking a fingertip over his eyebrow. “I’ve grown fond of picnic blankets.”
Julian was fond of her, and he hadn’t expected that, not so soon, not so…profoundly. He loved Elizabeth, he respected her, and God knew he desired her, but the pure, friendly sense of liking they shared was as precious as their passionate sentiments. She had become his confidante, his sounding board, his advisor, and most of all, his friend.
And his lover, of course. “We’ll picnic after we nap,” he said, giving his wife room to breathe.
“We’ll nap after we’ve done justice to the tray,” Elizabeth said, using Julian’s shoulder to pull herself upright. “I’m worried about Charlotte.”
Hence, the whirlwind of letters flying among the three married Windham sisters. Various cousins participated in the epistolary storm, for the ducal branch of the Windham family had no less than eight healthy offshoots, all happily married.
And all, doubtless, also worried about Charlotte.
“Is this a different sort of worry than you had for her before we married?” Julian asked around a mouthful of shortbread.
“My anxiety is worse, because I am married. We’re all married, except for Charlotte. That can’t be easy. Did you just put butter on your shortbread?”
“I must fortify myself for this lengthy nap you’re planning.”
“Fortify me with both butter and jam,” Elizabeth said. “Will you be wroth with me if I’ve done a bit a matchmaking?”
He would never be wroth with her. “You can make a match for Charlotte by correspondence?”
“I’m a Windham. Matchmaking is my birthright, according to Uncle Percival and Aunt Esther.”
These relations of Elizabeth’s, the Duke and Duchess of Moreland, were a deceptively charming older couple who’d likely brought about half the unions in Mayfair.
“You’re a St. David now,” Julian said, passing her a slice of shortbread slathered with butter and jam. “Thus, I am your accomplice in all things. At whom have you aimed Cupid’s arrow?”
“I didn’t aim it, exactly. Charlotte is so very contrary that I instead warned my aunt that of all men, Lucas Sherbourne ought not to be shoved at Charlotte. She seemed to notice him at the house party this summer, which for Charlotte, is tantamount to a mad passion.”
“You have a bit of raspberry jam on your lip.” Julian kissed the relevant feature. “Scrumptious.”
“If Sherbourne is steered away from Charlotte,” Elizabeth went on, “then she might favor him with the occasional glance.”
“My thoughts complement your own, for I’ve written to Sherbourne that he is not, under any circumstances, to contemplate a courtship of Charlotte Windham. Hold still.”
Elizabeth gave him an amused look—she’d hold still only if she jolly well pleased to, of course—and set down her teacup.
Julian dipped his finger in the jam pot and drew a line of preserves along her décolletage. “Is this one of your favorite frocks?”
“Is the door locked?”
“Yes.” Out of recently acquired habit.
“This is my least favorite dress in all the world.”
Julian stood and shrugged out of his jacket, then undid his cravat and sleeve buttons. “We must earn our rest.”
“We’ll need to hire another seamstress at the rate I go through dresses.”
Julian ran his tongue over the jam adorning Elizabeth’s right breast. “I’m ever mindful of the necessity to economize. We could simply dispense with clothing when we’re at home, and save both time and money.”
Elizabeth swiped her finger through the jam on her left breast, then pressed raspberry sweetness to Julian’s mouth. “I vote we dispense with your clothing right now, Your Grace.”
Julian seconded that worthy motion and had coaxed Elizabeth out of her shoes and stockings when it occurred to him that he was not especially worried about Charlotte Windham. Charlotte had scolded the Duke of Wellington for hiding in the card room at her aunt’s ball, and His Grace had meekly spent the rest of the evening standing up with wallflowers.
Julian was, despite all common sense to the contrary, concerned for Lucas Sherbourne. Sherbourne was a commoner, overly confident, and out of his depth socially among London’s elites. He was also dunderheaded enough to do something truly unforgivable, like propose to Charlotte without even attempting to court her.
* * *
The look in Charlotte Windham’s eyes had inspired Lucas Sherbourne to interrupt Lord Neederby’s forlorn hope of a proposal.
Sherbourne had had the privilege of studying the lady over the course of a three-week house party earlier in the year, and he’d seen her amused, anxious, disdainful—Charlotte Windham did an exquisitely convincing disdainful—exasperated, mischievous (his favorite, though rare), and in many other moods.
She’d never once looked frightened, but cornered by Lord Nitwit’s matrimonial presumptions, she’d been approaching panic.
“You will please endure my company for the length of the buffet and at least thirty minutes thereafter,” Sherbourne said as he escorted Miss Windham to the Belchamp gardens.
“You will please, for the sake of your unborn children, refrain from giving me orders, Mr. Sherbourne.”
Splendid. Miss Windham was feeling a bit more the thing.
“Heaven forefend that I do more than offer you a suggestion, madam. I’m merely asking for the return of a favor. I spared you the effort of tossing his lordship into the river. You will spare me Lady Belchamp’s devotion. She’s been eyeing me as if I were her favorite dessert.”
Miss Windham smiled, her merriment mostly in her eyes. “Her ladyship gambles imprudently, and thus wealthy, generous bachelors are her favorite sweet.”
Most redheads were striking enough with green eyes, but Charlotte Windham’s eyes were blue. They were the first feature of hers Sherbourne had noticed, and while her eyes were everything a lady’s should be—pretty, slightly tilted, framed by perfectly arched brows—they were also many other things a proper lady’s eyes should not be.
Bold, direct, intelligent, and—this intrigued Sherbourne—subtly unhappy. Why would a woman who claimed a close connection to not one but three dukes have cause for complaint about anything?
“You would toss me to her ladyship’s tender wiles and enjoy my discomfort,” Sherbourne said. “Though I suspect you’d rescue me before my cause was hopeless.”
“Or I’d rescue her ladyship. You are not the tame gentleman you impersonate.”
“Thank you. One fears that a charade perpetrated too earnestly will become reality.” With Charlotte Windham, Sherbourne could only be honest. She’d verbally skewer him for wasting her time with flattery or flirtation.
“Or one fears that such a charade will drive one mad,” Miss Windham muttered.
Well yes, though Sherbourne hadn’t considered that a creeping sense of unease would also plague Miss Windham, who had more titles on her family tree than Wellington had battle honors.
For Sherbourne, this year’s little season had acquired the unwelcome rigor of an expensive finishing school. The Duke of Haverford had decided to turn up cordial after years of polite disdain, and thus Sherbourne had arrived to London with something of a sponsor.
Haverford had sent word ahead to his auntie-in-law, the Duchess of Moreland, that Sherbourne was to be taken in hand, and Sherbourne hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since arriving to town. Haverford would be made to pay for that kindness, assuming Sherbourne survived the next three weeks.
“If you don’t enjoy all the socializing, waltzing, and gossiping,” Sherbourne said, “why not remove to Kent, or wherever the family seat is, and spare yourself the aggravation?”
“My time is not my own, Mr. Sherbourne. I’m the sole remaining marital project in my family, and the Windhams are a large family.”
“Visit your sister Elizabeth. Wales is lovely in the autumn, and bachelors who are up to your weight are virtually nonexistent there.” With the exception of himself, of course.
Miss Windham gave a slight shake of her head as they approached the buffet. “Try again, sir.”
Ah—he’d spoken in the imperative. “Have you considered a visit to Haverford Castle? I’m sure the duchess would love to have your company.”
“Better, but still a preposterous suggestion. Their Graces of Haverford are newly wed, and a newly wed Windham is a happily preoccupied creature.”
Preoccupied? If His Grace of Haverford’s besottedness was any indication, both halves of the couple were seldom fully clothed.
Sherbourne was about to direct Miss Windham to try the apple tarts, but caught himself. “Would you care for some apple tart?”
Had he not seen Miss Windham’s smile for himself, he would never have believed the benevolence of her expression. Her smile suggested that at some point, Charlotte Windham had been a very sweet girl. That sweet girl would have been spared Lord Neederby’s oafish overtures, because even a clodpate such as he would have kept a worshipful distance.
“What do you fancy besides the apple tart?” Miss Windham asked, passing Sherbourne a second plate. “Peckish men are seldom good company.”
They moved down the table, with Miss Windham filling the plates Sherbourne held. The breeze was achingly soft, as early autumn breezes in southern England could be, and the guests had settled about the terraces and walkways in couples and small groups.
Miss Windham had chosen basic fare: slices of beef, small squares of cheese, buttered bread, and half an apple tart. Not for her, the rich desserts or pretty confections, while Sherbourne loved fancy treats.
“You’re not eating much,” he said.
“My digestion is still a bit tentative.” The lady surveyed the lawn as if deciding where to position her cannon. “Let’s enjoy the sun.”
How did a woman enjoy the sun, when she was expected to wear a bonnet and carry a parasol, in addition to covering every inch of skin save her hands—the occasion was a meal out of doors—and her face?
“Excellent choice,” Sherbourne said. “If we sit in the sun, we’ll also avoid the company of females overly concerned about the perils of freckles.”
The sweet smile made a fleeting return. “You’re welcome, though I’ll thank you to defend me from any fortune hunters between bites of apple tart.”
They settled on a bench and were soon consuming their meal.
“Was it Neederby’s addresses that upset your digestion or the height of the overlook?” Sherbourne asked.
“You heard him. I shudder to speculate why he’d think his horseman’s talk could put a lady in a frame of mind for amorous advances.”
For Sherbourne, the connection was easily grasped. “Care for some of my raspberries?”
She frowned at her food. “I thought the raspberries were to go on my plate.”
Sherbourne held out his plate to her. “My mistake, I’m sure. Profound apologies.”
He was nearly flirting, trying to make her smile again, and that was…that was nothing to be concerned about. What else did one do at such an inane gathering?
Miss Windham spooned most of the raspberries onto her plate. “Mistake corrected. At least Neederby didn’t liken marriage to gardening. Poor Lord Helmsford considers himself a botanist, and by the time he’d discoursed about bees, fruits, and pollen, I wasn’t sure if his objective was turning a profit from his orangery or securing the succession. These raspberries are luscious.”
“Helmsford proposed to you?” Helmsford was an ass, even for an earl.
Miss Windham licked the tip of her thumb. “He proposed the first time five years ago, then again last week.”
Helmsford could go to the devil, for all Sherbourne cared, but that small gesture—Charlotte Windham licking a dab of raspberry from her thumb—lit a flame of imagination in Sherbourne’s mind.
Charlotte Windham was intelligent, honest, pretty, and enduring one stupid proposal after another. Sherbourne esteemed her greatly, as the cliché went, and also genuinely.
How would she react if Sherbourne offered her a sensible proposal?
Charlotte got through the meal with Sherbourne partly by correcting his manners, which were in truth perfectly adequate, and partly by delivering pointed stares to the hopeful young ladies, prowling matchmakers, and merry widows sashaying by.
She’d left Sherbourne in the company of her cousin Valentine, who’d doubtless report to the family that Charlotte had strolled down the garden path with Neederby and returned on Sherbourne’s arm.
Thank the heavenly intercessors for the quiet of the ladies’ retiring room.
For the next three weeks, Charlotte would be dragged about from one entertainment to another. After the weather turned cold and hunt season started, she’d be free of London until next spring.
Three weeks—four at the most—and she could choose between Papa’s estate in Hampshire, or Uncle Percival’s family seat in Kent. Charlotte nodded to the maid sitting on a stool in the corner, let herself into one of the little closets intended to provide privacy, and settled on the cushioned bench.
Four weeks was 28 days, 672 hours, or 40,320 minutes. She was working on the seconds when chattering voices filled the silence.
“Well, I heard that Minerva Fuller had to marry Captain Baumrucker, and that explains her immediate remove with him to the north. You, girl—fix my hair.”
Nanette Monmouth had been Minerva Fuller’s bosom bow for much of the season. Charlotte rustled her skirts as a warning—gossiping in the retiring room was a tyro’s mistake, and Nanette had finished her second season.
“Well, I heard that Charlotte Windham is ruined.”
- "A fierce, high-born heroine with a secret agenda and an astute commoner hero struggling to make sense of his place in two social worlds discover devotion and true understanding in a cleverly plotted story that rights an old wrong, brings a villain to justice, and ties up loose series threads in a brilliantly executed plot twist that will have fans saying, "Yes!" VERDICT With flawless prose, delicious wit, and an unerring ability to bring complex characters to life, Burrowes revisits the engaging Windhams and delivers another winner; pure reading gold."—Library Journal, starred review, on A Rogue of Her Own
- "Plenty of humor, sensuality and poignancy. ...A swiftly moving plot with engaging characters is sure to charm anyone seeking an enjoyable, emotionally satisfying read."—RT Book Reviews on A Rogue of Her Own
- "The hero of The Trouble with Dukes reminds me of Mary Balogh's charming men, and the heroine brings to mind Sarah MacLean's intelligent, fiery women... This is a wonderfully funny, moving romance, not to be missed!"—Eloisa James, New York Times bestselling author of My American Duchess
- "Sexy heroes, strong heroines, intelligent plots, enchanting love stories...Grace Burrowes's romances have them all."—Mary Balogh, New York Times bestselling author
- "The Trouble with Dukes has everything Grace Burrowes's many fans have come to adore: a swoonworthy hero, a strong heroine, humor, and passion. Her characters not only know their own hearts, but share them with fearless joy. Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure."—Tessa Dare, New York Times bestselling author
- "Grace Burrowes writes from the heart--with warmth, humor, and a generous dash of sensuality, her stories are unputdownable! If you're not reading Grace Burrowes you're missing the very best in today's Regency Romance!"—Elizabeth Hoyt, New York Times bestselling author
- "The Trouble with Dukes is captivating! It has everything I love in a book--a sexy Scotsman, a charming heroine, witty banter, plenty of humor, and lots of heart."—Jennifer Ashley, New York Times bestselling author of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie
- On Sale
- Mar 6, 2018
- Page Count
- 416 pages