By Kelly Bowen
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Named to All About Romance’s “The Best of 2018!”
Duke. Scoundrel. Titan of business. August Faulkner is a man of many talents, not the least of which is enticing women into his bedchamber. He’s known-and reviled-for buying and selling companies, accumulating scads of money, and breaking hearts. It’s a reputation he wears like a badge of honor, and one he intends to keep.
Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, on the other hand, is above reproach. Yet when she’s reunited with August all she can think of is the way she felt in his arms as they danced a scandalous waltz ten long years ago. Even though her head knows that he is only back in her life to take over her family’s business, her heart can’t help but open to the very duke who could destroy it for good.
“Where have you been all my life, Kelly Bowen? If Julia Quinn, Sarah MacLean, and Lisa Kleypas were to extract their writing DNA, mix it in a blender, and have a love child, Kelly Bowen would be it.”-HeroesandHeartbreakers.com
A heartfelt thanks to my editor, Alex Logan, for unerring insight that makes each story better, and to the entire team at Forever, who work so hard on my behalf. Thanks to my agent, Stefanie Lieberman, who has been unfailingly supportive. To my family and friends, who have cheered me on every step of the way. And last but not least, a huge thank-you to the entire romance community—readers and writers. You have made this an unforgettable journey.
London, July 1819
He had danced with her on a dare.
Childish, certainly. Boorish, most definitely. But it was easier to critique such behaviors when one was no longer in the throes of obnoxious youth, surrounded by arrogant acquaintances who snickered and leered and sought entertainment at the expense of others. And to this day, August Faulkner, the twelfth Duke of Holloway, had never forgotten it.
He hadn't been duke of anything then. Though his bravado and self-importance had seemed to make up for that shortcoming. At the time he'd thought Clara Hayward, the eldest daughter of the charismatic and wildly popular Baron Strathmore, would simply be a means to an end.
She had been pretty—flawless fair skin framed by lustrous mahogany tresses shot through with rich ruby highlights. Dark eyes ringed by darker lashes, set into a face that smiled often. An elegant figure displayed by tasteful gowns and a graceful poise that was remarked upon often. All that combined with the staggering wealth of her family meant there should have been earls and dukes and princes falling all over themselves begging for her attention.
Instead her dance card remained empty despite a flurry of proper introductions. And those earls and dukes and princes kept a wary distance—held at bay by the single flaw that illustrious lords could simply not tolerate in a potential wife: an education and an intelligence greater than their own.
August hadn't understood that then. Instead he had foolishly put Clara Hayward in a box labeled Wallflower, confident in his superiority. And with the snickers and guffaws of his companions echoing in his ears, he had sauntered up to where she stood at the edge of the dance floor that night and offered her the privilege of his presence.
Miss Hayward had gazed upon him with what looked like bemused tolerance when he had bowed dramatically over her hand. Her dark eyes had flickered over his shoulder to where his cronies watched, waiting for her to stammer or stumble. Instead her full lips had curled only a little further, and her eyes had returned to his, a single brow cocked in clear, knowing amusement, and he knew then that she had heard every crass, careless word. And it had been August who had stammered and stumbled as she took his arm.
He had led her out on the dance floor, appalled at the way his heart was hammering in his chest. She had placed one steady hand in his, another on the sleeve of his coat, and met his eyes directly as the first strains of music floated through the ballroom. August had tried then to recoup the advantage he seemed to have lost and used every ounce of his considerable prowess on the dance floor, leading her in a sweeping, reckless waltz that should have wilted a wallflower into a blushing mess.
But Clara Hayward had only matched him step for step, never once looking away. And by the time the waltz had concluded, the conversation in the room had faltered, every damn guest was staring at them, and August was experiencing a horrifying shortness of breath that had nothing to do with his exertions.
"Good heavens," she had murmured, not sounding nearly as breathless as he. "I was told that you were daring, Mr. Faulkner. And you do not disappoint. You are exactly as advertised."
"And you, Miss Hayward, are not." He'd blurted it before he could stop himself, unsure if her words were a compliment or a criticism. And unsure what to do with either.
She'd grinned then—an honest-to-goodness grin that suggested they were collaborators, complicit in something deliciously wicked. "Good" was all she had said, and his world had tilted. He had found himself grinning foolishly back, disoriented as all hell.
August had left Miss Hayward in the care of her brother after that, and Harland Hayward had gazed upon him with the reproach and pity that August both deserved and hated. He'd not danced with her again, a fact that evoked a peculiar regret if he thought about it for too long. In fact, he had never spoken to Miss Hayward since that night, their paths having seemingly diverged in two completely opposite directions.
He to a duchy he'd never expected to inherit. She to a life of refined academia she'd undoubtedly planned as the headmistress of the most elite finishing school in Britain.
That was, until August had bought that school yesterday. A property he'd had his solicitors anonymously offer to purchase at least thrice in the past decade.
He glanced down at the papers his solicitors had left on his desk. "Miss Clara Hayward" was written in neat letters on the previous deed of ownership, and the sight of her name still jolted him even now. Which was absurd, because it mattered not which Hayward actually owned the damn school, only that they were finally willing to sell. But seeing her name had triggered a flood of memories and somehow undermined the fierce satisfaction that he should have felt at the prospect of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies becoming part of his vast holdings.
August had made the unforgivable mistake of assuming that the current baron owned Haverhall, along with the shipping empire that had given rise to the Haywards' extensive fortune. But now August was left contemplating why, in a world where women very rarely owned a freehold property that hadn't been conveyed to trustees, Clara Hayward would let it slip away from her.
To anyone else, the why probably wouldn't matter. Not when one had gotten what one wanted. There was a whole slew of advice that involved gift horses and mouths that most individuals would heed. But August was not most individuals. He despised questions that did not have answers. He abhorred not knowing what motivated people to act as they did. His sister, Anne, often told him that it was an unhealthy compulsion, his need to pry into the dark corners of other people's lives for profit. But he hadn't become as wealthy as he had by simply accepting what was on the surface. There was something more to this that he wasn't seeing. Information was power, and he could never have enough.
August frowned and reached for his knife, trimming the end of a quill absently. It was ironic, really, that he knew so little about a woman he'd been unable to forget, even after all these years. He knew Miss Clara Hayward had a reputation for graciousness, propriety, and common sense—by all reports she was a damn paragon of politesse. The ton, while unsure what to make of her as a debutante, seemed to have embraced the idea that the woman guiding their young charges was one of their social class—what else could be expected of an otherwise lovely girl with an upbringing and excessive education that had severely limited her prospects?
A headmistress of quality, combined with the limited admission and exorbitant fees of the school itself, had made Haverhall as popular with the most elite of London society as with those young ladies on the fringes of the upper crust who possessed dowries large enough to buy all of Westminster. Even peers with staunch traditionalist views, who closeted their daughters or sisters with governesses, had weakened at the opportunity for their female relations to take painting instruction from Thomas Lawrence or to be coached in the cotillion or quadrille by Thomas Wilson. One did not have to enroll in the entire curriculum to participate in individual classes. An unorthodox system to be sure, but one that had proved shockingly successful. August had to admit he admired Miss Hayward's business model. It was the sort of thing he looked for in the many acquisitions he made.
It was almost unfortunate that none of that would be enough to save the school. Which also evoked a peculiar feeling of regret if he thought about it for too long. And that was utterly unacceptable because inane emotion had no place in lucrative business, no matter how unforgettable Clara Hayward might be.
A hesitant knock on the door of his study interrupted his musings. "Yes?"
The heavy door swung open, and August was not a little startled to see his sister standing in the frame. He could probably count on one hand the number of times she had ever sought him out like this, and her presence sent a rush of pleasure through him. "Anne." He set the quill and knife aside and pushed himself to his feet. "Come in."
She was dressed in a simple, soft blue day dress, which matched her eyes almost perfectly. Her hair, the same shade as his, was pulled back neatly to frame her round face. She advanced into the room, clutching what looked like a small ledger against her chest.
"To what do I owe the good fortune of your company?" August asked with genuine happiness.
"I came to thank you," she said politely.
"Ah, was your new gown delivered?" He had seen the fabric on display in a draper's window on Bond Street, and the brilliant cerulean color had stopped him in his tracks. He had known instantly that Anne would look stunning in the shimmering silk. He'd taken it at once to the modiste who crafted all Anne's clothing, and the woman had turned the silk into an exquisite ball gown worthy of royalty. It was to have been delivered this morning. "Do you like it?"
She hesitated. "Yes, thank you. The gown is lovely." She adjusted her grip on her sketchbook.
"Is something wrong with it?" He frowned at her hesitation.
"It's just…Honestly, it's too much. August, I already have more gowns than I can possibly wear."
"You can never have enough. You deserve it. You saw the necklace that goes with it?" He had found the exotic, smoke-colored pearls the day after he had found the fabric.
"Yes, the pearls were lovely too. I don't think a princess could find fault. Thank you, August."
August smiled. They were indeed fit for a princess. Or his sister. "Wear them as often as you like. Or put them in your trousseau. Though when you're wed, I'll make sure your husband buys you more."
Anne bit her lip and looked away. August stifled a sigh. He shouldn't have brought that up. The topic of marriage always seemed to be a prickly one with Anne, but it was his duty as her brother and as her guardian to make sure she found a man worthy of her. "You're almost nineteen. You'll be married in a couple of years. I know I've said it before, and you probably don't want to hear it again, but you need to consider your future."
"The future that you're planning." It came out dully.
August shook his head. He had seen firsthand exactly what happened when a good woman married a wastrel. He would not allow his sister to make their mother's mistakes. "The future that I care about," he corrected her. "The gentlemen I suggested to you are good men, Anne. Kind, loyal, wise, and decent men. Any one of them would make an excellent husband."
Anne's lips thinned even more. "They're old."
"Hardly. But they are titled and have the respect of the ton."
"And do I get a say in whom you marry?" Anne snapped.
"I am well aware of my own responsibilities to the duchy, Anne. Responsibilities that I will meet at the appropriate time. You do not need to remind me." He could see the stubborn tilt of her chin and tried to rein in his frustration. "It's my job to take care of you."
His sister looked away, her knuckles going white where they gripped her book. "I am quite capable of taking care of myself. I did it for years, if you recall."
Old guilt needled, and August shoved it aside. He did not have the power to remedy the past, but he certainly had the power to dictate the future. "I know. But you don't have to anymore. I'm here now."
Anne's eyes snapped back to him, sparking with irritation. Her cheeks reddened, and she opened her mouth to say something before seeming to reconsider. "I don't wish to fight with you, August."
"Nor do I wish to fight with you. But you have to trust that I know what's best for you."
"What's best for me?" she repeated softly, shaking her head. "Or best for you?"
"I came to see you because I had some ideas for the Trenton," she said abruptly, opening the book she carried to where a strip of satin ribbon had been laid to mark the page.
August blinked at the sudden change of topic. "The Trenton?"
"Yes. The hotel you own on Bond Street?"
"I am familiar with it," August replied succinctly, trying to keep from frowning. What did Anne care about the hotel? "What sort of ideas?"
Anne looked down at the pages of her book. "Well, for one, our fresh fish supplier has increased his prices by almost fifty percent over the last ten months. Unless he is gifting us with the golden nets he must be using, I think we should look for a different vendor." She flipped a page. "Also," she continued, "there is a small laundry a street over from the hotel that has come for sale. It's already proven itself extremely profitable. I think we should buy it, not only for its existing business, but we could add complimentary laundry to Trenton's guest services. Most of our hotel's patrons are officers and military sorts, and we are in direct competition with Stephen's Hotel. I think this might give us an edge—"
"Anne," August interrupted her, "where is all this coming from?"
She looked up at him earnestly. "Mr. Down had the books out yesterday, and I just took a small peek. I think that—"
"You don't have to concern yourself with these things, Anne," he said firmly. "I will take care of those sorts of details, or I will instruct my very capable man of business to do so." And he would instruct Duncan Down to keep the books away from Anne in the future. She didn't need to worry about money. She would never, ever need to worry about money again. August had made sure of that.
"But I just—"
"I want you to enjoy whatever it is that you wish to amuse yourself with. Music, reading, riding. Anything you like."
"I won't argue about this with you, Anne." His eyes fell on the book she still held and the loose piece of foolscap tucked into it. "Is that a sketch?"
Anne's expression had become tight. "It's nothing."
"May I see it?" August ignored the harshness of her words.
Anne's fingers tightened on the edges of the pages, and her forehead creased before she loosened her grasp and handed him the book. "If you must."
August took the book from her hands and studied the drawing, realizing it wasn't really a drawing at all but a mock-up of a tavern sign. He recognized the name and the graceful swan that dominated the center instantly, because he owned that tavern too. If a sign were to be crafted the way this one was drawn, he had to admit that it would be a vast improvement over the one that currently hung above the tavern's entrance.
It had been a while since he had looked at Anne's work, and the precision and detail of the drawing jumped off the page at him. Each line was deliberate and sure, perfectly executed perspective giving it a three-dimensional appearance that almost made him believe he could touch the object. He frowned slightly.
"You don't like it?" Anne asked in a stilted voice.
August cursed his lack of attention to his expression and schooled his features back into neutrality. "On the contrary. The drawing and design are extraordinarily accomplished. You have a very keen eye."
Anne's lips pulled into a smile, and a faint blush touched her cheeks. "Thank you."
August glanced up at her. That thank-you had been far more heartfelt than the one she had offered him for a silk gown and a string of pearls. He looked down at the pages again. "Yet why are you drawing tavern signs?"
"Because the one that exists right now is appalling. The swan looks like a bat that's had its neck stretched. It gives an otherwise tidy establishment a shabby appearance, and it should be replaced." The smile wavered, and a faintly defiant note had crept into her answer.
August looked down at the book again. On the page that had been hidden by the loose sketch was what resembled a blueprint. A careful schematic drawing of rooms in what looked like the layout of an inn. "What's this?" he asked, tilting the book so she could see.
Her defiant look stayed firmly in place. "A drawing of what the main floor of the Trenton would look like if I had any say."
August stared at her, flummoxed. "What's wrong with it the way it is?"
"What isn't wrong with it? The dining room is completely undersized and stuck at the back of the building like an afterthought. The kitchens might as well be on the other side of the world—your serving staff spend hours in a day walking unnecessary miles back and forth. And the lobby is about as welcoming as the Tower of London. It's cold and stark. A hotel should be warm and welcoming." She paused. "Should I go on?"
"No. And a hotel should be clean and serviceable," August told her. "Unnecessary frills cost money." He stopped and shook his head. This was ridiculous. He wasn't about to debate the merits of running a hotel with his sister. He held up the two drawings. "You're so talented, Anne. Why don't you consider applying your talents to portraits? Landscapes? Anything that you might share with other young ladies of the ton? You might be surprised at the friendships that are realized through a common interest." August knew Anne had had lessons in watercolors and was more than competent, yet these pages were devoid of anything save stark lines of ink and graphite, almost mathematical in their precision.
"I've considered it."
"They hold little interest to me." She reached out and snatched her book back. "Landscapes or the young ladies of the ton who go along with them."
August suppressed a groan. "Anne, I—"
"Your Grace?" A brisk knock on his door accompanied the question, and a man with a mop of slightly windblown hair stuck his head into the study. "Oh, my apologies, Your Grace, Lady Anne. I didn't realize you were both in here. I'll come back—"
"No need, Mr. Down," Anne replied. "I was just on my way out." She glanced back at August, folding her precious book under her arm. "Thank you again for…everything."
"You're welcome," August replied, once again at a loss. He put the drawing of the tavern sign on his desk with a sigh.
"Goodbye, August," she said with finality, hesitating just before the door. "And good day to you, Mr. Down," she murmured, and then she was gone.
Duncan Down eyed her retreating form before turning back to August with a respectful, if sympathetic, look. "Shall I come back at a better time, Your Grace?"
"No," he said tersely as he went to the sideboard to pour himself a very stiff drink. "Brandy, Mr. Down?" He glanced behind him as he poured.
"Appreciate it." His man of business paused at the desk and glanced in dismay at the untidy pile of shavings from the shaft of the newly sharpened quill. "I can purchase you a new set of quills, you know," he remarked. "There is no need to use each until it is a barely recognizable stub. I just finished with your monthly ledgers, and I can assure you that there is more than enough capital to purchase an entire flock of birds, as well as the continent on which they might be found. Just yesterday I saw a lovely set made from swan—"
"Nothing wrong with that quill. Still works just fine. And no point wasting money on swan feathers when ordinary goose writes just as well."
"Yet you buy South Pacific pearls when you could have purchased—"
"Those were a gift for Lady Anne." August cut him off with a black look. "And nothing is too good for my sister."
"Of course, Your Grace."
"Though I will trouble you in the future to keep Lady Anne away from my monthly ledgers."
"She mentioned she took a peek at the books when you had them out yesterday. She was worried about the price of fish being sold to the Trenton, of all things." August scowled. "My sister should not have to worry about the price of anything ever again, Mr. Down. Do you understand?"
Duncan was silent for a second too long before he said, "Of course, Your Grace."
"Is she right?" August asked, almost as an afterthought. "About the increase?"
"She is. I was going to bring it to your attention today."
"Then I trust you will deal with our greedy fishmonger. Get rid of him."
"Would you like me to inquire as to whether he would reconsider his prices? He has, after all, been providing us with a good product for almost three years—"
"Then he's had three years to learn that I do not suffer fools. Find someone else."
Duncan inclined his head. "Consider it done, Your Grace."
"Good." August returned his attention to the glass in front of him before turning and handing it to Duncan.
"The contract to purchase the warehouses on the north side of the London docks will be ready for your signature this afternoon," Duncan said as he took a small sip of his brandy. "The East India Company has already expressed an interest in leasing the warehouse space, as well as their frustration that they were unable to purchase it first. I would reckon the value in those warehouses has just increased tenfold, should you consider selling in the future. As always, a sound and very profitable investment, Your Grace."
August waved his hand impatiently. "I don't wish to talk about fish vendors or warehouses at the moment, Mr. Down." He stalked over to the door and shoved it closed with his foot before returning to his desk and retrieving the deed to Haverhall. He trusted Duncan with his life but his servants about as far as he could throw them. The ease with which he had obtained information over the years from servants everywhere, either by shrewd conversation or simple coin, had taught him that lesson.
August placed the deed in the center of his desk. He jabbed his finger into the middle of it. "I want you to tell me what you were able to discover about this."
For all of Duncan's talents in law and accounting, his true gift lay in his ability to uncover information from places one did not even know existed. Places a duke could not venture without people taking note. He was a man whose boyish face was rarely noticed and easily forgotten, and it hid a razor-sharp mind. His gentle nature, accompanied by the canny application of charm and coin, made him seem always a friend and never a threat. And no matter what August had asked of him, he had never disappointed.
His man of business took his time settling himself into one of the wide upholstered chairs that sat near the corner of the desk and gave August a long look. "I must ask, Your Grace, was this a test for me?" he asked.
"I beg your pardon?"
"In the course of my inquiries, I was advised that you are already acquainted with Miss Hayward."
August felt a muscle working along the edge of his jaw as he wondered exactly what his man of business had been told. "We crossed paths years and years ago. I haven't seen her since, so I hardly think that qualifies as 'acquainted.'"
"So your previous…encounter was not why you agreed so easily to the absolute secrecy of the sale?"
August set his glass down on the corner of his desk with an irritated thump. "I would have danced an Irish jig naked on the back of an ass if it had been a condition that would see Haverhall finally become mine." He crossed his arms over his chest. "And I would have insisted on confidentiality even if the Haywards hadn't." Almost all of August's holdings were already acquired anonymously through subsidiary companies that he had crafted, not easily traced back to the duchy. That make it easier for the competent individuals he hired to manage his investments on his behalf, and he did not like to advertise the extent of his empire.
August snatched his glass up again. "So no, my previous encounter did not influence my decision to accept her terms. Nor has it provided me the reason why Clara Hayward suddenly and inexplicably decided to sell what seems to amount to her purpose in life. That was your job."
"Ah. Well, I had to ask." Duncan suddenly grinned at him. "You were right, of course."
"When you said that there must be something more to the sale of the school."
August leaned forward impatiently. "Of course I was right."
Duncan took another slow sip of his brandy. "Were you aware that the current Baron Strathmore is a trained physician still practicing?"
"I was, yes." Another eccentricity of the Hayward clan that seemed to have been forgiven thanks to barrels of Strathmore money, though he wasn't sure what this had to do with Haverhall.
"Did you know that he served during the Waterloo campaign?"
"Hmm. That I did not know."
"Departed immediately after he was widowed, though the accepted story seems to be that he spent his period of mourning simply traveling."
"His wife was a shrew. Given what happened at the end of their marriage, I can understand why he might jump at the chance to shoot things. Therapeutic, I might suggest."
Duncan examined the edge of his glass. "He didn't shoot things. He served as a battlefield surgeon."
- "If you read one historical romance this year, make sure it's this one. I can not wait to see what comes next in this series. Final Grade-A."—FictionVixen.com
- "Oh reader, there's so much to love about A Duke in the Night - and this review only scratches the surface. The love story and lovely tribute to early feminism are both fabulous and so well done. Elegant, romantic and engaging, A Duke in the Night is one of the best romance novels of 2018."—AllAboutRomance.com
- "4 1/2 Stars! Top Pick! What a way to start the Devils of Dover series! Bowmen strikes all the right chords with readers: touching emotional highs with powerful storytelling. Readers will adore the dark playboy and the smart, witty heroine who teaches him a lesson (a la Pretty Woman). This is a book not only to savor, but a keeper that will stay in your heart."—RTBookReviews.com
- "Wonderful! A charming, clever, and engaging storyteller not to be missed."—Sarah MacLean, New York Times bestselling author
- "Where have you been all my life, Kelly Bowen? If Julia Quinn, Sarah MacLean, and Lisa Kleypas were to extract their writing DNA, mix it in a blender, and have a love child, Kelly Bowen would be it."—HeroesandHeartbreakers.com
- "[T]he fun, intrigue, and romance crescendo in a whopping plot twist. Bowen's Regency romances are always delightful, and this is one of her best yet."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Between the Devil and the Duke
- "Bowen delivers another winner with scandalous heroines and roguish heroes in her A Season for Scandal series. Combining intelligent and somewhat unconventional characters with a clever plot and a bit of suspense, Bowen captures readers' interest from the intriguing beginning to the expected HEA."—RT Book Reviews on Between the Devil and the Duke
- On Sale
- Feb 20, 2018
- Page Count
- 336 pages