By Kelly Bowen
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Elise deVries is not what she seems. By night, the actress captivates London theatergoers with her chameleon-like ability to slip inside her characters. By day, she uses her mastery of disguise to work undercover for Chegarre & Associates, an elite agency known for its discreet handling of indelicate scandals. But when Elise is tasked with locating the missing Duke of Ashland, she finds herself center stage in a real-life drama.
Noah Ellery left the glamour of the London aristocracy to pursue a simpler life in the country. He’s managed to avoid any complications or entanglements-that is, until he lays eyes on Elise and realizes there’s more to this beautiful woman than meets the eye. But when Elise reveals her real identity-and her true feelings for him-the runaway duke must confront the past he left behind . . . to keep the woman he loves forever.
I consider myself one of the luckiest of all authors; to have such an incredible and talented team behind each and every book is a truly wonderful and humbling experience. Thank you to my agent, Stefanie Lieberman, who has always steered me the right way, and my editor, Alex Logan, who knows how to make each story just that much better.
Thank you also to Elizabeth Turner for gifting my stories with such incredible covers. And to the entire team at Forever—my books would not be what they are without you.
And as always, a heartfelt thanks to my family for their unflagging support and encouragement.
London, August 1819
Miriam Ellery, Dowager Duchess of Ashland, had her ankles chained to her bed.
It was for her own protection, the steward at Bedlam said. The chains prevented her from wandering too far, and possibly killing herself or another patient. Aye, she might not look dangerous, he warned, but you could never really tell when a madwoman might succumb to unnatural and violent impulses.
Elise DeVries looked on without comment from the narrow doorway. Her brown wig itched her head terribly, as did the stiff mustache and beard pasted to her upper lip and jaw. The arms of the spectacles she wore pinched at her scalp, digging into the tender skin just above her ears. But as she contemplated the pathetic figure of the chained duchess in front of her, Elise could not give credit to her own discomforts.
“What do you think, Doctor?” the steward asked, wiping his nose with the back of his sleeve.
I think you are every sort of fool, Elise wanted to say.
The very notion that the frail, elderly woman sitting slumped on the bed might injure another patient was absurd. It would be a miracle if the duchess could actually lift one of her legs under the weight of the heavy shackles, much less run amok through the hospital, endangering its inhabitants.
“These sorts of cases can indeed be tricky,” Elise said instead, pitching her voice low in the same manner she sometimes used when performing on the stage. “How long has Her Grace been a patient here?” She ordered herself to concentrate.
“I was forced to bring my aunt to this place about a month ago,” said Francis Ellery, nephew to the Duchess of Ashland. He put his hands on his hips, looming over Elise and the slight steward.
“Forced?” Elise prompted, trying to draw out Ellery’s motives for committing his aunt to Bedlam’s care.
“Her condition had deteriorated to the point where she could no longer look after herself, even with the assistance of servants. Someone had to do something,” he said, just a little too smoothly.
Something, indeed, Elise thought to herself.
“Has she no husband?” she asked, feigning ignorance. She, like most everyone who read the papers, knew very well that the eleventh Duke of Ashland had recently died. Two years ago a seizure of some sort had left the old duke’s muscles flaccid and had stripped him of his ability to speak and walk. Afterward he and his wife had both withdrawn from society. As far as Elise knew, Ashland had never recovered his faculties.
“The duke has passed on,” Ellery informed her gravely. “I am quite devastated by the loss, as are all his closest companions.”
Elise very much doubted that Francis Ellery, who, at the moment, stood to inherit the dukedom of Ashland, was at all devastated by his uncle’s death.
“What a shame,” tsked Elise. “And there are no children to look after the duchess?” she asked, turning her head in Ellery’s direction.
“Only a daughter who has been estranged from her parents for over a decade.” He shook his head sadly. “I am afraid it has been left to me to care for them in these difficult times.”
“Mmm.” Elise pretended to observe the duchess, tilting her chin this way and that. But it was Ellery whom she studied covertly. And the more she saw, the more her instincts recoiled. At first she couldn’t say precisely why he repulsed her. Ellery was a perfectly groomed specimen of the ton with nary a blond hair nor a silk thread out of place. Nothing in his appearance branded him as someone overtly callous or cruel, or suggested he was the villain Elise rather suspected him to be. In truth, his expression was one of martyred benevolence, as if he truly believed himself to be an angel of mercy when it came to the welfare of his aunt.
Still, Ellery’s eyes gave her pause. No matter how much duty and compassion he was trying to convey, the hard, raw ambition that seethed there was hard to miss. Elise had met many men with these very same eyes. And where they were concerned, she always trusted her gut.
“Have you tried to locate the daughter?” Elise asked. “Surely she would—”
“No. There is no point,” Ellery interrupted. “Her Grace’s daughter has been cut from the fabric of her life. From all of our lives. I have not seen her, nor do I expect to.”
You are lying, Mr. Ellery. Elise gazed at him impassively. But why?
For it had been the duchess’s daughter, Lady Abigail, who had arrived at Elise’s office earlier in the week, frantic, desperate, and seeking help. It seemed Abigail had received a letter from the family’s longtime and loyal housekeeper, informing her that the duke had died and that the duchess had been committed to Bedlam. Lady Abigail had hastened to the city, only to find the world she had left behind in London was now inaccessible to her. She’d been barred from her childhood home by Mr. Ellery and denied access to her mother by the doctors here at Bedlam. After several desperate days of making no progress whatsoever, and unable to find a sympathetic ear among her former friends, she’d been beside herself. Not knowing what else to do and with no one else to turn to, she’d hired Elise.
Which was why Elise now found herself in the bowels of Bedlam, wondering why an aging woman, who was of sound mind and relatively good health according to her daughter, had found herself chained to a bed in a hospital for lunatics. And wondering just how difficult it was going to be to get her out.
It had been necessary for Elise to call in a favor from a prominent London doctor, who had provided her with false credentials and a glowing letter of introduction, which together had secured her entry into Bedlam. Presenting herself as Dr. Emmett Rowley, a member of the Royal College of Physicians, she’d been granted access to examine Miriam Ellery. To deflect suspicion she’d selected three other random blue-blooded patients to examine, provided that the nearest relatives of these women did not object.
Elise had already seen the patients she was pretending to observe today, and none of the families of those other women had interfered or objected. None of them had even cared enough to respond to the notices the directors of Bedlam had sent to their homes. The fact that Her Grace’s nephew had refused to allow Dr. Rowley to see his aunt unless he was also present during the exam with a steward of his choosing did not bode well. Elise was quite sure that there was a specific and self-serving reason that Francis Ellery had imprisoned his aunt in this place. She just didn’t know what it was yet.
Elise glanced about at the private cell. “Her care must cost a fortune, sir,” she remarked casually.
“I wish only to provide the best for my beloved aunt,” Ellery said, clasping his hands behind his back.
“Mr. Ellery is a generous benefactor to the hospital,” the steward added.
Elise pivoted back to the steward. To the hospital or to you? She wondered just how much of Ellery’s generosity slipped into the pockets of the duchess’s gaolers.
“Does Her Grace receive many visitors?” Elise asked next. “Friends?”
The steward shook his head. “No, she is too far gone for any visitors, Dr. Rowley. With this sort of condition, you can’t have distraction, can you, sir? And it would interfere with Her Grace’s treatment, of course.”
“Of course.” Elise nodded in feigned agreement. It wasn’t just her daughter, then, who was forbidden to see her. It seemed the duchess had effectively been cut off from civilization as a whole. Why?
Elise pretended to make a note in the book she was carrying. Addressing the steward again, she asked, “And what are the signs and effects of the duchess’s condition?”
“She is unable to remember recent events, even those that happened mere minutes ago. She often confuses individuals with people from her past. Babbles a great deal about things that happened twenty years ago as though they happened yesterday. The poor soul even insists her son is alive.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Ellery tense. That was interesting.
Lady Abigail had mentioned she was the lone survivor of two siblings, and it had been easy enough to check parish records to confirm the live birth of one Noah Ellery, the only son of the late Duke of Ashland. Yet the details surrounding Noah’s death were vague. At some point someone had written the words presumed deceased next to his name in the church register. But there was no date, no reference to a riding accident, a hunting mishap, an illness, or any other cause. The implication was that he had simply…vanished.
“But she’s wrong, I take it? That is to say, her son is, in fact, dead?” Elise asked, feigning ignorance once again.
“Yes,” said the steward. He continued in a hushed tone, “But ’twere probably for the best anyhow. That young gentleman was never right in the head either.”
“I beg your pardon?” This time Elise didn’t have to pretend confusion.
The steward suddenly realized he might have said too much and glanced anxiously at Ellery. But the man looked pleased.
“It’s true,” Francis sighed heavily, and dropped his voice. “My cousin was touched from birth. I suppose it isn’t surprising that his poor mother now suffers the same mental defect.”
Elise did her best to conceal her shock and keep an expression of mild interest fixed on her face. “Another hysteric in the family? Interesting.” Elise pretended to make another notation in her book, if only to hide her annoyance that Lady Abigail hadn’t mentioned this. Nor had it come up in her investigation. Which was vexing, if it was indeed true. “What were your cousin’s symptoms, may I ask?”
“He was unable to speak. Can you imagine? A duke’s son reduced to using hand gestures just like the monkeys in a menagerie. Just as well he died, I suppose.” Ellery shook his head with more regret. “Certainly there was no cure for what ailed Noah.”
Elise weighed this new information. Assuming it was true that Noah Ellery had been mad, it might explain the lack of precision in the church register. If the heir to a dukedom suffered an obvious mental deficiency, the family might indeed take measures to ensure such a child faded conveniently into the ether. And what was more, the family might then find a way to blot the child’s name from the records. Money could rewrite history. Elise knew that better than anyone.
“Madness is something that quite obviously runs along this branch of the family,” the steward piped up. “Through the maternal side in this case. I always say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“Terribly distressing,” Mr. Ellery said. “I must confess I am relieved that my relation is a paternal one.”
“As you should be, sir,” said Elise. “But what of the daughter? Did she show signs of such madness when you were acquainted with her?”
“Well, she did abandon everything to elope with a blacksmith and run away to Derby. And that was after she took the patronesses of Almack’s to task for their comments surrounding her fraternization with the lower classes. In a single public rant, Lady Abigail committed social suicide. Doesn’t have a friend left in London. Unless, of course, you count the blacksmiths of the city.” Mr. Ellery chuckled darkly. He seemed to find his little joke exceedingly funny.
“Ah. Perhaps a temporary spell of lunacy?” Elise suggested, her lips quirking.
Ellery looked delighted at this notion, just as Elise had known he would. “Most likely.”
The steward was rubbing his hands. “Well, I can tell you this,” he said. “The duchess will become more and more removed from reality unless she receives vigorous and sustained treatment. Purges, cold water treatments, and restrictions in diet—all of these must be applied in rotation if there’s to be any hope of recovery.”
Elise suppressed a shudder. “Indeed.”
The steward shook his head. “The madness must be driven out, and sometimes it takes extremes to do so. She is a danger to others until it is, and as such, she must remain here.”
Elise nodded. “I’d like to interview her.”
Ellery frowned. “As you can see, Dr. Rowley, she’s in no condition to talk.”
“I’d like to ascertain that for myself.” Elise allowed a tiny note of suspicion to bleed into her question. “No other family had a problem with this. Is there something you are hiding?”
“Of course not.” Ellery looked on unhappily.
“Excellent. I shan’t be more than a few minutes.” Elise pushed by him before he had a chance to protest further.
“Do not get too close,” Ellery warned. “I cannot be responsible for your safety from this point. The woman is quite unpredictable, you know.”
“Thank you for your concern,” Elise murmured, resisting the urge to turn and unpredictably kick the man in the shins.
Elise left the men at the doorway and approached the duchess, crouching in front of her so that they were almost eye to eye. While they were in this position, neither the steward nor Ellery would hear anything that was said between them. “Your Grace?” Elise asked softly, trying not to look at the chains that bound the duchess. Elise had once known what it was like to be held captive. She knew the feeling of utter helplessness that came with such restraint. And it made her even more determined to see this woman freed. “Your Grace?” she asked again, with renewed determination.
The duchess continued to stare at the wall, her lips moving slightly as though she was reciting a silent prayer, her grey hair falling in untidy clumps around her ears. Elise realized the woman had been drugged. She’d seen too many opium addicts not to recognize the signs.
Elise set her book aside and reached out, gathering the woman’s cold, thin hands in hers. “Abigail sent me,” Elise whispered. “Will you speak with me?”
The duchess turned from the wall then. Her eyes were red, but they met Elise’s with no hesitation. “Abigail sent you?” she asked in a voice that sounded as though it hadn’t been used in some time. “Where is she? Why isn’t she here?”
“She wanted to be,” Elise said, searching for signs of mental defect but finding none. All she saw was exhaustion and dulled confusion. “She isn’t allowed to visit you. But she sent me to make sure you were all right.”
“Are you a doctor?”
Elise smiled under her mustache. “I am today.”
The duchess’s eyes became a little sharper. “Francis wants to see me die in here,” she said, straightening her spine. “But Abigail won’t let that happen. There’s nothing wrong with me, and they all know it. Abigail will fetch Noah.”
Elise stilled. “Your son?”
The duchess tipped her head, her eyes losing their focus, her brief lucidity slipping away.
Elise cursed inwardly. “But your son is dead.”
“Dead, dead, dead,” the duchess mumbled in a singsong voice. “He’s not dead. Just…gone.” Her words slurred slightly.
Elise wanted to shake her but was careful to keep her expression neutral. “Gone where, Your Grace?”
“I never got him back,” she replied, and there were tears tracking down her haggard cheeks now.
Elise stared at her. What did that mean?
The duchess was quiet for a few moments, and Elise wasn’t sure if the woman was even aware of her presence now.
“He gave me roses for my birthday when he was seven,” the duchess said suddenly, a wistful expression on her face. The slur had vanished, but she sounded distant now. “Not a bouquet, but an entire garden of damask roses. Fickle things, damask roses. But Noah grew them. That child could make anything grow. Such a sweet boy.”
“Where is he now, Your Grace?” Elise prodded. Was it possible that the duchess was telling the truth? That the rightful heir to the dukedom of Ashland was still alive? Or was this a desperate, drugged wish, wrought by the grief and sorrow of a mother who had lost a son? “Where is Noah now?” Elise repeated.
The duchess was silent for nearly a full minute before her shoulders slumped forward once again. “Who are you?” she asked Elise. “Are you another doctor?”
Elise closed her eyes briefly. “Yes,” she replied.
“I don’t want to go in the cold water again,” the duchess pleaded, and her voice shook. “Where is Abigail?”
“She’s coming,” Elise told her. “She’s coming as soon as she can so you can go home.”
“I don’t want to stay here anymore.” Withered, bent fingers clawed at Elise’s own hands.
“You won’t have to. I promise.” She said it knowing promises were dangerous things. Especially when Elise was sure another month in this place would kill the duchess.
“I’m very tired,” the duchess whispered.
“I know.” Elise stood, and the woman’s hands fell away from hers to rest lifelessly on her faded skirts.
Elise took stock of her surroundings—the heavy stone walls and the thick bars of the gates. This room was a heavily fortified dungeon, and it would be exceedingly difficult to break its prisoner out. Not impossible, of course, for Elise felt certain that there were many inside this place who could be bribed and leveraged if it came to that. But such things took time, especially when Elise did not have any established contacts. And the duchess did not have the luxury of time.
Ellery cleared his throat loudly behind Elise. “I think that is enough,” he said. “It is clear that my aunt has been fatigued.”
“Indeed.” Elise retrieved her notebook from the floor, careful to school her expression.
“What did you discover about this patient?” the steward demanded as Elise approached him. Behind him Ellery was watching her keenly.
That she has been dosed with narcotics, probably by you. That she might harbor knowledge that would prevent Mr. Francis Ellery from getting what he wants.
“Her ladyship is clearly delusional,” Elise said, choosing her words with care and telling the men everything they wanted to hear. “Confuses the present with the past, has only scant moments of lucidity, and is unable to recall even the most recent conversations.”
As expected, both men relaxed. “So you see why the duchess must remain here, don’t you?” Ellery prompted.
Elise didn’t trust herself to answer. Instead she flipped open her notebook and scribbled Where is Noah Ellery? If only to keep herself from saying something she might regret later.
“Did you wish to see any of the other patients while you are here today, Dr. Rowley?” the steward asked. “We have one who thinks he’s a dog. Barks till the wee hours of the morning and will only eat off the floor.” He chuckled. “Most entertaining. A pity the public can no longer pay to witness it.”
Elise took a steadying breath. “No, that will be all for me today. My area of interest is confined to ladies of pedigree.”
“My thanks for your time, gentlemen.” She forced the words through her lips. “I’ll take my leave now.”
“Suit yourself.” He frowned. “What hospital are you with again, Doctor? The directors didn’t say.”
Elise took a last look at the defeated, confused woman still sitting on the edge of her bed. “Neither did I,” she said, and then hurried back toward the maze of corridors that would take her out of Bedlam.
* * *
Francis Ellery watched the detestable doctor go with a curl to his lip.
He was both pleased and relieved that the doctor had seen exactly what Francis had wanted him to see, but the insufferable arrogance and disrespect that he’d used to address Francis was enough to make him see red. But that would soon change.
His father had always been fond of telling Francis he’d been relieved that the burden of the duchy of Ashland had fallen on his older brother’s shoulders. Being a younger son was a blessing. It had freed him from a landslide of responsibility and allowed him the liberty to choose how he lived his life and even whom he married. Being a duke wasn’t as glamorous as one might think.
His father had been an idiot.
Not only did the Ashland title come with mind-boggling wealth, it came with power trumped only by the bloody monarchy. What sort of man would not want those things?
And now all of that could be his. Francis wanted—no, needed—it all. He was so close, he could almost taste it. The old duke had died. Francis’s father was dead. There was only one thing stopping the courts from handing over everything Francis had ever wanted.
And that was his lunatic of a cousin. Who was very inconveniently missing.
Missing wasn’t good enough for the courts to transfer the peerage from Noah Ellery to Francis Ellery. Missing wasn’t even good enough to transfer any of the duchy’s properties and wealth. Especially with the duchess running her mouth, trumpeting to anyone who would listen that her precious son was still alive.
Francis had certainly taken care of that problem. He’d then turned his attention to the one remaining and sought the sort of help that a situation like this required. That sort of help was expensive, but would be worth every penny in the end. If Noah Ellery was alive, he would be found.
And if the courts wanted a body, he would give them one.
The offices of Chegarre & Associates were tucked into the clutter of Covent Square, hidden in plain sight in the shadow of St Paul’s Church. The long piazzas that lined the raucous marketplace were crowded today, as they were every day. And being that the Covent Square neighborhood was populated largely by those who made their living as entertainers, of both the artistic and the intimate persuasion, the tenements saw traffic that ebbed and flowed at all hours of the day and night. No one had the interest or the time to notice the comings and goings of Elise DeVries. Which was exactly how she wanted it.
There was no sign outside the shabby-fronted building that housed Chegarre & Associates, nor did the consultancy advertise its services in the Times. Even so, every person in the ton—and many outside it—knew about Chegarre and the secret miracles it worked for its clients.
Chegarre & Associates was a firm dedicated to fixing the private and personal problems of the very public people who were wealthy enough to afford Chegarre’s astronomical fees. When faced with the threat of humiliation, scandal, or dishonor, one could do no better than to avail oneself of Chegarre’s expert team for a solution. Elise had been a partner in the firm for just over five years, and there was little that surprised her any longer. She’d covertly tidied up inconvenient deaths, separated scandalous lovers, quashed illicit affairs, shut down illegal businesses, foiled kidnappings and extortion plots, and helped to zero out debts and addictions. The firm was masterful at making scandal simply disappear.
Which was not to say that resolving the Ashland matter would be easy.
- "This isn't a Regency comedy of manners. It's way better. This bright, surprising romance sets aside the intricate social rules and focuses on forging trust and love even when it seems like the whole world is against you."—Best Romance of August selection, The Amazon Book Review
- "Top Pick! 4 1/2 Stars! The powerful emotions, action, adventure and passion are what readers desire, and Bowen delivers, and brings readers her most memorable characters yet. Many will cherish this beautifully rendered tale."—RT Book Reviews
- "A Duke to Remember has everything you want in a romance...a truly satisfying happily ever after that will leave you misty-eyed."—BookPage.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
- "Fans of Julia Quinn and Sarah MacLean will adore Kelly Bowen!"—Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author
- On Sale
- Jul 26, 2016
- Page Count
- 368 pages