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Never Surrender to a Scoundrel
By Lily Dalton
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Format:ebook $1.99 $2.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 27, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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A ONE SCANDALOUS SEASON NOVEL
A Reckless Desire . . .
Lady Clarissa Bevington is in trouble. A reckless indiscretion has left her with two choices: ruin her family with the scandal of the Season, or marry Mr. Kincraig, the notorious scoundrel mistaken as her lover. Desperate and disgraced, Clarissa vows to love and cherish a veritable stranger, a man whose eyes smolder with danger-and undeniable desire . . .
An Unexpected Arrangement
As an agent for the Crown, Lord Donovan Blackmer has spent the last two years guarding Clarissa’s grandfather from an unknown assassin while disguised as the rakehell Kincraig. His mission may now be over, but his duty has just begun. Salvaging his beautiful, impetuous wife’s virtue will cost him his fortune and his position as an officer-but it might save him from the ghosts that haunt his own past. When their marriage “in name only” leads to exquisite seduction, Donovan must risk the only thing he has left to lose . . . his heart.
The third book in a trilogy series has a lot of expectations riding on it. As an author, you want to give your reader everything they’re hoping for in a “grand finale” and make them yearn for the next adventure. So, reader, this book is for you. Thank you for loving the Bevington sisters as much as I did and for celebrating their Happily Ever Afters alongside me. Thank you for all the e-mails, Facebook posts, and Twitter mentions. But most of all, thank you for loving books and romance!
Thank you also to Kim Lionetti, my spectacular agent! I treasure the encouragement you always provide and the confidence you place in me. Also, the awesome sushi (and handsome waiters) you have such a knack for finding.
Next…I’m not just throwing out words when I say the One Scandalous Season series would not have been possible without Michele Bidelspach, a truly amazing editor who always sees beyond all my tangled, imperfect efforts and helps me transform them into magic on the page and in readers’ minds. Thank you, Michele, for your spot-on guidance, for coaxing all those deeply buried emotions out of me, and for helping me learn the beauty of a gentler romantic conflict.
Thank you also to Forever publicist Julie Paulauski for her enthusiasm for each book and for making me feel like a rock star every time we have a new release. Thank you to Megha Parekh for answering so many questions and keeping me on track. Thanks also to the Hachette art department and production team for making these books shine.
I want to also thank all of my family for their support. Jana, I know this has been the toughest year ever, but I’m so proud of you, and of my brother and all our parents, for being the most amazing support system. You inspire me every day, and help me keep things in perspective.
This year marks 20 years that my “hero,” Eric, and I have been married. How can that be? And how can we have two fantastic kids who are now both taller than me? It seems to have happened in a blink. I love you all.
What do you mean, ‘it seems Mr. Kincraig isn’t our cousin after all’?” Clarissa Bevington asked, shocked, looking between her grandfather, the elderly Earl of Wolverton, and the tall, bearded man in question.
Holding true to his rakish reputation, Mr. Kincraig stared back bleary-eyed, with his jaw-length hair disheveled and wearing rumpled evening clothes. Obviously he had never made it home to his bachelor’s residence on Bennet Street the night before, which wasn’t at all a surprise.
“Why, Miss Bevington,” said Mr. Kincraig, one dark slash of an eyebrow raising higher. “Can it be that you are disappointed?”
“Me, disappointed?” She exhaled. “Certainly not.”
For almost two years, after Mr. Kincraig had been presented to the family by the earl’s investigators, they had all believed him to be their distant relation and sole heir to Wolverton’s title.
Indeed, the entire family stood in the earl’s library, having been gathered for what Wolverton had told them would be an important announcement.
The family included the earl’s widowed daughter-in-law, who was also Clarissa’s mother, Lady Margaretta, and the Duke of Claxton, who stood protectively beside his expectant duchess—Clarissa’s oldest sister, Sophia—who sat on a garnet-colored settee. Daphne, their middle sister, occupied the center cushion, her blond hair and bright blue eyes so similar in appearance to Clarissa’s that strangers often mistook them to be twins. Lord Blackmer, whom Daphne had married the month before in a thrilling turn of events, lowered himself to the vacant end of the settee beside his new wife, his gray eyes mirroring the same surprise reflected all around the room.
The only members of the family missing were Clarissa’s father, Lord Harwick, who had died three years earlier after being thrown from his startled horse, and her brother, Vinson, who had perished shortly after while at sea on a scientific expedition. Their deaths, while a great tragedy on the deepest emotional level, had also brought around the need to designate Wolverton’s heir, and that was the impetus that had brought a stranger—Mr. Kincraig—into their midst.
“That’s it, my dear girl.” He grinned devilishly. “Put on a brave face, so no one will know the heartache you’re suffering at hearing this dreadful news.”
“Oh, you!” she exclaimed, and eased back against the cushion of her chair, a flush rising into her cheeks at being singled out for his teasing. Truly, it never ceased, even in the most serious of moments. “There’s not one smidgeon of ache in my heart, I’m—I’m just surprised, that’s all.”
Surprised that Mr. Kincraig himself didn’t look more disappointed or heartachey.
After all, if he wasn’t Wolverton’s heir, he wouldn’t be inheriting the fortune and estates and éclat the title entailed. What man in his right mind wouldn’t be disappointed?
Ah, but this was Mr. Kincraig. He’d never embraced the idea of being an erudite gentleman. Not only did he persistently defy any normal expectations of decorum, he only reluctantly joined their ranks for any social or family occasion, usually just when commanded by Wolverton to do so—though more recently she’d believed his attitude toward them had warmed to a certain degree.
“I know this news comes as a shock.” The earl leaned forward in his chair, pressing the fingertips of both hands together. He spoke softly and tilted his balding head as if sharing regretful news, but Clarissa saw a brightness in his eyes that might be interpreted as relief. “Mr. Kincraig’s family tree is tangled, to say the least, and I don’t wish to go into the details—”
“Details most tawdry.” Mr. Kincraig grimaced, but in a comical way, where his frown wasn’t really a frown but a smile-frown, with one corner of his lips turned up. “Prurient, even. It seems my forebears were altogether devoid of moral conscience.”
Daphne rolled her eyes. “The apple did not fall far from the—”
“Daphne,” Lady Margaretta interrupted sternly.
At this, Clarissa almost giggled, but she subdued the response with a hand to her mouth.
Mr. Kincraig winked at her. “Apparently I did not.”
So unrepentantly wicked! There had always been a tiny—or gargantuan, in some instances—suspicion in the back of many heads that the young man had somehow fabricated his purported relation to Wolverton and that he was an imposter and fortune hunter, but the good humor Clarissa saw in him now put those accusations to rest.
Wolverton’s aged eyes crinkled at the corners as he glanced toward the man at his side. “Let us just say the evidence presented by my investigators is sufficient enough to disqualify Mr. Kincraig from being in line to inherit, in any form or fashion, the earldom.”
“What a relief,” muttered the duke in a cool tone. His Grace had never taken a liking to Mr. Kincraig.
Mr. Kincraig did not shy away from or ignore the comment. He shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest, appearing completely at peace. “For you and I both, Your Grace.”
Clarissa stared down at her hands, which lay crossed on her lap. Was she relieved, as Claxton and even Mr. Kincraig declared themselves to be?
Why wouldn’t she be? She and Mr. Kincraig had never been particularly close, though since his introduction to the family they had attained a certain ease of familiarity. With Sophia married and Daphne recently wed as well, she had gotten to know him better than the rest, on those occasions when he acted as her and her mother’s escort to this function or that. She felt quite certain she was the only one who appreciated his blackguard sense of humor, though she’d tried very hard not to let him or her mother know. Wasn’t it only normal that she should feel a little sad?
Also, too, she could not help but suspect he had come into their lives a wounded creature. Her own family had suffered such grief and loss in recent years. Perhaps for that reason she thought she recognized a certain hauntedness in the back of his eyes that no roguish smile or spoken humor could conceal.
Just then Lady Margaretta sighed from where she sat and with sparkling eyes peered up at Mr. Kincraig. “I know we have Michael, so our situation is not as dire as before, but—”
She spoke of Clarissa’s little nephew Michael, of whose existence they had only recently become aware along with other surprising secrets; namely, that Vinson, before his death, had entered into a clandestine but legal marriage with Lord Raikes’s sister, Laura, who had later died in childbirth. But from those dark tragedies had come great joy and hope, and the little boy was now a much-adored member of both families as well as Wolverton’s declared heir.
“—I confess that I, for one, am disappointed to hear this news.” She frowned, her lovely features darkened by regret. “No matter how you may feel about us, Mr. Kincraig, I’ve come to think of you as family.”
From his chair, Wolverton nodded and smiled warmly. “Indeed.”
Mr. Kincraig peered at Her Ladyship for a long moment. “Thank you, my lady. And thank you, Wolverton, as well.” He tilted his head in deference to the earl.
He looked about the room and offered a slight bow, which caused a thick lock of his overly long hair to swing down over his forehead, something Clarissa found unexpectedly endearing.
“Thank you all,” he said.
Emotion swelled in Clarissa’s throat. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him look so sincere, so unguarded by the wry, naughty humor she’d always suspected he wore as armor against the world. If only his cravat did not hang from his neck so inexpertly tied, like…like a grappling octopus! Her fingers itched to repair it, as she had done numerous times before.
Oh, it was true! Clarissa felt a deep stab of sadness that he was no longer part of their family.
Though Mr. Kincraig, since his arrival in London, had kept the family in constant fear that they would be humiliated or scandalized as a result of his love affairs, rakehell ways, and gambling debts, she…well, she actually liked him, and very much so. It had always been such fun to arrive at the party in the company of a pirate—at least that’s what she and her sisters had decided he looked like. All the ladies of the ton had been equal parts scandalized and enamored of him, a fact that had on more than one occasion turned a dull evening into an exceedingly entertaining one.
As a young lady expected to live her life within the strict dictates of society and rigid rules of decorum, she found it refreshing to know someone who simply didn’t care about all of that. Days were just…more interesting with Mr. Kincraig in them.
Perhaps, on a deeper level, her unexpected attachment had formed because she had already lost two family members who were very important to her and she did not wish to lose another, even to a less serious circumstance such as this. For his part, beneath Mr. Kincraig’s boisterousness and bravado, he seemed alone in the world, a man in need of a home and a family and love. After all this time in their midst he’d remained a mystery to them all…a mystery she’d always assumed they as a family would one day unravel and eventually embrace.
Now she feared they wouldn’t have that chance.
“What will you do now?” she asked, truly wanting to know.
He smiled. “That’s an easy question to answer. I’ll go abroad and seek my next great fortune. And the next, and the next.” He made a rolling gesture with his hands.
“There are indeed fortunes to be had,” said Lord Raikes.
Her new brother-in-law had himself been a prosperous saltpeter merchant in Bengal in the years before he came into his title.
“How soon will you depart?” inquired the duke, doing very well, Clarissa thought, not to sound overly eager.
“Soon,” Mr. Kincraig answered vaguely, nodding.
“You must visit,” Lady Margaretta declared, bright eyed. She fumbled in her skirts and dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes. “Every time you are in London.”
Clarissa nodded in agreement, even though Mr. Kincraig didn’t see.
He tilted his head. “I very much appreciate the invitation.”
At hearing his response, Clarissa frowned because he hadn’t actually accepted her mother’s invitation. Inside her chest, her heart grew heavy. Did that mean they would never see him again? That they would never know how his life turned out?
“I should be going then.” Suddenly Mr. Kincraig was taking his leave of them and offering polite good-byes all around.
“Stay for the luncheon,” insisted Lady Margaretta. Every Tuesday Her Ladyship hosted an informal luncheon in the small ornamental garden behind the house.
“Thank you, my lady, but I must decline,” he answered, bending over her hand.
A moment later, he offered a similar farewell to Clarissa. “Miss Bevington. A wonderful summer day to you.”
“To you as well,” she answered quietly.
Backing away, he smiled at her before pivoting on his heel and proceeding toward the door.
That was it? That was good-bye?
Was it good-bye, or would they see him again before he left town? She didn’t know.
Her pulse gave a little jump of anxiety, one she felt compelled to soothe by speaking to him at least one more time, to say something more sincere, more thoughtful than some decorous comment about a summer day.
She followed everyone else into the corridor, but Lady Margaretta blocked the way, pushing the earl’s wheeled wicker chair. By raising up onto her toes, she saw Mr. Kincraig caught in the small crowd of guests who had just then arrived for the luncheon. The elderly Lady Dundalk and Sir Keyes trundled past, arm in arm.
“Dear Clarissa, so good to see you,” said Lady Dundalk, reaching out to touch her hand. Today she wore a peacock blue satin toque, with a fan of dyed pink feathers on one side. “Come and tell me all about your week, my dear. The parties and balls and beaus.”
“I shall.” Clarissa smiled, sweeping past them. “I will join you in the garden in a moment.”
Mr. Kincraig…there, he strode past a potted palm in a large Chinese pot, in the opposite direction, toward the doors that would take him to the street. Footmen attended guests there, taking hats and walking sticks.
Rushing up behind him, she reached out and touched his sleeve. He half turned toward her, his expression far away, appearing as distracted as if his mind had already gone out the door and into the street. “Miss Bevington, yes? What is it?”
“Mr. Kincraig, you said you were leaving London soon—”
“But not before my come-out ball. You’ll be there, won’t you?”
“Me?” His eyes widened slightly.
“Yes, you. It’s an important night for me.” More important than anyone knew, though she couldn’t explain that to him or anyone now. Not yet. “I would like for you to be there.”
His mouth twisted. “Hmmm.”
His reluctance ruffled her. She was trying to do something nice, to reaffirm his welcome at family events, even though he wasn’t family anymore.
“You attended Daphne’s,” she reminded him, shameless in her attempt to make him feel guilty for hesitating for even a moment. “Don’t you wish to attend mine as well?”
She smiled brightly.
His lips moved, framed by his beard. “Remind me again of the pertinents, the date and time?”
Could he appear any less interested? Oh, he was so…Mr. Kincraig! Which was why she couldn’t truly be angry with him. His lack of concern over social matters was almost charming, in a subversive sort of way.
“It is one week hence on Thursday, the final week of the season,” she retorted lightly, resisting the urge to give his arm a good pinch. “You should know because you received an invitation last week, though I know for a fact you have not replied your intention to attend.”
He chuckled, and his brows came together. “Do you mean to say I’m on a list somewhere and that you’ve noticed there is not…what, a check or a ‘will attend’ inscribed beside my name? I’m so pleased you noticed.”
She huffed out a breath, exasperated. “Mother mentioned it, that’s all.”
His eyes widened and he smiled. “I know when your ball is. I am only teasing you, because you are so teaseable and believe everything I say, which by now I would think you would have learned better.”
“Mr. Kincraig!” The tension in her shoulders eased. She should have known. Yes, he was always teasing, and she believed his silliness every time. Why hadn’t she learned? Perhaps because she didn’t want to. “Well? Will you attend?”
“There’s so much I must do, in such a short amount of time. I must close up my residence, and—”
She scowled menacingly. “Mr. Kincraig.”
Already knowing he teased again. Now she teased as well.
His smile broadened into a grin. “Of course I will be there. I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Wonderful!” She smiled.
Because even though Mr. Kincraig wasn’t family after all, she wanted him present with everyone else to share in her good news. To celebrate the announcement.
In just one week, her perfectly wonderful, spectacular secret wouldn’t be a secret anymore. All of London would share in her joy. Her heart leapt at the thought. Indeed, she doubted her feet had touched the floor for days. Oh, she was bursting with it, but she couldn’t tell anyone, despite being terrible at keeping secrets, because she and Lord Quinn had promised each other they wouldn’t tell anyone.
At the mere thought of Lord Quinn’s bright blue eyes and smiling lips, the earth moved, enough to dizzy her.
Even now, she could hardly believe it was true. London’s most eligible and handsome bachelor had fallen madly in love with her, and she with him. And he ought to be arriving for the luncheon any moment, with his father, the Duke of Lowther, whom Claxton had invited so that he might persuade him toward his way of thinking on some labor act he wished to introduce in Parliament. Just the thought of his arrival sent her pulse jumping in anticipation.
While at first she’d believed him to be just another attractive face, as consumed by the youthful and sometimes empty pursuits as most young gentlemen of the ton, he’d revealed to her the honorable man beneath. Once she knew the truth, there’d been no holding back her heart. They’d kept their romance a secret, wanting to savor their unfolding feelings away from the curious eyes of family and society’s gossips and newspapers, but also for the simple enjoyment of romantic subterfuge.
Then, last month in the midnight shadows of Vauxhall Gardens, as the intoxicating scent of jasmine filled the air, the young lord had asked her that most important question and she had deliriously and happily said yes.
Yet Quinn, ever the romantic, wanted the memory of their engagement to be perfect for her and suggested that they wait until the night of her ball to make things official, and she had agreed. They’d enjoyed the most exciting game of secrecy ever since.
“Now, what about lunch?” Clarissa asked, taking Mr. Kincraig’s arm. “I know very well you’ve been out all night. You must be hungry.”
Now that she’d found such happiness, she didn’t want anyone to be lonely. Mr. Kincraig needed a family, and who said he couldn’t always be a part of theirs, if not by blood?
At hearing the doors swing open again, her pulse jumped and she glanced over her shoulder toward the vestibule. Disappointingly, Lord Quinn wasn’t among the party that entered.
“What I am is exceedingly tired,” Mr. Kincraig answered in a gravelly voice, resisting, though he did not remove his arm or step away. “I only want to sleep, that is all, perhaps even in the carriage that carries me away from here. Yes, I think that would do nicely.”
“Nonsense, you need sustenance,” she chided in a tone that sounded very much like her mother.
“Clarissa…” He held firm.
“Mr. Kincraig.” She tilted her head toward the garden and tugged gently at his arm.
He exhaled and pursed his lips. “Why are you always so—”
“Nice to you?” she supplied, laughing, knowing full well “nice” wasn’t the word he’d intended to use. He would have said “exasperating” or “bothersome” or “persistent.”
Yet his shoulders relaxed, and his expression warmed. “Yes. You are very nice to me. Why?”
The genuineness of his gaze caught her off guard, and in the moment she could be no less honest. “Because I like you, Mr. Kincraig, and I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to be lonely or uncared for—”
“Me, lonely?” He chuckled, looking dismayed. Uncomfortable.
“Yes, you.” She saw past his bluster.
“I have plenty of companionship.” With the slightest tilt of his lips, his smile went wolfish.
“That’s not what I mean,” she exclaimed, blushing.
“What do you mean?” He grinned, but his eyes were serious.
“Just stay for Mother’s luncheon,” she urged, knowing several young unmarried ladies would be in attendance.
“Actually…” His gaze drifted to the corridor that led to the back of the house and thence the garden. “I am rather ravenous.”
She smiled, triumphant. “It’s settled then.”
Her hand on his arm, they proceeded that way, but she came to a halt, her gaze fluttering over him. The smile dropped from her lips. “Only you can’t go out there looking like that. Mr. Kincraig, have you truly never learned how to properly tie a cravat?” How many times had she asked him the very same thing? She reached for his neckcloth and loosened the tangle.
“I don’t think it’s as terrible as you make it out to be,” he said, his dark eyes rolling heavenward.
“Oh, it is,” she replied with a playful smirk, tugging the top layer of cloth upward through the hole she’d created and tightening the knot. “Trust me. And why do you insist on keeping that beard? My sisters and I all agree your appearance would be quite improved without it.”
He growled good-naturedly, and she laughed, neatly tucking the linen into his vest. Hooking her arm through his elbow, she led him to the garden.
The moment a certain young nobleman stepped into the garden, Dominick Arden Blackmer—who for the time being still answered to the name of Mr. Kincraig—noticed the change in the young woman standing beside him. As he expected, Clarissa ever so politely extracted herself from conversation with him and Lord Raikes and made her way across the garden.
“So, Raikes, tell me about Bengal,” he said encouragingly to the gray-eyed young man. “I’ve never had the pleasure of traveling there.”
“Bengal.” Raikes’s gray eyes went distant. “Well, it is nothing at all like England. It’s a beautiful, mysterious place. One half of the year, you suffer through hot winds and dust, and the other, monsoons.”
“Sounds miserable.” Dominick flashed a grin and absently smoothed his hand over his mustache and beard, which he’d worn since presenting himself in London because he knew from experience most people would never look beyond them.
“But it’s not miserable. At times, I miss it, but…don’t tell Lady Raikes.”
They chuckled together.
Dominick actually had been to Bengal, though he couldn’t tell anyone about that particular adventure. Those six months, much like the last thirteen years of his life, had largely been sworn to secrecy. Still, as far as conversation, Bengal was something to talk about. He knew Raikes had made his fortune there, and better Raikes talk than him.
He enjoyed the easy conversation between them. Raikes had always been a friendly fellow, but there was a wariness to him, as with all of Wolverton’s family, where Mr. Kincraig was concerned, because they’d all entertained, to some degree or another, the suspicion he might be an imposter.
If only the family knew the truth about him, as Wolverton did. He might indeed be an imposter of the most calculated sort, but he wasn’t a scoundrel intent on fraud. Rather he was their protector. Even though he’d been informed his assignment here had concluded, he couldn’t seem to turn off the instinct.
“Why do you miss it?” he murmured, still watching Clarissa. “I only ask because I’m considering traveling there myself.”
Dominick was only talking to talk. He’d go wherever his next set of official orders sent him, whether to Bengal, St. Petersburg—or even Timbuktu. At least that was what he hoped for—and in the deepest, loneliest hours of the night, had prayed for—a more challenging assignment abroad, now that his mission in London under the auspices of the Home Office had come to an end. Once he had been a veritable dragon, a legend among the most elite of intelligence operatives. Now, fallen from grace and largely a persona non grata
RAVE REVIEWS FOR LILY DALTON'S NEVER DESIRE A DUKE:
"Dalton's Regency debut resonates with real feeling...Unlike some one-note tortured heroes, Vane is sincere and appealing. Sophia's pain is very real, and every interaction is fraught with honest emotion. As they struggle to recapture their romance, readers will feel deep sympathy with both characters and hope for them to find happiness."
--Publishers Weekly starred review
"The first in Dalton's One Scandalous Season series grabs the reader's emotions in an intensely passionate love story, filled with misunderstandings, past indiscretions, trust and forgiveness. But, for all the intensity, this gifted storyteller also deftly lightens the mood in a very well-written and satisfying read by adding a few zany characters bent on mischief and mayhem."
--RT Book Reviews
"Never Desire a Duke is a terrific debut novel-it reminded me of Lisa Kleypas' most memorable novels with a to-die-for hero and a lovely but heartbroken heroine. It's an intensely beautiful, moving story (but it does have its funny moments) and you won't be able to help yourself-you'll be rooting for them to get back together."
- On Sale
- Jan 27, 2015
- Page Count
- 384 pages