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How to Deceive a Duke
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Edward Stirling, Duke of Wildeforde, will do anything to restore his family’s name and put his father’s scandalous death behind them. But when Fiona needs his help getting released from prison, he can’t deny her—even though it means she must live with him as a condition of her freedom. With the desire between them rekindling as fast as the gossip about their arrangement is spreading among the ton, Edward will have to choose what matters most to him—his reputation or his heart.
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This book was written during the dumpster fire that was 2020 and the first few months of 2021. I could not have written it without the help and support of some very dear friends. Lauren Harbor, you are the best of writing buddies. You know when to cheerlead and when to get the whip out. Your support through the launch of How to Survive a Scandal meant so much.
Justine Lewis, our brainstorming lunch dates were responsible for some of my favorite moments in this book. Thank you for your willingness to drop everything and read any time I needed feedback. You are such a generous soul.
To my stable mates at Forever: Christina Britton, Kate Pembrooke, Emily Sullivan, and especially Bethany Bennett, it has been such a pleasure meeting you all and sharing this crazy journey.
To the best publishing team in existence, thank you. Madeleine, you have somehow managed to take an unwieldy—sometimes bonkers—first draft and help me craft it into something that makes actual sense and that I’m super proud of. Debbie, I am in awe of your brain and how you manage tiny details. Jodi, I am so appreciative of your work on How to Survive a Scandal. I didn’t know you when I wrote the acknowledgments for that book, so I’m putting them here, because your incredible efforts are why it was such a success and I’m so grateful.
There are many other people on the team who do incredible work, from cover designers to production editors. To everyone who has touched this book and the last, thank you.
Susan Bischoff and the rest of the WBF team, thank you for teaching me so much about myself.
Finally, to my family, whose enthusiasm over the past year has kept me going, and to my husband, who does all the animal wrangling, cooking, and housekeeping whenever I’m on a deadline in the hopes that this book will allow us to retire. I love you.
P.S. Kit, you were born an hour before I turned this in. Welcome to the world.
Content notes are available on my website so readers can inform themselves if they want to. Some readers may consider them spoilers. You can find these notes at www.samaraparish.com/content-notes.
The rattle of carriage wheels on the drive outside alerted Edward to his mother’s arrival home. From the window by his desk he could see her take the footman’s hand as she stepped down. She would be walking through his door without bothering to knock in approximately ninety seconds.
Which gave him ninety seconds to steel himself for the job ahead of him. Most men, especially dukes, would be ashamed of fearing their mothers so. Once those men met Her Grace the Duchess of Wildeforde, they would understand.
A colder, more heartless woman had never lived. If she was, in fact, a living being and not one of the undead.
But he was determined. He’d come to London with the express purpose of informing the duchess that he had found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
And that she wasn’t going to like it.
Because it wasn’t the young girl his mother had saddled him with in an arranged betrothal inked before he’d even left his teens. Nor was it any other young girl of the ton.
No, Fiona McTavish was an entirely unsuitable choice to be his duchess. Bold, forthright, smarter than most men of his acquaintance and totally unwilling to disguise the fact.
And common born. The daughter of a trouble-making farmer.
Were his mother like most women, she’d have an apoplexy when he broke the news. But his mother was more sharp and bitter than most women, so he was preparing himself for a stake through the bollocks.
He was determined. He’d been taught to avoid any hint of scandal, to repair the Wildeforde name after his father’s infamous passing; for thirteen years, he’d done exactly that. He’d not set a foot wrong. He’d fashioned himself into the epitome of the perfect aristocratic gentleman. Marrying Fiona would undo all of it.
He didn’t care. His brother and sister would forgive him. Once they’d met her, they’d understand. Fiona made him sing, quite literally. She challenged him to think and say radical things and indulge in pastimes that his peers would deem frivolous. The Duke of Wildeforde was never frivolous. She held him to a different standard, at once easier and more difficult to meet. He didn’t need to be flawless, but neither would she accept polished opinions of messy issues.
For her, he would ruin his good name.
Precisely ninety seconds after he’d seen her exit the carriage, his mother opened his study door and marched in.
He stood. “Mother.”
“Duke.” She moved to the wide, wingback chair in front of his desk and sat. “I was expecting you back two weeks ago.”
“I apologize for the delay.” Curse it. He was already on the back foot. “Actually, I don’t apologize for the delay. Mother, I have some news.”
She sniffed. “I have some news myself.”
He swallowed, opened his mouth fully ready to declare his intentions, yet all that came out was: “By all means, you go first.” That was the coward in him, choosing to put off the skewering for another few seconds if he could.
“No, no. Get your news over with.” It was the sum amount of enthusiasm she’d ever shown for his personal interests. He pushed aside his disappointment.
“I’ve met someone,” he said quickly. “I know that complicates things because obviously I’m betrothed to Amelia. And Fiona, well, she’s unique in a way that will no doubt infuriate you but makes me so happy, Mother. Happier than I think I’ve ever been. I want to marry her.”
There, the words were said. It was like a tonne had been lifted from his shoulders. Whatever the consequences, the hard part was done.
So he waited.
Waited for his mother to rage, or to find some way to cut him. Instead, she regarded him for a long moment before shrugging. Just a little. That indifferent movement hurt more than anger or expletives ever could have.
“The Lady Dunburton died last night.”
“Graham’s wife? Curse it, what happened?” His cousin had been married less than a month. The last time Edward had seen the viscountess, she was blushing prettily on the way out of the church.
“A fish out of water dies gasping. You should remember that.”
His heart dropped and a pit of nausea formed in his stomach. His cousin had gone against social expectations. Despite immense amounts of backlash from his family, he’d married a young woman who manned the counter of her father’s bookstore.
Edward’s mother had turned crimson when she’d found out. They’d needed to replace a rug, two vases, and the wallpaper in the green, now yellow, room.
Edward had tried to talk sense into his cousin at the time. Graham had been resolute. To hell with society. He was in love and that was all there was to it.
Now that Edward had found Fiona, that conversation left a bitter taste. “What, precisely, are you saying?” Edward asked.
“The girl took her own life. Here, Dunburton sent a letter.” She tossed a parchment onto his desk, the seal broken.
“I don’t understand.” He’d had little chance to become acquainted with Eliza, but from their brief conversation she’d seemed perfectly happy.
“Have you not been getting the papers in the country?”
He had been getting The Times. He’d just been too preoccupied with Fiona to bother reading it.
“The upstart got what she had coming. What could she expect? That she would marry a viscount and be welcomed to society with open arms? I must say, the papers did their best to shred her to pieces, but they had nothing on the young ladies. A delirium of debutantes scorned and all that.” His mother chuckled. Chuckled.
A young woman had just lost her life. His cousin, his mother’s nephew, had just lost the woman he loved, and she laughed?
“Of course, you’ll need to do something about the gossip. Call your man at the paper. Have it put out that she came down with a fever or something of that manner. Death by one’s own hand is unseemly. We can’t have that getting out.”
He would handle it. That’s what he did. But first he needed to get it straight in his head.
“Are you telling me that the men and women of our acquaintance were so cruel to this girl that she chose to…” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought.
“A fish out of water dies gasping. Now, tell me more about this…Fiona.”
His heart stopped. A sudden cold chilled him. The look in his mother’s eyes was deadly. He should never have said Fiona’s name. He should never have breathed a word of her to this woman. “There’s nothing to tell,” he said.
“Good, because I would hate to think that you’d forgotten what mattered.”
The Wildeforde name, above all else. Above one’s wants. Above one’s self.
“I haven’t forgotten, Mother.” It was where his father had failed. The previous duke’s inability to put family before his selfish desires had cost them all dearly. “If you’ll excuse me, I must send Graham my condolences.”
His mother gave a cruel, satisfied smile. “I expect to see you at dinner.”
He nodded, unsure he could get further words out without his voice breaking. Once his mother had closed the door behind her, he collapsed into the chair. A maelstrom churned within him. He loved Fiona with everything he had. He wanted to wake up beside her every day, forever. The thought of not doing so ached.
But she wouldn’t be safe. If he married her, she would be in his mother’s sights for as long as the witch lived. He’d be setting her up to be society’s next victim. If he really, truly loved her he would do what his father couldn’t. He would end things.
Sitting on the cold stone, the hard metal bars of the prison cell pressing against her head, Fiona inhaled and exhaled with shallow breaths trying not to notice the smell of vomit or give any sign that she was not exactly who she was pretending to be—Finley McTavish, country lad.
She’d lost her cap in the chaos of the protest as well as her right shoe. But somehow, despite being roughly shoved into a wagon with fifteen men, her wig had remained in place and the binding around her breasts hadn’t shifted. The thin layer of coal dust she’d put on her jaw that morning to give a hint of stubble was now covered in mud and a constable’s spit. She supposed the dried blood that ran in a trail from her hairline across her brow and into her eyes probably helped with the disguise.
“Ye mongrels,” a man standing next to her yelled, banging on the bars and causing reverberations to travel through her skull and into her teeth. They had been in the cell for three hours, and her headache, which had started with an elbow to the temple before the authorities had even shown up, was intensifying with every minute.
Three feet away from her, another cellmate turned to face the wall, reached into his trousers, and pulled out his cock, a steady stream of urine hitting the bricks and splashing. As disgusting as the sight of a wrinkled, limp member was, it was nothing compared to the sudden urge to pee let loose by the sound of the trickle.
Fiona pulled her knees into her chest, drawing herself in tightly. Even if she was inclined to piss in public, which she would never do, there was no way of doing it without revealing herself as a woman. That was neither smart nor safe.
Neither of the trusted friends whom she would normally turn to were in any position to help her.
Benedict was in Abingdale with his very pregnant wife.
John was in the Americas.
Talking to the jailers had accomplished nothing. All she could do was hope she was dragged in front of a magistrate soon, so she could convince him that while she had attended the protest against the current inequalities in the parliamentary system and the lack of fair representation, she’d had no involvement in the rotten fruit being thrown at Palace of Westminster guards. The tomato she’d thrown had been directed at someone else entirely. It was bad luck that her elbow had been knocked at just the wrong time.
And she had to hope she appeared credible enough to be released, because she had a meeting with the patent office in roughly eighteen hours. Years of work developing a tool that could change society was being held up by some clerk and his tangle of impenetrable paperwork.
It had taken two months to get this appointment and there was no guarantee she’d be able to get another soon.
She silently cursed herself for being fool enough to go to New Palace Yard. But when she’d heard exactly who was leading today’s protest, who would be speaking at it, she’d been unable to stop herself.
Charles Tucker had been responsible for inciting the riot in her village last year. He was responsible for that, and the boiler explosion, and the death of her friend. The bastard had cleared out before the watch arrived and avoided any form of consequence for the damage he’d done.
So she’d thrown a blasted vegetable, and here she was while he, presumably, was free. Yet another example of how iniquitous the world was.
She shook her head, trying to put aside the anger and concentrate on what mattered now—the single focus of her past five years. The plan that got her up each morning and kept the fire inside her burning late into the night as she worked. She was going to change the world—shift the scales of disparity just a smidgen—and in the process, earn enough money to buy herself some independence. To purchase a home that no man could take from her. To earn a living that relied on nothing but her own hard work.
She would never again find herself without fire, food, and shelter because a man had let her down.
It was the thought of her matches—an invention that would make fire accessible to all—that filled her with a stubborn determination that settled in her stomach and straightened her spine. She’d come to London with the express purpose of finding a distributor. She needed to be in her laboratory, not in a cell.
Andrew, the sixteen-year-old footman she’d brought with her from Abingdale, had tagged along to the protest. He’d seemed like the best choice when leaving their small country village. She needed an escort around London—as ridiculous as that societal expectation was—and the wide-eyed country boy would not protest her choices. She had all the semblance of an escort without any of the hassle an actual chaperone might pose.
But now her freedom hinged on the scrawny lad’s ability to get out of the riot and send word to Ben that she’d been arrested. Surely, he’d manage that. He was innocent, not daft.
It would take three days to reach Abingdale to deliver the message and three days back. Worst case scenario, she’d be looking at seven days in prison.
She shivered. There was no way she was getting through seven days in here without revealing her sex to the rest of the inmates, and this was no place for a woman. It would be a gamble to even trust the guards.
Think, Fiona. Think.
The cold from the stone floor began to seep past the thick fabric of her coat and breeches. As the temperature dropped, her heartbeat quickened the way it always did when she got cold. She fell into deep steady breathing to ward off the shivers and began her usual mantra.
The warmth will return, like day follows night. It will return.
She was in Old Bailey, for goodness’ sakes. They wouldn’t let anyone freeze to death in here, would they? Next to her, her cellmate shifted. The sound of piss on bricks trickled off. The smell didn’t.
* * *
Edward stared down his younger brother. William sat with his ankles crossed, slouched back in the chair, scratching at the wooden arm. He shifted every thirty seconds or so, as though the two-hundred-year-old, perfectly polished chair had splinters.
Good. Will should be uncomfortable, given the number of times this scene had played out in the eighteen years since their father’s death.
Edward drummed the tips of his fingers against the mahogany wood of his desk. He already knew how the conversation would go. He would express his disappointment. William would make a sarcastic quip. He’d deliver the required lecture, and nothing would change.
Because nothing ever did.
But what are the alternatives?
“You’re home early. School’s not out for another week.”
William shifted his gaze to the window before looking back. “They’re changing tack. Shorter terms. Longer breaks. Cutting down on the rhetoric.” He tugged on the cuff of his jacket.
“After six-hundred-and-fifty-odd years, Oxford has suddenly decided to change their approach? I assume your exam results should be arriving soon, then.”
William rubbed at his jaw. “Well, about that—they decided not to do exams this term. Trialing different assessment methods.”
“How progressive of them.” One would think that given the never-ending string of predicaments William found himself in, he’d be better at lying.
The silence stretched. Edward had long ago made friends with stillness. It was one of the most effective weapons in his arsenal.
Finally, William sighed. “I got caught breaking into the dean’s office. With a pig.”
“Of course you did.” It would almost have been preferable for Will to be tossed out for fighting or sneaking a woman into his rooms. Anything, really, other than these idiotic, childish pranks.
At twenty-one Will should be a man, not a boy still getting into scrape after scrape.
“I’ll send word to the vice chancellor. He can send an examiner to London and you can take your exams here.”
“That’s not necessary,” Will mumbled, staring into his lap.
Edward leaned over his desk, hand curled into a fist, eyes level with his brother’s.
“It is necessary because you will take your exams. You will graduate, and you will take a career. I don’t care if it’s the clergy or the military. You will grow up, William.”
His censure was met with sullen silence, his brother’s typical response. “Start studying. Someone will be here to supervise your assessments next week.”
Finally, Will looked him straight in the eye. “Because you say so? The university is just going to pack a professor onto the mail coach and send him to London to supervise one student?”
Edward raised a brow.
“Of course they will. You’re the Duke of Wildeforde. People do what you say.” Will shook his head. “Do you ever get bored of being so bloody perfect all the time? Always correct. Always doing the right thing.”
Edward had long ago hardened himself against that particular blow. His heart had formed a necessary callus. It barely felt the hit.
“Perfection is our duty. Family must come first. What you do reflects on all of us. It’s time to stop thinking about having a moment of fun and instead think about how your actions impact others. It’s time to stop being so selfish.”
William’s face twisted at the insult. His eyes—such a bright blue when he was born; the most wonderful thing Edward had seen—darkened. “Has it ever occurred to you that the line our mother fed us our entire lives—family above all else—is wrong? That there’s more to life than duty and honor?”
Any patience Edward had for this conversation vanished, driven out by the bitter cold of their past and the reminder of what he had given up. “You were too young to understand what she went through.”
“Please, she’s been shoving it down our throats our entire lives. I may not remember Father, but I know more about his faults than I would if he’d lived longer.”
“Be glad you don’t remember him. You’ll never know the grave disappointment he was.”
Because of everything that had happened, that was what hurt the most. Not the shock of his father’s death or the relentless bullying he’d taken from his peers afterward. Not the way his mother, already cold, had become sharp and brittle as they left London to escape from the scandal.
No, it was discovering the good, kind man he’d thought he’d known had been willing to put the health and happiness of everyone he loved in jeopardy so he could indulge in his affair.
Their entire relationship had been a lie.
That was the disappointment that cut deepest—the wound that had never healed.
There was a discreet knock at the door. Simmons entered.
Taking the butler’s interruption as a chance to escape, Will jumped up from his seat. “Well, I’m off then. You’re clearly busy.”
“Will, let’s talk tonight.” They’d never managed to have a proper conversation about the events of their childhood. It was a subject matter on which they couldn’t see eye to eye, and the conversation quickly became an argument each time. But with Charlotte coming out this season, and the increased scrutiny their family would endure as a result, it was time for his brother to see reason. He had to toe the line, for his sister’s sake, at least.
“I’m going to stay with Pulfrey for a few days,” Will said, neatly avoiding the confrontation. Again.
That his brother found it so difficult for them to be under the same roof hurt. But it had always been that way. Nothing he did could change it. “Your sister will be home on Friday. I’d like you to be here.”
“Of course I’ll be here. You didn’t need to ask.”
And he probably didn’t. Charlotte-Rose and William shared a bond that Edward didn’t—couldn’t. Being head of the family came with responsibilities they didn’t understand. Those responsibilities had always held him slightly apart, never quite one of them.
Simmons’s expression didn’t change a whit as William passed him, even though Edward suspected the butler’s opinion of his brother was even worse than his own. “I’m sorry to bother you, Your Grace, but there is a footman here to see you.”
“A footman? One of our footmen?”
“No, my lord.”
“What does he want?” Simmons was head of staff and had full authority to hire, fire, reward, and reprimand as he wished. There was no need for Edward to be involved in the day-to-day of the household. Off-loading that burden was why he paid his butler and housekeeper a king’s ransom.
“He said he’s here with information about a Fiona McTavish.”
He hadn’t seen or spoken to Fi in almost a year. Not since the night of the Abingdale riots when, in a moment of fear and weakness, he’d told her that she would always own his heart. Then he’d taken her hands in his and kissed them.
That moment had stirred up all the longing, passion, and love that he’d worked so hard to smother.
That moment had almost been enough for him to throw caution to the wind. To take what he wanted and damn the consequences. To put everyone he loved—including Fiona—at risk so he could have her near.
Which was why he’d left Abingdale the next day, as soon as the watch arrived, and he knew the village was safe. It was best. It was the only way to keep her safe.
A fish out of water dies gasping.
Every time he let his mind turn to Fiona, his mother’s words slithered their way through his thoughts and down into his gut where they sat, their poison leaching into him, making him nauseous.
He wanted to tell Simmons to send this footman away—nothing good would come of entangling the two of them again—but his gut couldn’t do it.
- "Readers will be eager for more.” —Publishers Weekly
- “Historical romance fans will be happy to find another strong-willed, science-minded heroine and the duke who loves her, and they’ll look forward to the next story in the series.”—Library Journal
- "A sparkling new voice in historical romance delivers a satisfying story of love on the edges of the beau monde."—Kirkus Reviews
- “With the perfect combination of drama, sensuality, and emotion, this refreshing story is sure to make a splash.”—Publishers Weekly on How to Survive a Scandal, starred review
- "In this dazzling debut, Parish gives historical romance readers everything they could ever desire in a novel... [A]n extraordinary romance that succeeds on every level."—Booklist on How to Survive a Scandal, starred review
- On Sale
- Jan 25, 2022
- Page Count
- 384 pages