Only a Duke Will Do
Marry? Never! It would end Louisa North’s work with her ladies reform group—and truth be told, she likes her independence very much (despite her royal father’s protests). So when Simon Tremaine—the dashing Duke of Foxmoor, her former beloved and the man she had exiled from England—returns bent on marrying her, she’s skeptical. Yet it’s oh so difficult to resist Simon’s dangerous charms, because the fire between them still burns as hot as ever.
But when Simon’s ulterior motive for marriage is exposed, along with the deeply buried secrets of his past, Louisa vows to make him pay… and the only price she’ll accept is his heart.
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book has already spent time on the following bestseller lists:
- Four weeks on the New York Times Extended (#18 at its highest!)
- Four weeks on USA Today
- Four weeks on Waldenbooks Romance
- Four weeks on Waldenbooks Mass Market
- Was also a Romantic Times Top Pick
- Nominated for the Maggie Award for Best Historical of 2006
- Cover nominated as the best two-image cover of 2006
“Bringing together a bold heroine and a scarred hero while incorporating political scandal into a tightly woven romance, Jeffries once again proves her mettle as a first rate Regency author.” —Publishers Weekly
“Jeffries merges her Royal Brotherhood series with her School for Heiresses series, delivering a marvelous, powerful and sensual story of star-crossed lovers. Readers will be immediately drawn to her well-defined characters and pulled into the political and reformer backdrop she uses to set off her characters’ motivations and keep the story fresh and captivating. Jeffries fans will devour this treat.” —Romantic Times
The Duke of Foxmoor knew to the very second when Louisa North erected her defenses against him once more. Simon had thought she was softening there for a moment, but judging from her now patently false smile and the way she inclined her head regally to everyone they passed in his sister’s gardens, the moment was gone.
Bloody hell, she’d turned into quite the prickly female during his seven years in India serving as Governor-General. And he had only himself to blame for her wariness.
Well, perhaps not just himself. As they neared two prominent Members of Parliament, Simon couldn’t help noticing the dark glances they cast at her, glances that turned suspicious when they fell on him.
What had she said? That her charitable group wasn’t afraid to voice their opinions about reform to the MP’s? But surely no MP worth his salt would take umbrage at some little group of women railing at them about prison reform.
Still, it might explain the king’s alarm over Louisa’s involvement. Clearly he wasn’t merely concerned with her safety. Politics was part of it. Now all Simon had to do was learn how.
He smiled smoothly at her. “I haven’t yet thanked you for helping me with my monkey.”
“You said you put Raji in a cage?”
“Yes. I stashed it in your brother’s library when I arrived, just in case.”
“I’m rather surprised you brought him at all.”
“Because pets take a great deal of care, and a man of your position has little time for such.”
“Unfortunately,” he said dryly, “no one informed Raji of my busy schedule before he decided to adopt me.”
She blinked. “Adopt you?”
“He belonged to my aide-de-camp’s Indian wife, who died… tragically. My aide was too distraught to tolerate the reminder, so he brought the little chap to the funeral, meaning to give Raji to her family, but as soon as the rascal saw me, he latched on and would not let go.”
And guilt had compelled Simon to keep him. Oddly enough, even though Raji served as a painful reminder of how badly Simon had erred, the creature had also been his salvation, the only bright spot in that very dark time. “He’s been with me ever since.”
“That doesn’t sound like you either.”
He flashed her a rueful smile. “I know. Yet here I am, monkey in tow. What’s a man to do?”
“Have you been to Parliament yet?”
“Yes. I do come from a long line of statesmen on my mother’s side.”
“And on your father’s side,” she quipped, “a long line of pompous ne’er-do-well dukes.”
He chuckled. “I see you’ve grown far too friendly with my sister.”
“Oh, yes, though she talks more about your mother’s illustrious relations than your father’s. I’ve heard plenty about your Grandfather Monteith, the famous prime minister. Regina says he groomed you from early on to follow in his footsteps.”
His amusement vanished. Did Regina have any idea of what that “grooming” had entailed? Somehow he doubted it. She’d had little contact with their autocratic grandfather, for whom even his wife and daughter, not to mention his many mistresses, had merely been a means to an end.
“Yes,” he said, “when I wasn’t at Eton, I spent much of my formative years with my grandfather, preparing for a political career.”
“That’s why everyone expects you to be prime minister.”
“I suppose.” He eyed her closely. “And you? What do you expect of me?”
Though he’d meant for the question to turn them toward discussion of her group, it seemed to fluster her instead. She jerked her gaze away. “Nothing. Except that you and I can be civil.”
“We’re being civil now.” He chose his words carefully. “If you want, I could even help you with your charitable group. Since it dabbles in politics–”
“We do not dabble,” she said stoutly. “We’re serious about our aims.”
Her insulted expression made him smile. “I’m sure you are.”
“One way or the other, we will convince Parliament to reform the prisons.”
One way or the other? Just how political was this group of hers, anyway? “It’s a good cause.”
“It’s an important cause,” she said hotly. “Conditions for those poor female prisoners are deplorable, and it’s time something was done about it.”
“Just because a few idiots don’t like having their wives promote a virtuous cause is no reason for us to give up.”
Ah, now he was getting to the heart of the matter. “Certainly not.” He paused, then added casually, “I take it some men are protesting your efforts.”
“Protesting is a mild word. Your fellow MPs are trying to browbeat their wives into leaving the London Ladies Society. Some have even complained to the king about me.”
He smothered a smile. Though Louisa might have changed in other respects, she was still as forthright as ever, thank God. And now he knew what had the king so agitated.
Still, trying to marry her off was a rather extreme solution, wasn’t it? “Perhaps they feel that a young unmarried woman should not be involved in prison reform.”
“Especially since my spinsterhood prevents them from vilifying me publicly.”
He shot her a surprised glance. “What do you mean?”
“Well, they can’t complain that I am neglecting my husband or children the way they do with the married reformers. So I am free to dedicate myself wholly to my cause, and that makes it hard for them to criticize me. Especially since they know my cause is good, even if they won’t admit it.”
“I see.” Another question answered. The king wanted her married off to destroy her Joan of Arc appeal. So any man who agreed to His Majesty’s bargain would probably gain a significant advantage in the political arena.
Good God, what was he thinking? He would be mad to consider marrying Louisa. Let her activities make things sticky for the king with Parliament—it was what George deserved for the havoc he routinely wrought with his private peccadilloes and personal vendettas. As long as the king didn’t actively oppose Simon’s return to politics, he could still achieve his aims. It might take him longer, but—
After seven years, half the House of Commons was new, and the other half remembered Simon only as the man who’d inexplicably taken a lengthy jaunt to India on his way to the top. Without the king’s support, he would have an uphill battle to become prime minister. Unfortunately, he would need that lofty position to successfully push through his measures. He couldn’t bring about change by himself. So he needed His Majesty, at least at first. Which meant he must give the king’s bargain serious consideration.
He required a wife anyway, didn’t he? He glanced over to where Louisa walked beside him with uncommon poise and grace. Being a lady in waiting to the late Princess Charlotte had given her polish, taught her to be less impulsive. She’d handled the situation with Raji masterfully. And her interest in reform was admirable, even if she had chosen a controversial cause to champion.
If Simon married her, he could steer her toward pursuits more well-suited to a prime minister’s wife. He might even tap her unbounded enthusiasm for his own aims.
And he could finally have her in his bed.
The hunger to possess her rose in him again, gnawing at his belly, surging through his veins. It had never entirely left him.
He stifled a curse. Before he even considered taking up with Louisa again, he’d better determine how serious she was about being “wholly dedicated” to her cause and never wanting to marry. And to do that he’d have to get her alone.
He steered her toward a more deserted path while at the same time broaching a subject he knew would distract her. “I gather that Lord Trusbut is one of the gentlemen browbeating his wife.”
“Actually, no. We think he might be wavering. If we could just make him see that we’re not trying to ‘overthrow’ the government or any such nonsense–”
“Then he might let his own wife join your group. And use his influence for your cause.”
“That is our hope, yes.”
Simon led her farther from the main crowd, praying that she didn’t notice.
But Louisa was too busy wondering about Simon’s astonishing interest in her group’s activities to notice something so inconsequential as what wood they wandered in. She couldn’t believe how genuinely approving he seemed to be. Perhaps people did change.
And perhaps she was a fool even to entertain such a thought. Simon never did anything without a purpose. Never. She just hadn’t managed to figure out what it was this time.
“Did you mean what you said about taking me with you to call on her?” she prodded.
She eyed him closely. “But why would you?”
“Lord Trusbut’s support is as important to my aims as it is to yours. I see no reason we can’t combine forces.”
“Except that I don’t trust you.” The minute the words were out of her mouth, she cursed her quick tongue.
He halted beneath a wide-stretching oak to search her face. “I thought you said you had put the past behind you.”
She fought for calm. “That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten it. Or the lessons I learned from it.”
A Chinese lamp hanging from the oak’s low limb sent light dappling his golden hair, glinting in his brilliant eyes. Suddenly she realized that although they could hear the sounds of the fete not far away, they were essentially alone, cut off from the crowd by a stand of birch.
He stepped nearer. “I haven’t forgotten the past either. But apparently the memories that loom largest in my mind differ from the ones looming largest in yours.”
The sudden feral hunger in his eyes spoke to the dark wildness that she’d suppressed inside her these many long years. “What do you mean?” she asked, her breath hitching in her throat.
“I remember long waltzes and longer conversations. I remember a time when you did trust me.”
“Before I discovered how false your attentions were, you mean.”
“They were not all false,” he said softly. “And you know it.”
Suddenly, he reached up to seize her chin in a firm grip.
As he bent his head, a frisson of anticipation swept her. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked, though she very much feared she knew.
“Finding out if you taste as good as I remember.” Then he covered her mouth with his.
Heaven help her. He certainly tasted as good as she remembered. Memory swamped reality until she couldn’t separate the first time he’d kissed her from this one.
Then the kiss changed, no longer gentle and seeking. It grew firmer, hotter… lusher. Oh, sweet heaven. His lips swept commandingly over hers, demanding a response that she ought to ignore.
Instead, she was standing here like some half-wit schoolgirl, letting him kiss her, letting that secret, feminine part of her thrill to the fact that he could feel desire for her after all this time… and after what she’d done to him.
Done to him? How about what he’d done to her! She jerked her mouth free. “That’s enough, Your Grace,” she said, struggling to sound cool and unaffected. She wriggled free of him. “We are done now, sir.”
Severely shaken, she turned to hurry down the path, eager to get away before she revealed how much he affected her.
His rumble of a voice came out of the darkness behind her. “Very wise of you, Louisa. You wouldn’t want to risk my finding out that you haven’t put the past behind you after all. I might take advantage.”
She halted. A pox on him for reading her mind. She should ignore the taunt and walk away, but the arrogant words just pounded in her ears—
“You’re wrong.” She whirled on him. “I assure you I have outgrown you utterly.”
With a maddening lift of his eyebrow, he strode up to her. “Then why are you rushing to get away?”
She thrust out her chin. “I don’t want anyone to see me alone with you and start up the gossip again.”
“No one’s here, and no one’s coming.” He cast her a mocking smile. “Admit it, you’re just afraid to let me kiss you.”
“Clearly, I am not afraid, for I—”
“—barely gave me time to brush my lips over yours. That wasn’t a real kiss.” He shrugged. “But I understand–you dare not give me a real kiss or you might discover that you still have feelings for me.” His gaze drifted down to her mouth. “Unless you simply don’t know what a real kiss, an intimate kiss, is like.”
An intimate kiss? Could he possibly mean—
Oh, of course he did. She’d once foolishly let some naughty fellow at court give her an “intimate kiss.” It was disgusting, and she’d hated it.
A slow smile touched her lips. Yes, she had, hadn’t she? And how better to cure herself of any lingering attraction to Simon than to let him give her one of those messy and embarrassing “intimate” kisses?
“Oh, very well.” She stepped nearer and lifted her face to his. “I suppose you won’t rest until you have your ‘real’ kiss. So let’s get to it, shall we?”
For a second he stared at her warily, clearly not quite sure what to make of her sudden capitulation. But then his eyes narrowed and he took her mouth again, this time delving inside it with his hot, searching tongue…
Uh-oh. She’d made a rather significant miscalculation. Apparently one’s enjoyment of an “intimate” kiss depended upon how proficient the man was at it. And Simon was definitely proficient.
She groaned, but could not seem to drag her lips free of his. Why hadn’t anybody warned her that an intimate kiss meant this series of sleek, silky forays into her mouth that sent her pulse into a gallop? Where were the alarms that such a kiss would send her straight for trouble?
He thrust boldly, fiercely, his kiss nothing less than a prelude to seduction. Irresistible. Delicious. Swoon-worthy.
As if he actually expected swooning, he snaked his arm about her waist to steady her. She ached to have his hands on her, craved the feel of a man’s arms around her once again… of Simon’s arms around her.
She spread her hands over his chest, and then, emboldened by the savage pounding of his heart, slid them up to his neck. How long had it been since a man had made her feel wanted? Desired?
So very long. Too long. She’d thought she could swear off men. One kiss, and Simon had made a mockery of that. Just as he’d made a mockery of her silly hopes and dreams all those years ago—
She tore her mouth from his, shaken by how easily she had succumbed to him. “Why are you doing this?” she demanded.
“Why are you letting me?” he said hoarsely. He brushed kisses along her cheek, her jaw, her throat.
Because I’m a fool.
No, she wouldn’t admit that. Not to him. He’d proved she hadn’t put him behind her, but she couldn’t let him know it or she was done for. “Because I figure it’s best that we get it over with.”
He froze. “Get what over with?” he breathed against her neck.
Struggling to subdue the clamoring in her chest, she drew back to stare at him. “Your insistence on a real kiss. Now that it’s done, we are done.”
“The devil we are.” His breath still came quick and hard as his eyes blazed at her. “Don’t try to claim you weren’t affected by that kiss.”
She pretended to think. “You know,” she said slowly, “I really wasn’t. It was an interesting experiment, mind you–”
“Experiment!” he growled.
“Yes. To determine for myself if I have outgrown you. What a relief to find that I have.” Buoyed by her success at hiding her true feelings, she slipped from his arms and added with a forced smile, “It appears you no longer have any effect on me, Your Grace.”
The way he flinched at her formal address gave her a small measure of satisfaction.
Until he dropped his gaze to her still burning lips. “You could have fooled me.”
Though her smile wobbled a little, she was determined to have the last word. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that how it sounded. You kiss very well, quite as well as any of my previous suitors. If I implied otherwise, forgive me. But I have plans and aims that don’t involve you, no matter how well you kiss.” She lifted her chin. “Not to mention that I still don’t trust you.”
“You always were eager to think the worst of me,” he snapped.
“You’re only angry because you’ve lost the power to twist me about your finger. Well, society may fawn over you and beg your attention, but I at least know what you are.”
He met her gaze squarely. “You know nothing about me. You never did.”
Something in his voice gave her pause, made her want to believe him. But the one thing she’d learned from her last encounter with him was that his silver tongue enabled him to lie with consummate skill. “I know enough.”
Then she pivoted and stalked off up the path. She’d salvaged a near disastrous situation, but she wasn’t sure she could do it twice.
From now on, she’d have to be more careful. No private encounters with Simon. No long walks where he could taunt her into things.
And no kisses. Certainly no kisses. He was just too good at them for any woman’s peace of mind.