RITA award-winning BESTSELLER . . .
The Duke Diaries
ISBN 10: 10: 0062022342 or ISBN 13: 978-0062022349
Book III Royal Entourage series: 6 Regency heroes — 1 royal hangover!
After a royal bachelor party of the century, Lady Verity Fitzroy wakes up to find her brother’s archenemy, Rory Lennox, the Duke of Abshire, in her bed. While Rory has always fascinated her, nothing can convince her to marry this rake even though her reputation is in peril. Indeed, there are far graver worries that plague her. If she is unmasked as the author of the infamous Duke Diaries, no one can save her . . . not even the man of her dreams.
Though he has known Verity since she was still in the schoolroom, Rory never imagined her to be such a spitfire! Which only makes the challenge of winning her hand more intriguing. Never mind that he has no interest in a wife. But when this secret war hero discovers the root of Verity’s horrendous troubles, he realizes he must face down his greatest fears not only to save her . . . but to win her hand and her heart.
REVIEWS . . .
"This lively, sometimes poignant Regency sparkles with humor and brings another delightful couple happily together, leaving just enough loose ends to tempt series fans." ~ Library Journal
"There's a heartbreaking, gratifying depth to this story. With its intrieguing historical aspects, seductive tone and a hero and heroine who truly deserve a happily ever after, you're sure to find The Duke Diaries royally entertaining." ~ USA Today
EXCERPT . . .
Befitting her first name, Lady Verity Fitzroy began chronicling life's truths at the tender age of three and ten. Her initial efforts, she knew, were rambling at best, and puerile at worst. The problem was that her life was beyond dull. Nothing of importance ever happened at Boxwood, the ducal seat of her brother, the Duke of Candover. Or, rather, since she was not out yet, things happened in this bucolic corner of Derbyshire, but she wasn't privy to them. It was astounding how swiftly her elders could button their lips when she entered a chamber.
And so Verity was reduced to writing volumes about topics such as her dislike of peas, her mare's dislike of hoof picks, her governess's dislike of spirited horses and young ladies who did not eat certain vegetables (even if peas were a legume and so not truly a vegetable). Indeed, Verity sought refuge in her writing for there was no one who truly appreciated her outlandish opinions.
Oh, she had female relations, to be sure. She was positively drowning in sisters—two younger still in the nursery, and two older, officially out and not officially floundering in society. That left Verity alone, in the middle, forgotten.
It was very convenient, in fact. There were days like today, here in the shaded perch of her favorite ancient pine tree next to the lake, that she could spend hours lost in her writings and relish being utterly and completely by herself.
She had her down-filled, pine-tar-stained cushion on which to sit, two fig tarts on which to nibble, and, most importantly, her diary in which to scribble news and the secret longings she harbored in her young heart. Verity glanced down at her latest entry.
Cousin Esme paid a call with her mother yesterday. It was, of course, the highlight of the day. No, the highlight of the week. It would have been the highlight of the month if not for the return of Rory. Unfortunately, R has not actually been seen, as my brother grasps every chance to escape our petticoats by visiting R at Rutledge Hall, where
I am sure the only petticoats to be seen are the ones gentlemen refuse to discuss in my presence.
Oh, for a glimpse of dear R's eyes! Yes, I am ridiculous. But that is to be expected at my age according to my governess.
But, at seventeen I am to become mature whether I like it or not, she insists. And after three Seasons, if I'm still unmarried, Miss Linhurst warns I will become an ape leader in hell. So, as I understand it, a lady is ripe for the plucking for three years, after which, if she does not accomplish her only mission in life, she will be pickled, preserved, and stored on a shelf, where she will molder with other devilish gorillas—although Faith informs that an ape is not necessarily a gorilla since a gorilla is just one type of ape.
I don't understand why my sisters always laugh at my observations. They do not seem to mind being wallflowers. Then again I have always been different from them. I don't mind being the shortest, but I shall never understand why they are so obsessed by complicated algorithms and science which always leaves me with an aching head. Why am I not like my brilliant naturalist mother or my father who everyone described as a genius of the first order when he was alive? I am but a bat or a cuckoo in a nest of brilliant blackbirds. Mother hates when I tell her this, but what can I expect? She is a mother blackbird stuck with a fig-loving fledgling whose nest mates gobble peas without gagging.
What utter drivel. She crossed out the last, refusing to sound like a mewling infant. Verity made an exasperated sigh. What she needed was adventure. Smoke-filled battlefields. High seas. She smiled. A pirate with pea-green eyes. Better still, a gaggle of pirates. Did pirates come in gaggles? No, a crew of pirates. Or an African tribe in an ape-free dense jungle filled with exotic animals such as lions, pythons, elephants, and—
Just then a sound broke her concentration. Two people atop horses raced through the gap of trees circling the large lake on her family's famed estate.
Verity inched forward to get a better view, only to see her old chipped straw hat fly from her head in the effort. It tumbled past the outermost branches to land half hidden in a bit of tall grass. Botheration. The riders galloped toward her well-leafed secret bower. Past the large old oak a dozen yards away from her, they broke into a trot, then stumbled to a stop.
She inhaled sharply. Rory in the flesh, and surprisingly, Miss Catharine Talmadge in tow.
The young lady screeched with laughter. Yes, when Catharine laughed, she sounded like a cheetah. Of course, animals did not laugh, but it was only fair to mock her, as everything else about Catharine was Venus-like. She was an exquisitely formed model of femininity. A graceful, amusing, kindhearted young lady(at least when any gentleman was afoot), but an aloof, cool miss who never made any effort to cultivate friendships with other females (when the gentlemen were not). Yet her grace and beauty trumped all. The proof could be spied on the faces of every man, gentle or not, who stood in Catharine's presence—especially in the visage of Verity's brother, James Fitzroy, the premier duke of England.
But right now? Well, the proof was in the face of that person. Yes, one Rory Lennox, Earl of Rutledge, the most darkly handsome, charming, and disarming lord in all of Christendom.
Verity sat straighter on her lumpy cushion. What on earth was going on? Why was Catharine with the earl? She was all but formally engaged to James. Not that Verity questioned Rory's intentions. He and her brother had been more like brothers rather than best friends since childhood.
Verity forced back a wave of something very akin to jealousy masquerading as filial outrage. The ill feeling flooded her stomach, which forever ached since she took pains to hold it in. Peas she might not eat, but tarts were altogether another story.
"I'm not going swimming," Catharine shrieked. "You cannot force me, Rory."
A wicked smile flashed as the earl kicked away his stirrups, threw his lovely muscled right leg over the front of his saddle, and jumped to the ground. He discarded his hat without a care and advanced on his objective. His cropped dark hair dovetailed in a perfect fashion as he ran his hand through it. Verity, mesmerized, made not a sound.
All Catharine Talmadge had to do was turn her mount's head to the east and flee. But did she? Of course not. Artifice was Catharine's middle name. Instead, she batted her ridiculously long eyelashes and tittered, a determined flirt through and through. Why did gentlemen fall for such obvious ploys?
As he reached her, Rory left a trail of masculine articles in his wake. He discarded his blue superfine coat made by Weston, his neck cloth again by Weston, and his white-tasseled Hessian boots made by a private cobbler whose workmanship equaled Weston.
Verity sighed in disgust. It was amazing he did not look like a fool hopping on one foot and the other while removing them. It was a testament to her devotion that no matter what he did or said, she could not shake her sensibility toward him.
"Come along then, Cat. A true lady accepts her losses with grace," he coaxed in that gravely voice of his that in Verity's view made most ladies behave stupidly, herself included. "Look, we can accomplish this the easy way or … "
"Yes?" Catharine whispered, her eyes dancing with the promise of mischief.
" … the hard way, which is the way you really want to do it."
He lifted one of his razor sharp brows and the sunlight chose that moment to emerge from behind a cloud to strike his face. His green eyes shone like a panther's. The ridiculous simile was the best Verity could do. The one about the cheetah had been far better.
"Impossible," Catharine cackled. "It will ruin my habit, Rory. And I know how much you like it," she purred.
"Perhaps you should have considered earlier that the wager involved water," he rumbled. "It's obvious the opportunity of winning blinded you to failure. I've always said this is the sort of foolish thinking that leads to hardened gamblers with pockets to let—or wet, in your case." He shook his head.
Verity's chest ached as she watched him advance on his objective.
"James would never insist," Catharine breathed, tilting her head in that provocative way of hers. "He is a gentleman."
"Yes, but he is not here, and I am not him. And you've had a lifetime to understand the difference. You've made the right choice and I am happy for you. My friend is a lucky fellow." He sighed heavily. "As long as you keep that desire to wager in check."
She sniffed, but ruined the effect by breaking into a wide grin.
Verity felt like casting up her fig tarts.
"Cat," he growled, "enough. We both know how this will end"—his hands went about her tiny waist, and the cheetah did nothing to stop the panther—"so come along now. I say, Cat, you've never said if you liked the idea of my engagement present to you and James."
"You know I do," she whispered, with excitement peaking from[CE1] her lovely face as she looked down at him.
"Since you obviously won't let me try to win your horse again, the next best thing is the present of a filly or colt by him next summer."
"Good," he murmured. "I'm glad."
A gust of wind flirted with the edges of Catharine's pretty lace veil and her form-fitted sapphire blue riding habit, which revealed that this feather-light lady had never had to hold in her stomach since she never ate too much of anything. Catharine draped her arms about his shoulders as he disengaged her from the sidesaddle and lowered her to the ground, her body brushing against his.
The beautiful couple stared at each other in the golden light of the afternoon. She reached up to stroke the dark locks of his hair, but he pushed her hand away.
"I won't be able to go through with it, Rory," she whispered. "I only wish … "
And in the time it would have taken Verity to spell fickle fiancée, three things happened. First, Catharine Talmadge leaned toward him, her lips pouted. Second, Rory muttered a dark curse and scooped the lady into his arms. And three, he carried her squawking and kicking form into the lake and unceremoniously dunked her.
After, he dove under the surface away from her and did not appear again for a long time.
It was obvious Catharine had never imagined Rory would go through with his threat. She marched out of the water, her skirting heavy with muck and a bit of algae trailing down one side of her head, all the while caterwauling like, ahem, a cheetah very unused to braving the elements.
She spewed a highly unladylike oath that Verity had only heard the new stable hand from London's west end shout when he had been relieved without references for putting a horse away wet.
It took all of Verity's fortitude not to make a sound as she watched the drenched female bluster about "a certain abominable person who does not know how to behave like a gentleman, unlike the far superior character and station of the gentleman she would most definitely wed considering this latest action." Catharine awkwardly remounted just as Rory emerged from the lake shaking the water from his head.
He saluted her as she trotted away, without taking proper leave of him.
Verity sat transfixed as the one-and-twenty-year-old earl, a man with his prime years ahead of him, stood motionless at the sight of Catharine, her back rigid with anger, riding away from him. His breeches and fine white lawn shirt, wet and translucent, clung to his form in a fashion that left Verity with a far better understanding of the male form than ever before. She darted her head about to get a better view from her perch. She was, indeed, shameless.
Rory watched Catharine's retreating figure far longer than she was in sight. It was very odd behavior.
He finally moved to retrieve the clothing and boots he had tossed helter-skelter on the ground. He suddenly paused, his gaze settling in the direction of Verity's misshapened straw hat in the sprigs of tallish grass.
His head swiveled to the left. And to the right. He crossed to retrieve her hat and studied it. He did not look up into the tree. Just when she thought she might be lucky and breathe again, he spoke.
"One could hope," he promised, "you know how to hold your tongue and preserve your anonymity. However, if you are considering dishing out scandalbroth at the next opportunity, show your face now for I shall do worse than a mere dunking if I hear a peep out of you." He paused. "Are we agreed?" Another pause. "Good. I shall keep this ahem,lovely thing as guarantee. I'm certain you understand."
And as the most impossibly handsome man Verity could possibly ever know threw his leg over his horse and galloped into the distance, she took a good, hard look at the pathetic diary she held in her hands. Ever so methodically, Verity started ripping out the pages. She then reached into her book bag and retrieved the lovely new red diary she had meant to start today.
She opened to the first page, fingered a newly-trimmed quill, feathered her face with the other end of it, and dipped into her tiny ink pot to scratch in the following words:
The Duke Diaries
How the Far More Interesting Half lives …
Little did she know how her life would change after that monumental moment.
1. Verity Fitzroy would refine the art of eavesdropping, especially after her brother's circle of friends became known as the royal entourage. Yes, all of James's acquaintances, now dukes, bore their ducal strawberry-leaved emblems with pride and celebrated their unrivaled superiority in the ton by extraordinarily entertaining, ofttimes wildly excessive actions.
2. Her brother would not marry Catharine. (However, his next choice for a bride fourteen years later would be no better. This current fiancée suggested all of his sisters should be packed off to a nunnery. It made Verity reconsider the merits of cheetahs and pray for divine intervention. Her wishes and those of her sisters, Faith, Hope, Chastity, and Charity, would soon be answered.)
And 3. Verity's own secrets, in the end, would rival the combined actions of all the dukes of the royal entourage.
Yes, the very public fall from grace of more than a handful of Graces, and her part in it would prove to Verity that her stories of small green verifiable legumes, hoof picks, and governesses with irrational dislikes, would have been far superior diary topics after all.
Then again, the best of heroines are usually known for dabbling in disaster.