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A Wager with a Duke (The Wayward Yorks, Book 1) (Ebook)

A Wager with a Duke (The Wayward Yorks, Book 1) (Ebook)

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Nothing is more reckless—and potentially ruinous—than a wager on true love…

Miss Sophie York is more than ready to enjoy a London Season sponsored by her cousin. What better way to overcome her painful past than to secure a happy future for herself? And if she’s lucky, perhaps that future will include her handsome new friend…

Finding a bride should be easy for Henry James, Duke of Holland. But rumors of his romantic…prowess are highly exaggerated. So, he’s at a loss when it comes to wooing the lovely Sophie. Especially when she finds out the only reason he approached her in the first place was because of a ridiculous bet…

Discovering his secret could be devastating to their love. But then again, so could her secret. Anyone care to wager on their odds of overcoming it all and making it to happily ever after?

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London 1815

Henry strolled through Whites and, with a sporadic glance down at the betting book, halted his steps in an instant. Normally, what was scribbled in the tome would not seize his attention. He wasn't in London to rut about like so many others were wont to do. But the sight of the new-to-town Miss Sophie York's name, in bold black font and forthright on the page, caught his engagement.
Although she had not been deemed the Season's diamond due to her lack of fortune, this year's favorite was part of a bet. He shook his head, having lost count of how many ladies were termed such. Who really knew who was the most accomplished, well-bred, pretty, and pure? If those were all the requirements for being the most sought-after in London, then he could qualify.
A large hand slapped his back and lurched him forward. He tumbled toward the betting book before he righted his stance.
"Holland, are you going to add your name to the bet? Come, man, we know you'll likely win if you do. Not a woman in London who could refuse your charm, or so I'm told on a nightly basis," Lord Bankes affirmed at his side. A notion that many in London and, in fact, across England were led to believe.
Not that any of it was true. If the ton knew of his sexual inexperience, he would be laughed out of London by nightfall.
"Perchance I shall," he said, picking up the quill and scribbling his name below so many others. He did not mind playing along with the illusion. It kept him secure in many ways.
"Miss Sophie York, I must admit, is the purest angel to ever walk the wooden floorboards of London's most affluent homes. I daresay that under her fine gowns—even if they were bestowed upon her by the Countess of Kemsley—hide two deity wings that would carry her up to the heavens themselves."
Henry scoffed and turned his rudeness into a cough. He nodded, not daring to disagree with a man so exemplary with his explanation of the divine.
"I certainly agree. We have not been introduced, but I have seen her at different events, and I hope to gain an introduction soon."
"Well, you must if you wish to win this bet. You do know what you scribbled your name down beneath, do you not?" Bankes asked him, his eyes alight with curiosity.
"Of course," Henry stated, his answer brooking no argument. He swallowed and quickly read the terms of the bet and balked.
"Who wrote this bet up? The first gentleman to make her fall in love with him wins a thousand pounds?" He continued reading and felt his eyes growing ever larger by the minute. "To help with her lack of dowry when the nuptials occur."
Henry almost cast up his accounts at what he signed, not that he had to take the bet too seriously. He could easily ignore that he ever signed it and pretend to participate.
Another part of him cringed at the idea of Miss York not knowing that she was the center of such a ruse and would not know why so many gentlemen would court her and pay attention to her every desire.
"True, she isn't flush with cash, but if you look at all the names written, they're all rich enough to support her and her mother, whom I hear lives in a cottage in the country somewhere. But," Bankes continued, "she is a pretty little debutante and will make a splendid bed partner. I do hope she's not as angelic in the sheets as she appears on the dance floor. I would appreciate a vixen in the bedroom."
"Indeed," Holland managed, turning on his heel and leaving Bankes at the betting book alone. He was in London to find a wife. He was eight and twenty, old enough to settle and have children, an heir if he were so fortunate, but to court a person without their knowing of the game afoot was wrong.
He hated to think what she would say or how she would react should she become aware that whoever won her heart had played such a game with the gentlemen in town this Season.
Well, he would not do it. He would pretend to take part but not court her, no matter how pretty she was. Plenty of other young women were just as sweet-tempered and new to town whom he could meet.
Not to mention several embarking on their second or even third Season. A wallflower would suit his temperament, his genuine one in any case. He did not like to be the hub of attention, the beau of the ball, the rake every matron wanted in her bed, no matter what anyone else said or thought.
Somehow he had managed to garner a reputation of a rogue by merely being secretive. Which was not mysterious at all, merely introverted. The fact his father passed from syphilis was foremost in his mind whenever the thought occurred to spread his seed recklessly.
He slumped into one of the plush leather chairs Whites sported and waved a footman over. A glass of stiff liquor was just what he needed. The Derby ball was this evening, where the games of courtship and playing the doting gentleman would begin.
He would need all the fortitude of the amber liquid in his hand he could get. There was nothing wrong with liquid courage, after all.
* * *
Sophie took a deep, calming breath and then placed her hand into that of Lord Kemsley, who helped her alight from the carriage. This evening was the Duke and Duchess of Derby's ball, not the first she had attended this year, but anyone who was anyone in society was rumored to attend. A very select invitation list that she was grateful to be a part of. Not that she could say she was invited under her own merit, she had Harlow and Lord Kemsley and their connections to thank for the honor.
They entered the sizeable Georgian manor on Berkeley Square, waiting like several other attendees to make their addresses to the hosts before entering the ballroom.
Sophie glanced down at her exquisite gown from Madame Laurent. The gown had been delivered this afternoon, and it was the loveliest dress she had ever owned, nevertheless worn. Made of the lightest shade of yellow, under the candlelight, it shimmered like gold. The dark-green braiding across the bodice and short sleeves only added to its beauty.
Her cousin Harlow was too sweet and kind to her, and she would forever be in her debt for giving her a Season.
She did not deserve one. Not really. Although she smiled and giggled when gentlemen bestowed compliments upon her, it was all a ruse. If only they knew her secret, they would tip their noses far into the air and leave her to herself. Friendless and alone, much as she was before she left Highclere.
"This ball is certain to be exciting for you, Sophie. I see Lord Bankes and Mr. Fairbanks have already spied your attendance," Harlow said after greeting their hosts and entering the ballroom.
Sophie tried not to let the magnificence of the room overwhelm her or make her gape as she was wont to do when rooms as grand as this one were manifested before her.
The wealth in London was beyond anything she had ever known, Harlow not excluded from that. Lord Kemsley doted on her cousin, and there was nothing they wanted for.
There were times in Highclere when she and her mother accepted every invitation to dine with friends in the small village merely so they could eat well, at least for one night. No one about her would know just how low her family had fallen and what a once-in-a-lifetime gift her cousin was giving by sponsoring her.
She did not know whether or not a nice gentleman would offer his hand in marriage, but she could dream. That she was here was gift enough, and while she did not expect to marry a titled gentleman, she hoped whomever she married, a barrister, solicitor, or doctor, that she would never face hunger again. Never have to fret about how to pay the butcher or coal merchant.
She reached for Harlow's arm and linked hers with her cousin. "I cannot thank you enough for having me here with you. I know my mama's letter sounded quite desperate and—"
"Hush," Harlow said, patting her arm. "There is no need for any more thanks. We're family, and thankfully we get along so very well that I could not think of you leaving or not getting what your heart desires. You deserve only the best, and I'm going to find you a husband who is simply perfect for you."
Sophie hoped that would be so. She looked across the sea of heads and her heart stuttered at the sight of the Duke of Holland. Harlow took note of her interest, her little knowing giggle told Sophie she had also spied the duke.
"Is he not one of the most handsome men in London? Excluding my husband, of course, but he would do splendidly as your spouse. He's unattached, titled, and wealthy. The perfect three points that I want for you."
Sophie shook her head but could not wipe the smile from her lips at her cousin's expectations. "I do not think he would consider me at all. He's a duke, for heaven's sake, and a rogue, from what I hear. Not that I'm supposed to know this, but I heard Lady Leigh mention at your home the other afternoon that he's having a love affair with a dowager marchioness."
Harlow glanced at her, her eyes wide with mortification. "You should not listen to such conversations, Sophie. I apologize you heard such things."
Sophie did not mind at all. How was one to find out who would suit her if she did not listen to gossip? She needed a man who would not know the intimate specialties of a woman, especially if a woman had been with a man.
The despair of her disgrace swamped her, and for a moment, she deflated like a flower in the sun too long. A rogue such as the Duke of Holland would know she was not a virgin on their wedding night, and he would hate her for it. He would possibly send her from their bedchamber and ask for an annulment. And then she would be ruined, this time, however, publicly.
All she had was the ability to keep her disgrace from becoming known, and she needed a man who was less knowledgeable about women than the opposite.
"It did not offend me at all. It helps me understand which gentlemen are seriously looking for a wife and those who are not. Nothing untoward or lewd was said, I promise. Please do not say anything to Lady Leigh."
"Very well," Harlow said with a sigh. "I will not, but come. I see Lord Bankes looks to be heading our way. I think your first dance is about to take place."
Sophie looked in the direction of the earl. He was less handsome than the Duke of Holland, but he would be a perfect candidate for a husband, she guessed, from the way he fiddled with his cravat and patted down his hair. He did not look like he had ever spoken to a woman, nevertheless slept with one.
She bestowed upon him her sweetest smile, and he all but turned as red as a beet.
The perfect gentleman, indeed.

Main Tropes

  • A Gentleman's Bet
  • Different Social Spheres
  • Regency Romance
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