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Tempt Me, Your Grace (League of Unweddable Gentleman, Book 1) (Ebook)

Tempt Me, Your Grace (League of Unweddable Gentleman, Book 1) (Ebook)

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She was banished from England…and she banished him from her heart.

Upon her return to England following her father’s death, Miss Ava Knight becomes the owner of one of the largest racehorse estates in the country. There’s only one problem: the future of the estate requires a strong breeding program with the services of a stallion named, Titan. A shame that the horse is owned by a man she swore to never see again.

The Duke of Whitstone, Tate Wells, was heartbroken when Ava abandoned him on the night of their elopement, and he vowed to never lay eyes on Ava again. Despite Tate’s unwillingness to forgive Ava, she comes to his aid during a deliberately lit fire at his estate. Someone is determined to destroy them. Now, the two are forced to work together to ensure the safety of their horses and their homes.

Will their previous feelings for each other rekindle their love, or will their feelings stall out at the starting gates?

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Knight Stables, Berkshire, 1816

Miss Avelina Knight, Ava to those close to her, tightened the girth of her mount, and checked that the saddle wouldn’t slip whilst hoisting herself onto one stirrup. With a single candle burning in the sconce on the stables’ wall, she worked as quickly and as noiselessly as she could in the hopes that the stable hands that slept in the lofts above wouldn’t wake.
Pleased that the saddle would hold, and that her mount was well watered before her departure, she walked Manny out of the stables as silently as possible, cringing when the horse’s shod feet made a clip clop sound with each step.
Ava blew out the candle as she walked past it, and picking up her small bag, threw it over her horse’s neck before hoisting herself up into the saddle. She sat there a minute, listening for any noise, or the possibility that someone was watching. Happy that everything remained quiet, she nudged her mount and started for the eastern gate.
There was still time and she didn’t need to rush, now that she was on her way. Tate had said he’d meet her at their favorite tree at three in the morning, and it was only half past two.
She pushed Manny into a canter, winding her way through several horse yards that surrounded her home and past the gallop her father used to train their racing stock. Or what was once her home. From tonight onward, her life would finally begin. With Tate, she would travel the world, make love under the stars if they so wished, and not have to be slaves to either of their families’ whims or Society and its strictures.
Tate and she would find a new life. A new beginning. Just the two of them until they expanded their family to add children in a few years.
Pleasure warmed her heart at the knowledge, and she couldn’t stop the soft laugh of delight which escaped her.
In time, Ava hoped her father would forgive her, and maybe when they returned, happily married with children even, her father would be pleased.
The shadowy figure of a man stood beneath the tree. Yet from the stance and girth of the gentleman, it did not look like Tate. Coldness swept over her skin, and she narrowed her eyes, trying to make out who was waiting for her. Her stomach in knots, she pushed her horse forward unsure what this new development meant.
Ava looked about, but could see no one else. With a couple of more steps she gasped when she finally made out the ghostly form. Her father.
Her heart pounded a frantic beat. How was it he was here and not Tate? They had been so careful, so discreet. Why, they had not even circulated within the same social sphere to be heard whispering or planning. With Tate being the heir to his father, the Duke of Whitstone and Ava only the daughter of a racehorse notable, their lives couldn’t be more different.
Ava rode her horse up to the tree. She saw little point in turning back.
Pulling up before her father, she met his gaze, as much of it as she could make out under the moonlit night.
“Ava, climb down, I wish to speak to you.”
His tone was not angry, but guarded, and the pit of her stomach lurched at the notion that something dreadful had happened to Tate. Had he been hurt? Why wasn’t he here to meet her instead?
She jumped down, walking up to him, her mount following on her heels.
“Papa, what are you doing here?” she asked, needing to know and knowing there was little point in ignoring the fact that he’d found her out.
She dropped her horse’s reins, and her mount reached down to nibble on the grass.
Her father’s face took on a stern cast. “The Marquess of Cleremore will not be meeting you here, Ava. I received a note late last night notifying me that, as we speak, his lordship has been sent to London to catch the first boat out to New York. From what his father, the Duke of Whitstone, states, this was the marquess’ decision. Tate confided in his father the predicament he’d found himself in with you, and that he didn’t know how to untangle himself from having to marry a woman who was not his equal.”
Ava stared at her father, unable to fathom what he was saying. Hollowness opened up in her chest and she clasped her shawl as if to halt its progress. Tate had left her? No, it couldn’t be true. “But that doesn’t make any sense, Papa. Tate loves me. He said so himself at this very spot.” Surely she couldn’t have been wrong about his affections. People did not declare such emotions unless they were true. She certainly had not.
She loved Tate. Ava thought back to all the times he’d taken liberties with her, kissing her, touching her, spending copious amounts of time with her and it had all been meaningless to him. She had been a mere distraction, a plaything for a man of his stature.
Her stomach roiled at the idea and she stumbled to the tree, clutching it for support. “No. I do not believe it. Tate wouldn’t do that to me. He loves me as I love him and we’re going to marry each other.” Ava stared down at the ground for a moment, her mind reeling before she rounded on her father. “I need to see him. He needs to tell me this to my face.”
“Lord Cleremore has already left for town. And by morning, he’ll be on a ship to America.” Her father sighed, coming over to her and taking her hand. “I thought your attachment to him was a passing folly. His lordship was never for you, my dear. We train and breed racehorses and, in England, people like us do not marry future dukes.”
Ava stared at her father, not believing this was happening. She’d thought tonight would be the start of forever, but it was now the beginning of the end. Her eyes smarted and she was powerless to hold onto her composure. “But I love him,” she whispered, her voice cracking.
Her father, a proud but humble man from even humbler beginnings, straightened his spine. “I know you think you did, but it wasn’t love. You’re young, too young to be throwing your life away on a boy who would have his way with you and then marry another titled, well-connected woman.”
“I’m not ruined or touched, father. Please don’t speak in such a way.” She didn’t want to imagine that Tate could treat her with so little respect, but what her father said was worth thinking over. The past few weeks with Tate had left very little room other than to plan, to plot. Would they have thought differently, would Tate have acted differently if he’d been older, more mature? If his departure showed anything, it was certainly that what her father was saying was true. He had regretted his choice and had left instead of facing her. Letting her down as a gentleman should, had not been his course. It showed how little he thought of her and the love she’d so ardently declared to him.
She swiped at her cheeks, wanting to scream into the night at the unfairness of it all.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking at her half boots and not able to meet his gaze. How could he have done this to me? She would never forgive him.
He sighed. “There is one more thing, my dear.”
More! What else could there possibly be to say! “What, papa?” she asked, dread formed like a knot in her stomach at her father’s ashen countenance. She’d seen a similar look from him when he’d come to tell her of her mother’s passing and it was a visage she’d never wanted to see again. Ava clutched the tree harder.
“I’m sending you away to finishing school in France. I’ve enrolled you at Madame. Dufour’s Refining School for Girls. It’s located in southern France. It comes highly recommended and will help prepare you for what’s to come in your life; namely, running Knight Stables, taking over from me when the time comes.”
Finishing school! “You’re sending me to France! But Papa, I don’t need finishing school. You know that I’m more than capable of taking over the running of the stables already. And I know my manners, how to act in both upper- and lower-class society. Please do not send me away. I won’t survive without you and our horses. Don’t take that away from me, too.” Not when I’ve already lost the happiness of which I was so certain.
He shushed her, pulling her into his arms. Ava shoved him away, pacing before him.
Her father held out his hand, trying to pacify her. “You’ll thank me one day. Trust me when I tell you, this is a good thing for you, and I’ll not be moved on my decision. We’re leaving for Dover tomorrow and I, myself, will accompany you to ensure your safe arrival.”
“What.” She stopped pacing. “Father, please don’t do this. I promise not to do such a silly, foolish thing again. You said yourself Tate was leaving. There is no reason to send me away as well.” Just saying such a thing aloud hurt and Ava clutched her stomach. To have loved and lost Tate would be hard enough; nevertheless being sent away to a foreign country, alone and without any friends or support was too much to bear.
He came over to her, pulling her against him and kissing her hair. “This is a good opportunity for you, Ava. I have worked hard, saved, and invested to enable me to give you all that a titled child could receive. I want this for you. Lord Cleremore may not think that you’re suitable for him, but we shall prove him wrong. Make me proud, use the education to better yourself, and come home. Promise me you will do so.”
Ava slumped against him. Her father had never been flexible on things and once he’d made a decision it was final. There was no choice; she would have to do as he said. “I will go as I see there is little I can say to change your mind.”
“That’s my girl.” He pulled back and whistled for her mount.
She couldn’t even manage a half-smile as Manny trotted over to them.
“Let us go. I’m sure by the time we arrive back home breakfast will not be far away.”
Using a nearby log, Ava hoisted herself up onto the saddle. The horse, as if knowing her way home, started ambling down the hill. Light shone in the eastern sky and glancing to her left, Ava watched the sun rise over her land. Observed the dawn of a new day, marking a new future even for her, one that did not include Tate, Marquess Cleremore and future Duke of Whitstone.
A lone tear slid down her cheek and she promised herself, there and then, never to cry over Tate again or any other man. She’d given him her heart and trust and he had callously broken them. That the tear drying on her cheek would be the last she ever afforded him.
And his precious dukedom that he loved so dearly. More dearly than her.

Main Tropes

  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Past Love
  • Regency Romance
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