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To Bedevil a Duke (Lords of London, Book 1) (Ebook)

To Bedevil a Duke (Lords of London, Book 1) (Ebook)

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A Duke of many rules. A Lady of independence.

Since her cheating husband created a scandal by dying beneath his whore, Darcy de Merle is determined to enjoy widowhood, and refuses to mourn a man she grew to loathe. Setting the ton ablaze, Darcy holds a ball to re-launch herself into Society on the anniversary of his death.

Cameron, the Duke of Athelby plays by the rules. Always. He’s lived through the terrible consequences of what revelry, carelessness, and lack of respect for one’s social position can have on a family. So, when he sees Darcy de Merle skirting the boundaries of respectability, it is only right that he should remind her of the proper etiquette that she should adhere to.

Darcy refuses to allow another man to tell her what to do. When the Duke of Athelby chastises her at every turn, reminding her of her social failures, well, there is only one thing to be done about it…seduce the duke and show him there is more to life than the proper conventions set by the ton.

A battle of wills ensues where all bets are off, numerous rules are broken and love becomes the ultimate reward.

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London, 1805

Lady Darcy de Merle was foxed. A most scandalous and terrible way to be at her own ball, but the ratafia was quite delicious this evening, and surely she could be excused for imbibing more than she ought when celebrating the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death and her relaunch into London Society.
Darcy looked down at her golden silk gown with small puffed sleeves. The empire cut accentuated her small waist and ample bosom enough to garner many admiring glances from the opposite sex. Her dark locks were pulled up into an intricate motif atop her head, and small loose curls fell about her face, softening the look. The pairing of golden gown and dark hair complemented her, and for the first time in years, she felt attractive.
Her departed husband, the Earl of Terrance, had never made her feel so. He was not missed, and it had taken all of Darcy’s good breeding to wait out the twelve months required for mourning. Especially when she would never mourn such a man. On his death, he’d left her nothing, which she had expected. Not that it impacted her very much. Her grandfather, having loved her most out of all his female grandchildren, had left her the London townhouse along with a very tidy sum should she ever require it. Darcy had been named for her grandfather, and had chosen to once again be known by his name from the day she’d placed her husband into the cold earth. Her father, the Earl de Merle, had supported her in her choice. Having been witness to her husband’s indiscretions, his vile temper and cutting tongue, he was happy she reverted to the name she was born with, not the one given to her upon marriage.
It wasn’t to be borne for a de Merle to be treated so shabbily, and as such, Darcy had clasped her freedom upon his death and would not look back. Life was to be lived, and she would never exist again under the atrocious circumstances she’d endured with Terrance.
The Viscountess Oliver and Darcy’s dearest friend, came to stand with her. “You look positively decadent in that golden gown Darcy, and you know it. Your husband would have a seizure if he knew you were holding one of London’s biggest balls in honor of the anniversary of his death, and your debut back into Society.”
Darcy smiled in welcome. Fran was a tall, lithe woman with the most beautiful auburn hair, a trait from her Scottish roots. It amused Darcy that her husband, a man she should never have married in the first place, would be insulted by her actions. Oh, how she’d love to see his fat, ruddy cheeks blossom in annoyance and anger at her defiance of him. “How wonderful that sounds. But you know, as a woman renowned for scandal, I could not allow such an opportunity to pass. One must keep up the standard to which they intend to live. If I did not, that would be a scandal in itself.”
Fran linked their arms and walked them along the outer edge of the ballroom floor. “You smell of wine. How much have you had this evening?”
“Enough that I know I should have no more, and I promise I will not.” Although Darcy loved nothing more than scandalizing the ton, she would only ever go so far, and never crossed the invisible line that even her family’s name could not redeem her from. Two years into her marriage she’d decided that she would no longer live as a doormat to her husband, and had begun attending parties again, dancing and flirting her way about London. Her husband did not approve, would bellow and break furniture and valuables, but Darcy had had enough. If she could not divorce the man, she would at least live her own life, just as he did.
“The last thing you want is to be compromised by a money-hungry rake, looking to catch you at your most vulnerable,” Fran said. “Unless of course you wish to be married again.”
Darcy gasped. “Not in a million years, Lady Oliver. The last thing that I want is another husband. Although now that I’m free from Terrance, I may look for a lover.”
It was her friend’s turn to gasp before she grinned, just as she used to when they were young women at Mrs. Dew’s Finishing School for Young Ladies in Bath, before they were about to sneak off and have some fun that the teachers were never aware of.
“There are many gentlemen here this evening who’d be only too happy to oblige you, I’m sure.”
Darcy looked about. There were a few gentlemen looking her way, some nodding slightly, others giving the best smouldering look they knew how to perform. And maybe one of these men would do. Certainly, Mr. Ambrose could prove useful. That he was a wealthy American and would not be staying long could be a point in his favour. A lover this Season was paramount for her happiness and sanity, if she were honest.
Not that her friend Fran knew, but Darcy had attended a masked ball one evening that opened her eyes to the pleasures women could have. She hadn’t participated, merely skulked about drinking champagne, but many others were more than happy to explore, and become better acquainted with the opposite sex within only a matter of hours.
As Darcy was fetching her cloak, ready to leave, she overheard a woman that sounded to be behind the cloak rooms’ door, making sounds unlike anything she’d ever heard before. It had been one of ecstasy, of begging and gasping, and she’d wanted to know what it was that the woman adored so. How did a man make a woman react in such a way? Her late husband had never fulfilled her needs, and by the time he passed away they’d not shared a bed for a year or more.
“What do you think of Mr. Ambrose?” Darcy asked, taking two glasses of champagne from a passing footman, ignoring the fact she wasn’t supposed to be having any more to drink.
“Delicious,” Fran said, giggling. “Although please do not tell Lord Oliver I said such a thing. You know how he can be.”
Only too well. Viscount Oliver, Fran’s husband of two years, was devoted to her, and at times could be quite the jealous husband. Not that Fran would ever wish to leave him. They were, in Darcy’s estimation, quite a lovable couple. Perfectly made for each other.
“I would never tease his lordship, so even if I wanted to I would never go against your word. But I do think you’re right. Mr. Ambrose would do very well pleasuring a woman, I think.”
Fran barked out a scandalously unladylike laugh, which had those about them turn at the outburst. Darcy smiled as if she’d not shocked her friend into hysterics. “Do you not agree?”
“Pleasuring a woman? Darcy, you are too wild. Wherever did you hear such a saying?”
“I played whist with the stable hands yesterday evening, and after some beer, the men were quite free with their speech. I learnt quite a few sayings, if you wish to be enlightened?”
“Enlightened may be the wrong word to use in this case,” Fran said, taking a sip of her champagne. “But in all truth, my dear, do you think you will take a lover?”
Darcy shrugged. Oh yes, she wanted a lover. To find pleasure in the arms of a man without having to tie herself to him indefinitely. “Maybe, if I find a gentleman that I want to sleep with.” God knows her deceased husband Terrance had been terrible in bed, and she’d often been thankful he’d had his whores, if only to keep him away from her. He did not know anything about giving pleasure to a woman. It was like lying with a block of wood that grunted a lot and was finished within a minute.
Fran sighed as she watched her husband chatting with some other guests across the room. “It is so very important that they know how to please. I could not bear my marriage if I did not find my husband attractive in that sense. I am certainly blessed that Papa allowed me to choose someone I loved to marry, not some gentleman who’d bring fortune and prestige to our name.”
“Lucky that Lord Oliver brought those things in any case, along with his heart for you.”
“He did,” Fran said, turning her gaze back to Darcy. “People will expect a de Merle to marry high, and many thought you did not marry to your station with the earl since his pockets were to let. What will you do?”
“I will do as I please, although in hindsight I probably should have listened to Papa when he said the man was a dandy. How very accurate he was in his estimation.” Darcy sighed, thinking back on that time. “I feel for Papa, for he did not know Terrance was so deep in debt. As you know the man kept his money troubles well buried until after our marriage.”
Not to mention her own blindness toward Terrance. To be so easily swayed by declarations of undying love, of a life that would be comfortable and happy, to believe whatever came out of his mouth as truth, was a mistake she’d not make again with another man. This time she would choose a man who shared her values, did not wish for marriage, and understood women’s needs behind closed doors. And one who did not expect her to finance his lifestyle.
“Yes, indeed.” Fran smiled. “What about the Duke Athelby? Rumor has it he’s seriously searching for a wife, and he’s dreadfully handsome. Dark and brooding, tall, and with that slight air of aloofness to all that’s before him. I think he may pleasure you very well.”
Darcy choked on her champagne at her friend’s use of her words. She directed her attention to the duke. A shame she had given up any thoughts pertaining to the man, but then it was his own fault. No longer did Darcy de Merle go out of her way to please any man, especially one that thought all women should be seen and not heard, relegated to the nursery to produce babies. He was severe, and his words were sharp enough to cut even the thickest-skinned person among her set if he disliked their appearance or manner. The duke was a towering terror that made most debutantes shudder in their silk slippers, and gentlemen walk with care.
Not Darcy though.
She’d merely dismissed him as a man who thought too much of himself, as he always had. Not a feature that was at all redeeming. That Darcy’s godmother—his grandmother and only surviving relative—thought he held qualities that would suit her and other women was an absurd notion. He might be a gentleman, a duke even, but his manners—his lack of knowing when to speak and when to hold one’s tongue—made it debatable. Women did not want to be chastised over what they wore, or how they ate, or who their friends were. The duke was only too willing to point out any little flaws if he deemed them so. Darcy shook her head. His grandmother seemed to think Athelby had a heart. How wrong she was.
It was really quite unfortunate that the woman was so completely blind.
“The duke is a no, I can promise you that. He’s a young, handsome man until he opens his mouth, and then a grumpy, middle-aged man appears. It is no surprise to me he’s not married, for who’d put up with such a displeasing creature?” Although he wasn’t displeasing to the eye, her words were not as true as she’d wanted them to sound. Sometimes when he laughed, which wasn’t often, she glimpsed the boy he’d once been in the man he’d become, and she longed to have him back.
“Creature may be too harsh a term, Darcy. Maybe his grandmother is right, and he’s merely misunderstood.”
Darcy shook her head, smiling at Fran. “You’ve always wanted to see the best of people, but sometimes it just isn’t there. And I for one did not escape a marriage, a husband who treated me like a piece of dirt beneath his hessian boots, to merely marry another who would do the same. God forbid that my gown be a little too low cut, or that if I sat before a fire my ankles showed. The duke would have an apoplectic fit! I couldn’t stand it, and you know papa would never survive seeing me married to another uptight prig.”
Fran laughed just as her husband walked toward them, the grin on his face foretelling that he was here to claim his wife for the waltz that was due to start.
He bowed to Darcy and then Fran, taking his wife’s hand before kissing it softly. “I believe the next dance is mine to claim, my dear.”
Fran blushed. “I do believe you’re right, my lord.” Fran grinned over her shoulder as she walked away. “I will be back soon, my dear.”
They walked off and joined the other couples that were congregating on the dance floor. Darcy watched them, and the others, as they started to glide through the graceful movements of the waltz. It was a dance she herself loved, but in her current situation, it was probably best that she hadn’t been asked to engage in it. No one wanted to see a woman fall over due to her decidedly unstable foxed feet.
“I see you’ve consumed too much wine this evening,” the Duke of Athelby said, startling her.
She smiled up at him, knowing just how well that would annoy him. “I have, and how liberating it is. And you should probably consider yourself fortunate that I am a little foxed.”
“And why is that, Lady de Merle…if that is what you’re calling yourself these days.”
“Why yes, it is. And you do know, Duke, that you’re standing next to a widowed woman, someone who has been used, and is not as perfect as we all know you’re fond of. Maybe it wouldn’t be wise for a man with such stellar manners and an impeccable reputation to be doing such a scandalous thing.”
“I’m sure I shall survive, even though your vulgar ball, which is being held exactly twelve months to the day since your husband’s funeral, is far from appropriate. I fear such a move will limit the time my grandmother may spend with you in the foreseeable future. I cannot have her reputation tarnished in such a way.”
Darcy narrowed her eyes. “Tarnished? You are trying to make me laugh, yes? How absurd that a woman of your grandmother’s age would even be worried about her reputation. Are you sure that the real reason you don’t want her around me is due to your narrowed views on life?”
The muscle in his jaw worked, always a sign he was fighting to remain civil. Keeping his temper was not something the Duke of Athelby was famous for. Darcy studied his profile, his strong jaw and straight nose. The man was devastatingly handsome, his features severe and powerful. There was a time, when they were both still children, that she had been determined to marry him. He’d been carefree then, as wild and boisterous as herself, and for the month-long house party that their parents had attended, to which they had been brought along, they had been inseparable. It was years before they met again, and by then Cameron had come into his title and the fun-loving, incorrigible, laughing boy that she’d known was gone.
“It is my wish for the connection to be severed somewhat. It is for the best. You must see that,” he said with an arrogant lift of his head.
Darcy spotted his grandmother strolling their way and smiled in welcome. “Ah, I see Lady Ainsworth is here. Maybe we can ask her about your new rules.”
Athelby sputtered but didn’t have time to divert his grandmother before Darcy took the older woman’s arm and led her over to a settee near an unlit hearth. The duke followed, and Darcy did her best to ignore his black scowl. The viscountess kissed Darcy on the cheek and kept her hands firmly clasped in her own.
“How is my dear, dear goddaughter? I hope you’re enjoying yourself this evening?”
“I am, my lady, very much so, but I’ve just had the most distressing news.” Darcy looked up at Athelby, his steely gaze locked on her. It did odd things to her stomach having his attention in such a way. She turned her attention back to Lady Ainsworth to escape it.
“Your grandson has just informed me tonight that our association must come to an end.”
“Now, those were not my exact words—”
Her ladyship held up her hand, halting her grandson’s explanation. “What did he say, my dear? You have my full attention,” she said, casting an irritated glance at Athelby.
“Due to my husband’s death, and holding this ball twelve months to the day since we laid Terrance to rest, the duke believes that I would only bring shame and ruination to your family should we be seen together. This ball is a garish act and one that casts me in the light of a woman who did not love her husband.” Not that she had at all, but her ladyship didn’t need to know that. “And so, we must part from this night on. Never to be seen together again, I’m afraid.”
“Your sarcasm is not lost on me, Lady de Merle,” the duke said, glaring to the point that his brows almost joined, and not caring who in the upper ten-thousand saw it.
Darcy wanted him to be aware of her annoyance, and although she smiled sweetly at Lady Ainsworth, what the duke had said earlier was not to be borne. How dare he make her feel like she was the one who’d done something wrong. That her conduct was somehow worse than her husband’s whoring and gambling, most of which was with her money. Another little prickle in her soul was that she’d had to walk away from Terrance’s London home, a house she’d rightfully saved from being taken back by the bank upon his death. How could she not celebrate being rid of a complete fool? She would not pretend to have a broken heart, or to be a sad little widow.
“Well, that is absurd, and I can assure you, my dear,” Lady Ainsworth said, her jowls shaking a little in wrath, “I will be spending just as much time with you as I always have. Your mama was one of my closest friends, no matter the twenty-year difference between us. I promised her that I would care for you until the day I died, and I will not, no matter what my grandson has to say about it, deviate from the honor.”
“Thank you, Your Ladyship.”
“Grandmother, see sense. If I’m to find a wife of similar standards to my own, surely you can see that our family being associated with a renowned hellion, a woman who flaunts her freedom from the marriage state with little care for her reputation, would not show us in a favourable light,” he said, beyond frustrated.
Lady Ainsworth sighed, looking down her nose at her grandson. Not the easiest of feats considering his grace was standing, and both Darcy and her ladyship were sitting. “I will not hear of such stupidity again. Really, Cameron, do step off that high horse you seem so acquainted with these days and return to our level.”
Darcy’s lips twitched, and she fought not to giggle at the reddening of his grace’s cheeks. Really, he was being silly looking down on her so. “What if I promise that whenever I’m around her ladyship, and yourself for that matter, I will be on my best behavior?” she said, taking pity on the man. If it meant she could continue socializing with Lady Ainsworth, she would take care. When she decided to enjoy her Season and all the opportunities this and others might bring, she never meant to inadvertently hurt others. If his association with her would hurt his chances of making a match, then she would behave herself while around him.
“You’re around us tonight, and yet you’re foxed. Not that my grandmother has noticed such a thing.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake, it is a ball, and one that is being hosted by me. I may drink if I wish, and I’ll not have even a duke tell me what to do.”
“That is enough, both of you,” her ladyship said, casting them both a dark glance. “Anyone listening would think you’re a bickering married couple already, like so many around us. Your Grace, you do not have the right to be so opinionated about someone who has been a family friend for many years. You need to remember that if you cannot say anything nice, you do not say anything at all.”
“I think, Grandmother, that is the first logical thing you’ve said this evening. It is also my cue to leave.” He bowed. “Good evening, ladies,” he said, heading in the direction of the ballroom doors.
Darcy growled, throwing daggers at his back as he made his way through the ton. Argh, the man was infuriating and so high and mighty. She had equally good breeding—she was a de Merle. How dare he look down his nose at her.
“Darcy, my dear. I know your mind is no doubt coming up with multiple ways of getting back at my grandson, but please let him be. I’m hoping that when he gets a wife, his emotional wall and his rather cutting opinions may abate a little.”
“I doubt that they will, but I promise I shall not cause trouble for him,” Darcy said. “We differ in opinions, and no doubt will again. I will not stop inviting him to events or talking to him should our paths cross.”
“Thank you, my dear.”
Her ladyship paused, a small frown line between her brows the only indication that she was concerned about the duke. Otherwise Lady Ainsworth was a very attractive woman for her age. Of course she had smile lines, and her hair was grey, but otherwise, time had been very kind to her.
“I think my grandson is lonely. And I do believe that is why he’s so angry at the world. He spent his formative years with no one to argue, play, and share secrets with. The brothers had an age gap of over ten years, they hardly knew one another. He’s grown so used to his own company that I think he finds it hard to socialize. As was demonstrated this evening.”
A pang of sadness tweaked inside Darcy at the memory of the carriage accident that had taken the life of the duke’s elder brother. But remembering his ungentlemanly words, she tried to push aside any inclination to feel sorry for the duke. Not very successfully, however. “I’m sure you’re right, Lady Ainsworth. A happy union is just what his grace needs, and maybe this will be the Season that he finds a woman to warm his bed.”
“Sometimes I think you’re the perfect person for Cameron. You both certainly have a wicked tongue,” her ladyship said, a calculating twinkle in her blue orbs.
Darcy chuckled, waving a footman over to bring them champagne. “We would not suit, and I’m not looking to marry anyone. Marriage to Lord Terrance was quite enough for one lifetime.”
Her ladyship sighed, taking a small sip of her champagne. “Well, that is a shame, for I would love to have you as a granddaughter as well as my goddaughter. But,” she said, a sad tilt to her lips, “one cannot have everything that they wish. I often fret that I shall never see the two people I care for most happy and settled in the world.”
Darcy took her ladyship’s hand and squeezed. She was not immune to her words, that often sparked guilt within her. And knowing it was completely on purpose on her ladyship’s behalf made her smile. “Do behave, Godmother. I know what game you’re playing, and once again, his grace and myself do not suit. My only connection to the gentleman is through you, and that is where it shall stay. As stated previously tonight, and many times at previous events, if you recall.”
“One must try to make you understand, my dear. It never hurts to plant a suggestion in someone’s mind, for it to germinate and possibly make them wonder if it has merit.”
“You’re incorrigible,” Darcy said, laughing.
“I know,” her ladyship replied, no remorse whatsoever in her tone.
Darcy looked back at the duke and tried to imagine him in her bed. He was certainly one of the most striking, powerful men in London. In the throes of passion, wild and wicked, maybe he would look even more so. He turned and looked down at Miss Watson, whom he was currently conversing with, frowning and looking as though he was chastising the poor woman. Darcy shook her head. No, he would never do.
His grace looked up and their gazes smashed together. The pit of her stomach clenched and her cheeks flushed from the inspection he bestowed on her. What a shame she disliked him so much. Or was he like his grandmother said—merely misunderstood?

Main Tropes

  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Virginal Duke
  • Hot Regency Romance
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