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Touching stories for the shorter days of November

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How to Marry a Duke, January 2011
by Vicky Dreiling

Forever
Featuring: Tristan Shelbourne; Tess Mansfield
432 pages
ISBN: 0446565377
EAN: 9780446565370
Mass Market Paperback
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Fresh Fiction Review

"In her historical romance debut, author Vicky Dreiling gives us an 1800's version of "The Bachelor.""

How to Marry a Duke
Vicky Dreiling

Reviewed by Viki Ferrell
Posted December 13, 2010

Romance Historical

Tristan Gatewick, the Duke of Shelbourne, is closing in on his 31st birthday and has not taken a bride to produce an heir to his title. He enlists the services of Miss Tessa Mansfield, a matchmaker, to find him a suitable wife.

Tessa is a declared spinster, although she is only 26. Her desire in life is to make matches for unfortunate young ladies who might otherwise have trouble finding a husband. She considers it her career. She is extremely wealthy and very independent. A husband for herself is the least of her cares.

But this is the first time Tessa has tried to make a match for a man. Their many meetings about the duke's courtship of the 24 candidates she selects lead to longing looks and gestures that stir feelings in both of them. As the duke declares his feelings for Tessa, she resists because of a secret in her past. When that secret rears its ugly head and Tessa is blackmailed, she's afraid of what her fate and that of Tristan and his family may be.

You are sure to enjoy the delightful games and interviews in this matchmaking saga. But just what is Tessa's dark secret that will keep her from the love of her life? How does Tristan make his choice of a duchess, and who will it be? Ms. Dreiling has done a fine job with her debut novel.

Learn more about How to Marry a Duke

SUMMARY

Tristan, the Duke of Shelbourne is a man with a mission: find a wife he can tolerate as long as they both shall live. No love is necessary—nor desired. But how to choose amid a dizzying array of wealthy-yet-witless candidates? Hire London’s infamously prim and proper matchmaker. Then pretend she’s not the most captivating woman he’s ever met . . .

Helping a devilish Duke create a contest to pick his perfect mate is the kind of challenge Tessa Mansfield relishes. Her methods may be scandalous, but she’s determined to find the notorious bachelor more than a wife— she’ll bring him true love. Yet when Tessa watches the women vie for the Duke’s affections, she longs to win his heart herself. And after a stolen kiss confirms Tristan’s desire, Tessa knows she has broken a matchmaker’s number one rule: never fall in love with the groom.

Excerpt

London, 1816 The belles of the Beau Monde had resorted to clumsiness in an effort to snag a ducal husband.

Tristan James Gatewick, the Duke of Shelbourne, entered Lord and Lady Broughton’s ballroom and grimaced. A quartet of giggling chits stood near the open doors, dangling their handkerchiefs as if poised to drop them. Determined to avoid playing fetch again, he strode off along the perimeter of the room.

With a long suffering sigh, he conceded he’d contributed to this national disgrace. Ever since the scandal sheets had declared him the most eligible bachelor in England, he’d rescued twenty-nine lace handkerchiefs, five kid gloves, and twelve ivory fans.

If only he could have convinced himself to choose a bride based upon the inelegance of her fumbling, he might have wedded and bedded the most inept candidate by now. Alas, he could not abide the thought of spending a lifetime with Her Gracelessness.

He surveyed the crowd looking for the hostess of this grand squeeze, a useless endeavor. The crème de la crème swarmed the place like bees. The din of voices competed with the lively tune of a country dance, making his ears ring. He’d rather eat dirt than subject himself to the dubious delights of the marriage mart, but with his thirty-first birthday approaching, he could no longer pretend he was invincible. The dukedom had been at risk far too long.

Someone tapped a fan on his shoulder. He paused to find Genevieve and Veronica, two of his former mistresses. Seeing them together, he realized how alike the striking widows looked. Both were tall, dark-haired, and curvaceous. He canvassed the cobwebs in his brain and realized all of his past lovers had similar attributes. Well, those he could recollect.

Tristan bowed and lifted each of their hands for the requisite air kiss. “Ladies, it is a great pleasure to see you again.”

“Were your ears burning?” Veronica said in an exaggerated boudoir voice. “You are the subject du jour.”

“I am delighted,” he lied. He’d grown increasingly frustrated with all the notoriety the papers had whipped up. How the devil he’d ever find a bride in this circuslike atmosphere evaded him. But find one he must.

Genevieve tittered. “We were comparing you to all of our other gentlemen admirers.”

He’d bedded more than his fare share of mistresses, but this situation was certainly unique among his experiences. “What did you conclude?”

Genevieve leaned closer and squeezed his arm. “We agreed you were the naughtiest of all our lovers.”

He regarded her with a wicked grin. “Praise indeed.”

Veronica glanced at him from beneath her lashes. “How does it feel to be England’s most sought after bachelor?”

High-pitched giggling rang out from behind him. He rolled his eyes. Not again.

Genevieve’s shoulders shook with laughter. “Watch out, Shelbourne. A bevy of little misses are stalking you.”

He grimaced. “Rescue me?”

The two women laughed, blew him a kiss, and drifted away, leaving him to the predators. When he turned round, the four silly chits he’d seen earlier halted and stared at him, agog. Given their youthful faces and puritanical white gowns, he surmised not one of them was a day over seventeen. He needed a wife, but he’d no intention of robbing the proverbial cradle.

When they continued to gape at him as if he were a Greek statue come to life, he took a step closer. “Boo.”

Their shrieks rang in his ears as he walked off into the crowd. Ignoring the avid stares directed at him, Tristan squeezed past numerous hot, perspiring bodies, and not the kind one hoped to find naked and willing in bed. With more than a little regret, he banished thoughts of Naked and Willing in order to concentrate on Virtuous and Virginal. First he must locate Lord and Lady Broughton. Perhaps his hostess would introduce him to a sensible young lady of good breeding. Perhaps pigs would fly, too.

He might have avoided all this nonsense if his dear mama had cooperated. When he’d informed her of his bridal requirements a month ago, she’d swatted him with her fan and told him he had rocks in his head.

A loud bang nearly sent him ducking for cover. Feminine gasps erupted all around him. Alarmed, he sought the source of the disturbance and realized it was only the slamming of the card room door. The gentleman responsible for this discourteous act was none other than his oldest friend, Marc Darcett, Earl of Hawkfield.

Tristan hailed Hawk with a wave and walked in that direction. Intent upon reaching his friend, Tristan failed to notice the impending danger until something crunched beneath his shoe. A quick glance to the floor confirmed his worst fear - the thirteenth incident of a dropped fan. Damn and blast, he’d crushed it.

He lifted his gaze, expecting a devious mama and her blushing daughter. Instead, a petite, young woman with honey-blonde hair stood staring at his shoe. She said something that sounded suspiciously like ashes to ashes, dust to dust. With all the voices ringing in his ears, he assumed he’d misheard.

Though he was tempted to walk past her, he couldn’t ignore the fan he’d broken. “I beg your pardon,” he said, bending to retrieve the mangled, ivory sticks.

“You are not to blame. Someone jostled my arm.”

Her excuse was the worst he’d heard yet. He didn’t even bother to hide his cynicism as his gaze traveled up her white gown. Blue ribbons trimmed her bodice, drawing his attention to her generous décolletage. He continued his perusal to her heart-shaped face. She watched him with twitching lips. Pillow-plump lips. He inhaled on a constricted breath. Lord with that mouth she could make a fortune as a courtesan.

Her long-lashed eyes twinkled. “Sir, if you will return the remains, I will see to its burial.”

Her witty remark stunned him. Belatedly, he realized he was grinning up at her. She probably thought he’d fallen for her ruse. Exasperated with himself, he grasped the broken sticks, rose, and placed the ruined fan in her small, gloved hands.

He met her amused gaze again, noting she did not simper or blush. She was no miss fresh out of the schoolroom. “I apologize for the damage. Allow me to make reparations,” he said.

“It is quite beyond repair,” she said.

“I insist upon compensating you for-”

“My pain and suffering?” She laughed. “I assure you the fan’s death is a relief to me. Look, you can see it is exceedingly ugly.”

They’d not had a proper introduction, and yet, she’d invited him to come closer. He decided to oblige her and find out if her intentions extended beyond droll quips. While she chattered about a dim shop light and putrid green paint, he stole another glance at her mouth, picturing those lips damp and kiss-swollen. Slow heat eddied in his veins.

She continued speaking in an unreserved manner as if they were old friends rather than strangers. “Even my maids refused to take the fan,” she said. “So I decided to carry the pitiful thing at least once.”

A footman carrying a tray of champagne paused before them. She lifted up on her toes like a ballerina to place the ruined fan upon it. Pint-sized she might be, but her flimsy skirts outlined a deliciously rounded bottom. He liked voluptuous women, and his practiced eye told him this one had the body of a goddess.

His blood stirred. He wanted her.

A warning clanged in his head. She was probably married, and he never dallied with other men’s wives. Then again, maybe she wasn’t. He found himself hoping she was a willing and lonely widow, but he meant to do more than hope.

“Poor little fan. May you rest in peace.” She pirouetted and gave him a dazzling smile. “There now, I’m done mourning.”

She was exceptionally clever, but without the brittle artifice common among the ton. He caught her gaze, willing her with his eyes. “Now that the funeral is over, perhaps you would allow me to escort you to the refreshment table.” And thence to a more private location.

“You are too kind, but I must return to my friends.”

Triumph surged inside him. She’d said friends, but made no mention of a husband. “Will you allow me the pleasure of your company a little longer? I mean to persuade you to accept my offer.”

“I have dozens of other fans,” she said. “Your apology is more than sufficient.”

She intended to play hard to get. Since he’d come of age, women had always pursued him. At the prospect of a chase, excitement raced through his blood. But he must proceed with caution. If he’d misjudged her, she would take offense. A smile tugged at his mouth. He knew exactly which card to play.

He reached inside his coat and produced his engraved card. “Take it. In the event you change your mind, send round a note.” If she refused, he’d have his answer. But if she accepted, he’d have her name. And soon her.

When she started to reach for the card, he held his breath. Take it, little charmer. I’ll ride you to the stars all night.

She hesitated and then peered at his card. Her doll-like eyes grew round as carriage wheels. She curtseyed, mumbled something he couldn’t hear, and disappeared into the crowd.

Her sudden departure caught him off guard. He took two steps, searching for her, but the crowd had swallowed her. Obviously she’d not known his identity beforehand. But why had she fled?

“There you are.”

At the sound of Hawk’s voice, Tristan turned.

“I tried to save you,” Hawk said, “but that dragon Lady Durmont waylaid me. So who was the latest clumsy belle to accost you?”

“I’ve no idea,” Tristan said. “I take it you do not know her.”

“I never saw her face.” Hawk frowned. “What the devil were you doing engaging a strange lady in conversation?”

“I stepped on her fan.”

Hawk made a sound of disgust. “Follow me.”

As he walked with his friend, Tristan frowned, wondering how he could have misread her signals. Then again, the women who pursued him made no secret of their illicit intentions with their risqué innuendo. The mysterious lady had surprised and intrigued him, but she’d not taken the bait, so he dismissed her from his mind.

Hawk led him over to a wall niche displaying a winged statue of Fortuna, goddess of fortune and fate. “Old boy, you’ve got to be more careful,” Hawk said. “These chits are desperate. One of them might trick you into a compromising situation.”

Tristan huffed. “A cautionary tale in reverse. Lady Rake seduces unsuspecting bachelor.”

“There are plenty of schemers on the marriage mart who would throw away their virtue to marry a duke.”

“Ridiculous.” He’d never fall for such tricks.

“Forget this bridal business for now,” Hawk said. “You needn’t rush to the altar.”

“I’ve left the dukedom unsecured for thirteen years.” With good reason, he silently amended.

Hawk released a loud sigh. “You’re determined to wed.”

“Determined, yes. Whether I’ll succeed is debatable.”

“As usual, you’re making matters much too complicated. You’re in luck. I have a brilliant plan.”

“This ought to prove entertaining,” he said.

“It’s simple,” Hawk said. “Choose the most beautiful belle in the ballroom, get an introduction, and ask her to dance. Then call on her tomorrow and propose. In less than twenty- four hours, you’ll be an engaged man.”

“You call that a brilliant plan?”

Hawk folded his arms over his chest. “What’s wrong with it?”

He huffed. “Most of the beauties I’ve met are vain, silly, and clumsy.”

“You want an ugly wife?”

Tristan scowled. “That’s not what I meant.”

“What the devil do you want?”

“A sensible, respectable, and graceful woman.” He wanted more, but he wasn’t about to confess his fantasies.

“If it’s a boring and plain bride you’re wanting, you need look no further than the wall,” Hawk said, indicating a group of pitiful looking gels sitting with the dowagers.

Tristan started to turn away when he saw the amusing lady he’d spoken to earlier. His heartbeat drummed in his ears. She led two gangly, young cubs over to the forlorn girls. The chandelier’s soft candlelight illuminated her curly, golden hair.

Within minutes, both cubs were escorting wallflowers towards the dance floor. The lady responsible for this turn of events clasped her small, gloved hands. As she watched the couples, her plump lips curved into a dreamy smile, and her eyes softened. Transfixed, Tristan forgot to breathe. He’d last seen that expression on a woman after a vigorous bout between the sheets.

Then Lord Broughton and his new bride approached her. All signs of temptress disappeared as the lady faced the couple. “That’s her,” Tristan said.

Hawk squinted. “Who?”

“The lady I spoke to earlier. She is standing with Broughton and his wife.”

“Lord help us. It’s Miss Mansfield.”

Miss Mansfield? She was a virtuous, unmarried lady? The devil. He’d almost made her an indecent proposition.

Hawk laughed. “You’ve never heard about her?”

“You’re obviously itching to tell me,” he grumbled.

“She makes matches for every ugly duckling in London,” Hawk said, wagging his brows.

Tristan scoffed. “You’re funning me.”

“I’m not jesting. She’s not called Miss Mantrap for nothing,” Hawk said. “The woman is a menace to bachelors. Good old Broughton is a prime example.”

Good old Broughton gazed down at his pretty, blonde bride. The man looked as if he were suffering from unbridled lust, a term women euphemistically called love.

Hawk regarded Tristan with suspicion. “Why are you so interested in her?”

“Mere curiosity,” he said with a shrug.

Hawk smirked. “Cut line. You thought she was available for dalliance.”

He’d never admit it. No doubt she was as poor as a church mouse, without noble family connections. She probably found matchmaking preferable to taking a position as a lady’s maid or governess. Most likely, she’d only received an invitation to the ball because she’d made Broughton’s match.

He wished she’d not refused his offer to pay for the fan. But he understood her pride all too well, and though he thought her chosen career odd, he couldn’t deny she’d made a successful match for Broughton.

Tristan’s skin tingled. No, he would not stoop to hiring her to find him a bride. He could practically picture the news in the scandal rags. The Desperate Duke has hired a matchmaker.

He was not desperate. He was a bloody duke. With a mere crook of his finger, he could have any woman he wanted. The problem was he didn’t want just any woman. He’d formulated requirements for his ideal bride.

All he needed was to find someone who met them.

He thought about spending week after week trolling for a wife in ballrooms. He thought about fetching fans, handkerchiefs, and parasols. He thought about his need for an heir. His chances of finding his perfect duchess seemed remote at best.

Tristan glanced at Miss Mansfield again and reconsidered. She needed money. He needed a bride. For the right price, Miss Mansfield would keep her involvement a secret from all but the chosen girl and her grateful family.

He frowned, realizing he was basing his decision on one example – Broughton. Hiring Miss Mansfield meant taking a risk, but if her efforts proved unsatisfactory, he could dismiss her. Truthfully, a larger risk loomed. Marriage was for life, and as matters now stood, he was in serious danger of tying himself forever to an unsuitable wife. Or no wife at all at this rate.

Tristan sized up the situation and realized he had two choices: continue his haphazard search or hire Miss Mansfield. After weeks of pure hell shopping at the marriage mart, the matchmaker won hands-down.

Of course, he had no intention of enlightening his friend. “I’m off to pay my respects to Broughton and his wife.”

Hawk snorted. “This marriage business has addled your brain.”

“I fail to understand what you find so amusing.”

“Miss Mansfield is a happily ever after spinster.” Hawk clapped him on the shoulder. “Congratulations, old boy. You’ve just chosen the only woman in the kingdom who won’t wed you.”

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