Responsibility is the last thing the carefree Duke of
Blakewell is looking for when it arrives on his doorstep in
the form of a beautiful young lady. In a sequence of
unfortunate events, the guardianship of Miss Henrietta Tweed
falls to Blake.
Blake doesn't know if he's irritated or impressed by
Miss Tweed's boldness, but he can't be responsible for her.
His feelings for the seductive and captivating Henrietta are
far from what a guardian should feel for his ward. Finding
it hard to resist his desire for her, Blake decides the only
honorable thing he can do is find her a suitable husband.
Henrietta Tweed has been controlled by men since her
parents died when she was a young girl. She's not interested
in her roguish new guardian finding her a husband.
All of her previous five guardians have died, causing
her to believe she is cursed. Not wanting the appealing Duke
to die because of her, she tries to warn him off. Blake
isn't one for superstitious nonsense, even though mysterious
accidents are happening that put him in danger.
Blake considers possible suitors, but eventually rules
them all out and concedes that Henrietta has captured his
But has he pushed her away for too long?
Henrietta must find a way to escape the curse, and
Blake, before he becomes the next "duke to die for."
You would do well in life to heed Lord Chesterfield’s wise
words; “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
Your loving Grandmother,
Lucien Trent Blakewell, the fifth Duke of Blakewell,
strode through the front door of his townhouse taking off
his riding gloves.
“Your Grace, I’m glad you’re home.”
“Not now, Ashby,” Blake said, tossing his gloves,
hat, and cloak into the butler’s hands without breaking his
stride. “I don’t have time.” He’d stayed too long at the
shooting match and now he was running late.
One of his cousins was racing a new horse in Hyde
Park at four and the other had a high-stakes card game
starting at six. Blake didn’t plan on missing either event.
But in order to make both, he had to finish his review of
at least one account book for his solicitor. The poor
fellow had been begging for them for over a month.
From the corridor, Blake walked into his bookroom.
Piled high on his desk was the stack of ledgers, numerous
miscellaneous correspondences and invitations he’d left
unopened for weeks.
He shrugged out of his coat, loosened his neckcloth,
and sat down at his desk with an impatient sigh. There were
times when it was downright hellish being a duke.
Grudgingly, he opened the top book, determined to
make a dent in the work he had to do.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Your Grace,” Ashby said
from the doorway.
Blake didn’t bother to glance up from the ledger he
was thumbing through, trying to find where he’d left off
the last time he looked at it. . . which was too many days
ago to remember. He still hadn’t become completely used to
hearing himself called ‘Your Grace’, even though his father
had been dead almost two years.
It was a time-consuming task keeping up-to-date with
all his holdings and property, not to mention the details
of the various businesses his father had invested in over
the years. His solicitor constantly sent documents over for
him to sign or account books to check. And, last year his
grandmother had passed on and her estate had added more
responsibilities to his already full desk of unattended
His new role in life had certainly curtailed his once
daily and quite enjoyable activities of riding, fencing,
and late afternoon games of billiards and cards at White’s
or one of the other gentlemen’s clubs he belonged to. He
was not accustomed to being on anyone’s schedule but his
The butler cleared his throat.
“Yes, Ashby, what is it?” Blake finally said when it
was apparent the man wasn’t going to leave him alone until
he had his say.
“There’s a young lady here to see you, sir.”
That got Blake’s attention. He glanced up at the
tall, thin, and immaculately dressed butler with long
graying hair held neatly away from his sharp face in a
“A young lady, you say?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Who is she?”
“Miss Henrietta Tweed.”
“Tweed,” Blake said aloud as he thought about the
name for a moment. He couldn’t place it. “Who is with her?”
“Just her maid.”
“No other chaperone?”
“None that I saw.”
That was odd.
It was unusual for a young lady to call on him, or
any gentleman, without making prior arrangements and all
together inappropriate without a suitable chaperone. Blake
shrugged. On another afternoon he might be intrigued by
this strange request to see him, but not today. He didn’t
have time to entertain anyone.
“Just take her card and send her away.”
Blake picked up his quill, dipped it in the ink jar
he’d just opened, and gave his attention back to the
numbers in front of him.
“I tried that, Your Grace. She says she doesn’t have
The quill stilled in his hand. That was most curious,
too. A woman without an appropriate chaperone and without a
proper calling card. For half a second he wondered if one
of the ladies he’d met earlier in the day at Hyde Park had
followed him home. And there were other possibilities. It
was rare, but he had heard that sometimes ladies of the
evening would be bold enough to seek out a titled man in
hopes of bettering her station in life by earning a few
coins or becoming his latest mistress.
Blake’s interest was piqued once again, though he had
to admit almost anything could take his mind off accounts
He glanced back up at the butler. “What does she look
like?” he asked, thinking that would help him determine if
she warranted interrupting his work.
Ashby’s chin lifted and his eyebrows rose
slightly. ”Like a young lady.”
Sometimes Blake wished he hadn’t kept his father’s
annoying butler. The old man could be downright impudent at
times. But Ashby kept the household and the sizable staff
running in near perfect order. The butler’s work was
testimony to the care with which his father trained the
man. That, and that alone, was what kept the aging servant
at his job.
“Did she say why she wanted to see me?”
“Not exactly, Your Grace.”
In exasperation, Blake laid down the quill he had
just picked up. “Ashby, what the hell did she say?”
Unflustered, the butler replied, “She said you were
“Was I?” Blake asked, knowing that the butler tried
to help him keep up with his social calendar since he had
turned off his father’s secretary a few months ago, but so
far neither one of them was doing a good job.
“Not that I’m aware of, Your Grace. She also said
that her trunks were on the front steps.”
Blake made a noise in his throat that sounded like a
mixture of a grunt and a laugh. He must have been in too
big a hurry to notice her luggage when he came through the
“What the devil?” Blake said. “I’m expecting no one,
especially a young woman with baggage and no proper
chaperone. She obviously has the wrong house.” He rose from
his chair. “Did you question her about who she is looking
“Yes, Your Grace. She said the Duke of Blakewell was
“That’s not bloody likely when I have no recollection
of knowing anyone by the name of Tweed.”
“She also suggested that I should speak to you at
once so that you could clear up what she called my obvious
That sounded rather impertinent coming from someone
who had apparently befuddled herself. No doubt the quickest
way to handle this situation was for him to take a moment
or two to speak with her.
Blake looked down at his paper-cluttered desk. His
eyes centered on the open book in front of him and he swore
softly to himself. Reviewing the latest entries would have
to wait again.
“Show her to the front parlor and say I’ll be in to
“Right away, Your Grace.” Ashby turned stiffly and
Blake marked his place in the ledger with a dry
quill. He hastily retied his neckcloth and reached for his
coat. No doubt the woman had him mixed up with someone
else. The sooner he dealt with the waif and sent her on her
way the faster he could get back to checking the balances
in the accounts book so he wouldn’t miss the race or the
card game. For the most part he got along quite well with
his cousins, but they would be unforgiving if they felt
he’d slighted them.
When Blake approached the doorway to the drawing
room, he saw a short, rotund lady with her back to him
warming herself in front of the low-burning fireplace. It
took only a glance at the fabric of her cloak and bonnet to
know that she was not a lady of means.
What was Ashby thinking to allow her entrance into
“Miss Tweed,” he said, striding into the room,
determined to set her straight and then have a word with
his errant butler.
The chit turned to face him and he immediately
realized she had on a maid’s frock. At the same time, from
the corner of his eye he saw a rather tall, slender young
lady rise from a side chair in the far corner and come
toward him. When he looked at her, Blake felt his stomach
do a slow roll. She moved with exquisite grace and an inner
confidence lacking in most of the young ladies in Society.
Big, almond-shaped eyes that were bluer than a mid-
summer sky, fringed with long black lashes pierced him with
a wary look of impatience. Her lips were full, beautifully
sculpted and the shade of spring’s first rose. The color of
her skin was a sheer, pale ivory and her complexion was
She was the loveliest creature he’d ever seen.
She wore an expensively tailored, black cape that
parted down the front as she walked, showing a blush-
colored traveling dress. Her wide-brimmed bonnet with
tightly woven trim matched her cape and gloves. He couldn’t
help but wonder what color of hair was hidden beneath her
For some reason he found it exceedingly seductive the
way the satin ribbon of her bonnet had been tied into a
perfect bow under her chin. He had a sudden urge to reach
up, pull on the end of the black ribbon and untie it. . .
despite the fact that every inch of her said lady.
“Yes, I’m Henrietta Tweed.” She inclined her head a
little as if pondering whether to say more. “I’m waiting
for the Duke of Blakewell.”
Blake bowed and then said, “At your service, Miss
Tweed. I am he.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. That was the only outward
sign that she was confused for a moment. Quickly, she
regained her air of confidence. She lowered her lashes as
she curtsied in front of him.
“I apologize, Your Grace, I didn’t recognize you.”
A prickle of desire rushed through him and settled
low in his groin as he watched her dutifully acknowledge
his title. He found everything about her tremendously
“No harm done,” he said.
Blake’s gaze swept over her face once again. She
appeared to be a self-assured, capable young lady who
wasn’t the least bit intimidated by his title. He also
noticed she wasn’t indifferent to his appearance as her
gaze slowly swept down to his riding boots and then
innocently crawled back up to his face. Her close
observation of him sent a rush of heat like he hadn’t felt
in years searing through his loins.
Ashby cleared his throat. “Should I have Cook prepare
tea, Your Grace?”
Despite all the work he had to do, not to mention a
cheeky butler to contend with, Blake found himself
agreeing. Quite frankly, how could he say no to this
“Yes, Ashby, and take the young lady’s wrap. Have tea
served in here after you show Miss Tweed’s maid to the
kitchen for refreshments.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Blake watched as his unexpected guest took off her
gloves and then untied the bow beneath her chin. Her hands
were lovely and without jewels. He’d never realized just
how stimulating it could be to watch a lady take her bonnet
off until he found himself experiencing another twinge of
desire as the soft, fluttering ribbons slid along her
She had lush, golden blonde hair arranged neatly on
top of her head and Blake had no doubt that it would be
gorgeous hanging down her back. She handed her bonnet,
cape, and gloves to her maid and softly told the woman she
would be fine alone and to follow the butler to the kitchen.
Blake waited to speak until the maid and Ashby left
the room. “I’m afraid I don’t know of you, Miss Tweed. Who
is your father?”
With ease and more self-confidence than anyone her
age should have, she walked closer to him, keeping her gaze
pinned on his. He liked the way her carriage was straight
but not stiff. He liked the way she looked directly at him
and didn’t try to impress him with batting lashes, false
smiles, or that unnatural soft voice some ladies used when
talking to him.
Blake also liked the way she looked in her simple,
high-waisted traveling dress. It was long-sleeved and quite
modest for the current fashion. The fabric was of a fine
quality, though not the best available. The neckline was
high and trimmed in dainty pink lace that made her look
He was more curious than ever to know who she was.
“My father was Sir William Tweed. Considering your
age, you probably never met him. I must assume your father
“And what makes you say that?”
“Because the Duke of Blakewell is the last name on my
What in the hell was she talking about? He became
more intrigued with each word she spoke.
“What list is that, Miss Tweed?”
She clasped her lovely hands together in front of her
and once again she looked straight into his eyes. “If you
don’t know what I’m talking about, Your Grace, we have a
“At last we agree on something. Those are the truest
words you have spoken thus far.”
A wrinkle of concern settled between her eyes but in
no way took away from her beauty.
“You were supposed to receive a letter and some
rather important documents from a solicitor named Mr.
Conrad Milton, announcing my arrival and explaining
everything about me.”
Blake immediately thought of his desk. Not only was
the blasted thing covered in account books that hadn’t been
reviewed, along with papers and documents that hadn’t been
signed, it was littered with all kinds of correspondence
that hadn’t been opened.
For the first time since becoming a duke, Blake
wished he had taken his responsibilities as the Duke of
Blakewell a little more seriously.
“I’ve been backed up on mail recently. Just tell me
why you are here.”
“All right.” She unclasped her hands and calmly let
her arms fall comfortably to her sides. “I am your ward and
your house is supposed to be my new home.”
Blake couldn’t have been more shocked if she’d thrown
cold water in his face.
“What? No. This is ridiculous.” A strained chuckle
caught briefly on his breath. “I can assure you that you
are not my ward, Miss Tweed.”
She took a deep breath, but otherwise remained
“If only that were true, Your Grace, but I’m afraid
it isn’t. I don’t know what happened to the letter or the
documents you were to receive, but rest assured there are
papers that prove the Duke of Blakewell is next in line to
be my legal guardian and the sole trustee of my
“Guardian? How old are you?”
“But you carry yourself like. . .”
She was not only beautiful, she was perceptive, too.
Why was he finding everything about her appealing? She was
obviously laying out some elaborate scheme and expecting
him to swallow it, still he found her fascinating.
“Yes,” he said.
“I assure you I’ve had to grow up quickly.”
For a moment Blake thought he saw a hint of
wistfulness in her bright blue eyes, but it was so fleeting
he wasn’t positive. And nothing else in her manner had
caused him to think she was in the least unsure of herself,
which was remarkable concerning her situation, if the tale
she told was true.
“Regardless of your age, I can’t be your guardian.
Don’t you know who I am?”
A knowing smile gently lifted the corners of her
attractive lips. Blake’s lower body responded once again.
“Your reputation stretches much farther than all of
London, Your Grace. In the scandal sheets, you are referred
to as the Devilish Duke.”
Far from being insulted that she brought up that
nickname Society had placed on him some years ago, he threw
up his hands and said, “My point exactly. Who in their
right mind would expect me to be the protector of a young
lady’s reputation? I’m the kind of man fathers safeguard
their daughters against. There has been a mistake.”
She didn’t appear perturbed in the least. “I agree. I
can only assume your father was the Duke of Blakewell who
agreed to be my guardian should anything happen to Lord
“Who is Lord Palmer? I thought you said your father
was Sir William Tweed.”
Another smile played at the corners of her lips,
irritating the hell out of him even though he found it
extremely provocative. There was nothing humorous in this
debacle if by some cruel twist of fate, she had truly been
left to his care.
“Lord Palmer was my guardian for the past year-and-a-
half. Before him there was Lord Brembly and before him,
Blake stared in disbelief. “How many guardians have
Very sensibly she said, “Far too many, I assure you,
“I’m trying hard not to be frustrated, Miss Tweed,
but I’m not making much progress because I’m not seeing a
connection between you and me, or my father.”
She remained so calm it was maddening. It annoyed the
hell out of him and challenged him at the same time. This
lady was very confident of her place in life, though he
couldn’t imagine why considering, the convoluted story
coming out of her.
She lifted her slightly arched brows. “I’m afraid the
explanation is rather lengthy.”
Blake glanced up at the clock on the mantle. It was
past three o’clock already, and he hadn’t even started on
the accounting ledger. No doubt he wouldn’t make it to see
Morgan’s horse compete at Rotten Row and he wouldn’t make
Race’s card game either if he didn’t get Miss Tweed settled
right away. The work for his solicitor would just have to
wait until tomorrow.
“As soon as I find or receive the correspondence you
speak of, I’ll have my solicitor look it over and
straighten this out. In the mean time, tell me where you
need to go tonight, and I’ll see that you get there.”
Her shoulders stiffened, though just barely. “I have
nowhere to go, Your Grace, but here.”
Those simple, but unflinching words took the starch
out of him. Either she had come up with the grandest scheme
he had ever heard of to get in his good graces, or she was
Blake turned away from her for a moment and silently
cursed under his breath. What the bloody hell was he going
to do with her?
He turned back to face her and said, “Perhaps you
have a relative or a friend who will take you in.”
“None that I know of.”
“You have no relatives at all?”
His question brought a long moment of silence from
her. There was an uncertain quality to her eyes as they
searched his face.
“Surely if there were anyone my father would have put
them on the list before that of a stranger.”
That was hard for him to believe. Sometimes Blake
felt as if he were in some way related to half the people
in London, and because of his grandmother’s four marriages
he probably was.
“I’ve had a very long day, Your Grace, may I sit
down?” she asked.
He couldn’t very well say no. “Yes, of course.”
If he’d been thinking clearly, he would have asked
her to take a seat earlier, but nothing had gone as it
should have from the moment he walked through his front
door. Even Ashby had to prompt him to do the proper thing
and offer tea.
She sat on the dark green brocade settee with
surprising ease for a nineteen-year-old with no place to
stay. Blake was in no mood to sit still but took a side
chair opposite her anyway.
Mrs. Ellsworth, his housekeeper brought in a tray
with tea and placed it on the table that stood between him
and his guest. Blake waited impatiently while tea was
poured, though he declined a cup.
He watched Miss Tweed sip her tea from the dainty
china and noticed her hands again. He liked the feminine
look of them. Her fingers appeared smooth and nimble, nails
neatly trimmed. He had the sudden thought of those hands
feather soft on his chest, trailing seductively over his
Blake mentally shook himself and said, “It looks as
if I’m going to need that lengthy explanation after all,
Miss Tweed. Where exactly did you say you come from?”
“Originally?” That wistful look came into her eyes,
but again only for a moment. She took a deep breath, and he
had the feeling she called on some inner strength to
Blake realized that she wasn’t one to feel sorry for
herself and he liked that about her. It was rare for him to
notice so many things about any young lady. Over the years
of attending the Season, he’d come to think that there was
little difference in all of them, but Miss Tweed could have
him rethinking that.
“I was born in Dover, but I haven’t lived there for
quite some time. My parents were killed in a carriage
accident when I was seven. I went to live with my only
relative, my father’s half brother, Lord Phillip Bennett
and his lady. Unfortunately, Lord Phillip met with an
untimely death at sea a couple of years later. Viscount and
Viscountess Westhavner were next on the list. They were
wonderful to me. They hired a governess who taught me to
read, write, and add numbers as well as all the things a
young lady is supposed to learn in order to adequately
manage a large household. I was with them for four-and-a-
“Then what happened?”
“Viscount Westhavner was struck by lightning late one
afternoon as he walked in his garden. The Viscountess asked
that I be allowed to stay with her, but, unfortunately it
couldn’t be allowed. My guardianship had already been
decided by my father’s long and able list. I had to go live
with Lord Brembly and his lady in Dorset. When he died by
falling off the roof, I was uprooted once again and sent to
Mr. Henry Pippin’s home in Essex. He was thrown from his
horse and killed shortly after I arrived, so I was moved
yet again to Lord Palmer’s home. Regrettably, he passed on
of consumption only a few weeks ago.”
“Bloody hell, that’s way too many guardians to have
had in twelve years?”
“Yes, it’s been most unfortunate. And now I find
myself at the door of the last man on the list.”
“Mine. The Duke of Blakewell.”
Damnation. If all she said was true and it was too
bizarre not to be, what was he going to do about her? He
was having a devil of a time just keeping up with his
duties as a duke. And now he was being pressured by some
political hogs to take his father’s place in Parliament.
But all that aside, there was no way he could take on the
responsibility of a young lady. He didn’t have a thought in
hell about what to do with her.
“Miss Tweed, if my father and mother were here, I’m
sure they would be honored to abide by your father’s wishes
and take care of you. But as you can understand, I can’t be
He wasn’t sure what he expected from her, but it
wasn’t the spark of triumph that flashed in her bright
eyes. She looked pleased, as if he’d said exactly what she
wanted to hear.
“I understand perfectly, Your Grace, if you feel you
can’t be my guardian. I’m going to be twenty at the end of
summer, and I truly don’t need anyone to look after me. I’m
more than qualified to take care of myself. All you need to
do is draw up a document and sign it, giving me power to be
mistress over my inheritance.”
Blake gazed at her lovely face. He could see in the
expression on her face and in her blue eyes that she
believed what she was saying. She thought she could handle
her affairs and take care of herself as proficiently as a
man. He almost laughed. He, of all people, knew how
difficult it was to keep up with account books.
She had the countenance of an innocent, not the guise
of a woman of the world. Looking at her then, a guardian
was exactly what she needed because he was thinking how
kissable her lips looked, how soft her skin appeared, how
he would love to feel her shapely body pressed solidly
He cleared his throat and tamped down his wayward
thoughts. She was not trying to be seductive in any manner,
yet he found her immensely so.
“I’m still not totally convinced I’m in charge of
you, but I’m certainly not about to sign anything at this
She placed her empty cup on the tray. “Once you are
convinced that what I say is true, I hope you will
reconsider allowing me to be mistress of my inheritance.
Besides, it’s in your own best interest. I don’t want to
see anything happen to you.”
That was an odd statement. “What are you talking
“The inevitable, Your Grace. All five of my previous
guardians have died. There is a curse on the list of names
my father made all those years ago. If you take on the
responsibility of being my guardian, I’m afraid you will
A quick smile parted his lips, and then he laughed
with ease. She was so refreshingly direct he was absolutely
taken with her.
“You must be trying to amuse me, Miss Tweed.
Congratulations. It’s working. But I’m afraid your mind is
playing tricks with you. There is no such thing as a curse.”
She gave him an indulgent smile, but said, “I beg to
differ. Everyone who has ever been responsible for me and
my considerable inheritance has died an untimely death.”
Blake had no intention of dying anytime soon.
He gave her a roguish smile and said, “Bad luck, Miss
Tweed. It’s all just bad luck.”
She sat back in the settee and folded her hands in
her lap. “Then perhaps you need to think long and hard
about that, Your Grace, because all that bad luck just
landed at your door.”
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