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A Rogue's Dynasty #1
Sourcebooks Casablanca
April 2009
On Sale: April 1, 2009
Featuring: Duke of Blakewell; Henrietta Tweed
384 pages
ISBN: 1402217676
EAN: 9781402217678
Kindle: B00348UN9S
Paperback / e-Book
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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 heart.

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."

Excerpt

Dearest Lucien,

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,

Lady Elder

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 paperwork.

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 own.

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 queue.

“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 a card.”

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 and ledgers.

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 expecting her.”

“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 front door.

“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 for?”

“Yes, Your Grace. She said the Duke of Blakewell was expecting her.”

“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 confusion.”

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 see her.”

“Right away, Your Grace.” Ashby turned stiffly and walked out.

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 the house?

“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 flawless.

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 headpiece.

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 seductive.

“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 intriguing lady?

“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 shoulders.

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 absolutely fetching.

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 knew him.”

“And what makes you say that?”

“Because the Duke of Blakewell is the last name on my father’s list.”

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 problem.”

“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 composed.

“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 inheritance.”

“Guardian? How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“But you carry yourself like. . .”

“Someone older?”

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 Palmer.”

“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, Viscount Westhavner.”

Blake stared in disbelief. “How many guardians have you had?”

Very sensibly she said, “Far too many, I assure you, Your Grace.”

“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 serious.

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 body.

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 sustain her.

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- half years.”

“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.”

“Yes.”

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 your guardian.”

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 against his.

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 point.”

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 about?”

“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 die too.”

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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