JILTING THE DUKE
The Muses' Salon #1
Releasing on January 26, 2016.
Broken Promise, Broken Heart
Aidan Somerville, Duke of Forster, is a rake, a spy, and a soldier, richer than sin and twice as handsome. Now he is also guardian to his deceased best friend’s young son. The choice makes perfect sense—except that the child’s mother is the lovely Sophia Gardiner, to whom Aidan was engaged before he went off to war. When the news reached him that she had married another, his ship had not yet even left the dock.
Sophia does not expect Aidan to understand or forgive her. But she cannot allow him to stay her enemy. She’s prepared for coldness, even vengeance—but not for the return of the heedless lust she and Aidan tumbled into ten years ago. She knows the risks of succumbing to this dangerous desire. Still, with Aidan so near, it’s impossible not to dream about a second chance…
“What was Tom thinking, Ophelia?” Sophia embraced her sister-in-law. “Aidan isn’t a knight in shining armor. In factif the rumors are true, he’s far from honorable. I’m not surethat Tom was entirely himself when he put Ian under Aidan’s control.”
“My dear, Tom didn’t give Ian over to Aidan. You are also his guardian. But I’m afraid this partnership might be my fault.” Ophelia patted the open space next to her on the couch, and Sophia sat beside her. “When we were in Italy, Tom asked me all the latest news about Aidan, and I must admit I glossed over his more scandalous moments. Had I known Tom’s intentions, I would have been less generous.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered.” Sophia wiped away angry tears with the back of her hand. “Tom would have believed the good, justified away the bad, and ignored the middle. Most of the time, I found that endearing. Now . . . if he weren’t dead, I’d kill him myself.”
Ophelia drew several handkerchiefs from her sewing stand and tucked one into Sophia’s hand. For a moment, the women sat in silence, Ophelia’s hand placed comfortingly on Sophia’s.
“You must admit, my dear, this arrangement offers advantages,” Ophelia reasoned. “If anything were to happen to you, your brother would catch the scent of money and appeal to Chancery to serve as Ian’s guardian over whomever you might have chosen. But Phineas will not cross Aidan. Since he has become duke, Aidan’s natural magnetism has grown into an ease of command.”
Sophia wiped her eyes with the corner of the linen. “I wasn’t thinking of it that way, but yes, you are right. As for Aidan’s ‘ease of command,’ you should have seen his note. One can’t call it a summons, since he’s coming to me. But he expects compliance all the same.” She rubbed the handkerchief between her fingers, distracting herself with the ornate curves of monogrammed initials. An A was obvious and an F, then with an artist’s eye, she followed the line of the intertwined S. In shock she realized the shape of the pattern. “Oh, my word . . . Phee! Aidan has been to visit you!?”
“Oh, dear, forgive me.” Ophelia swept the soiled handkerchief from Sophia’s hand and tucked it out of sight. “When Aidan came to us after Tom’s death, I cried on his linen. I keep forgetting to return it.” Ophelia handed Sophia a new handkerchief. “After our parents died, we girls didn’t live only in London with Aunt Millicent. We spent summers with Tom and our Somerville cousins. Even now, Aidan often acts as our brother. He escorts us to balls when Sidney is obligated at Whitehall, and he always dances with Kate and Ariel in the second half.”
“Of course, I should have realized. Forgive me, I’m simply . . .” Sophia searched for the right word.
“Overwrought, my dear. You’ve had an unwelcome surprise,” Ophelia offered with characteristic good sense. “But
how do you intend to convince Aidan to reject Tom’s plan?”
“I thought I’d appeal to his bachelor instincts, ask him to be Ian’s guardian in name only, visiting as he sees fit when he is in town, advising me on whatever matters he finds important, but leaving the day-to-day oversight to me.” Sophia watched Ophelia’s face hopefully. “If that fails, I would suggest that, given his reputation, his brothers or my cousins would more suitably fill the role of mentor for a young boy.”
Ophelia looked pensive, her straight auburn hair, unencumbered by a cap, twisted into a high bun. The gray ribbon banding her head was the only trace of half-mourning. “Aidan’s reputation as a rake aside, he takes responsibilities seriously. He’s never failed when we’ve called on his help. In fact, I was unable to say anything against Aidan when Tom asked because . . .” Phee shifted in her chair. “I suppose it won’t hurt to tell you.”
Phee looked for assent from Sophia, who nodded.
“We arrived in Naples so unexpectedly because we left London in haste. Ariel’s season had been lovely until she confided in that foolish gossip Susan Flanders the news of Tom’s settlements on her and Kate. Suddenly every penniless scoundrel found my sisters the most attractive morsels on the market. One, George Winthrop, decided to convince Ariel to marry him by abducting her from Lady Mallory’s ball.”
“If Aidan hadn’t noticed Ariel was gone, well, she would have been ruined, or worse, married to a wastrel and a reprobate. Aidan found me, just as a footman delivered a message that Ariel, feeling ill, had caught a ride home with Lady Balmoral. When I tried to ask questions, the footman turned away without answering. Aidan pulled the footman into a withdrawing room and sent me to find Malcolm.
“By the time we returned, Aidan had the full of Winthrop’s plan. Aidan and Malcolm caught up with Winthrop’s carriage not too many miles out of town, with Ariel, still unconscious from a bump on her head. We feared that Winthrop might try to force the marriage, claiming he’d compromised her. We’d already received your letter urging us to visit, so we came to Naples.”
Sophia shook her head, refusing Ophelia’s positive view of Aidan’s character. “In Ariel’s case, a young woman he cared for was endangered. But Aidan doesn’t know Ian. If he wished to act as father to a young boy, he would have married by now and begun a family.”
“Yet Ian needs someone he can ask all those pesky questions boys come up with,” Ophelia suggested gently.
“And what will Aidan teach him? The best brothels in town? Isn’t that what all aristocratic men teach each other at their clubs?”
“I don’t think Aidan frequents brothels,” Ophelia offered lightly. “He usually has a mistress.”
“Of course, that’s better,” Sophia said with some bitterness. “Ian can learn that gentlemen aren’t expected to regard their wives with the same attention they give their light o’ loves.”
“Well, a mistress disobliges no one if the man is unmarried.” Ophelia nodded to the footman who had come to the door with a tea service. He placed it on the tray before her. “Bentley, would you call my sisters to tea?”
“From what I’ve heard”—Ophelia lowered her voice until the footman had pulled the door shut behind him—“the demimonde have been waiting for months to see who would gain his patronage. In fact, we have a pool going on who will be his next liaison. I believe Lady Belmont is a favorite, but Sidney thinks . . .” Ophelia stopped at Sophia’s silence. “Oh, dear, this doesn’t help, does it? To know that people speculate over which woman he will next take to his bed.”
“Who tells you such things?” Sophia felt her face turn warm.
Ophelia grinned. “You’d be surprised the information one can pick up over cards at a ball. And Sidney listens at his club. Thank goodness, he isn’t a prude about sharing details! I dare say he enjoys the chatter more than I do. He always quizzes me about what we ladies have discussed at tea!” Sophia found this information about her brother-in-law surprising; he had always appeared to be a middling sort of man with middling sorts of interests.
Ophelia’s teasing turned more sober. “If you are to be in such close contact with Aidan over the guardianship, you might consider . . . You are a widow, and he’s known to be quite obliging. Perhaps you could seduce him into relinquishing the guardianship.”
“Ophelia! I expected you to encourage a life of celibate devotion to your brother’s memory. But instead . . .” Sophia searched for words.
“Sophie, Tom is dead.” Ophelia’s voice turned stern and firm. “Despite his wishes, you continue to wear full mourning. If you will not remarry, at least embark on a discreet liaison. No man in the ton is reputed to be more attentive during an affair or as well-tempered after as Aidan. And certainly no man is more tight-lipped than Aidan about his liaisons.”
“Then how do you know so much about them?” Sophia accused.
“It’s the women, dear, the women. They can’t keep quiet that they’ve been in his bed. Nor would I, if half the things they say are true!” Ophelia laughed at the look of horror on Sophia’s face. “Oh, I don’t mean it—it would be like kissing a brother. But if you aren’t going to take Aidan to your bed and seduce him out of the guardianship, you’ll need to come up with some compelling argument for him to relinquish it. And his own questionable reputation isn’t likely to work.”
At that moment, Kate and Ariel flung open the door and ran to embrace Sophia, ending all possibility for further private conversation. On the way home, Sophia searched for a compelling argument that might encourage Aidan to relinquish the guardianship. During tea she had observed Ariel carefully. Lighthearted and laughing, Tom’s youngest sister showed no indication that her abduction had any lasting effects. Yet had Aidan been less attentive to her absence or less dogged in his pursuit, Ariel’s life would have been much different.
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Rachael Miles has always loved a good romance, especially one with a bit of suspense and preferably a ghost. She is also a professor of book history and nineteenth-century literature whose students frequently find themselves reading the novels of Ann Radcliffe and other gothic tales. Rachael lives in her home state of Texas with her indulgent husband, three rescued dogs, and an ancient cat.