A Scarred Duke takes a Bride (Preview)

Chapter One

Lady Emmaline Moreau had always had a head for business – her father had made certain of that – but this latest deal had her most concerned. Having been the one to hear the whispers of a large ship that would be traveling from India with a great deal of valuable cargo on board, Emmaline had been the one to suggest their investment to her father. And having done such a good job of educating her in matters, he had seen fit to trust her – or perhaps trust himself – in making the investment that might well be the very thing to see her and her closest step-sister reach the ultimate prize, an advantageous marriages that would see them safe for the rest of their lives. 

But the crossing from England to India and from India back to England was a mighty long time by ship and Emmaline chomped at the bit so hard she thought her teeth might break. 

Much to her stepmother’s disappointment, she had bitten down her fingernails to nubs in anticipation of awaiting the truth on her investment. 

The burden lay heavily upon her. Though it had most decidedly been her father’s wealth and good name placed upon the line, for she as a lady and an unmarried one at that truly had nothing, it was she who had found the opportunity and suggested it to her father and she who had encouraged him to lay such things upon the line. 

If there was to be failure and shame, it would be her own, though their entire family should pay the price for such things and with eight other step-siblings, it should be a high price to pay indeed. 

And so, each and every morning, Emmaline found herself outside the giant oaken door of her father’s study, lingering in the shadows and unsure of whether or not to disturb him.

“Emm, are you coming to breakfast?” Jane, her younger yet closest step-sister by only eight months, called from the far end of the hallway. She stood close by the door that led to the breakfast room, radiant in a patch of sunshine that shone through the window close by. Oh, how beautiful she was and yet nobody would see her beauty if Emmaline’s investment failed. All they should see was the family’s ruin. 

Emmaline gulped hard past the lump in her throat. 

“I shall be there shortly,” she called back, straightening up. Clearly her hiding in the shadows hadn’t been successful. Perhaps it was best to hold her head high and get on with it. “I must speak with papa first.”

Jane looked at her with that same look her own mother gave Emmaline, the one that said they were worried yet supportive. 

They worried because Emmaline was not the typical lady. Yes, she was lady-like and tried her hardest to always look and act the part but her father had placed a great deal of ideas in her head, ones that many members of the ton would suggest had no business being there. And that was just what they were about, business. The education her father had given her was not typical of a lady but she was grateful for it all the same, even if it did cause others to look at her as if she had grown a second head at times.

“Don’t be causing any bother, Emm,” Jane warned and then she disappeared into the breakfast room where the sounds of all the rest of the family were already humming. 

Sebastian and Victor would likely be there with sore heads after a night spent too long at whichever gentleman’s bar they had chosen. Her older step-brothers were rebellious as was their right as males, having all of the fun with little of the responsibility thanks to the fact that they were the sons of a widow and not the heirs of anything. Unlike Emmaline whose birth left her the eldest daughter and sole heir to her father’s fortune until her twin half-brothers had come along when she was just eleven years old – only a year after her father had remarried. Since then two more half-sisters had arrived, only making her burden greater. 

Her eldest step-sister had not made matters any easier. At only a year older than Emmaline, she had married on her first Season out in society, setting the precedence for Emmaline herself and with Emm’s first Season fast approaching, the weight of the world felt as if it were sitting upon her shoulders. Not only were her father and step-mother looking to her to continue the family’s good fortune, but she had a younger step-sister and two much younger half-sisters of two and three whose future matches might all be determined by the value of her own. 

If her investment idea were an utter failure, her family would face ruin, and who might take her to marry then. She could already imagine the laughter of her old step-sister when she became the disgrace of the family, the only one set to be safe from their shame due to having already been married off. 

Bile rose in Emmaline’s throat. She did not wish to be married off. And so, this investment had to work for it would bring the necessary funds and reputation for her to marry well, maybe even for her to have her pick of the barrel, though she hated to think of it in such a way. 

Her husband would not be a prize for his wealth or title or what he could offer her save for one thing, Emmaline wished to marry for the rarest treasure of all – love. 

Having spent far too long lingering in the hallway, thinking on all that could go wrong, she stepped up to the door with her fist raised to knock. 

But before she could do so, her father called from the study, “Emm, do come in already before you wear out the carpet.”

Emmaline could not stop from smiling as she entered the room. “You know me too well, father.”

“It is no grand feat when you have been at my study door every morning for the past three weeks,” her father pointed out, looking up from behind his spectacles. Leaning back in his chair, he gestured her forward, “Read this for me, would you, my dear? My eyes are not what they used to be.” 

“Of course, papa,” Emmaline said, hurrying forth. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Her father had asked her to read letters to him before, that was no new thing, but somehow she couldn’t help but wonder if this one might be special. Perhaps it was a report from the India Rose, the ship to wish they had set their hopes and dreams. 

Taking the letter from her father, she began to read, disappointed when it turned out to be a friendly correspondence from a distant cousin in the countryside on matters of no real import save the continued good health of a growing family. 

Emmaline sighed deeply upon ending the reading and dropped the letter back down in front of her father. With a sad smile, he leaned across the table and took hold of her hand, squeezing gently. 

“My dearest Emmaline, I find it best to put thoughts of valuable cargo crossing the ocean from my mind until I have a report in hand,” he explained to her softly, meeting her gaze. His large brown eyes were kind if a little clouded and Emmaline could see why he was having trouble reading. He was no young man anymore and it only made Emmaline’s anxiety stronger. How could he cope with failure of this magnitude should anything go disastrously wrong? 

“How am I to do that when it is all I can think about?” Emmaline asked, squeezing her father’s hand in return. How greatly she loved him, even more so now that he had placed his trust in her. Though it only made her anxieties greater. 

“Do you not have a Season to prepare for?” her father asked. He released her hand and leaned back in his chair. Regarding her with a raised eyebrow, he did not appear to miss the way she cringed. “A young lady your age should be all abuzz with the prospect of such a thing.”

Emmaline lowered her deep green gaze at his words, unable to meet his eye. “I am…excited, father, but how can I allow myself to think on such things when we have no idea what we truly have to offer?” 

The earl of Monrith was a kind and gentle man when it came to his family, and as such, he rose from his seat and skirted around the desk. 

Taking hold of his daughter’s hand, he led her to a nearby couch and encouraged her to sit. Dropping down onto the seat beside her, he continued to clutch her hand and when he squeezed quite firmly, Emmaline was forced to meet his gaze once more. 

“Emmaline, this investment, should it succeed,” her father explained in a tone that only made Emmaline more anxious, “Will ensure the dowries are secure for both you and Jane.”

“And that is entirely why I am so nervous!” Emmaline blurted in a most unladylike manner. Were he anyone else, Emmaline might have been mortified but this was her father and he and she did not keep anything from one another. 

Smiling with the affection only a father could muster, Richard took both Emmaline’s hands in his and cradled them as he might have cradled her when she was a babe. 

“Emmaline, my sweet girl, I apologize to you wholeheartedly for this,” he said, sighing deeply. 

Taken aback, Emmaline’s eyes widened, “Apologize, whatever for? Is there news?” 

The earl, chuckling, shook his head. “What I apologize for is the fact you were exceptionally lucky in that you got your mother’s beauty but that you have clearly inherited my nature. Your head for business might well even be greater than my own but you do yourself a huge injustice worrying as you do. You ought to be preparing yourself, not troubling yourself with these matters.”

Emmaline gulped hard. “I fear I shall never be prepared.”

Again, she could not look her father in the eye. She had strived to be a fine, upstanding daughter for his sake and for the sake of the family, and yet at every turn she feared failure. 

When her father lifted one hand to cup her chin, she instinctively met his eyes once more. “So long as you know your worth and what it is you are looking for, you shall always be prepared.”

His words, though encouraging, were enough to make Emmaline tremble. “What if what I am looking for does not exist?” 

She saw how her father’s gaze darkened, how he grew concerned. When he dropped his hand from her chin, she wished she hadn’t spoken at all. 

“What exactly is it that you hope to find, my dearest daughter?” 

Emmaline’s breath caught in her throat. She closed her eyes and thought on all the stories she had heard growing up before her father had remarried, the stories that had ceased the moment he brought another woman and her children into their home. But she remembered them still and might recite them from memory if she were asked. 

Trembling, she opened her eyes and looked at her father as she admitted, “I wish to find what you and mama had.”

Her father’s face paled at her words. She saw the way his adam’s apple jumped, heard how he gulped. 

“What you mean to say, Emmaline, is you wish to marry for love, am I correct?” her father asked, holding her gaze in a way that she could not bring herself to look away. 

Emmaline nodded slowly. She barely dared to breathe. She and her father had rarely talked on such things, especially lately, and so she had no idea what his response might be. 

She was surprised when he said, “I can only hope you will have the opportunity to do so, my dear, and I shall do all in my power to make it so but in order to find love, you must be prepared for it.” 

And with that he stood, pulling her to her feet with him. Emmaline already knew what was coming as he shooed her from his study. “Off with you. Quit your fretting about our investment and focus on what you are able to do in the here and now. Prepare yourself for the ball this evening.”

Emmaline, smiling, leaned forward and placed an affectionate kiss upon her father’s cheek. “Thank you, papa.”

What she thanked him for she didn’t truly know but he did not ask. Instead, he watched her go with a smile. 

Almost the second she closed the door behind her again, Emmaline felt the nerves clawing at her insides once more. There was still so much for her to do and yet everything hung in the balance with the success of one shipment determining the fate of an entire family, her family, and she had been the one to set the very thing in motion.

Chapter Two

Alexander Black, the duke of Westmarch, sat in the back office of his club with the heels of his black boots rested upon the surface of his mahogany desk. Head thrown back with his eyes closed, he groaned. In the efforts of making such that all had a good time and spent well within the club, he had perhaps had one too many the night before. 

Yet, it was a small price to pay in order to dig them out of the hole that he and his most trusted friend and confidant found themselves in. 

“How did we do, Sean?” he groaned through gritted teeth, laying a damp cloth upon his forehead. “Please, tell me we at least made a dent in things.” 

Sean, sitting on the chair across from his desk, cleared his throat and looked at the ledger in his hands again before making any comment. “We took a good amount yesterday. The lords Berbanks and Greenway were very generous.” 

Alex did not dare to remove the cloth from his forehead and instead pulled it down over his eyes. He did not need to look at his friend’s face to know that the last evening’s takings would not be enough. 

When he remained silent, Sean said, “Did I see your uncle in here last night?” 

Alex stiffened. He had hoped not to have to have this conversation just yet. “Yes.” 

He felt the tension grow heavier in the room. Opening one eye, he lifted the cloth and looked at his friend. “He says another of my father’s debts has come to light.” 

Before he could see his friend’s reaction, he dropped the cloth back down again. 

“You’re jesting with me!” Sean exclaimed incredulously. “Another?” 

Alex simply nodded though it was hard to tell if his friend had seen it for the cloth. With a gesture of his hand, he told his manservant standing beside the door, “Please, fetch me something to take the ache from my head. Have one of the maids fix up one of those god-awful concoctions, would you?” 

Mr. Benedict dipped his head and was gone from the room without a word. 

Finally, Alex pulled the cloth from his face and dropped his feet from the desk, leaning forwards in his seat. The conversation he and Sean were about to have, he did not intend for anyone else’s ears. 

Though he trusted his valet entirely, with his life and everything else besides, he did not wish to have such matters discussed before him. 

“How bad is it this time?” Sean asked, his face pale. The man brushed his fingers through his chestnut hair and looked Alex in the eye. 

“Let us just say it shall make our pocketbooks tight for the next month or so but we should manage it,” Alex stated, his throat tightening. He did not have the heart to go into anymore detail. 

Sean raised his brow and pursed his lips. The suspicious expression on his face was undeniable and Alex’s jaw clenched. He had seen that look more and more frequently upon his friend’s face of late. 

“Are you quite certain of this?” Sean asked, closing the ledger on his thumb to keep his place. 

“Of which part?” Alex asked though deep down he knew exactly what his friend was insinuating. 

“That this debt is in fact your father’s and yours to pay?” Sean said, looking Alex deep in the eye. Alex opened his mouth to argue but before he could do so, Sean continued, “Alex, I only say this as your friend. You and I both know that your uncle isn’t exactly the most trustworthy of men. Just look at how he and your father built this place!” 

Alex gulped past the hard lump in his throat. There was no denying all the dark and disgusting things that had led to the very club they now sat in, the place that had come to be known as ‘the devil’s lair’, a secret club that only the most elite was even aware of. Gambling, drugs, drunk and sex were among the main points of the club but the entire place had been built upon fear, extortion, blackmail and all other kinds of other foul things. 

“Yes, my father and uncle did all manner of unimaginable things to build this place,” Alex said through gritted teeth, “But my father always trusted my uncle and so shall I. Neither of them was ever perfect and my father was a fool when it came to racking up so much debt but one thing he always insisted upon was being able to trust Frederick.” 

Sean continued to look him in the eye without blinking as he asked, “Are you quite certain?” 

Bile rose in the back of Alex’s throat. He knew that his friend only meant to try and protect him and he was likely the only man who would ever face him and tell him nothing but the truth. And yet, he hated to be questioned, especially when it came to family. 

“I am.” 

Alex glowered at his friend, leaving no room for argument. Though he and Sean had been friends since they were small children – ever since Sean’s father, Lord Seymour, had sold him to Alex’s father to pay his own debts to the club – Alex would not sit idly by and allow him to talk ill of his uncle. The man was a scoundrel, a drunkard and a gambler, but one thing was always certain, the Black brothers had always been about family and Alex and his younger sister Lorraine were the only family his uncle had left now.

“Besides, the shipment from India should be coming in shortly and that shall change all of our fortunes,” Alex pointed out. 

“The sooner it arrives, the better,” Sean scoffed. He pulled open his ledger again and glanced down at the pages. “With our own investment and that of the loan you gave the earl of Moorgate our debts shall be more than covered.” 

Alex nodded agreement, flinching at the reminder of the fact they were not yet entirely out of the loaning business. It was a business he would rather not be in, especially with his father having earned himself and Alex thereafter, the title of ‘the devil lord’ thanks to the dark ways in which his father and Frederick had gone about seeing their investments and loans returned. Violence and blackmail had been his father and uncle’s main resources, and though Alex had used the threat of such things often, he had very rarely had to actually use them. 

“We shall all be much more comfortable once the shipment comes in,” he agreed. At that moment, Mr. Benedict returned, knocking quietly before he entered. 

“Your grace, your tonic,” the man said, dipping his head even as he offered Alex a silver tray. Upon it sat two glasses. Alex took one of them and waved the valet away. The man turned and offered the second glass to Sean. “My lord.” 

Sean wrinkled his nose and waved the glass away. “No, thank you, Benedict. I would rather deal with the sore head than feel nauseous for the rest of the day.” 

Alex chuckled at his friend. He had never had much of a strong stomach. Though Alex could understand his turning down such a drink. The raw egg and shredded garlic mixture wasn’t the most wonderful tasting thing in the world. In fact, he held his nose and drained the glass as quickly as he could in order not to taste it. 

Benedict simply dipped his head again to Sean, bowed to Alex and then retired back to the edge of the room with the tray still in hand as if he thought Sean might change his mind. 

Grimacing with the aftertaste of the tonic, Alex closed his eyes and groaned, placing the glass on the desk in front of him. When he opened his eyes again, Sean was looking at him with a questioning expression. “Why are you looking at me like that?” 

He heard Sean take in a deep breath. His friend averted his gaze before he said, “I was merely wondering where we stand on the matter of your father’s letter?”

It was Alex who inhaled sharply this time. He hated any mention of that damned letter. Having worked so hard to see substantial returns on his business, and working even harder to pay off the debts of his father that continued to wrack up, he hated any mention of the letter containing his father’s oddest request upon his deathbed, one his uncle hadn’t wished to give him until he had recovered from the enormity of his grief. 

“What of it?” Alex asked, turning his attention to the papers on his desk. He could no longer bring himself to meet his friend’s gaze when Sean lifted his head and looked at him again. 

“Time grows short, Alex,” Sean warned and Alex’s chest tightened. He most definitely did not need his friend to tell him that. With each day that passed, he felt his twenty-seventh birthday growing closer. “Do you truly believe that Frederick would stand any chance of being a good duke?” 

Alex cringed. The thought had never crossed his mind when he had been a child. Even when he had been a young man grown, he had never imagined anyone but himself following in his father’s footsteps. 

When he had read the letter signed by his father that stated if he did not marry by his twenty-seventh birthday in order to produce an heir for the estate, the dukedom would pass to his uncle, he had been unable to believe what he was reading. 

In fact, he had read the letter over and over what felt like a million times before it had begun to sink in. He had even had his uncle and Sean read it aloud to him several times in order to fully understand what his father wanted of him. 

It was one thing to know that he must one day marry and have children in order to do his duty to the dukedom and his family but it was quite another for his father to have put such a deadline upon such things.

For the late duke to have put such a weight upon his shoulders made him feel sick. He had always been prepared to do his duty to his family. A large amount of his finances that didn’t go toward the betterment of the estate, went toward paying for his half-sister’s education in France. It was a price he was willing to pay for his sister’s health and welfare. He loved her a great deal. But to have it at risk as it was all thanks to his father’s deadline, upset him to no end. 

“I need not answer that question,” Alex said through gritted teeth. “Frederick shall never be duke.” 

The scowl that had taken over his face deepened and tugged upon the tight scars that covered ninety percent of the left side of his face. Though the scars were years old and finally faded to silver, they were still tight and caused a great deal of people to stare at him like he had grown a second head. 

There was only one benefit to the wounds, they aided him a great deal in the mystery of ‘the devil lord’ that allowed him to induce fear without even needing to act. 

What they did not help with was his willingness to enter into the public eye and search for a willing bride. Nor did he believe he was going to have any great chance of finding one with such an appearance. 

“Then you have a plan?” Sean asked, pulling Alex out of his thoughts on the difficulties surrounding his father’s wishes. 

“I plan to find a wife,” Alex stated, groaning deeply, he added, “I merely do not know how.” 

Sean cleared his throat and pointed out, “The London Season begins this evening. Lord and Lady Beaufort’s opening ball is set to be the biggest and best yet.” 

Alex cringed. Another thing he did not need pointing out to him. There were a number of unopened invitations upon his desk, ones he had not yet had the courage to open for fear that they might be invites to something he couldn’t possibly hope to avoid. 

He had lived the life of a recluse for near one two years since his father’s death, only meeting with the gentlemen and nobles who entered his establishment, and generally keeping his face covered with a hood in the darkness of the club. But remained hooded within ballrooms and dining rooms was not something permitted in the grandness of society and masks made his scars itch terribly. And so he had avoided all he could. 

Yet, the rumors surrounding him were growing more and more mysterious and not a one of them would help him to find a bride. Besides, those who would have him simply for his fortune and his title were of no interest to him. 

If he was to live the life of a recluse with a wife at his side, he wished to at least get along with her. 

“Maybe it is time I open these,” Alex sighed, laying his hand upon the pile of unopened invites. Sean nodded silently and leaned forward with encouragement.

As expected, when Alex opened up the many invites that had been abandoned on his desk, he found that chief amongst them was an invitation to the Beaufort Ball. 

“Shall we attend?” Sean asked when Alex sighed and handed him the invitation. 

Every fiber of Alex’s being screamed at him to decline the suggestion but he was all too aware of his father’s letter burning a hole in the top drawer of his desk. 

Biting the inside of his lip, he turned to Mr. Benedict and sighed, “Please return to Westmarch House and have my bath drawn and my best clothes set out.” 

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw excitement unfold upon Sean’s face. It took all he had in him to turn his attention back to him when Benedict bowed and removed himself from the room.

“You are not jesting with me, are you?” Sean asked, looking as if he were attempting to temper his excitement. 

Alex was tempted to say that he was and call Benedict right back. Instead, he gritted his teeth and nodded. “I have held it off for long enough. It is time I showed my face in society again.” 

Just saying the words in such a manner – knowing the horrid state of his face – Alex cringed. Yet, the elation on his friend’s face was evident, helping only a degree to calm his nerves on the matter. 

Sean jumped to his feet, looking almost as excited as he had when Alex had announced his friend’s freedom as his first act as the Duke of Westmarch. Having been a servant of the late duke for near on eighteen years, Alex thought his friend more than deserved it. Though he had been grateful and relieved when Sean had agreed to stay on as his business partner and friend. He wasn’t sure how he might have handled what was to come without him at his side.

“Oh, Alex, I never thought this day would come!” Sean exclaimed, holding his ledger to his chest, his thumb removed from between the pages as though all thoughts of business had left his mind. 

Alex raised one hand to silence him, rubbing his temple with the other as he warned, “Sean, do lower your voice.” 

Though the tonic had begun to take effect, he was not yet prepared for raised voices. 

Sean laughed at that and leaned over the desk, “Perhaps that shall teach you not to drink so much whilst on the floor of the club.” 

Alex scoffed in return. They both knew that would never happen. Alex needed the liquor to dull the pain of the way the patrons of his establishment looked at him, either with fear or curiosity or even outright horror. Whichever it was, it did not matter, for they never looked at him as if he were anything but a gruesome curiosity in some kind of circus act. 

Though a part of that was down to himself and his playing the part of ‘the devil lord’ ever since his father’s demise, it still pained him to feel the effects of it. Especially with his scars so unremovable. At any time he could put down the mantle of ‘the devil lord’ but the same could not be said for the scars that had become somewhat of a mask, hiding his true nature. 

“I shall try to remember that for next time,” Alex growled at his friend. “Why don’t you go and get yourself prepared. I am certain we both need to bathe and shave after the last few weeks.” 

He had been taking his title of devil lord to extremes of late and he suspected his current appearance would not help him in finding a bride, if he had little hope of doing so at all. 

“Indeed,” Sean agreed, crossing the room to put the ledger back inside the safe. It was only once he had locked it that he turned to Alex’s desk and promised, “Have no fear, your grace, for we shall find you a bride tonight!” 

Alex scoffed at that wishing that he could have such confidence. Too many were dependant upon him to find a bride; Sean, Lorraine, the people of the charities he had taken to donating half his wealth to over the last two years in order to help those who suffered at the hands of gambling, drugs and all other manner of horrendous things, things his father had had a huge part in. 

“I shall not be proposing upon the floor of the Beaufort ballroom!” Alex called after his friend even as he hurried from the room to prepare. 

Sean paused at the door and said over his shoulder, “Be that as it may, you can certainly set your sights on the lady.” 

He winked devilishly and Alex wondered whether it ought to be him with the title of devil lord. 

Sean dipped his head. “Your grace.” 

And then he was gone from the room, leaving Alex to wonder, what have I set in motion?


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Lady Elizabeth Waverly vows to guard her heart fiercely, determined to never have it broken again, and certainly not by the scorching touch of a notorious rake. As the Season dawns, she enters the fray with steely resolve, her gaze unyielding. Armed with a meticulously crafted list, she sets out on a quest to find a husband. Yet, amidst her unwavering determination, a force emerges, a tempest of desire that threatens to unravel her carefully constructed defenses…

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Lord Jonathan Harrington’s obsession with Miss Amelia, his unrequited love, still consumes him three years after her rejection. Despite drowning his sorrows in hedonism, he remains shackled by debt, familial disapproval, and inner turmoil. When his friend Charles proposes a scheme to win Lady Waverly’s heart in exchange for Charles’s help in winning Amelia back, Jonathan faces a moral dilemma…

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