Enjoy an excerpt from my Regency romance novel, The Duke’s Mysterious Lady. An Amazon Regency Bestseller.
When a lady loses her memory, who better to rescue her than a seductive duke.
Viola, so named by her benefactor, Hugh, Duke of Vale, has lost her memory, along with her respectability, after being found unconscious near his estate dressed in a male servant’s clothes. She is a mystery unto herself, with her knowledge of books and Latin, and her skill at the pianoforte.
Thanks to the duke’s kindness, Viola has found a temporary home with his nanny in a cottage on his estate, while danger lurks in the shadows and darkens her dreams. She must leave beautiful Vale Park before Hugh marries Lady Felicity Beresford, the neighbor’s daughter; their marriage arranged when they were children. And before Viola and Hugh succumb to an impossible passion.
As the announcement of Hugh’s engagement draws near, he tries to accept the inevitable, he must marry a woman he doesn’t love. He is intrigued by Viola. Who is she and what has driven her to such an act? As the Bow Street Runners work to find the answers, Hugh grows more deeply and dangerously drawn to the mysterious lady.
Amazon reviewer: Thrilling mystery! A perfect mystery that kept me captivated!
Summer, Oxfordshire, 1819
Hugh Beauchamp, 3rd Duke of Vale, propped his Hessian boots on the seat opposite, just as the coach hit a deep rut in the road and lurched on its springs. He muttered a curse, tilted his hat to cover his face, closed his eyes and hoped for sleep. A faint hope, even in a coach as well sprung as his. He admitted that he made a poor passenger, preferring to have his hands on the reins and in control of his destiny. But, even if he drove the deuced coach himself, his destiny did not lie in his hands.
Hugh sighed as his thoughts returned to London. He’d left with the Season in full swing having danced with Felicity twice at Almacks. As one would expect, it produced a flurry of excitement among the dowagers.
Already an adept flirt, Felicity’s playful, brown eyes had sparkled at him over her fan. London Society was at her feet and she relished every moment of it. It was as inevitable as one season follows another that he and Felicity would marry. On her eighteenth birthday, only a matter of weeks away, their engagement was to be announced at a ball at Vale Park.
Felicity was pretty, engaging, and a lively companion, any man would be fortunate to marry her. Hugh threw off his hat and raked his hands through his hair. So, what drove him back to the country with a burning need to ride over his acres, as if his life depended on it?
Several hours later, Hugh yawned and opened the window to breathe in lungful’s of fresh country air. The violet sky was cloudless, deepening towards twilight. Leafy woods of oak, ash and beech swept by, giving way to fields of russet earth enclosed by thorn hedges. London, with its depressing smells of decay, coal fires, and the rotten stink rising from the Thames at low tide, slipped thankfully from his thoughts.
The towering roofs and chimneys of his neighboring property, High Ridge Manor appeared through the trees, the home of his boy-hood friend, Harry Carstairs. Years had passed since he raced with Harry, their horses clearing the fences with the recklessness of boyhood. At the thought, Hugh felt like a boy again and removed his feet from the seat, as if Nanny Bryant was about to rebuke him. He grinned, admitting that even now, at seven-and-twenty, he jumped a gate or two when the devil seized him. Might Harry still suffer from a similar impulse? He doubted it. Harry was now a serious Member of Parliament and committed father of two.
A shout roused Hugh from his reverie. With a curse, the coachman hauled the horses to a stop in the narrow lane. Hugh’s manservant, Peter, jumped down from the box.
“What’s amiss?” Hugh threw open the carriage door and leapt out, pistol in hand. It was years since highwaymen were seen in these parts and they’d come off the worse last time, with one man dead and the other wounded in his escape.
With dusk falling, it was shadowy and dim beneath the dense canopy of leaves.
“Here, Your Grace!” Peter called.
After a quick appraisal of the bushes crowding the lane, Hugh ran to join his men.
Peter was crouched beside a body lying on the road, perilously close to the horses’ plunging hooves.
A trick? Hugh tightened his grip on the pistol. “Back up the horses,” he urged his coachman. “Be quick about it.”
Peter grabbed the traces, and he and Jack edged the nervous horses away, their flesh quivering and their nostrils steaming in the cool air. With another glance at the silent, dark woods encroaching on both sides of the road, Hugh hunkered beside the inert form. Gently rolling the body over, he slipped a hand into the lad’s shirt searching for a heartbeat.
Hugh pulled his hand back as if stung. “Devil take us, ’tis a woman!” As he moved her, the woman’s cap fell off and long strands of fair hair escaped, spreading over her shoulders. “Bring a lantern here.”
While the coachman held the lantern high, Hugh gazed speechlessly at her, his fingers still warm from contact with firm, soft flesh. The thin material of her shirt barely concealed the thrust of young breasts beneath it. Pantaloons hugged her slender legs, her boots thick with grime. The shirt strings lay open across her delicate throat, where a jewel-encrusted silver locket gleamed in the lantern light.
Hugh smoothed hair away from her mud-streaked face. “No sign of bleeding, but she has a bump on her head the size of an egg.” He took hold of her wrist. She was far too pale, but at least her pulse felt strong.
“Cor, she ain’t half dirty, Your Grace.” Peter wrinkled his nose in distaste. “She smells of the barnyard.”
“That she does.” Hugh slipped his arms around her shoulders and beneath her knees. With scant regard for his silk-lined, multi-caped greatcoat, he hefted her up and placed her inside the coach. “On to Vale Park, Jack.”
She failed to stir as he tucked a traveling rug around her. Night fell quickly in the country. A mist-shrouded moon added its frail light to the dim coach lanterns. The young woman lay motionless, her chest rising and falling, the only sign she lived. He could only hope that burned feathers or smelling salts would bring her round.
He turned her small hand over in his large one. Nails well cared for, skin soft and callous free. No evidence of hard labor. Not a housemaid then. A seamstress or a governess from one of the big houses in the district? What had driven her to dress as a male then? He sat back and studied her, her delicate features and long limbs, the boots a young servant boy might wear, and from a good house by the look of them.
He leaned forward and fingered the locket. Was she absconding with it?