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I am Lord Henry Sway, second son to a Duke – thankfully. I have no desire to become Duke, or to follow the rules of society.
I do have a desire to best a childhood enemy, however. Lord Bradford. He is the new Duke of Wolforth, due to his father’s passing. He thinks that, along with all the material possessions and the title, the widowed Duchess, Beatrice, will become his also, regardless that he already has a wife. I think not. I want the beautiful woman for myself.
But danger lurks, disguised as family. Someone is trying to do away with the new Duke, and Beatrice is a suspect. Is she guilty, or just another pawn in the high-risk game of society? Can we solve the mystery together before someone is hurt again? Will our growing feelings hamper our investigation?
Publisher’s Note: This historical romance offers danger, suspense, and mystery. It also contains elements of power exchange, and explicit scenes. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.
*** Currently available exclusively at Amazon ***
Beatrice, the Dowager Duchess of Wolforth, sat down on the settee with a flourish and waved away the maid who offered assistance with removing her widow's weeds. Wearing the long dark veil hid the smile that brightened her face. It was an unseemly emotion for a woman who had just seen her husband put into the ground.
But it was what she felt, and she needed to get that emotion under control before she allowed the veil to be lifted. Hopefully, in a short while she would be able to replace the smile with a frown, one that made it seem as if she'd been crying during the funeral and trip to the cemetery.
They couldn't plant him deep enough, as far as she was concerned. The Duke of Wolforth was a bastard, not in the literal sense, but a bastard just the same. He was constantly yelling and taking his angry moods out on those around him, whether it be his wife, or the staff. Life in his home had been miserable. She had a few days of freedom, and then her stepson, Bradford Tillingsley, the new Duke of Wolforth, would put his father's plan into motion. He'd told her last night that he'd give her a "few days to grieve.” She didn’t need those days. There was no way she would cry over the death of Trenton.
But now Bradford had control over her, since she had no family, no money and no property. She could not stand the man, and being under his thumb was something she didn't want to contemplate. If her plan worked, she would be out on her own. She'd known this day would come at some point. After all, Trenton, her late husband, was thirty years her senior. He'd been looking for a young wife to warm his bed, and she'd been penniless, but beautiful, living with her mother's best friend since the death of her parents.
Trenton had seen her, pursued her, and convinced her he would make sure she was cared for, even after he was gone. Only a week before he died, as he lay shivering on his bed, did he tell her that his plan was for her to become his son's mistress.
"I've discussed it with him and he's agreeable to taking you to his bed. Don't worry, he'll make sure you have what you need."
Beatrice had been disgusted by the idea, and had immediately taken steps to remove money from household accounts, money she hid from Bradford. It had taken some maneuvering but she had five thousand pounds set aside. She hoped to get a few more before Bradford's "few days" were up.
As if he could sense she was thinking about him, the man in question turned to her and nodded. She knew if there hadn't been so many people around he would have smiled. He probably would have ordered her to undress, so he could see what his new "property" looked like.
Beside him his wife, Alice, stood ramrod straight, her eyes red from crying. The new Duchess was acting her part, making sure that everyone could see she was mourning her father-in-law. Beatrice was sure that inside her mind she was mentally calculating the value of the household objects, wondering what changes she could make to the manor to give it her own touch, and resenting the fact she would have to wait a year before she could host a party and show off her new position.
As if sensing what Beatrice was thinking, the new Duchess turned to her and gave her a small smile; others might think it was one of sympathy for the woman who still sat fully swathed in her black veil and dress. But Beatrice knew it for what it really was, a smirk that said, "I'm in control now."
Alice would have a thing or two coming to her, Beatrice knew. Bradford had already cornered Beatrice last night, put his hands on her waist and studied her chest, commenting about how his father had told him how "soft she was," in all ways.
"I cannot wait to discover it for myself." He put his lips on her ear. "But I will give you a few days, to adjust to your new state. Then you will welcome me between your thighs as your new lord."
She'd been disgusted by his words, but had fought hard to control it, giving him a small smile and nod. She didn't want him to think she was up to something. That would cause him to be suspicious, and she didn't want that. She didn't want him to think she was going to run. It would be better if he was oblivious, at least until he and his wife came to move things into her home: and found her gone.
A movement at the doorway caught her eye. She turned to see more people coming inside. They would greet Bradford as they walked by, and then they would come to her, offering their condolences with a small smile to help her offset her grief. As if she really cared about the old man.
But she would do what was necessary. She would smile and nod and murmur soft words about how much she would miss her husband, about how much she cared for him. The whole time she would be planning her escape.
She had hoped that, if she left tomorrow there was every chance she could catch a ship to America and be gone before Bradford even knew she'd left London. But that was not to be the case. The ships leaving were all booked solid. She had booked a passage under another name in a week, but she could not stay in the house until then. Bradford would force himself on her, she was sure. The thought disgusted her. Yes, she had to leave. Soon. The passage would be expensive, but she would find employment once she reached New York, perhaps as a governess, or in a shop.
She would survive. And she would do so without spreading her thighs for Bradford. As the Earl of Ty moved closer to her, Beatrice’s attention was drawn to a man in the doorway and she smiled. This ought to be interesting.
She watched as Henry Sway, the second son of the Duke of Wilshire, surveyed those around him. He and Bradford loathed each other, mostly because Henry was handsome and successful and Bradford had to live off his father's leavings his whole life.
Everyone knew the two of them were very competitive. It would be interesting to see if Bradford could behave himself, or if he would throw Sway from the house. Beatrice lifted her veil, uncovering her face for the first time since they'd left the cemetery. She wanted to make sure she caught every moment of the action that was about to follow.
Sway moved into the room slowly, smiling and greeting those around him. When he came to Bradford, Beatrice watched her stepson stiffen, then reluctantly take Sway's outstretched hand.
"Damn," she whispered under her breath. She'd been hoping for some fireworks, praying that the two would exchange a few heated words, something that would cause one of them to throw a fist. That would liven up this little event.
But neither of them did. When Sway noticed her, and started to move in her direction, Bradford fell into step behind him, hurrying to make it to her side first, stepping behind the chair.
"Are you all right?" Bradford asked. She knew he was trying to sound like he gave a damn.
"I'm fine," she said, brushing his hand away. When Sway reached her, she offered her hand. He took it and air kissed her knuckles.
"Beatrice, you have my sympathies."
She wanted to ask him what the sympathies were for, the death of her husband or the fact that she would now have to deal with Bradford?
"Do not address her so informally." The anger in Bradford's voice promised the conflict she'd been seeking earlier. But it was too late for that. She didn't want it now.
"Bradford, must we stand on ceremony on a day such as today?" She tried to wave him away, very aware of Sway's presence and the smile that now lifted the corners of his mouth.
"You are very kind, Henry, to come and offer your condolences." She sniffled to try and indicate she'd been crying, even though her face was free of red marks and her eyes showed not one whit of having leaked any water that day.
"Not at all," Sway replied. "I want you to know that if there is anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to contact me."
His offer was very explicit, and right away she saw two things: Bradford stiffened once again. She fought back a laugh. If he continued in this way he might break a bone, which would be fine with her. But she also saw something else. Her boat might not leave for a week, but Henry could provide her with aid.
“What she would like is for you to leave,” Bradford said, his tone sharp.
"Nonsense," Beatrice said, looking up at Sway's face. She'd met him more than a few times at parties, even danced with him once or twice. She'd thought him handsome then, but today he seemed more so, his deep blue eyes twinkling in merriment, as if he knew she had not one ounce of sadness in her because of her husband's death. But how could he know that? She didn't even have any close friends that she'd talked with about her feelings.
She gave him a small smile, and to her utter shock he winked at her, sending tendrils of pleasure shooting down her spine. She wanted to laugh and pull him into a huge hug.
"Father did not like this man, Beatrice. It is an affront that he is here I cannot allow…"
"This is still my home, Bradford." She looked up at her stepson, happy to see the look of pure rage on his face. "I will allow guests as I see fit."
The people around them were trying to pretend not to listen, but she knew they were taking in every word. Before the end of the evening this little conversation would be all over London, the members of society would be laughing about it.
Sway straightened, then inclined his head ever so slightly. "May I get you a glass of lemonade, or tea, Your Grace?"
"Tea would be lovely, thank you." When he'd bowed and walked toward a table full of refreshments, Bradford bent toward her ear.
"You should be ashamed. My father is not even hours in the ground and already you are practically offering yourself to a man."
"I'm offering nothing," she whispered back. "And let us not forget that you plan to take that which I will never offer to you."
The rage in his eyes seemed to burn brighter. "You may not offer, but I will take it. My father gave you to me, and that is the way the world works. As your nearest living male relative it would be remiss of me to let you go out into the world alone. You will live here, with us. And it will be quite pleasant. You will get used to it, Beatrice. And you will welcome me in your bed."
The last words were spoken so softly that she prayed she'd heard them wrong, even though she knew she did not. He had to know she’d never welcome him. He quickly stood and left her side. Sway was back moments later, teacup in hand. He leaned over and offered it to her. Her hands shook as she took it, swallowing hard before whispering, "My thanks to you, Milord."
"Your Grace, I meant what I said. If you need anything, all you must do is send word, and I will be here to assist you. I promise."
"Tonight, at midnight." The words were out of her mouth before she knew it. "Please."
"Of course." He bowed again, then turned and left the room. Beatrice's hands continued to shake until a maid retrieved the teacup.
"Poor Beatrice," Alice said, moving to her side. "Perhaps it is time for you to rest."
"Yes, I do think so." Beatrice stood, but gently brushed aside Alice's hands as they reached for her elbow. "I will be fine, thank you. Please see to our guests?"
"Of course," Alice said. "I will be every inch the proper hostess. You needn't worry."
Not about that, Beatrice thought. But I have plenty else to worry about, believe me.
* * *
Beatrice waited in the library, her hands fiddling nervously with the book in her lap. She’d asked Henry to come tonight, and so far, he hadn’t appeared. She’d sent a servant to the door by the kitchen, thinking that was where the young lord would appear. He was a rake, that was true, but she trusted him more than she trusted her stepson.
There was no noise in the house, and she wondered if he had noticed the fact that it was also dark, and considered that she might have changed her mind. Could she send someone to his club? It was the same club as her husband and her stepson. Or would that seem too desperate? She prayed not.
She opened the book, closed it, and then opened it again before a sound at the door caught her attention.
“Your Grace?” Lucy, her trusted maid, entered the room. “I have Lord Sway with me. Shall I bring him in?”
“By all means, Lucy, do it now,” Beatrice said. She stood and turned toward the door.
He stepped inside the darkened room, and stopped. She wondered if he were waiting for her to invite him further into the room.
Or could he be wondering what she was doing? Did he expect her to offer him her body tonight? She hoped not. But if that’s what it took she would do it.
His next words confirmed her fears. “This is not where I had thought we would meet, Beatrice. But I have made use of a library before.
“Henry, I hope you are not too disappointed. I don’t intend to offer you my body.” She paused. “Not tonight, anyway.”
“I have to say I am disappointed,” he said, as he moved into the room. “Tell me, Beatrice, why did you invite me here tonight? Surely it wasn’t to have tea and talk about books?”
“First of all, Henry, thank you for coming."
"Of course." He moved to the chair that was just opposite from her and sat down without being asked. "How may I help you?"
"I find myself in a bit of a quandary, Milord."
"Please, call me Henry." He adjusted his jacket. "After all, we are not unacquainted. And I like the way my name comes off your lips."
His seductive tone made her smile. Being in his bed would be much better than being in her husband’s, or in finding herself under Bradford. "No, we are not. And I have a problem. My late husband has left me virtually penniless, giving his son control over all monies, and over me, if you catch my meaning."
Henry's hand tightened into a fist, and that made Beatrice smile. He was ready to help her if he could. "Has he forced you?"
"Not yet, but when he and Alice move in I am sure he will. I want to leave this house, tonight. I have some money set aside that will pay for my passage to America in two weeks. But I have nowhere to stay until then."
A smile brightened his face as he caught what she was trying to say. "What you are proposing is quite scandalous."
"Not if no one is aware of my presence in your home except for you, and myself."
"And my servants."
She glanced at him. "Can you trust them?"
He chuckled and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "Tell me, Duchess, how do you know you can trust me?"
"Truthfully, I do not. But I know that you and Bradford hate each other, and that you would do anything to embarrass him. This will do just that."
She watched as he considered her words. "Oh yes, it will embarrass him. But how do you know I will not force myself on you, as he is promising to do.
"Once again, I do not." She fiddled with the book in her lap. "But going to your bed holds more warmth for me than the idea of going to Bradford's."
Henry laughed, and she prayed the sound of a male voice would not alert any servants who might be wandering around the halls. "I’m not sure if I should be complimented by that comment, or annoyed. Either way, I assure you, Beatrice, I will never force myself on you. That does not mean I may not try to seduce you while you are there."
She returned his smile, her eyes lighting up and making her face seem as beautiful as it had at parties, which was so different than how she had looked that afternoon. She still wore the black dress, though, something he hoped she would not do while she was a guest at his house.
"I'll consider myself warned of an impending seduction, then." She focused on him intently. "Will you hide me?"
"Thank you." She stood, putting the book in a bag that was next to the chair. "My maid, Lucy, had packed a bag. I would like her to come with me, if that is agreeable with you."
She watched as he frowned. “You mean to leave tonight? Somehow when I heard you say that I didn’t really process it. Do you think that’s wise?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Mostly because of this afternoon,” Henry said. “Bradford was not happy to see the two of us conversing. If you disappeared today the first place he would look would be my house. I am sure he would bring members of the constabulary, and they would think I brought you there against your will.”
She had not considered that. In her mind Bradford would never be able to find her. She felt as if she would have put on a cloak that would render her invisible when she left this house.
“Do you have a different idea in mind?”
She studied him as he thought. He gazed at the fire for what seemed to be an eternity before he turned his attention back to her.
“I do have an idea, but it would be quite scandalous.”
“I am ready for scandal,” she replied.
“You know of the Earl of Grants’ party in two nights’ time?”
“I do.” She tightened her grip on the book. “But you know I cannot go.”
“As I said, scandalous.” He leaned toward her. “The best thing I could come up with, at the spur of the moment, is that you attend that party, and I do not. Then when everyone is dancing and talking about how the Dowager Duchess is showing herself in a dress—a red one, I think—just a few days after her husband’s burial you will disappear.”
“How will I do that if you are not there?”
“Well, people will think I’m in Kent, but I will really be in a carriage, not far from the Grants’ house, waiting for you.”
“But that means I can’t leave tonight,” she said. An image of Bradford’s face flashed before her eyes. She didn’t trust him, not one single bit.
“I can’t stay here another night,” Beatrice said. “Bradford will be back. His father told him that I would belong to Bradford after he died. That means he thinks he can do anything he wants.”
“Bar the door,” Henry said. “And if it comes down to it, put your knee in his crotch. That will take him down for a while.”
“If you can’t help me I’ll have to find someone who can,” she said. “Thank you for coming tonight.”
He crossed his legs and stared at her. “If you jump into the situation it might turn out badly. We need to make plans, be careful about things. If we don’t use our heads, there is every chance we will fail. You must trust me in this.”
Beatrice thought about it for a minute, then she nodded. He was right, she knew, but that didn’t mean she was ready to accept the situation for what it was.
“I should go now, before members of society are leaving their parties. There is much less chance of me being discovered coming out of your home.”
“What happens now?” she asked.
“How about I come for tea tomorrow,” he said. “It will shock people when they see that you are entertaining so soon after the death of your husband, but that will be fun. I rather enjoy stirring things up.”
“I’ve heard that,” Beatrice said.
“Is that why you chose me, because I’m a, what would you call it, a rake?”
“Is that what you are?” she asked.
“Some people would call me that.” He stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed his hands behind his head. “I think of myself as a white knight, rescuing damsels in distress.”
“You expect your payment in sex,” she said.
“Tit for tat,” he said. “You already said it would be better to warm my bed rather than Bradford’s.”
“Very true,” she said. “All right, I’ll wait a few days, but not much longer than that.”
“Do you have money?” he asked.
“Why, do you want it as well as sex?”
“Things are not cheap, Beatrice,” he said. “I wouldn’t be much of a hero if I let you go out into the world with nothing.”
“I have five thousand pounds,” she said. Why did she tell him that? It wasn’t something she should have just blurted out.
“That is why we need more time,” he said. “Five thousand pounds will get you nowhere.”
“We’ll discuss it tomorrow,” he said as he stood. “It’s getting late. I’m going to go out the backdoor to cut the risk of people seeing me.”
Beatrice nodded. She knew he was right. She should have set this plan into motion long before her husband died. If she had, she could be out of the house tonight, away from Bradford and his pawing hands.
“See you at tea tomorrow,” he said. He slipped outside and Beatrice watched as he made his way down the steps and into the garden.
He said he was her knight in shining armor. She prayed he was right.
She turned away from the door and her mouth dropped open in fear.
“Well, well, it looks like Daddy’s little whore had a midnight visitor,” Bradford said. “I don’t like the idea, but I will play second to him tonight.”
“Get out of my house,” she said.
“My house.” His words were a harsh reminder that she was under his control. “I’ve come to assert my rights. But before I do, I want you to go upstairs and wash that bastard Henry Sway off your body.”
“Get out, Bradford.” She sneered at him. “I told you I would not give myself to you, and I meant it.”
He walked toward her, and Beatrice knew the only way she would be able to get away from him was through the door. She turned and grabbed the knob but he wrapped his arms around her.
A strong smell of alcohol wafted out from his body.
“I was hoping you would say that,” he said. “It will make this much more fun.”