Release Date: July 26, 2016
Publisher: Avon Books
Series: Dukes Behaving Badly
Why do dukes fall in love?
Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, has the liberty of enjoying an indiscretion . . . or several. But when it comes time for him to take a proper bride, he ultimately realizes he wants only one woman: Edwina Cheltam. He’d hired her as his secretary, only to quickly discover she was sensuous and intelligent.
They embark on a passionate affair, and when she breaks it off, he accepts her decision as the logical one . . . but only at first. Then he decides to pursue her.
Michael is brilliant, single-minded, and utterly indifferent to being the talk of the ton. It’s even said his only true friend is his dog. Edwina had begged him to marry someone appropriate–—someone aristocratic . . . someone high-born . . . someone else. But the only thing more persuasive than a duke intent on seduction is one who has fallen irrevocably in love.
The Quality Employment Agency, London
“He left you with nothing?”
Edwina glanced to the side of the room, a tactic she knew full well wouldn’t disguise the moisture in her eyes, especially not from Carolyn, her oldest and dearest friend. They’d met when Edwina’s late husband had wanted to find a respectable, but inexpensive, maidservant, and Carolyn’s agency had found the perfect person. And Edwina had finally found a friend she could actually talk to.
The room was as familiar to her as her own lodgings—and definitely more welcoming. A kettle was heating up water on the small stove, the tea things—the chipped blue cup for Carolyn, the cup with the handle that was always too hot for her—waiting until the water boiled.
Cozy, comfortable, and everything else she was not.
“No.” She spoke plainly, unable and unwilling to disguise the truth of it.
Eight years of marriage to one of the most boring men of her acquaintance, and he didn’t even have the decency to leave her financially comfortable when he died.
“I can help you, you know,” Carolyn said in a soft voice. She got up as the kettle began to whistle and started preparing the tea.
Edwina’s throat tightened. “I won’t take your money.” Fine words for a pauper—they both knew that if the choice came between accepting charity and letting her daughter starve, Edwina would take the money. Gertrude sat on the floor, playing with her dolls. Was she already getting thinner? Edwina’s heart hurt at the thought, and she had to bite the inside of her cheek not to start fretting aloud. That would do nothing but worry her daughter, who wasn’t old enough to understand.
Edwina wasn’t entirely certain she was old enough to understand, either.
“I wasn’t offering to give you any money,” Carolyn replied in a dry tone of voice, glancing over her shoulder as she spoke.
Edwina’s gaze met Carolyn’s.
“Well, what then?” she asked in an unsteady voice.
“Employment,” Carolyn replied, returning to her task.
“Employment?” Edwina echoed, an uneasy feeling settling somewhere in her gut. The gut that was remarkably close to her stomach, which hadn’t eaten today, and had only had some porridge and some hard cheese yesterday.
So the uneasy feeling would have to ease.
“You do know I run an employment agency.” Carolyn gestured to the room they sat in. “Since you have used my services.”
“Yes, back when I could afford them,” Edwina replied in a tone that was both wry and pained.
She took a deep breath, and looked around her. It was undeniably pleasant, if modest. The cozy, comfortable room of the Quality Employment Agency, filled with books, papers, mismatched chairs, and an enormous battered desk, where Carolyn normally sat, welcomed her, made her feel safe in a way her new lodgings did not.
“Yes, but—” and then Edwina felt both foolish and snobby, since the answer was obvious, and yet had not occurred to her because of who she was. Who she had been.
“But what?” Carolyn picked up the teacups, wincing as she felt the heat from the offending handle. She brought them over to where Edwina was seated, placing them on the desk and sitting back down in her usual spot. “You need a job, Edwina. No matter who you are. Even ladies—especially ladies, judging from my experience—need to have enough money to eat and to live. Even if their husbands were so disappointing as to leave them bereft of anything but their good name.”
“And even that was sullied, thanks to George’s entrusting of the accounts to his brother as soon as it seemed the businesses were getting profitable, and worthy of notice,” Edwina remarked in a bitter tone. She kept her tone low, so her daughter couldn’t hear. “I told him I could handle them, that I had gotten them to the state they were in, not to mention I told him how untrustworthy his brother was—and yet he said he’d never ‘let a female deal with important things,’ ” she said in an imitation of her late husband.
“More fool he,” Carolyn remarked. “If he had allowed you to continue to oversee the finances you wouldn’t be in this situation now, would you?”
It was a well-worn discussion, but one that still made Edwina angry. George had been so blind to her attributes he hadn’t seen she was skilled at maths, far better than anyone in his own family, especially his debt-beleaguered younger brother. He had been fine when she oversaw the accounts when they weren’t important—but ironically, as soon as her skill had yielded results, he took them away from her and handed them to a man. Simply because he was a man, and his brother, and not a woman, and his wife.
And now she and little Gertrude were being made to suffer for it. George’s brother hadn’t done more than shrug when Edwina had told him how George had left her. He already had a wife, he said, and he couldn’t afford to take her in, although he had offered a place to his niece.
But Edwina couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from her daughter; she was the only thing keeping Edwina from stepping in front of an oxcart one day. That she and Gertrude might starve to death was not something she wanted to contemplate—what reasonable person would?—even though she had to.
Which brought her back to why she was currently sitting with her closest friend in said closest friend’s employment agency, realizing that perhaps she had to consider employment herself.
“What can I do?” she said at last, hating how pathetic and needy she sounded. Better pathetic and needy than dead, a voice said inside her head.
Carolyn chuckled, taking a sip of her tea. “What can’t you do? You can balance accounts, drive hard bargains with tradesmen, oversee skittish maids, sort out the temperamental discord among upper-class servants, and keep an older husband relatively comfortable in illness. Not to mention you are extremely well-read—there are benefits to having a neglectful husband—and your parents ensured you had all the education you’d need to be an adept wife, whether you married a politician, a solicitor, or even a lord.”
“Or a businessman with lofty pretensions,” Edwina added. “They thought they had taken care of me. I wish they were still here.” She shook her head. “I do not wish to be married again, if that is the employment you are suggesting.” Once was enough, and she would have said never would have been enough if it weren’t for Gertrude. And it is not as though she had any other family to resort to; her parents had both been only children, and she had no relatives that she knew of.
“I am not in a husband acquisition business, Edwina,” Carolyn replied in a mocking tone. “If
I were, don’t you think I could afford a better office?”
They both glanced around at the tidy but shabby room. “Excellent point,” Edwina replied with a grin, picking up the cup with the still-hot handle and taking a welcome sip of tea. “So what do you have in mind?”
About MEGAN FRAMPTON
Megan Frampton writes historical romance under her own name and romantic women’s fiction as Megan Caldwell. She likes the color black, gin, dark-haired British men, and huge earrings, not in that order. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son. You can visit her website at www.meganframpton.com. She tweets as @meganf, and is on Facebook.