Duchesses in Disguise
The Love of His Life by Susanna Ives
Widowed at a young age, Mary Alice, Duchess of Pymworth, devotes her life to her children, friends, and numerous charities. When she was a freckled, chubby, scared debutante, Nathaniel Stratton, London’s premiere rake, turned her first season into a nightmare. Years later, Nathaniel rescues the injured duchess from a carriage wreck. He hopes as he tends her wounds and tries to lift her spirits that she will see he’s a changed man, capable of kindness and caring, and even of falling in love…
How to Ruin a Rogue by Emily Greenwood (working title)
When fate strands sensible Lady Olivia Swift in the company of the most reprehensible rogue in the ton, Kit Stirling, she’s mostly exasperated by the dark charms that have ensnared so many other women. Kit has spent years cultivating a reputation for wickedness, and he’s sure that Lady Olivia is that most boring of women: a prude. But close quarters have a way of tampering with certainties, and soon Lady Olivia becomes a bewitching puzzle to him – one that only love can solve.
Duchess in the Wild by Grace Burrowes (working title)
Sir Greyville Trent accepts a friend’s offer of a quiet respite in the country where Grey can prepare years’ worth of scientific notes for publication. The task goes poorly until Francesca Pomponio and her two friends join the household while they await repairs to their carriage. Francesca doesn’t care much for jungles, but she’s willing to help Grey get his notes organized. Collaboration turns to fascination, and the focus of the investigation from Amazonian flora and fauna to true love.
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“Avoid the London Season, you said. Enjoy the peace and quiet of the beautiful dales.” Sir Greyville Trenton fell silent as his gelding slipped then righted itself—again.
“The dales are beautiful,” Colonel Nathanial Stratton replied over the huffing of the horses and slip-slop of hooves on the wet road.
“If you like varying degrees of wet as far as the eye can see,” Kit Stirling added. “Or if you’ve a penchant for cold. I haven’t felt my toes since the first mile out of Lesser Puddlebury.”
Grey brought Zeus to a halt as they crested yet another rise and were smacked in the face with yet another wet, frigid breeze. Early spring in Yorkshire left much to be desired.
“What the devil is that?”
“It’s a coach wheel,” Stratton said, extracting a flask from the folds of his greatcoat.
Twenty yards ahead, the wheel protruded above the grassy swale at the side of the road like a dark flag of surrender. The ruts gouged in the roadway indicated a recent accident.
“Save your brandy, Nathaniel,” Stirling suggested. “The survivors might need it.”
The coach lay on its side, an enormous traveling vehicle that had apparently taken a curve too hastily. The mud-spattered horses were held by a young groom at the head of the leaders. The lad was soaked to the skin, and looked as if the next gust of wind might blow him down the lane.
The door popped open, and a head swathed in a scarf emerged.
“Halloo!” Stratton called. “Have you need of assistance?”
“Ever the gallant soldier,” Grey muttered. “At least we’ll die of exposure in company.”
“Your sunny nature will prevent that tragedy,” Stirling replied.
A long-barreled horse pistol appeared in the hand of the person trapped in the coach. “Stay back.”
“Women,” Grey said. “Worse, we’ve found a damsel in distress—an armed damsel.” The lady had a slight accent, something Continental.
“My favorite kind,” Stirling replied, riding forward. “Madam!” he called. “If you’re in difficulties, we’d like to render aid.”
The lady’s head disappeared like a hedgehog popping down into its burrow. She emerged a moment later, still brandishing her pistol.
“Come no closer.”
“Female logic at its finest,” Grey said. “We’re to render gentlemanly aid by freezing our arses off at gunpoint. This damsel has no notion how to be properly in distress.”
“Who are they?” the lady asked, wiggling her pistol in the direction of Grey and Stirling.
“Those good fellows are my guests at Rose Heath manor, my home.”
“Perhaps the introductions might wait,” Stirling suggested. “We’re two miles from safety, the rain shows no signs of letting up, and it’s getting colder by the moment.”
The lady once again dodged down into her coach-burrow, then emerged sans pistol, a second scarved head beside her.
“Our coachman should return at any moment,” the second lady said. She spoke with great—utterly irrational—certainty regarding the prodigal coachman’s impending arrival.
“That is at least a baroness,” Grey observed. “A woman who expects a man in service to defy the very gods of weather when her comfort is at issue was to the manor born.”
“Then let’s get her and her friend to the manor posthaste,” Stirling said, “before we all freeze for want of somebody to make proper introductions.”
I miss the jungle, where welcome was either an honest threat of death or immediate and genuine hospitality.
The thought went wafting away on a sideways gust of rain. Or possibly sleet.
Stratton rode forth and touched a gloved finger to his hat brim. “Ladies, pleased to meet you. We three gentlemen are at your service. Your good coachman might well return, but that he’d leave you here while a storm howls down from Scotland, does not speak well for his judgment. We offer you a cozy hearth not two miles away and assurances of our gentlemanly conduct.”
Exactly what a trio of highwaymen would say. Grey joined his friends at the lip of the ditch. “Ladies, we’ll all soon succumb to the elements, making your understandable caution an exercise in futility. Take your chances in the ditch or with us. In the ditch you will drown. With us, you will merely endure bad company, but do so in the midst of adequate creature comforts.”
“He makes sense,” said a third woman.
Good God, how many of them were in there?
Grey nodded. “Thank you for that observation.” He wasn’t about to take off his hat in this weather. “Perhaps you’d allow us to make haste as well as sense?”
Some sort of silent conference ensued, with the ladies exchanging glances among themselves. The first one, the pistol-wielding woman, hoisted herself from the vehicle with a nimbleness that surprised, given her voluminous cloak and skirts.
“You,” she said, gesturing at Grey. “I’ll ride with you.”
“If you can contain your enthusiasm for my company,” Grey said, riding as close to the coach as he could, “I shall endeavor to do likewise regarding your own. Sir Greyville Trenton, at your service.”
She was a young woman, and yet, her posture as she stood on her upturned coach was regal, despite the dirty weather pouring down around her. Grey waited—patience was another of his few gifts—until he realized the lady was trying not to smile.
“Madam, you are welcome to enjoy the invigorating weather at your leisure once my horse is safely ensconced in his stall. That objective remains two miles distant, so I must ask you, for the sake of all concerned, to consider getting into this saddle with all due haste.”
She put a hand on his shoulder, adopted an approximate side-saddle perch before him, and tucked her skirts about her.
“You may proceed, sir, and please inform this good beast that one ditch per day is my limit.”
That was an Italian accent. An imperious Italian accent, something of an oxymoron in Grey’s experience.
“Of course, madam. Zeus, take heed.”
Grey’s mount shuffled back onto the muddy road, while Grey—for the first time since returning to England—also tried not to smile.
Francesca Maria Lucia Theresa Amadora Heppledorn Pomponio Pergolesi, dowager Duchess of San Mercato, sat as properly as she could, given that she was in the wrong kind of saddle, on the wrong sort of horse, in the wrong country, in the wrong season.
Also with the wrong man, but the concept of a right man defied definition in any of the languages with which she was familiar.
Her English was in good repair, but she’d forgotten so much about the land of her parents’ birth. The cold, of course, but also how bleak the light was, what little light England had in early spring. How relentless the wind, how cheerless the landscape.
She missed Italy, where being a widow of rank was a fine status; where sunlight, hearty food, excellent wine, and warmth had been hers in abundance.
“Madam will please remain awake,” the gentleman sharing the saddle said. “If you fall asleep, the cold can steal over you and create injuries you’ll never recall receiving. The ensuing infections can end your life.”
His voice would give her a permanent chill before the elements did. “I’m not likely to fall asleep in such charming company, Sir Greyville.”
“I beg your pardon?”
He was a big man, and he moved with his horse easily. When Francesca had spoken, he’d tipped his head down to put his ear nearer her mouth. The fool hadn’t even a scarf to protect those ears.
“I’m awake,” she said more loudly. If nothing else, proximity to Sir Greyville would ensure she remained conscious. With a hand on each rein, he was all but embracing her, and because of the motion of the horse’s walk, she was hard put not to bump against him.
“You will have a more secure seat if you permit yourself to lean against me, and you’ll make Zeus’s job easier as well.”
“You’re very solicitous of your—”
The dratted animal chose that moment to put a foot wrong and slip in the mud. The jostling tossed Francesca against Sir Greyville, who remained relaxed, steady, and calm behind her.
The horse plodded on, and Francesca gave up the battle for dignity in favor of greater safety.
“Take my scarf,” she said. “If I turn up my collar, I’ll stay warm enough.”
“Take the reins.”
Very odd, to converse with a man in imperatives, but for the present situation, expedient. Sir Greyville soon had her scarf wrapped about his neck and ears, while Francesca bundled into his chest and missed Italy.
“What brings three women out to the dales at this time of year?” Sir Greyville asked.
Well, perdition. Englishmen ruled the world—the parts they wanted to plunder—and thus the world was supposed to answer to them.
“A coach, Sir Greyville. A coach brought us out to the dales.”
“If we’re both to impose on Colonel Stratton’s hospitality for the foreseeable future, I had best warn you now. I am a scientist, madam. I study flora and fauna in exotic locations when funds permit. My mind is prone to questioning, to assembling cause and effect from observed data, the way some men must wager or ride to hounds.”
He used the word scientist as if it were a lofty title—cherubim, seraphim, archduke, scientist. Francesca had agreed with Olivia and Mary Alice that none of the ladies should disclose her true identity for the duration of this holiday—the roads were doubly unsafe for women of wealth—and yet, she had the sense Sir Greyville wouldn’t care that he rode with a duchess.
He wasn’t a fortune hunter then. Thank God for small mercies.
“I see neither flora nor fauna to speak of,” Francesca replied. She saw green and wet, wet and green, with a topping of slate-gray clouds. Perhaps the epithet Merry Olde England was intended to be ironic.
“In this environment, my objective is to organize and edit the notes gathered from more than three years’ investigation into the Amazonian jungles. A lack of biological distractions serves that goal. You have yet to explain what brings you to this corner of Yorkshire.”
Weariness brought her here, along with despair, boredom, and—Pietro would laugh heartily at the notion—even some lingering grief, five years after losing her husband.
“Like you, I seek peace and quiet. London at this time of year becomes crowded and pestilentially social.”
Widowhood had allowed Francesca to retreat from the worst of the entertainments for a few years, but she was in England now, where the London Season was an orgy of matchmaking in the guise of a social whirl. Execrable English cuisine didn’t help one bit, and the chilly reserve of the typical Englishman tempted a sane woman to leave the realm. The impecunious English bachelor, by contrast, was the social equivalent of a barnacle.
The horse started up another incline, leaning into the wind, and the weariness that Sir Greyville had warned Francesca of threatened to overtake her. This was her life now, varying degrees of uphill, bad footing, and bleak terrain.
How had this happened? How had a lively, good-humored, young girl, appreciative of all the privileges of her station, become a creature to whom a muddy ditch did not look nearly as perilous as it should?
“That’s our destination,” Sir Greyville said as they topped the rise some moments later. “We’ll be at the gates within a mile, and the going will be easier after that.”
Across the dreary landscape, nestled at the foot of a great hill, sat a manor house. From this distance, details were obscured by rain and mist. Lamps lit on the front terrace and along the drive gave the edifice a fairy-tale quality in the afternoon’s deepening gloom.
“I have it on the best authority that we admire the view at the risk of imperiling your dear horse,” she said. “Onward, Sir Greyville.”
He sent the horse forward without comment. Perhaps Sir Greyville was the kind of man who made a mistress of his work. The Italians understood passion, whether aimed at a vocation, a pastime, or another person. No cold reserve for them.
Sometimes not much sense either, though.
Francesca had plenty of sense, which was why, purely for the sake of conserving warmth, she tucked nearer to Sir Greyville and closed her eyes.
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End of Excerpt
This book will begin shipping on March 14, 2017
Duchesses in Disguise is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
March 14, 2017
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