How to Ruin a Duke
Grace teams up with Theresa Romain to set two Regency novellas against a backdrop of scandal, intrigue, and literary mischief inspired by the real-life spoof of Lord Byron published by Lady Caroline Lamb.
Rhapsody for Two by Theresa Romain
Rowena Fairweather, a builder of stringed instruments, is facing a difficult future. Simon Thorn is a musician fleeing his past. When a page from How to Ruin a Duke brings them together, will these two independent souls allow themselves to fall in love?
When His Grace Falls by Grace Burrowes
The very proper Duke of Emory, lampooned in How to Ruin A Duke, suspects that the author of his misfortune is Lady Edith Charbonneau. He sets out to ruin her before she can write a sequel, except… what if he’s wrong, and she’s not his enemy after all?
Enjoy An Excerpt
His Grace of Emory is almost certain Lady Edith has written the popular satire that so effectively lampoons him, though he’d thought his mama’s former companion above such ungenteel behavior. Lady Edith has learned a few things since leaving her last post–none of them genteel…
Lady Edith Charbonneau sat on the hard chair, her outward composure firmly in place while she raged inside. Two years as companion to the Duchess of Emory had resulted in the ability to maintain her dignity, if nothing else. Little good that would do her when she had no roof over her head.
“My lady, I do apologize,” Mr. Jared Ventnor said, from the far side of a desk both massive and battered, “but at present I am not in the business of publishing books of domestic advice. Have you tried Mr. MacHugh?”
“Mr. MacHugh has all the domestic guidance authors he needs. He suggested I proceed by subscription, but Mr. Ventnor, I am a lady by birth. I cannot be seen importuning my friends to support my publishing endeavors. The result would label my literary aspirations charity, and I will not be made into an object of pity.” Moreover, the goal of Edith’s considerable writing efforts was to earn money, not to perfect her begging skills.
When male authors drummed up support for a book yet to be written—much less published—that was business as usual. A woman in the same posture met with a very different reception.
Mr. Ventnor rose. “Leave me some of your writing samples. If I can’t publish you, I might think of somebody who can once I have a sense of your voice and tone. Reading for entertainment is becoming stylish, and whoever can write the next How to Ruin a Duke will be assured of a long and lucrative career.”
If I never hear of that book again… “Might I consider my writing samples and send you the best of the lot?”
Ventnor was rumored to be a decent sort. He had a wife and family, he paid his authors honestly—not a given, in London’s publishing community—and he met with impoverished spinsters when he doubtless had other things to do.
And yet, paper was precious. Edith had only the single final copies of the samples she’d brought, thinking to pass them over for Mr. Ventnor’s perusal while she’d waited.
“You may send them along,” he said, offering his hand to assist her to her feet. “But promise me you will show me something. Too many authors claim they seek publication, and when I ask for a sample, they fuss and dither and delay, gilding the lily—or tarnishing it, more likely—until their courage has ebbed to nothing. Send me something within the week.”
“I can make you that promise, sir.”
He was mannerly. Edith gave him grudging respect for that. As an earl’s daughter, she’d met many mannerly men. Only those who offered her courtesy when nobody compelled it earned her admiration. Ventnor could have been rude rather than kind, and Edith would nonetheless have applied to him for work.
He walked with her to the front door, past all the editors at their desks and clerks with their green visors. The air of industry here was unmistakable and fascinating. An earl’s daughter was raised to be an ornament, idling from one entertainment to the next. A lady’s companion might be kept busy, but she could not look busy.
These fellows gloried in their work, and in the challenge of making a business successful.
“Have you considered finding another post as a lady’s companion?” Mr. Ventnor asked, passing Edith her cloak. “My in-laws move in polite society at levels above what a mere publisher can aspire to. I could ask my wife to make inquiries through her sister.”
He really was kind, and Edith really did want to smack him with her reticule. She’d learned to keep a copy of Glenarvon in her bag the better to deter pickpockets and presuming men. Heaven knew Lady Caroline’s book had few other redeeming qualities.
“I have had my fill of being a lady’s companion,” Edith said. “It did not end well.” She put her Sunday bonnet on and tied the ribbons loosely. The day was fine, and even a poor spinster could enjoy a beautiful spring afternoon. “Companions are not generously compensated, and they are pitied when they aren’t held in contempt.”
By polite society. The servant class, much to Edith’s surprise, had been far more tolerant and welcoming.
Ventnor bowed over her hand. “Send me those writing samples, please, and I will consult my family on your behalf. Necessity sometimes compels us into situations we’d otherwise avoid, but circumstances unfortunate on their face can end happily.”
He spoke as if from experience, when to all appearances he was a contented and prosperous man.
“If you say so, Mr. Ventnor, though necessity has landed many a decent woman in ruin. Good afternoon and thank you for your time.” Edith let herself out into the lovely day, the sun a benevolence and the London air enjoying a rare freshness. The day was a lie, promising pretty flowers and blossom-scented breezes rather than the stinking oppression of the coming summer.
A pretty lie, like much of polite society.
Edith set off down the walk, abundantly aware that she had not even a footman to accompany her. Women of the lower orders moved about as they pleased, but their freedom made them less safe. As a companion to a duchess, Edith had been safe on the streets, something she’d taken for granted.
She ought not to have said that part about decent women being brought to ruin to Mr. Ventnor, though the word haunted her. That silly book—How to Ruin a Duke—couched ruin in terms of stupid pranks, idiot wagers, and pleasures of the flesh. Those venalities were hardly ruinous to a duke.
True ruin meant horrors that gave Edith nightmares. Debtor’s prison for Foster, worse for Edith herself.
She was so sunk in dread over those familiar worries that she didn’t see the oversized lout who plowed into her right on the walkway. The instant after he’d nearly trampled her, she caught his scent, a particular blend of grassy and floral fragrances.
Such a beautiful, warm fragrance for such a chilly, self-possessed man.
The Duke of Emory steadied her with a hand on each of her arms. “I do beg your pardon, ma’am. I was at risk for tardiness at my next appointment and one is loath to inconvenience another who has—”
She stepped back, her reticule catching His Grace a glancing blow that he seemed not to notice. “Hands off, Your Grace. Please watch where you are going. Last I heard, gentlemen were to yield the way to ladies, but then—”
“You,” he said, glaring down the ducal beak. “The very person who has authored all of my difficulties.”
Emory was a monument to aristocratic self-possession, but unless he had changed very much in the past six months, he wasn’t given to rudeness or wild fancies.
“Your difficulties are the envy of those who must work for a living. Excuse me, sir.” She tried to maneuver around him, but for a big man, he was nimble.
“I do not excuse you. I hold you accountable for a wrong done to me and to my family, and I intend to seek retribution from the perpetrator.”
“Then call him out.” Edith dodged left only to again be blocked by a wall of fine tailoring exquisitely fitted to the ducal person. “That’s what Lord Jeremiah would do.” Then his lordship would probably delope, have a drink or six with his opponent, and go carousing onto the next potentially fatal lark. No wonder the duchess had been a woman easily vexed.
“Alas,” Emory retorted. “My detractor, who stands before me in the most horrid shade of pink I have ever beheld, is a female. One cannot call out a female, which said female well knows and likely exploits at every turn.”
“Are you tipsy, Emory?” Many wealthy men were seldom sober, but Edith had put Emory in the seldom drunk column. “Fevered, perhaps? Have you suffered a blow to the head? That must be it.”
“I have suffered a blow to my reputation, and well you know it.”
This conversation was attracting notice, which Edith could ill afford. “I’ll thank you to spare me a litany of the slights you image yourself to have suffered, Emory. Having already earned the notice of a satirist, you should be reluctant to accost women on the street, much less lecture them about your supposed miseries. Good day.”
She made it past him, but he fell in step beside her.
“Have you no escort, my lady?”
“Why would I need an escort when I can fly from one destination to the next on my broomstick?”
The hordes of pedestrians made way for Emory, and thus for Edith. Even an indignity as minor as getting jostled on the street had been an adjustment for her, an insistent reminder that she’d come down in the world, far down. She hated that Emory could see what she’d been reduced to, and resentment gave her tongue unladylike sharpness.
“And there,” Emory said, “we have a pathetic gesture in the direction of the feeble wit that has apparently inspired you to make a living with your pen.” He tipped his hat to a dowager mincing along on the arm of a young man. “You should have an escort because a lady does not travel the streets alone.”
“And who made up that rule?” Edith mused. “Instead of limiting a woman’s movements to those times when some hulking bullyboy is available to escort her, why don’t gentlemen of goodwill simply cosh the heads of the parasites who presume to assault the gentler sex in broad daylight? Fellows styling themselves as gentlemen could have a jolly time bloodying noses and wielding their fists while the ladies accomplished their errands in peace. But no, of course not. Englishmen could not be half so sensible. The ne’er-do-wells wander freely, while the ladies are shackled to the company of dandiprats and bores, all in the name of keeping the ladies from harm.”
Emory remained at her side right up to the corner. “What the hell is wrong with you?” He spoke quietly, and if Emory had one virtue—even his mother allowed that he had at least five—it was that he rarely used foul language in the hearing of any female.
Traffic refused to oblige Edith’s need to cross the street. “What the hell is wrong with me?” Cursing felt fiendishly good. “I was nearly knocked on my backside by male arrogance bearing the proportions of a mastodon. That same mastodon has insulted my only warm cloak, and he has made me a public spectacle while accusing me of behaviors that he apparently disapproves of. You clearly need a change of air, Emory. I intend to turn north here, I suggest you strut off to the south.”
She made a shooing motion.
He caught her hand and put it on his arm. “Literary notoriety has gone to your head. Her Grace would despair to hear you spouting such ungenteel sentiments. Perhaps you are the one in need of a change of air, my lady.”
Traffic cleared and as the crossing sweepers darted out to collect horse droppings, His Grace accompanied Edith to the next walkway.
“What I need, sir, is a decent meal, peace and quiet, and to be rid of you.”
“You do look peaked. All that flying about on broomsticks must be exhausting, but then, ruining dukes probably takes a toll on a lady’s energy too. Perhaps your conscience keeps you awake at night?”
He sauntered along, tossing out insults like bread crumbs for crows, while the crowds parted for him as if he were royalty. He was merely 42nd in line for the throne and the last person Edith wanted to spend time with.
“Are you ruined?” Edith asked, untwining her hand from his arm. “You look to be in obnoxiously good health to me.”
Both Lord Jeremiah and His Grace of Emory were attractive men, viewed objectively. Lord Jeremiah was the classically handsome brother, with wavy brown hair styled just so, a mouth made for drawling bon mots, and a physique that showed the benefit of regular athletic activity. His demeanor was congenial, his manner relaxed and gracious when in polite surrounds.
He could be an idiot, but he looked like a lord ought to look.
Without Lord Jeremiah as a contrast, Emory would have passed for handsome as well. Next to his younger sibling, though, the duke was two inches too tall for the dance floor, his hair a shade too dark and unruly for proper fashion. Those shortcomings might have been overlooked, but he was without his brother’s charm.
And polite society valued charm exceedingly.
Edith had respected Emory when she’d been in his mother’s employ. The duke paid well and punctually, and he did not bother the help. She’d learned to appreciate those traits. She could not, however, recall any occasion when Emory had relented from his infernal dignity, which made the book written about him hard to credit.
“Where are we going?” Emory asked after they’d crossed another intersection.
“You may go straight to perdition.” Edith had another three streets to travel before she’d be home. The thought of some bread and butter with a cup of tea loomed like a mirage on the horizon of a vast desert.
“I find it odd that your pen has sent me to social perdition, and yet you offer me nothing but insults.”
He wasn’t making any sense, or perhaps hunger was making Edith light-headed. “Did you apologize for nearly running me down? For insulting my cloak? For attaching yourself to me without my permission? For accusing me of hatching some scheme to add to your enormous heap of imaginary miseries? For insulting my appearance?”
That last had hurt. Edith had never been pretty, but she’d troubled over her complexion and taken care to always be tidy. If she was looking peaked, that was another step down from the serene pinnacle of feminine grace an earl’s daughter should have inhabited.
“Well, you are peaked,” Emory observed. “You look like you’ve lost flesh since leaving my employment.”
“Your mother’s employment.” All of Edith’s dresses were looser, as were her boots.
“Are we in a footrace, my lady? I am compelled to say this is not the sort of neighborhood I’d expect you to frequent.”
The neighborhood was respectable. Five streets on, it would become shabby. “Nothing compels you to say any such thing, Your Grace. You toss that barb at me out of a mean-spiritedness I do not deserve and would not have attributed to you previously. I know I left your mother’s employ—”
“—without much notice, but I had my reasons. If you would please take yourself off, I would be much obliged.”
She marched on with as much speed as dignity allowed, though Emory remained at her side. Perhaps that was providential—she was overdue for some kindness from providence—because before she’d gone six steps, her vision wavered, her boot caught on an up-thrust brick, and she was again pitched hard against the duke.
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End of Excerpt
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June 11, 2019
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