Seducing a Blind Duchess Preview

A Steamy Regency Romance

 

About the book

After an accident left her blind, she must fight prejudice and resist love…

Lady Wynter is reminded of her accident every single day. With no hopes of a suitor, she’d rather spend her time with her friends, away from the cruel ton. But once a handsome Duke finds interest in her, she must do everything to resist her untamed feelings…

Julian hates himself. Because of his careless past, an innocent woman was left blind and injured and because of him, gossip surrounds her very being. He makes one decision: he will repay his debt, tell her the truth and disappear forever. Until he falls for her. And he’s soon left with only one choice: tell her the truth and lose her forever…

Prologue


London, England, 1790

“Fire! Fire!” a cry came from the corridor outside the nursery, and Wynter Bennet awoke with a start.

She had been fast asleep, her faithful nanny, Mrs. Potts, having put her to bed earlier that evening after she had bid her parents goodnight. It had been a special evening, the house filled with guests celebrating her parent’s wedding anniversary.

“Fire! Fire!” The cry was repeated, and Wynter sat up, confused as to what to do.

She was only seven years old, and she cried out for Mrs. Potts, as footsteps and commotion filled the house. The nursery was on the top floor, but already the room was filling with smoke, and Wynter coughed and spluttered, climbing out of bed, and going to the door. She put her hand on the brass handle to turn it but gave a cry of pain. The handle was hot to the touch, and now Wynter could hear the sound of splintering wood, and the rush of flames from the corridor.

“Mama? Papa? Mrs. Potts?” she cried out, backing away from the door, as smoke now billowed beneath.

A candle was always left burning in the nursery at night, and by its light, Wynter could see the plumes engulfing the room. She turned and ran to the window, trying desperately to open it. But it was locked, and she ran back to the door. She banged desperately on it, even as the smoke filled her nose and mouth, causing her to choke.

“Help me! Please, help me!” she cried out, clutching at her throat.

Her eyes were filled with smoke, watering painfully, and she tried to rub them, the soot on her hands causing them to sting. She could barely see, and now she staggered blindly forward, knowing her only chance was to get out into the corridor and down the back stairs to the servant’s hall.

Despite being only seven years old, Wynter was a resourceful girl – plucky and full of courage, traits she had learned from her elder brothers, Colin and Maximilian. Now, she turned back to the bed, pulling the blankets off and using them to protect her hands as she turned the door handle and opened the door into the corridor. But as she did so, a great cloud of acrid smoke billowed around her, and the force of the flames, fed by the rush of the air, rose, catching and causing her to cry out in pain.

Everything was dark, and Wynter stumbled forward, reaching out her hands in search of the wall to guide her along the corridor. In the distance, muffled cries came from below, the panic of the servants and anxious cries of the guests. Dozens of her parent’s friends were staying at Grantham Lodge that night, and it seemed that chaos now ensued.

“Mama! Papa!” Wynter cried out, but her mouth only filled with smoke, and she coughed, the heat of the flames causing her to reel back, confused and disorientated in the dark.

She was unable to find her way, the corridor blocked at one end by the flames which were engulfing everything in their path, and the other way by a rising cloud of black smoke. She fumbled this way and that, coughing and spluttering, a handkerchief held over her mouth. But now she staggered, unable to see, the smoke burning her eyes, tears of desperation running down her cheeks.

“Help me, please, help me,” she called out, stumbling over a fallen piece of furniture, her leg smarting as it grazed the surface.

She rolled onto her side, crying out in pain, just as a pair of hands lifted her up. She could not see through the darkness, but a voice, the voice of a man – no, a boy, a boy she did not know, was speaking reassuringly in her ear.

“It is all right, I have you,” he said, and she felt herself carried now, the air becoming easier to breathe.

She coughed and gasped, still choking on the smoke which filled her lungs.

“What happened?” she huffed, unable to open her eyes, the pain too great.

“You are safe now, do not worry,” the boy replied, and before she knew, Wynter had fainted, her body going limp, and her surroundings fading away…


Chapter One

London, England, Spring, 1815

“A step to the left, my Lady, and then sit,” Louisa Adlington said, holding Wynter’s hand as she now felt for her place at the breakfast table.

“I am quite all right. Thank you, Louisa,” Wynter said, letting go of the maid’s hand and feeling her way forward.

She was used to her family – and particularly her maid – believing her to be quite helpless. But in her own home, surrounded by all that was familiar, Wynter was quite capable of navigating the dining room – any room – alone. She took her place at the table, nodding left to right in the direction of her family, and picturing the scene in her mind’s eye. Her father at the head of the table, her mother to her right, and her brother sitting opposite. Louisa would be on hand to assist her, but really, she was more than capable of independence.

“Bring her some coffee, will you?” Wynter’s father, Viscount Bennet, said, and there was a clinking of coffee pots and the sound of pouring.

Wynter felt across the table, noting the familiar layout of the cutlery, the space between where a plate would soon be placed, and the empty coffee cup which would momentarily be replaced. She smiled and nodded, still with one hand in Louisa’s, squeezing it for reassurance.

“You are very kind, Louisa,” she said, turning to look up at where she thought the maid was standing, smiling as she did so.

It had been fifteen years since the terrible accident which had claimed Wynter’s sight – the fire that evening had filled her lungs with smoke, making her weak and prone to bouts of respiratory sickness, and the acrid fumes had caused a permanent and degenerative loss of sight. Her vision was gone, and she relied on the help of her faithful maid, Louisa, to assist her in all but the smallest of tasks.

It was Louisa who would wake her each morning and help her to dress and bathe, Louisa who would lead her through the house and down to the dining room, remaining by her side throughout the day to assist with everything from the breakfast service to her errands and correspondence. Wynter was entirely dependent on her, and the rest of her family, who had tried their best to support her in the years since the tragedy had occurred.

“Something hot, my Lady? Kedgeree perhaps? Or there are some deviled kidneys left,” Louisa said, and Wynter nodded.

“The deviled kidneys, please – father’s favorite,” she replied.

“You know me too well, my dear,” he said, reaching out and placing his hand on Wynter’s.

At the table sat her mother, Lady Georgia Bennet, and her two brothers, Colin and Maximilian. They had made a point of greeting her as she had entered the room, and now that she knew to whom she was addressing herself, the conversation could flow freely. Wynter did not pity herself for her affliction – even if life was made considerably harder through it. She had grown used to ’seeing’ the world through her other senses, and while her sight was gone, her hearing, her taste, her sense of smell, and touch were all heightened far beyond that of any ordinary person. When she was introduced to someone, she would ask if she might lay her hands on their face – if it seemed appropriate – and in that way, she found herself able to build a picture in her mind’s eye of the person standing before her.

“The Blanchard ball is tonight, Wynter. I hope you have not forgotten,” her mother said.

“I do not think I will attend,” she replied, and her mother gave a sorrowful sigh.

“Oh, really Wynter – the Blanchard ball is one of the highlights of the season, and Lady Blanchard has been so good to you,” she said.

“She has been good to me throughout every season I have endured – all three of them,” Wynter replied, searching for her coffee cup and taking a sip from it.

This would be Wynter’s fourth season, and while her friends and fellow debutantes had long since secured their happy – or fortuitous – matches, Wynter had found herself left forever on the wall. At first, there had been some novelty in a blind lady, the gentlemen taking it in turns to lead her chivalrously in a dance, and, out of charity, there may have been a second. But the novelty had soon worn off, and Wynter had been treated more as an object of pity than a serious proposition.

“It has been a pleasure,” the suitors would say, only to leave it at that.

With such treatment to her name, Wynter had grown ever more despondent, and after three seasons of the same dull social round, with its balls and dinners, musical soirees, and picnics, she had grown increasingly weary. No man ever asked her to dance now, and secretly she feared they never would. Her one pleasure in life was the pianoforte, and it was to this she dedicated much of her time, sitting for hours in the drawing room and playing from memory – she had the remarkable gift of being able to hear a piece of music and reproduce it perfectly at the keys, and if her presence on the social scene did not attract the attention of potential admirers, her skills as a musician certainly brought her the accolade of her father and mother’s guests.

“We would enjoy hearing Lady Bennet play,” they would say, and Wynter was always only too happy to oblige.

In this way, she kept herself occupied, and tried hard not to think about the ton and its shallow expectations. She could not see the other women at the balls and dinners, but Wynter knew that if she could, they would all be the same – silly, giggly, fripperies, interested only in themselves and the latest scandalous gossip. Her mother always told her she was beautiful, her short, brown hair, her striking blue eyes, her slender figure, always impeccably dressed. But since Wynter could not see herself, it hardly seemed to matter, and instead, she dwelt not on her appearance, but on her inner life – the one thing she could see clearly, even if all else was hidden.

“But Lady Blanchard will be upset if you do not attend, and so will I,” her mother said, and reached across and placed her hand on Wynter’s, causing her to jump.

“Oh, mother… I… they are all the same, these balls. We will arrive, and a few of the guests will pay us mild attention, and then the dancing will begin. I shall drink a glass of punch – brought to me by either Colin or Maximilian, and I will sit and listen to the music until it is time to leave. No one will ask me to dance, save perhaps either of my two dear brothers, and unless there has been a rather drastic and unpleasant change in the law, I do not think either of them will be marrying me,” Wynter replied, shaking her head sadly.

“But you like dancing with us,” Colin interjected.

“I do, but I am not in the mood for it today,” Wynter replied.

At thirty years old, he was the eldest of the three siblings, a man of business, and to be the inheritor of their father’s title. But he remained unmarried and had confided in Wynter his fear of matrimony, though the reasons for that fear remained unclear. Still, he had rejected almost every suitor who had come his way and was happily consigned to bachelorhood, even if their parents wished it not to be the case.

The thought of the effort required to prepare herself, and of the endurance which such an occasion required of her was too much. Wynter would be happy to spend the day at the pianoforte and for Louisa to read to her from one of her favorite books. It was a simple life, but one which Wynter had resigned herself to, even if her heart longed for the marriage which had so far proved elusive.

“And so, we are to look fools when we tell others that our sister does not wish to enjoy our company? And Edwina will be there. She so likes to see you,” Maximilian said.

He was only a year younger than Colin but had high hopes of marriage and had been courting Lady Edwina Barrington, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Barsham, for over a year. There were rumors that marriage was close, and Wynter was forced to admit that she enjoyed Edwina’s company, even if her brother’s choice of words had proved untactful.

“But how unfortunate that I cannot see her,” she replied, and despite not being able to see, Wynter knew her brother was blushing.

“My choice of words was not… well thought, but I mean it when I say it – she enjoys your company, as do we all. Do not confine yourself to the house and the keys of the pianoforte, I beg you,” Maximilian said, and hearing similar sentiments expressed from the others, Wynter reluctantly agreed to accompany them to the Blanchard ball.

“Perhaps tonight will be the night you are asked to dance,” her mother said, a note of optimism creeping into her voice.

“Or perhaps it will be the same as ever – the ever-blossoming wallflower, or the one that is fading,” Wynter replied, holding out little hope for the truth of her mother’s words.


Chapter Two

“I am going to run this comb through your hair now, my Lady,” Louisa said, and Wynter nodded, as the touch of the pearl drew through her hair.

Getting ready for a ball was a considerable undertaking for any young lady, but for Wynter, the process presented unique challenges of its own. Unable to see, she relied on Louisa for almost everything and, though she trusted her implicitly – Louisa having been her maid since she was ten years old – it still felt strange to allow another to make decisions as to her appearance.

“Does the dress look nice?” she asked, even though in her mind she hardly believed it mattered.

“Very nice, my Lady. The cerulean blue, it suits you very well, and I am trying something quite different with your hair. They say it is all the rage in Paris. Irregular curls, blended with a wreath of lilac – the style of flowers in the hair, it really does look very pretty,” she said, and Wynter nodded.

“You describe it well, Louisa. I can picture it,” she replied.

Wynter ran her hands over the hem of the dress. The silk was pleasing to the touch and ran through her fingers with ease. She smiled to think of it – the touch allowing her to picture the description which Louisa had given. Louisa, like her parents and brothers, knew just how to help Wynter to understand the world around her. She could remember what it was to see, but now her vision was a mere smoke screen, her eyes so badly damaged that not even the merest glimpse of the outside world could break through.

“And some scent, my Lady. The lavender, perhaps?” Louisa said, and Wyner nodded, the sweet smell of the perfume now filling her nostrils.

“It smells of the summer. Do you remember when we would sit among the lavender in Norfolk on the estate?” she asked, thinking fondly back to childhood memories of Aldenham Manor, her father’s country seat.

“I do, my Lady. We had many happy times there together,” Louisa replied, and she now took Wynter’s hand, helping her to rise from her dressing table, just as a knock came at the door.

“It is only me, my dear. I have come to take you downstairs. The carriage is waiting,” Wynter’s father said, as Louisa opened the door.

“Do not stay up for me, Louisa – though we will not be late, I hope,” Wynter said.

“I will be here waiting, my Lady. I could not settle until I knew you were settled, too,” Louisa replied, and Wynter smiled.

“I am fortunate in my family, and in my friends,” she said, and reaching out, she took her father by the arm and allowed him to lead her down the corridor and to the stairs leading to the hallway below, from which she could hear the sound of her mother’s and brothers’ voices.

“Edwina will have already arrived, mother – we are half an hour late,” Maximilian was saying, but their mother only tutted.

“It is not fashionable to be on time, Maximilian. Ah, but here is your sister, and does she not look a perfect picture in such a beautiful dress,” Lady Bennet said, as Wynter’s father led her carefully down the stairs.

“And one last step,” he said, as Wynter’s shoes now clicked on the marble floor of the hallway.

“You look far more than a wallflower,” Colin said, and Wynter laughed.

“Is that meant as a compliment, Colin?” she asked, and reached out and took him by the hand.

“We all want you to have some confidence in yourself. You are Lady Wynter Bennet, daughter of Viscount Bennet, inheritor of a noble name and with everything to recommend you,” he said, and Wynter shook her head and smiled, though she was grateful to him for his words.

With her family and Louisa, Wynter could forget her affliction, at least, as much as was possible. They treated her firstly as a daughter and a sister, never speaking of the burden she carried, and ensuring she was included in everything they did. But Wynter knew – as her family knew – that such a way of life could not continue indefinitely. Her parents were growing older, and if Maximilian married Edwina, his home would no longer be with them. Change was coming, and whilst Wynter could resist it, she knew she could not avoid it forever.

***

“Your Grace, the carriage awaits,” the butler announced, and Julian Atwater, the Duke of Jestenton, rose to his feet.

“About time, Simkins, I have been waiting for over an hour,” Julian replied, and the butler raised his eyebrows.

“Forgive me, your Grace – London ways, I am not yet used to them,” he said, and Julian nodded.

“We are provincial people, Simkins, but we must get used to a new way of life now that we have responsibilities,” he said, and the butler bowed

“Yes, your Grace,” he said, with a tone of resignation in his voice.

One of those responsibilities had come in the form of an invitation – a most unexpected one, though hardly surprising, given that Julian was now ranked amongst the highest echelons of society.

“You must join us for the Blanchard ball, your Grace. It is a highlight of the season, and the perfect chance for you to meet those of your kind,” Lady Isabella Blanchard had written, and Julian had found himself unable to come up with a suitable excuse to avoid it.

He disliked the trappings of the aristocracy, not because of some self-loathing, or revolutionary zeal, but simply for his own inadequacies – or so he perceived them. In truth, Julian was wracked with guilt, a guilt caused by the memory of a fire – an accident, of sorts, one he felt responsible for – which had resulted in the blinding of a young girl many years prior.

“I had better go, Simkins, though I will not be late in returning. Have a tray laid out for me in the drawing room – something light, bread and cheese, perhaps,” Julian said, as he rose to his feet and glanced at the mirror above the fireplace in his study.

“Very good, your Grace. I shall see to it,” the butler replied, and he followed Julian out into the hallway and handed him his hat and gloves.

“I really do detest these evenings – the dancing, the polite conversation,” he complained, as the butler opened the door for him onto the street.

“These things are sent to try us, your Grace,” Simkins replied.

A carriage stood at the bottom of the steps, and the butler wished Julian a good evening, as the driver hurried to open the carriage door for him. It was a cold night, the horse’s breath rising in great plumes as it snorted and stomped its foot. Julian tapped the carriage roof with his cane, the signal for them to set off.

The Blanchard’s London residence lay but a short drive from his own, and as they approached, Julian groaned to see so many other carriages lined up outside. Lady Blanchard had not been exaggerating her own popularity, it seemed, and as they drew up, a footman hurried forward to open the carriage door.

“The Duke of Jestenton,” Julian said, handing his card to the footman, who ran back inside so that Julian might be announced on his entrance.

He joined the throng making its way inside, the sounds of a waltz drifting through the chilly night air. He was reminded of why he detested such events almost immediately when he stepped inside, as a group of fan-wielding women tittered at him in a huddle in the entrance hallway. These balls were all the same – a place in which rakish men sought out silly women in a dalliance of courtship rituals, moving from one to the other until alighting on the one they might think satisfactory enough to spend the rest of their life with. The thought made Julian shudder.

He intended to remain a bachelor for as long as possible, and one day further the line through a loveless liaison, satisfactory to neither side – that was the fate deserved of one who had behaved in such a terrible manner, and left such sad devastation in his wake. It had been many years ago, but the thought of that fateful night still haunted him, in his dreams and in his waking.

“The Duke of Jestenton,” the guest master called out, and Julian looked around him with trepidation to see who the first person would be to accost him.

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  • I enjoyed reading the preview, the storyline and cast of characters is very interesting, looking forward to reading the entire story.

  • I LOVE THIS. I would love the time to just sit still and read this entire book. It’s going to be another masterpiece for this writer.

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