About the book
How can something so wrong, feel so sinfully right?
Determined to follow her father’s footsteps and go into business, instead of conforming to the Ton’s rules, Lady Louisa Andrews must become an expert schemer. When it is announced that she is to meet the notorious Duke of Norenell, the plan is simple: she must make him hate her.
Overwhelmed by guilt, Nicholas Howe, the Duke of Norenell, can’t accept anyone’s love. The cause of a young lady’s accident that left her disabled, he has chosen to live as an outcast. Until the day he meets Louisa; a lady whose defiant nature sets his being on fire.
Lulled into a false sense of euphoria by their budding feelings for each other, Louisa and Nicholas walk straight into a well-set trap. Amidst the chaotic efforts to save Louisa’s sick father, threatening letters promise a fate steeped in misery for both of them. A fate that was sealed years ago in blood.
Norenell Manor, London, December 1811
Nicholas Howe, The Duke of Norenell, bid farewell to the woman that he had snuck into his bedchamber from outside Zoodles’ Gentleman’s Club. The only two questions he asked her upon meeting was whether her day held any duties, and if she possessed any nobility that would conflict with his. He knew the answer to the second question as her dress and lack of chaperone gave her away.
He learned over the years that the quickest way to a woman’s heart was flattery. That is, a common woman like her at least.
Nicholas did not hold an affinity for women of nobility as they all wanted a future. It was not so much the future of various social balls, shifts in power, and the occasional ceremony here and there that made him want to ride as far away from London as possible, it was the prospect of marriage.
Nicholas remembered meeting the woman who was now adjusting her dress over her freshly kissed body, who after she said no to being a woman of nobility, with reddened cheeks asked if he was of high rank. He enjoyed that bit of attention. He enjoyed showing off his rank to an extent. And now he watched her linger, as if he should propose his hand in marriage. This is when the interaction lost its fun for Nicholas. This was where these types of women turned into the women that he wanted to wear armor with. Commitment was not on his day’s duty list.
“Would you like me to show you the way out?” he tried to ask nicely. “I know the Manor can be a bit big for newcomers.” He pretended to stretch to make things less awkward. Her undergarments were still on the bed. It was another trick that some girls used to try and hint that they want to stay a bit longer. He had seen it before.
“Your Grace, I thought that maybe—”
He didn’t like that she still was so formal even after all that. Nicholas sat up on the bed, grabbing his britches from the floor and pulling them up to cover his manhood. Her eyes fell for the briefest of seconds. “You thought what? My apologies. You’re a lovely woman. But I am off the market for now.” When he’d be back on was a mystery to even himself.
The girl stood there for a moment, as if the winds had frozen her bones. He hated to see it, that single solitary tear run down a women’s face. It was always worse when he caused it. It didn’t happen often. And he felt bad for how strong his words were. She grabbed her undergarment from the bed and hid them tightly in her fist. As she made her exit, Nicholas said,
“My apologies. It’s an anniversary of something terrible for me.”
She took a step toward him.
“I still want you to leave though.”
She began to cry and that was the last he saw of her.
Nicholas shared wine and fruit with his childhood friend Stevan, The Duke of Croydon. He was one of the few people that refused to be pushed away. As the cup bearing wine walked away in Stevan’s hand, Nicholas’ mother, Elena, The Dowager Duchess of Norenell, walked into the dining hall.
“Another girl off the street? You know how I feel about that. When your Father was alive—”
“But he’s not alive now, is he Mother?” Nicholas quipped back. “I am a free Duke!” He laughed as Stevan tried to muffle his own out of courtesy. “Oh, now Stevan, don’t hide your laugh in front of my dear Mother, it’s all in good fun.”
Her Grace was not amused, standing next to them with her hands on her hips. “It’s not proper. You weren’t meant to be juggling women like some bachelor jester. You are the Duke of Norenell. Our house has a history. And every time you bring a girl from the market, or God knows where, you are bringing shame to this Manor.”
“It’s a pile of stone, Mother, and was populated with men who blindly followed traditions that were meant to keep people safe and in order. But the winds will do what they please. I choose to be the wind, not the stone.
As if Her Grace had realized what day it was or the deeper meaning behind Nicholas’ sentiments, she walked away. The sound of her silk slippers made a small rap with each step until she was out of sight.
A silence filled the big dining hall as a breeze passed over both Dukes. Nicholas couldn’t tell whether his friend was sipping his wine now out of thirst or sheer embarrassment.
“What it is? Do you sit in my Manor agreeing with my Mother on this day out of the rest? Really now? Go on, speak your thoughts.”
Stevan put his cup down and let out a sigh. “You’ve let the tragedy wound you. Am I mistaken on that? You’re not the same boy that I used to chase rabbits with.”
Nicholas laughed. “We cannot chase rabbits our entire life, there’s some growing up to do.”
Stevan sat up in his chair. “Yes, but Duke, we used to also swordfight and one day dream of being the men that the rabbits down there admire. You once respected the stone. And why? Because of what happened to Lady Natalie, a harsh Act of God, you have soured.”
Nicholas returned the sigh and guzzled his wine. “If having a beautiful woman in my bedchamber from time to time is a crime—”
“You’re lost, My Friend. And I don’t know how to find you.”
Nicholas looked in the empty pitcher of wine and stood up. “Well, it appears that I have some things to take care of.”
Nicholas stood on his balcony, the cold wintry air whipped hard, but he embraced the slight pain that came with it. It was his way of calming his nerves and sedating his emotions. He felt like no one else understood. Not even his best friend.
When Nicholas was younger, he was bad. Not in the way that he was bad now. He was far from being a guilt-ridden bachelor whose outlook on life was as dark as plums. He enjoyed roughhousing, playing until one of his friends skinned an elbow. Growing up with nobility was as boring as watching a horse eat. Playing outside with his friends was the one area where he could let his imagination soar away farther than Norenell.
One day when he was playing with his friends, they spotted Lady Natalie of Woodcock. At the time, she didn’t have many friends because her stuck-up attitude was enough to make the other children dislike her.
When Nicholas spotted her, he meant nothing malicious, but as he and his friends would do from time to time, he began to tease her, making fun of her rather curly hair. She began to run away and they gave chase, Nicholas leading the way, which caused to her climb a tree.
Nicholas forced himself to stop thinking of that moment.
The memory hurt Nicholas more than the cold did because he knew that he could just leave the balcony before he became frostbitten. If only it was that easy when it came to memories. Day after day he wished he could erase things from his mind. Things that haunted him like a children’s story. But just as the seasons come and go, so did the memories, without permission, without warrant.
Nicholas’ steward, Jacob, entered the room causing him to leave the balcony. “Her Grace has requested your presence in the Great Hall.”
“Another lecture I suppose?”
“I was not informed of the matter, Your Grace.”
Nicholas wondered just why his mother would summon him as he followed his steward out.
Torwood Castle, London
The Lady Louisa Andrews, daughter of Lewis Andrews, The Earl of Torwood, sat down on a stool after a few hours work preparing her father’s green coffee beans for sale. They would soon hit the market, travel in the buyer’s wagon, hit a frying pan, and then boil in water until they became the coffee that the townspeople knew and loved.
Louisa not only loved her father’s coffee as well, she loved the process, and the business. If it were up to her, she’d help with the business everyday from sunrise and sunset. But for a lady like herself, she knew that the dream would never come to fruition.
Her father, like the rest of the people at Torwood Castle, expected a Lady like herself to one day marry and fulfill all the duties of being a wife to some established Duke or Marquess. Her place was nowhere near a coffee business. That duty would befall some boy, servant, or steward’s son. Yet still, she squeezed out some time each day to make herself happy in the hopes that people would forget what her future was supposed to hold.
Her father, Lewis, hoped that one day she would grow the desire to be a wife, but he never pushed it on her like some of the other Ladies and their mothers. There were even sometimes where they were overly forward on the subject. One example was when Lady Margaret pulled her aside at the annual King’s Ball in Havenwood.
“As your friend, I would just like to inform you that it isn’t ladylike to be dirtying your hands with coffee seeds day after day. People are noticing and it’s rather embarrassing. Since I’m embarrassed for you means you should be so much more than I, wouldn’t you say?”
Lady Louisa wasn’t as offended as she was shocked by the women’s sheer brazen tone. She could also smell wine on her breath which gave Louisa something to fire back with. “And a Lady should also watch the contents of her cup would you not agree?” She walked away. The next day her father wasn’t pleased with her loose tongue.
“Louisa, I understand that she may have hit a nerve with you. But having her family on bad terms because of us would not sit well with His Grace.”
He was referring to James, the Duke of Torwood. The man was never afraid to throw around his rank. And more than once he hinted to her father that his coffee business could always be thrown in the moat; even though the business brought in enough taxes for the Castle to feed all the animals for two years straight.
Louisa walked down the Castle hall and bumped into her father who was walking in haste. “What’s the matter, Father? You looked rushed?”
He barely stopped to speak her but eventually did so. “I have a meeting with the steward from Norenell. It’s a big opportunity for my business.” As he began to walk off, Louisa said, “And you did not request my presence? Father, I can be of help.”
He stopped once more. “They will not take me seriously if my only advisor is my daughter. I’d have more respect going by myself.”
Louisa didn’t have a moment to be offended. She needed to somehow convince the Earl that she was necessary, because deep down she knew she was.
“Father, do you remember when you were charging by the sack rather than the barrel because you could not find a salesman who would sell you cheap barrels? But then I suggested that our Castle make the barrels in return for a higher tax? Without me, you’d still be losing coin on the sacks.”
Her father took a moment to think which let Louisa know that she already convinced him successfully. “You sit next to me in that room and you don’t say a single word understood?”
“Of course, Father.”
As they walked down the Torwood Castle halls, and down the stone staircases, she used all the muscles in her face to not smile. Once they arrived in the Castle’s Great Hall, the steward from Norenell sat at the long table in the corner with a few men from the Castle that Louisa didn’t recognize.
The meeting started with the usual formalities and then the steward got down to business.
“I’ve spoken with The Dowager Duchess of Norenell to great lengths about this and she feels that your business would be a great addition to our markets. As you know, we don’t yet have a selection of coffee for our people and from what we’ve been hearing when they migrate here, they often sing high praises of yours. Now I’ve also spoken with The Duke of Torwood and he is amicable with the agreement. But, of course, due to his vast amount of respect for you, he insisted I discuss this matter with you as well.”
Louisa wanted to laugh at the respect part. Duke James only respected himself. But she was elated to hear that another house was interested in her father’s coffee. So excited that she wound up losing control of her tongue.
“Perhaps the Duke of Norenell could come to Torwood and say a few kind words about the coffee to our people. Getting a recommendation from a Duke across the land would boost our sales.” Without looking, she could feel the expression on her father’s face.
“Is that something you’d be interested in Lord Torwood? The Duke is not a very sociable—”
Her father interrupted the steward, clearly afraid that the deal would soon be off the table. “If it’s too much trouble then—”
Louisa interjected next. “Come to think about it we may actually face an export tax now that we’ll be shipping our beans across the land. His presence would greatly help our sales to offset the probable tax. But of course, if it’s too much trouble to have our coffee in Norenell, we understand wholeheartedly.”
The steward wore a scowl of inconvenience.
Her father then said, “I wouldn’t want anything more—”
“My Lord, may I say that I have never seen such an ambitious Lady among the walls of my Castle. Is she always this forward?”
“No, she is not. She, um, really likes coffee.”
Louisa felt bad for her father. She had taken things too far and once again put her slipper in her mouth. She seemed to have a knack for doing so.
“My Lord, I think that the Duke of Norenell would be pleased to make the trip here on behalf of your coffee business. Our people at Norenell are nothing if not accommodating. You shall expect his presence soon.”
When the meeting was over and Louisa followed her father back to his chambers, she could not tell whether he was happy or frustrated. She said, “Are you happy, Father? We came out of that with a great deal.”
Her father stopped walking and turned to face her. “My Dear, you not only almost cost us one of the biggest business deals in our history, but you were brazen and did not act like a lady. We have customs, and we must not break those customs because of passion.”
It was then that he could see the hurt on her face. “I understand that you want to be of help to me. And I duly appreciate your helping hand when it comes to business. But we also have an image to uphold to those behind other stone walls. You mustn’t forget that.”
That was the last she saw of her father for that day as she remained in her chambers until supper.
He’s very handsome, Lady Valerie said as she sat next to Lady Louisa by the flowers in the courtyard of the Castle. Lady Louisa held a book titled ‘The Kings of London’ as Lady Valerie drank wine. “He’s one of the better-looking Dukes of the land wouldn’t you say?”
Louisa turned a page. “I don’t recall ever meeting the Duke of Norenell. Perhaps when I was younger.”
Lady Valerie looked shocked. “My, my, you really are obsessed with coffee and books, aren’t you? You get to possibly meet one the Country’s most esteemed bachelors and couldn’t care more than a bird looking at an ocean.”
Louisa shut her book and gave Lady Valerie a glance. “Because love is rather predictable. Even in my books, it says most of Kings knew who’d they’d marry before they could even wield a sword. I don’t want my life to be shackled.”
A silence sat between them and the flowers until Valerie said, “That’s unfortunate, you’re a very pretty girl. Any Duke or Marquess would have a comfortable life married to you. I think I have a rather big nose. Wouldn’t you say?”
Louisa was growing frustrated. “We are more than facial structures and dresses. You are a capable and smart woman. That’s what matters.”
Valerie stood up and did a slight stretch. “No Duke ever took a hand in marriage over a Lady’s wits. But I appreciate the gesture.”
She then walked off, leaving Louisa with nothing but her book. She wondered what her pages in life would hold next.
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
Undressed Under the Mistletoe with the Duke is now live on Amazon!