The Truth About Love and Dukes
Dear Lady Truelove . . . I have fallen in love, truly and completely in love, for the first time. The man whom I hold in such passionate regard, however, is not of my station. He is a painter, a brilliant artist. Needless to say, my family would not approve . . .
Henry, Duke of Torquil, wouldn’t be caught reading the wildly popular “Dear Lady Truelove” column, but when its advice causes his mother to embark on a scandalous elopement, an outraged Henry decides the author of this tripe must be stopped before she can ruin any more lives. Though Lady Truelove’s identity is a closely guarded secret, Henry has reason to suspect the publisher of the notorious column, beautiful and provoking Irene Deverill, is also its author.
For Irene, it’s easy to advise others to surrender to passion, but when she meets the Duke of Torquil, she soon learns that passion comes at a price. When one impulsive, spur-of-the-moment kiss pulls her into a scorching affair with Henry, it could destroy her beloved newspaper, her career, and her independence. But in the duke’s arms, surrender is so, so sweet . . .
From Chapter Two:
Henry had once been afforded the dubious honor of meeting a lady novelist, and in the vague recesses of his mind, he had assumed Lady Truelove to be cut of a similar cloth—a plump figure swathed in rubbed velvet and lashings of jet, middle-aged, with frizzy, henna-dyed hair, and a simpering mouth.
Now, however, seeing London’s infamous columnist in the flesh, he appreciated how inaccurate the picture in his mind had been.
For one thing, Lady Truelove was not middle-aged. She was perhaps twenty-five or six, no more. She was clothed not in velvet and jet, but in a serviceable white shirtwaist, plain gray skirt, and dark blue necktie. Her hair, piled high atop her head in a careless sort of chignon, was not henna red, but a deep, rich blond that gleamed in the dim light of her musty office. Her figure, tall and shapely, was nothing like that of the rotund creature he’d envisioned. Instead, this woman was like a Gibson drawing come to life.
Though not yet invited to enter the room, Henry did it anyway, for he had little time for ordinary civilities. As he came in, the brown-haired wren of a girl who’d greeted him upon his arrival dipped a bow, begged his pardon, and murmured something about bringing tea. Ducking past him, she departed, closing the door behind her.
Henry returned his attention to the woman behind the desk, and as he crossed the room toward her, he noted another sharp contrast between her and the novelist of his acquaintance.
This woman was beautiful.
Wide eyes in a heart-shaped face stared back at him, hazel eyes surrounded by thick lashes much darker than her hair. In the tawny depths of those eyes, he could see a riot of rich colors that made him think at once of the woods at home in Dorset, of dappled sunlight falling on moss, bark, and lichen.
He lowered his gaze, taking in as much of her figure as he could see above the desk, and as he noted her full bosom, tiny waist, and generous hips, he felt another glimmer of surprise. Such a sensuous figure usually owed more to artifice than to nature, and yet, her clothing was not the sort worn by women who favored tight corseting, bust improvers, and other such falderals.
Given the beauty of her face and the exquisitely feminine lines of her body, her surroundings and her attire seemed even more incongruous. This wasn’t the sort of woman who ought to be wearing the uniform of shop girls and typists, slaving away in an office. Such a splendid body belonged in a boudoir, its curves tantalizingly visible beneath a layer of sheer silk chiffon. Those gold tresses ought to be loose and falling around her shoulders, not piled up in a haphazard mass of curls. She should certainly not be standing behind a desk with ink-smudged cuffs and a pencil stuck behind her ear.
“You are laboring under a misapprehension, sir.”
Her voice, cool and prim, brought Henry out of this somewhat erotic reverie and reminded him of the business at hand. “What misapprehension is that?” he asked.
“You seem to believe I am Lady Truelove.”
“It seems a reasonable assumption, given what I overheard just now. Do you deny it?”
“I see no reason to confirm or deny anything…to an eavesdropper.”
“If you don’t wish your conversations to be overheard, perhaps you should close your door. However,” he added before she could make any further efforts to divert the conversation to his behavior, “I can understand why you wouldn’t wish to admit your identity. If I dispensed the same abysmal advice to the British public that you do, I should be loath to admit it, too.”
Despite his attempt to provoke her into defending herself and her work, thereby ending any tiresome arguments about her identity before they could begin, she did not rise to the bait.
“I have the authority to speak for Lady Truelove,” she said instead, “which is why my secretary brought you to me.”
If she wanted to deny being the notorious columnist, so be it. “And you are…?”
“I am the publisher of Society Snippets.”
This woman was the publisher? He’d been led to expect a man in that role, and he had to smother a laugh, appreciating that at this point in his day, he ought to be taking the unexpected in stride.
She frowned at the stifled sound. “Something about my position amuses you?”
“I wasn’t amused, madam,” he hastened to assure her. “But there are times when a man is reminded of how absurd life can be.”
“You find the idea of a female publisher absurd, do you?” she asked, her tart voice indicating she’d taken offense, and he realized that he was conversing not only with a female publisher, but also a suffragist.
“I confess, I do.” He cast another glance over her and thought again of sheer silk chiffon. “In this case, at least.”
She bristled at that, but he scarcely noticed, for his body was beginning to respond to the direction of his thoughts, and he was too occupied with bringing it back under his own regulation to pay much heed to her sensibilities.
If he was having lusty thoughts about suffragists in neckties, he reflected in some chagrin, it had clearly been too long since he’d had a woman. If this sort of wayward thinking continued, he might be forced to take a mistress or stop procrastinating about finding a suitable wife.
“I’d have thought a duke would have the good manners not to stare at people.”
Her acerbic comment about his manners brought him out of his reflections with a start. “Forgive me,” he said, striving to remember civilities and offer an excuse for his preoccupation to the irate beauty of the poisonous pen. “You may attribute my thoughtless words of a moment ago to my…ahem…confusion.”
“Yes.” He set his hat on one corner of her desk, then drew the previous evening’s edition of Society Snippets from the breast pocket of his jacket and refolded it so that the front page was visible. “The masthead of your publication states that one Edwin Deverill is the owner and publisher,” he said, pointing to the bottom left corner of the page. “Are you Edwin Deverill?”
That took some of the wind out of her suffragist sails, he noted. “I daresay I am old-fashioned,” he went on before she could reply, “but to me, Edwin seems an odd name for a woman, Mrs. Deverill.”
“Miss Deverill,” she corrected him at once, her pointed chin jutting up a notch. “I am Edwin Deverill’s eldest daughter.”
A spinster as well as a suffragist? And she offered advice to the lovelorn? This situation was sliding from absurdity into farce.
“My father,” she went on, “has passed all duties of this publication to my care. Any matter that concerns Lady Truelove, you may share with me, and if I feel her attention is warranted, I will bring the matter to her.”
Despite this pretense, he knew what he’d heard. She was the infamous columnist, and he saw little point in beating about the bush with her. “Then I shall come straight to the point of my call, Miss Deverill. My mother is missing. She departed from her home in the middle of the night, alone, declaring in a note to me of her intention to elope with a man.”
“A travesty, indeed.”
She said nothing more, and Henry felt his resentment returning. “Her family is worried about her.”
“Of course. In what way can Lady Truelove and Deverill Publishing assist you?”
“My mother gave no indication of her intended destination. Perhaps you can tell me where she has gone?”
Miss Deverill shifted her weight and looked away, straightening the blotter on her desk, an obvious attempt to stall for time. “How should I know your mother’s whereabouts?”
He opened the paper to the appropriate page and began to read. “’Lady Truelove can help. You may write to her through her publisher, Deverill Publishing, 12 Belford Row, WC1.’” He looked up. “I am hoping in her correspondence with you she may have given some indication of her intentions or whereabouts.”
“She did not, not to Deverill Publishing anyway.” She paused again, this time to tidy the papers on her desk, then she looked up. “Lady Truelove is employed by this paper, but her correspondence is her own business.”
“Miss Deverill, your words to your secretary a few moments ago could only have one meaning, and I do not have the luxury of pretending otherwise for the sake of your sensibilities or to preserve your pseudonym. In your role as Lady Truelove, you have clearly been in correspondence with my mother, and I need to know any information she may have given you. I am particularly anxious to locate her and be reassured that she is all right.”
“Locating a person who is missing would seem to be the purview of the police.”
“My mother is the Duchess of Torquil. A matter such as this cannot be taken to the police.”
“Private detectives, then.”
“I have every intention of engaging the services of private detectives, but such inquiries take time. By the time Pinkerton’s discovers her whereabouts, it could be too late.”
“Too late?” She frowned as if she actually found those words bewildering. “Too late for what?”
“To stop the elopement, of course. Thanks to you, my mother intends to make what can only be viewed as a grievous mistake, and I intend to persuade her to reconsider, if I can. In your correspondence, did your advice to her include a recommended location for the nuptials? Did she give you a forwarding address? A date she intends to wed? Any information at all?”
She tilted her head, studying him thoughtfully. “Why do you consider that your mother’s marriage would be a mistake?”
He stirred, growing impatient, for he was not here to answer questions, but obtain answers. “It is not surprising, I suppose, that someone of low social position would fail to understand why this elopement would be disastrous, but that makes it no less so.”
She stiffened, seeming affronted by what was an obvious fact. “Of all the snobbish, arrogant, condescending remarks I have ever heard…”
Her voice trailed off in a splutter, her mind clearly having run out of disparaging adjectives, and he took advantage of the momentary silence. “Tell me what you know.”
She did not reply. Instead, she pressed her lips together, glaring at him.
He dropped the newspaper onto her desk and leaned forward, flattening his palms on the desktop, his eyes staring down the resentment in hers. “I was not making a request, Miss Deverill.”
“That’s a pity,” she countered at once. “For I don’t respond well to commands.”
“And I don’t respond well to unnecessary intransigence.”
“It is not a matter of intransigence. Even if Deverill Publishing was aware of your mother’s whereabouts or was privy to her plans, I would not be at liberty to reveal any of that to you. Society Snippets promises its readers that the information conveyed to Lady Truelove by those who seek her advice shall be held in confidence. While I can understand that you are concerned for your mother’s well-being and have apprehensions—however misplaced—about her decision to wed—”
“Misplaced?” he interrupted, giving an incredulous laugh at her choice of words. “Do you have any idea what my mother’s marriage to Antonio Foscarelli would do to her life? To her social position? To the position of her family? While we are on the subject,” he added before she could answer, “do you ever consider the disastrous consequences that may result from the advice you dispense so carelessly?”
“There is nothing careless about Lady Truelove’s advice, and on her behalf, I resent your accusation, sir.”
“Resent it all you like, but it’s clear you have no consideration for the lives you may ruin.”
“Or perhaps I simply don’t define ruin the way you do.”
Henry’s mind tumbled back into the past, and the image of a shopkeeper’s dark-eyed daughter flashed through his mind. “Being trapped in a union all of society would view as a disgrace, a union where the two people have nothing in common but their mutual passion—that is not ruinous in your view?”
A hint of color came into her cheeks at the mention of passion, but she did not address that aspect of his point. “Unlike some, I don’t view the opinions of you and your precious ton as something to worry about.”
Henry shoved thoughts of Elena and his own stupid mistake back into the past where they belonged. “You say that only because you are unaware of the power we wield. You have no idea how it would feel to be in her shoes, to be shut out of—”
“Oh, but I do know,” she assured him. “I fully comprehend what it means and how it feels to be cold-shouldered by your set, believe me. And I don’t care a jot.”
Despite the defiant declaration, there was an unmistakable hint of bitterness in her voice. Another time, he might have been curious enough to explore the reasons for it, but just now, he had more important things to consider. “Even if that’s true, Miss Deverill, my mother is not you. Her life is not like yours, and you have no idea what your advice will do to her. Nor, I suspect, do you care.”
“That is not true! I—”
“It’s a sensible outlook, I suppose,” he interrupted, ignoring her protest, “if one is a newspaper hawker.”
“Better to be a newspaper hawker than a lily of the field like you,” she shot back, those tawny eyes flashing gold sparks, showing that Miss Deverill possessed not only a stubborn streak, but also a temper.
“A lily of the field?” Henry thought of the duties that filled his days and worried his nights, and he almost wanted to laugh. “Is that what I am?”
“You toil not, neither do you spin, yet you believe you are entitled to wield power over the lives of those around you.”
“I believe that I am entitled to wield that power because it is borne of my position. I am a duke. With a high rank comes high responsibility. That is how the world works.”
“Not my world.”
“I’m sure, but might we leave a discussion of that fact and your world for another day?”
“Certainly,” she agreed at once, gesturing to the door behind him. “I’m sure you have important, ducal things to do, like attend balls and go to race meetings. While I, on the other hand, must attend to insignificant little task of earning my living. So, by all means, take your leave, sir.”
“Balls? Race meetings? Does that encompass the entirety of your knowledge about a duke’s duties?”
“Well, those things do seem to be the greatest preoccupations of your set. And the appropriateness of who marries whom, of course.”
Despite the pert sweetness of that last comment, her resentment was palpable, and he wondered if in addition to being a newspaper hawker, a suffragist, and a spinster, she was also a Marxist. “You have no grasp of what being a duke means.”
“And you have no grasp of what it’s like to earn one’s living.”
“Nor do I wish to.”
“A declaration that does not in the least surprise me. From the look of those clothes, work wouldn’t suit you.”
He opened his mouth to fire off a reply, but as badly as he wanted to set her straight about the duties required of men of his rank, a glance at the clock on her wall reminded him of his priorities. Unfortunately, he still didn’t know anything more about his mother’s plans than he had when he’d arrived here. “It is clear you are unaware of the many responsibilities of the nobility, Miss Deverill, but much to my regret, I do not have the time or inclination to instruct you on the subject. Finding my mother is the only thing I care about just now.”
“And in that regard, as I have already said, I cannot help you.”
He studied her face and knew he was wasting his time. Whether because she genuinely did not know his mother’s whereabouts, or because she was refusing to part with the information because of her misguided prejudice against his class or because of some absurd notion of journalistic integrity, he could not be sure. But whatever her knowledge or her motives, she was clearly not going to be of any assistance to him.
“Then, I shall bid you good day.” He gave her a bow, took up his hat from the desk and turned to go. By the door, however, he paused, one hand on the knob, and he turned to look at her over his shoulder. “But before I go, there is one thing I should like you to consider, if you would.”
She looked at him as if she’d rather swallow poison than consider anything he might have to say, but he forced himself to wait, and after a moment, her curiosity seemed to overcome her resentment. “And what is that?”
“I should like you to consider what impact your decisions may have on the lives of other people. If my mother suffers ridicule and condemnation because of you and your publication, what responsibility do you bear? If her life is ruined, what consequences should there be for yours? Given the part you will have played in her downfall, what punishment will you deserve?”
She inhaled sharply. “Is that a threat?” she asked, her chin tilting up in defiance. “There is nothing you can do to me, sir.”
“You think not?” He gave her a pitying smile. “Oh, my dear Miss Deverill.”
His words, soft and dangerous, caused a flicker of concern in those tawny eyes, a reaction he found quite satisfying under the circumstances. “If my mother corresponds with you in future,” he went on as he donned his hat, “I doubt you will inform me of the fact, but I hope you will have the courtesy to tell her that her family is worried about her and would like news of her. And by the way,” he added as he opened the door, “I am not a ‘sir’. That title is reserved for knights. I am a duke, and properly addressed by a commoner such as yourself as ‘Your Grace.’”
With that, he walked out and closed the door behind him, leaving her no chance to reply, which he could only deem a very good thing. In dealing with a woman like Miss Deverill, any man would be wise to ensure to always get in the last word. Otherwise, she’d devour the poor sod for breakfast.