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 . . .
Publishing a scandal sheet was not for the faint of heart. It required a shrewd head, an unsentimental heart, and a thick skin. Fortunately for the Deverill family and for all the avid readers of Society Snippets, Irene Deverill possessed all three of those qualities. She was also blessed with a sense of humor, and there were days when Irene found that trait to be the most necessary one of all. Today was one of those days.
“Mr. Shaw,” she began for the third time, hoping she could at last succeed in getting a word in amidst the angry stream of criticism from the irascible, elderly man seated on the other side of her desk, “I do see your concerns, but—”
“The Weekly Gazette,” he said, referring to the paper by its former name, “was a newspaper, young woman, and its purpose was to convey to the public serious and important events of the day in East and Central London. But now? Now, thanks to you, it is nothing more than a . . . a purveyor of scandal and titillation.”
Irene tried not to smile as she studied the prim mouth of the man opposite. A bit of titillation, she felt, would do Ebenezer Shaw far more good than the liver pills sold by his company, but it wouldn’t do to say so. “I realize the changes I have made may be a bit unsettling—”
“Unsettling?” Mr. Shaw tossed his copy of yesterday’s edition on top of her desk. “Gossip columns, fashion news, advice to the lovelorn . . . what’s next? Reports of England’s haunted houses and a weekly astrology report?”
At once, Irene’s imagination began to envision a series of articles on England’s most haunted places—Jamaica Inn, perhaps, and Berry Pomeroy Castle, the Tower of London . . .
She glanced past Mr. Shaw to her sister, Clara, who was seated by the door, clipboard in hand. Clara, who acted as her secretary, perceived the meaning in that glance and scribbled a note. With that, Irene was forced to abandon the delight of contemplating future issues of Society Snippets, and return her attention to one of the less appealing aspects of her profession: pacifying irate advertisers.
“The paper may not be the same sort of publication you began placing advertisements in twenty years ago,” she said in her most placating tone of voice, “and the content may no longer be to your taste. Or mine,” she added hastily as he opened his mouth to give his opinion on that score yet again. “But neither of us can deny the results. Circulation has risen 300 percent since the changes to our editorial content were implemented ten months ago.”
Clara gave a little cough. “Three hundred and twenty-seven percent, to be exact.”
Irene lifted her hands in a self-evident gesture. “There you are. Shaw’s Liver Pills must surely see the benefit of such a massive increase in our readership. More people are seeing your advertisements than ever before—”
“We cater to a certain class of clientele.” He drew himself up with injured dignity. “The people who now read your publication are not the sort we desire as our customers.”
Irene could not understand what difference it made to Shaw’s what class of clientele purchased their liver pills as long as those pills were paid for in ready money, but she knew it wouldn’t do to say so. Before she could decide how best to proceed, Mr. Shaw spoke again.
“Our annual advertising contract is coming up for renegotiation, and I feel that before we can do that, the problems I see must be addressed.”
“Of course,” Irene agreed. “What is it you wish me to do?”
“Do? Do?” Mr. Shaw’s eyes bulged as if he couldn’t believe she’d asked such a preposterous question. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“Not to me,” Irene answered truthfully. “How can I alleviate your concerns?”
“Return the newspaper to the way it used to be, of course.”
Irene cast her mind back five years, to her grandfather’s death and her father’s attempts to run Deverill Publishing on his own. Those attempts had been dismally unsuccessful, for her father had a serious fondness for brandy and no talent for business. As a result, the prosperous enterprise built by the two previous generations of Deverill men had collapsed with breathtaking speed. Within four years, their entire income had been obliterated, the publishing offices on Fleet Street forced to close, and most of the presses and equipment sold at auction for a fraction of their value. Their home on Belford Row, their only remaining property, had been mortgaged to pay debts.
It was at that point that Irene, well aware from managing the household just how precarious their financial situation had become, decided something must be done. Insisting that her father take care of his health and leave the worries of the business behind, she had taken over the Weekly Gazette, the only remaining vestige of her grandfather’s once-vast newspaper empire. With much grumbling from her parent, she had moved Deverill Publishing into the family library, added a door to the street, and turned her father’s study into her office. She had then changed the name of the paper from the Weekly Gazette to Society Snippets and transformed it into a scandal sheet. In less than a year, thanks to Lady Truelove and a few other inventions of Irene’s imagination, the paper had become a raging success, the family business had been saved, and the days of irate tradesmen, demanding creditors, and perpetual skimping on coal and butter were over.
Mr. Shaw might—for reasons she couldn’t fathom—wish to return to a time when her little weekly had discussed “serious and important events of East and Central London,” but she vastly preferred a profitable publication, a household that could pay its bills, and a tidy nest egg in the bank. Irene thought of the 327 percent rise in the paper’s circulation and reminded herself there were other advertisers besides Shaw’s Liver Pills.
“I’m afraid,” she said, giving Mr. Shaw her prettiest smile, “what you are asking for is not possible.”
The bulging eyes narrowed. “Perhaps it would be best if I spoke with Mr. Deverill about this.”
Her smile faltered a little. “That’s not possible either. My father is ill, you see.”
“Quite ill,” she added, reminding herself that wasn’t really a lie. To her way of thinking, if a man spent most of his time in an inebriated condition, he was suffering from an illness.
“Your brother, then. Surely Jonathan Deverill must now be in charge, if your father is ill.”
“My brother is out of the country. Since finishing at university, he has been . . . ahem . . . seeing the world.”
That was, she supposed, the best way of putting it. No need to mention that Jonathan and Papa were not on speaking terms, and hadn’t been for three years now.
Mr. Shaw’s gooseberry-green eyes narrowed. “Then, we are back where we started. I shall need to speak with your father. I really must insist.”
“Uh-oh,” Clara murmured, perceiving the telltale movement. “That’s done it.”
With an effort, Irene kept her smile in place. “Shaw’s has been advertising with our newspapers for many years with great success. Like my father and grandfather before me, I have always regarded your company as our most valued and important client.” She paused, waiting until she saw the gleam of satisfaction in the eyes of the man across from her before she spoke again.
“But,” she went on as she rose to her feet, “I believe it might be time for both of us to reevaluate the strength of that relationship.”
“I beg your pardon?” His astonishment would have been amusing if it wasn’t about to cost her the newspaper’s greatest source of revenue. “You would sacrifice our business without any attempt to address our concerns?”
“I believe I have made that attempt, but you do not seem to agree, so I fail to see what else I can do. The loss of your business shall be a terrible blow, of course, but I cannot allow advertisers to dictate the editorial content of the newspaper. It would set a most dangerous precedent.” Her smile was still pleasant as she came around her desk and crossed to the door of her office. “I’m sure you understand,” she added and opened the door, glancing at her sister.
Clara took the hint at once. Setting aside her clipboard, she rose. “I will show Mr. Shaw out.”
Irene mouthed a heartfelt thank you to her sister as Clara took the spluttering Mr. Shaw firmly by the arm, much as a good nursery governess might have done, and escorted him out of her office.
Irene watched from the doorway as Clara led Mr. Shaw past the printing press and the long table of typewriting machines. Those machines were silent now, for the three journalists on her staff were off pursuing the investigations that would comprise next week’s edition, and there was no one in the office save Clara and herself. She continued to watch until her sister had ushered Mr. Shaw out to the street, then with a sigh of relief, she stepped back and closed her office door. Only after she had resumed her seat did the ramifications of her decision hit her, and her relief was displaced by a sudden throb of panic.
She slumped forward with a groan, plunking her elbows on her desk, thinking of all the revenue she’d just tossed out the window. “Oh, dear God,” she mumbled, rubbing her hands over her face, “what have I just done?”
If Shaw’s could not be replaced, and soon, the loss to the paper would be enormous. They might be making a profit now, but Irene knew how easily they could descend back into destitution if she did not take care. And while genteel poverty made for romantic stories in the paper’s fiction section, it was too much a part of Irene’s recent past for her to find anything romantic about it. In fact, the possibility that her decision might return her family to that state made her feel slightly sick.
Still, what was done was done. The question was what to do now. With that reminder, Irene lifted her head and reached for notepaper and a pencil.
Within three minutes she had scribbled down the names of twenty companies that might be suitable replacements for Shaw’s Liver Pills, and her innate optimism began to return. There were a dozen or more possible prospects in her mind, but before she could write them down, there was a tap on her door, and she paused, looking up as Clara once again entered the room.
Her sister’s big, china-blue eyes were wide and her lower lip was caught between her teeth. Irene felt compelled at once to offer reassurance. “It’ll be all right. I already have a plan to make up the lost revenue. We shan’t miss that old curmudgeon and his liver pills in the least.”
“I know.” Despite those words, her sister did not look reassured.
“I shan’t let us descend into poverty again, I promise—”
“I know, I know.”
Irene frowned in bewilderment. “Then what has you looking as if we’re headed back to queer-street?”
The younger woman leaned back in the doorway, casting a glance into the room behind her, then looked at Irene again. “There’s a gentleman out front,” she said in a low voice as she approached Irene’s desk, a card in her hand. “He wants to see Lady Truelove.”
“And I’d love to own a unicorn,” she whispered back, smiling, her good humor restored. “We shall both be disappointed, I fear.”
“This is serious, Irene.” Clara held out the card. “This man isn’t some nobody from nowhere.”
Irene stood up, shoved her pencil behind one ear, and took the card from her sister’s outstretched fingertips. Plain and white, it was unadorned but for a thin silver border and a coronet watermarked across its surface. She didn’t know one coronet from another, but she knew the feel of expensive, high quality paper.
“Duke of Torquil.” She read aloud the black copperplate words printed over the watermark, and as she spoke, yesterday’s Lady Truelove column flashed through her mind. She looked up to meet her sister’s apprehensive gaze with a dismayed one of her own. “Good Lord.”
Clara nodded, confirming that they were both thinking along the same lines. Even if one didn’t own a scandal sheet, it wouldn’t have been hard to guess the identity of the “lady of society” who had fallen in love with an artist, and upon receiving her letter, Irene had known at once who she was. Gossip about the widowed Duchess of Torquil and famous Italian painter Antonio Foscarelli had already been bandied about in several scandal sheets, including her own.
“Even so . . .” Irene paused and swallowed hard, looking again at the card. “Why should the Duke of Torquil want to see me?”
“Why indeed?” a hard voice intruded, and Irene looked past her sister to find a man standing in the entrance to her office, a man whose tall form and wide shoulders seemed to fill the doorway. His face was one of finely chiseled features and gray-blue eyes, but it was also a face of uncompromising lines and implacable resolve. In those brilliant, pale eyes, there was the unmistakable glint of anger.
She could make a fair guess as to the cause, and she felt a sudden shiver of apprehension. As a woman in a man’s occupation, however, she knew she couldn’t allow herself to be intimidated by anyone, so she tossed the card aside, lifted her chin, and met his hard gaze with an unwavering one of her own.
He glanced over her in the toplofty way so characteristic of the nobility, and one dark brow arched upward as if the woman before him was not quite what he’d been expecting.
“Your question is an excellent one, madam, and a telling one, too.” He removed his hat and bowed, that icy gaze once again meeting hers, and as he straightened, a grim smile touched his lips. “Lady Truelove, I presume?”