The Duke and His Virgin – Preview

A Historical Regency Romance Novel

About the book

“He will stop at nothing to make her his…”

 

Jane’s family never expected the son of their sworn enemy would suggest they enter a business agreement. Nor did they expect he would offer to marry Jane to solidify the deal. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and she soon finds herself being sold to a man she had been taught to hate.

 

Duke Leo always gets what he wants. Restoring his father’s brewery back to its former glory is one thing. Getting his incredibly tempting wife into his bed, however, is quite another. Especially since this sassy virgin seems completely indifferent to his charms..

 

Leo might have made Jane his duchess, but he hasn’t yet made her his. It will make much more than a wedding contract for that, if Jane has any say in it. Even if it takes every ounce of self restraint she has. And when Jane’s life is in danger, the duke will have to prove once and for all how far he is willing to go to protect her..

Chapter One

 

 

Everyone was still staring blankly at the letter in question which now occupied the centerpiece of the breakfast table almost taunting them with its enigmatic content.

Jane Pratt, the daughter of the Earl of Reeves, was seated to the right of that letter. Her aquamarine blue eyes kept darting from it back to her father then to the letter again. It made absolutely no sense. What on earth kind of a morning was this?

“I think we should simply ignore it,” she finally spoke, her voice laden with mistrust and the memory of everything that had happened several years prior.

“Ignore it?” Anna Pratt, the Countess of Reeves, frowned disapprovingly. “One cannot just ignore such invitations, my dear. Do not be silly.”

To be quite honest, Jane believed she was anything but silly. She believed herself quite reasonable, especially when it came to the question of gentlemen who believed that they could treat all those around them as if they were beneath them.

“What do you think, darling?” This time, the Countess was addressing her husband, Isaac Pratt, the Earl of Reeves.

Only one quick glance at this man revealed most of his character. His cheeks were high and full, most of the time with a reddish tint to them as if the excess of blood in his body always managed to find its way back to his face, and his lips were perpetually pulled together in a sour expression as if he sucked on a lemon every morning. Jane overheard one of their servants tell this to another ages ago, and she found it quite adequate as a description of her father’s general facial expression. Still, she knew better than to actually share it with him.

“I do not see a reason for it,” the Earl said calmly with a note of displeasure in his voice which he tried to keep subdued.

“See?” Jane seized the chance. “Even Father doesn’t think it’s a good idea.”

The Countess frowned. Her usual delicate features were now marred by disgruntlement. Out of the three of them, she was usually the one who always managed to find common ground between two opposing sides. Being in the middle was never an easy task, but someone had to do it, and Jane considered herself fortunate that it wasn’t her.

“Need I remind you both of our financial predicaments?” the Countess spoke up gently then left the question to linger in the air around them along with that mysterious letter which still rested in the middle of the table because no one wished to touch it after the initial reading by the man of the house.

The Countess proceeded to pick up her fork and eat the two leftover bites of her toast that remained on her plate. Jane did not have much appetite this morning to begin with but after she heard the contents of the letter, she was utterly devoid of any desire for nourishment. The question remained, festering inside her mind, torturing her with her own inability to grasp the hidden meaning behind it.

“You know what that man did to us,” the Earl growled softly, like a wolf threatening an enemy, still not ready to attack.

That man.

Jane knew whom he was referring to. It was not the actual author of the letter in question. It was the author’s father who had recently passed. It was strange how death should be the end of all things, but it is, apart from grudges. Not even death had the power to end those.

“Of course, I know,” the Countess snorted indignantly. “I was there.”

“Then, you understand my utter unwillingness to oblige his son,” the Earl believed he had concluded this conversation but his wife would not have it.

“Isaac…” His name reverberated in the room. The moment she used his Christian name was the moment they all knew that she would play the emotional card. The Earl disliked it. He loathed it. But he loved his wife. He sighed heavily as he listened to his wife continue. “You know that the brewery isn’t doing well. In fact, saying that it isn’t doing well is an understatement. We are in terrible debt, Isaac. Your bad decisions have led us to the brink of ruin.”

“Well, what do you wish me to do about it now!?” he snarled more loudly this time. Usually, people would pull back from him when he was in such a mood but his wife knew how to handle him. Decades of marriage had taught her well.

“I wish you to consider the offer of the Duke of Dunton,” she replied calmly, unwilling to let him aggravate her. It was simply who he was. As soon as he felt threatened in any manner, he defended himself with anger. Diffusing him was easy enough if one knew how.

The moment her mother had said her father’s name, Jane’s heart felt a powerful tug. It was simply her mind reacting in the only way it could. After all, how else could one react to the mentioned name of one’s sworn enemy?

Once, it seemed now ages ago, she believed he would be so much more than that. In fact, she hoped he would be the opposite of that. But quickly, the truth came crashing down upon her, and she realized that all she ever was to him was a game, a mean way to get back at her father. Fortunately, they only had one brief encounter on that fateful night of the ball hosted by Lord and Lady Weatherby, but it was enough to make her heart all aflutter for him.

Upon finding out that he was the man their daughter was so smitten by, her parents had told her the truth. He was the son of the man with whom her father had once been the best of friends. With such great love comes a great hatred as well as the two are never too far apart. A feud happened to take place, one that originated in the very core of man’s existence: greed. The Earl believed that he deserved a greater part of the profit, because he was the one with the most prolific ideas. His friend did not seem to agree. Their agreement had always been to divide the profit in two equal shares. Little by little, the Earl started to believe that he had been taken advantage of, that he would be better off on his own. Then, the final event that assured they would be friends and associates no longer was the missing money. The Earl was certain that his now former friend had stolen it, but refused to admit it. Regardless, the money was gone and so was their friendship.

 

This feud led to them parting ways not only in a business venture they shared but also in life. The result was antagonizing several years that followed with the man in question passing away, leaving the feud and the question of the missing money forever unresolved.

To be quite honest, Jane believed it was for the best. Yes, their brewery was in debt. That much was true. And yes, the Duke of Dunton’s own brewery was doing far better than theirs. So, what was the point of this letter? To rub it in their faces? The thought enraged Jane, and she could not possibly understand how her mother could even consider his proposal.

“I implore you both to think about this and not make a hasty decision,” the Countess continued, the voice of reason as always. “The least we can do is hear what he has to say. The final decision will, of course, be ours. He cannot force us to do anything we do not want to.”

Jane thought about it for a moment. The Duke of Dunton was the last man on earth she wished to see, now or ever, but perhaps, her mother had a point. After all, that old adage made much sense: to keep one’s friends close but one’s enemies even closer.

They might attend it, and Jane would see to it that she was dressed in her finest gown. His opinion of her was, of course, irrelevant, but it would not hurt for her to look her best. Just because.

“You won’t let this go until we agree, will you?” the Earl asked, inhaling deeply, realizing that his peaceful morning with the newspaper was all but ruined. In response, his wife just gave him a meaningful gaze which meant that she was in utter agreement with what he just said.

“It is just a dinner invitation, after all,” she shrugged seemingly indifferently although the effects of this seemingly irrelevant dinner would be known only after it had taken place.

“Fine,” the Earl finally acquiesced. “We’ll have dinner with the duke. But if he says one wrong word, and you see me stand up from that dinner table, we are leaving.”

“Of course, we are,” his wife nodded obediently.

Jane, however, refused to. She did not agree with any of this. She believed that there was no good reason on earth that they should be having dinner with that man who, among other things, thought it was a good idea to play with her emotions and pretend that he was interested in her while all the time, the only thing he was interested in was to cause more misery to her family. That was something she could not forgive nor had any intention to.

“Then, we are all in agreement,” the Countess said in a satisfied manner. “You shall send a reply immediately, darling,” she urged her husband.

“Immediately…” he grumbled, glancing one more time at his newspapers. Then, he got up demonstratively as he always did, assuring that his was the last word being spoken. “One wrong word,” he repeated with his index finger lifted importantly in the air, “and we are leaving that place immediately.”

“Immediately,” his wife echoed with another nod.

With those words, the Earl stormed out of the dining room, not even bothering to close the door behind him. Jane gave her mother a look underneath her knitted eyebrows.

“Do not look at me like that, my dear,” her mother pointed out, taking a napkin and pressing it softly against the corners of her lips, more in an effort to busy her hands with something than to actually clean herself. “We have to think of our financial future, and by that, I mean your dowry.”

“My dowry?” Jane gasped. She had to admit that she hadn’t considered that although the truth was staring at her right in the face.

“Yes,” her mother nodded, taking a cup of tea in her hand and bringing it to her lips for a sip. “We have no money. You are to get married soon, and we cannot afford a dowry which would assure that you are well cared for.”

Jane wanted to remind her mother that perhaps she might meet a good man, a kind man who would see past her family’s poor financial state and wish to marry her, nonetheless, but she bit her lip before saying it. This was a conversation she did not wish to get involved in right now when she had other concerns on her mind.

“It is just a dinner,” her mother reminded her as if she somehow had the magical abilities to read her daughter’s mind. Then again, perhaps all mothers were blessed with this. “What harm could come of it?”

Chapter Two

 

 

 

Leonard Ridlington, the Duke of Dunton wished to look particularly good that evening although he could not for the life of him explain why. It was a business dinner, essentially. Although, the present parties would be far more than mere business acquaintances.

He looked at himself in the mirror, wondering if the dark gray trousers and jacket he had chosen for this evening would convey the image that he needed to convey. As he adjusted his cravat for the fifth time, he tried to go over the monologue he had in his mind. To be quite honest, it changed every time he tried to repeat it. Sometimes, it seemed too harsh as if he were forcing them into this. At other times, it seemed too mild as if he were pleading with them to agree and that they would be doing him a favor instead of it being the other way around.

He sighed heavily, leaving the cravat. It would have to do as it was. His steel blue eyes inspected his own reflection in the mirror. He wasn’t as pleased as he expected to be. He tried to convince himself that it was not the result of any nerves. Why would he be nervous? This was all his doing. He was the organizer. He would be the one with the business proposition. He was the one doing a favor for them if only they were smart enough to see it.

He never considered himself a particularly handsome man although his tall, lean build and his chiseled muscles said otherwise. His chin was strong, according to some even arrogant. He had inherited that trait from his father, but he tried not to let it surface too often. Still, he knew that he needed to show his teeth when it came to the business world because it was too cutthroat. They would eat him up alive if he showed them that he had a soft side to him as well. That was why his arrogance and self-confidence always took the lead, and this evening would be no different.

Fortunately, a knock on the door interrupted his train of thought, bringing him back to present moment.

“Yes?” he called out. He doubted that the guests had already arrived. There was at least an hour and a half left before the time they had agreed upon.

The door opened, and his mother let herself in. Her gown trailed behind her like a thin, velvety tail of a mermaid. As a child, he always thought his mother was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Effervescent and sparkling, she was the lift of every conversation she took part in. That was what everyone loved about her. She always knew what to talk about and always made sure that no one felt left out.

As years went by, her beauty did not fade. On the contrary, it took on a more mature look, like fine wine ripening in the cellar, just waiting for the right moment to be opened. Her face was devoid of any make up. There was just a slight dab of red on her still full lips.

Once, a long time ago, he caught her dipping blueberries on her lips, as she sat at her vanity table. He approached her, mesmerized by what she was doing. When she caught his reflection in the mirror, she immediately turned to him, and explained that she liked the color that blueberries left on her lips, and it was much better than any rouge she might purchase. She then proceeded to finish the process, and he had to admit that he had never seen her lips look more beautiful.

“Are you certain that this is a good idea?”

She came straight to the point which was a trait he loved about his mother. If she had something important to discuss or some relevant question to ask, she would not circle around it. She would immediately ask or say what was on her mind, not wishing to waste anyone’s valuable time.

“To tell you the truth, not really,” he said with a sigh, staring at her in the mirror. “I don’t know if this is what Father would want.”

“Your Father’s wishes, God rest his soul, do not matter any longer,” she said matter-of-factly, not as a result of any lack of love for her deceased husband but simply because life was for the living, not for the dead. “The brewery is yours. Whatever business decisions you make are solely your own, no one else’s.”

“I know,” he nodded, finally turning around. “But I also know that Father hated the Earl of Reeves. That is why they went their own separate ways.”

“He didn’t hate him,” his mother corrected him as she took a seat on the nearest chair, her back straight and her bejeweled fingers resting in her lap. “They started off as the best of friends. To tell you honestly, I thought it was one of those friendships that would last a lifetime.”

“You were wrong,” he pointed out although politely.

She smiled somewhat sadly. “I was, Leo.” There was melancholy in her voice, a longing for the olden days which would never return.

“But… what exactly happened between them?” he asked, aware that neither she nor his father had ever disclosed the real story behind what happened between them.

His mother waved her hand dismissively then got up. “Oh, it happened such a long time ago, it doesn’t matter any longer. In addition to that, your dear father is not with us anymore. Why dig up old wounds that have healed?”

Only, he wasn’t certain that all those old wounds were fully healed. His father hated the Earl of Reeves, that much was obvious, but at the same time, he still kept the man’s letters. Leo had seen them with his own eyes. Why would someone keep such mementoes of someone whom he no longer considered important or valuable to his life? It simply did not make any sense.

“Father was a proud man,” Leo said. “Too proud sometimes.”

He hoped that his mother might continue the story, that she might be tempted to somehow clear his father’s name in this story, but she did not grab the bait. She was far too wise for that. Leo should have known.

“We are all guilty of that transgression sometimes,” she smiled benevolently, walking over to him and placing her hand on his cheek lovingly. “You will see for yourself…” she paused as if she wondered whether or not she should continue then she did. “Sometimes, we say words that are intentionally meant to hurt someone. We say them in the heat of the moment, but we don’t mean them. But once they are said, they are out there. They have done their damage. We might regret them, but we can never take them back. This is where we draw the line how proud we are. Are we willing to say those most difficult words or not?”

“I’m sorry?” he asked.

“Yes, exactly those,” she confirmed. “It is hard. Much harder when it comes to someone we love.”

She pulled her hand away from his cheek and he felt its sudden disappearance. She stood in front of him, adjusting his cravat perfectly this time.

“To be quite honest, I think you should not busy yourself with this brewery all that much,” she confided. “You are a handsome young man who will make one lady very fortunate by marrying her. Why not focus on that instead of this brewery?”

Leo didn’t really know how to tell her that his marital status would also be the subject of discussion during tonight’s dinner. But he didn’t wish to reveal that part just yet. She would be there, and she would see it all for herself.

In fact, he was looking forward to seeing the Earl’s daughter. He would rather be struck by lightning repeatedly than admit it to anyone, but Jane Pratt was and continued to be the only woman he could not cease to think about. Her beauty was beyond compare. He had admitted this to himself thousands of times, but it was not her beauty or her beaming smile that taunting him so. It was the mere knowledge that she had been the only one he could not have.

Leo never considered himself a rake. It was a derogatory term for men who did not respect women. He had much respect for ladies of all social status. His mother had taught him better than to disrespect a woman in any situation. As an eligible bachelor, he had no one who obliged him to remain faithful, and Leo found solace from the world’s troubles in many a lady’s arms. Such situations benefitted both him and the lady in question since he always remained discreet about it. Hence, his reputation had never reached the true definition of a rake, yet he believed himself to be well versed in the language of love making, the same language which he yearned to speak to Jane Pratt although a chance had never presented itself.

Now, it seemed that he was able to create that chance for himself by offering her father this business proposition and fortifying it with something else, something none of them would ever expect. The very thought of the look on Jane’s face already made him smile. He had no idea why it brought him such pleasure. The hunter and the prey. That must have been it. That sheer desire to have what one always thought one could not.

“There shall be plenty of time for marriage, Mother,” he smiled, realizing that he had taken a few moments too long to ponder, and his mother was looking at him expecting an answer. He took her hand and planted a soft kiss on it, reverently. “As for this evening, I need you to be there by my side because you of all people know what Father would wish.”

“I told you that he left the brewery to you,” she was adamant. “I know he left it in good hands. If you think you can make it into a blossoming business then do it. If you think it is not worth the hassle, it is better to leave it.”

“You know I like a challenge,” he grinned, once again remembering Jane. What a challenge she had proven herself to be.

“I know,” she smiled back. “You are just like your father.”

“And proud of that,” he answered, letting go of her hand and taking one last look in the mirror. Somehow, he was completely satisfied with the way he looked. He oozed charisma, confidence, and assurance. There was a little bit of arrogance peppered in there as well, just for good measure.

“I shall go and see if everything has been set up,” his mother said, smiling softly then walking out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Leo inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. He still wasn’t completely certain whether this was a good idea, but like he said, he had always liked a good challenge. Convincing the Earl to merge their breweries would prove to be a tricky endeavor but worthwhile in the end. He was absolutely convinced of that. 

He looked up at the clock on the wall. It was ticking slowly. The time for the dinner was approaching. He straightened an invisible crinkle on his pants then turned around and followed his mother. He should also assure that everything was in its place this evening.

Nothing could be amiss. Nothing.

 

Chapter Three

 

 Chapter Three

Jane had never felt more uneasy than at that moment, under the scrutinizing eyes of the Duke. Once, she would have relished being the object of his gaze. Once, but that was such a long time ago that it felt as if it belonged to a completely different life. Now, all she felt for him was disdain. Well… disdain and something else. But those emotions would emerge solely in the privacy of her own bedroom, during those sleepless nights when all she could do was stare at the ceiling and think of him and what could have been.

“Please, follow me to the dining room,” the Duke exclaimed cordially, spreading his arms wide in the direction where they were all supposed to go.

Jane sought her mother’s gaze for support. The countess returned her gaze lovingly and reassuringly. We are in control here, Jane tried to remind herself. We came because we chose to come not because he forced us to. Thinking in such a manner made her feel as if she managed to regain at least some semblance of control over the situation although it was her father who should be in charge of it all.

Yet, he wasn’t. That much was clear. From the moment he squeezed her father’s hand and kissed both hers and her mother’s, the Duke had asserted himself as the alpha animal in this make-shift pack. He did everything according to the rules of the ton. He complimented the ladies, inquired about the gentleman’s health, and welcomed them cordially into his home. Jane could not fault him regarding his hospitality.

What she could fault him for was the fact that he kept his eyes mostly on her, and she distractingly noticed that he was as handsome as that first time she laid eyes on him. He walked first alongside his mother, a lady whose beauty was only matched by her mistrustful stare, leading them towards the dining room where everyone was seated at a table, already lavishly set up. The lady of the house followed the old adage that a fine table should be covered but not crowded, and that was exactly how it was.

All the dishes for all the courses were already laid out with the first of them being artichoke soup—not one of Jane’s favorites, but the sight of Mackerel with fennel and mint made her heart leap with joy. The second course was roasted meat alongside sweet and savory pies and tarts. There were several different kinds of vegetables, dipped richly in butter sauce. Jane could not remember the last time they had butter. She frowned at the thought that the Duke brought all this out solely for the purpose of showing off his wealth. Finally, she noticed the dessert, beautifully exhibited in a stylish pyramid shape, made entirely of fruits and marzipan. By the side of each plate, there was an already full glass, containing a drink lathered with spiced, sweet ginger which Jane absolutely adored.

Once everyone else was seated, the Duke was the only one who remained standing with his glass in his hand. He was smiling. Jane tried not to focus on how even his teeth were or how those small dimples made his face even more handsome. It was hard to focus on how much she loathed him with all this splendor about and him looking so breathtaking.

“First of all, I would like to thank you all for coming,” he started.

Jane did her best to resist frowning at this self-important speech which surely served no other purpose than to accentuate the financial difference between the two families. She already regretted coming here, but now that she did, she had to endure the entirety of the evening… unless her father decided otherwise.

Hope rekindled in her mind. Perhaps the Duke would say something wrong, and knowing her father’s hot temper, he would surely raise the whole house to its feet before storming out. She would gladly follow in that case.

“Secondly…” he started then paused for a moment, taking his time to look at every single one of his guests straight in the eyes. Only then did he continue. “I know that the relations between our family and yours have been somewhat… strained.”

Strained? That’s an understatement of the century.

Jane rolled her eyes, but the moment she did so, she felt her mother’s elbow on her lower arm urging her to behave. Jane cleared her throat, straightened her back and continued listening to something she was not the least bit interested in hearing.

“My father passed away last year, and I feel that it is a time for a new start. A fresh start,” he announced, much to everyone’s confusion. “My Lord,” he continued addressing Jane’s father, “you have the only brewery whose success at one point matched the success of my father’s own brewery.”

At this point, Jane was certain that her father would say something, but there was not a sound from him. All he did was listen cautiously as if anticipating that the point of this entire evening would soon be revealed. And… it was.

“I consider myself quite good at business dealings,” the Duke said, to which Jane almost rolled her eyes again, but she managed to resist the urge to do so, fearing another elbowing at the side of her mother. Quite deserved, she had to admit. “All of this brings me to my next point which is this—I would be willing to pay off your brewery’s entire debt, provided we merge our businesses and become partners.”

Partners? The notion was ludicrous. An absolute dissolution of reason.

At this point, Jane was certain that her father’s would laugh in the Duke’s face at least. Or simply storm out angrily, insulted that the Duke had the nerve to make such an offer. Then, much to her surprise, she noticed that her father was silent. His cheeks were no redder than usual which meant that he was not particularly outraged at this proposal.

Jane swallowed heavily. Suddenly, a frightening thought hatched inside her mind. He could not be considering the offer, could he? She quickly shook her head to herself. No. Absolutely not. Her father would never accept charity from the son of the worst enemy he had ever known and also, from his own daughter’s enemy. But the more seconds passed, the more she was certain that he indeed was considering it. Then, he spoke, dashing her hopes against the treacherous shores of reality.

“How am I to know that this is not some sort of a trick to gain access to my brewery and make it all your own?” the Earl demanded.

Jane turned pale at the question. She knew that they had absolutely no means of paying off their debt. They were so deep in it that it would take years and selling everything they owned just so they could pay off two thirds of it. The final third would have been left outstanding, remaining to be paid for… somehow, someway, someday.

“Ah, yes,” the Duke suddenly smiled, and that smile made Jane’s blood turn cold. “I had a feeling you would ask that, and I have the solution to this predicament.” He turned his gaze to Jane with that slick smile and devilishly handsome dimples which she was still endeavoring to banish both from her mind and her memory. “To prove that I am utterly serious about this and completely transparent, I shall marry your daughter.”

At first, Jane believed she did not hear him right. Marry her? That couldn’t be. Her father would never allow such travesty to happen. His daughter could not marry the son of his worst enemy, and whether the man was dead or alive was irrelevant. Yet, she could see that he was not refusing it straightforward. He was thinking. He was considering it!

Then, as if to fortify this offer, the Duke added nonchalantly as if it did not matter one bit, “Without a dowry. That way, I will prove to you that my intention is to unite our two families again and forget all about the feud that separated you and my father.”

Jane was horrified. She felt the entire room spinning about, and if she were not seated, she was certain that she would fall down unconscious right onto the floor. She gasped silently as if gasping for air, but that talon of fear and horror kept gripping at her throat, making it increasingly more difficult to breathe.

“Marry you?” the Earl finally responded, much to Jane’s relief. “I would never give my daughter to the son of my worst enemy,” he growled angrily, having regained his senses which Jane thanked him silently for.

“You make it sound as if I am some sort of a barbarian who would treat your daughter like an animal,” the Duke replied, and Jane wanted to express her displeasure with this right then and there, but she held her composure, sending glaring stares in his direction. Only, he did not see them. He was focused on her father this time. “I assure you that is not the case. Your daughter shall be well provided for. You have my promise.”

“The promise of people like your father, and therefore, you, means nothing to me,” the Earl returned unwaveringly. He stood up, and immediately, his family followed suit. “The answer is no.”

Jane felt relief wash over like rain in the dessert, but unfortunately, that relief would last a very short time.

“My Lord, if you will permit me to be blunt with you,” the Duke continued, his voice calm and composed while the Earl’s became more uneven and stronger. “I do believe your financial situation leaves much to be desired. I wonder if you will be able to find a suitor who will take your daughter without a dowry. She is a beauty, that much is undeniably true, but these days are more uncertain than ever. Dowries are a necessity.”

Jane felt like she could strangle him with her bare hands. He knew exactly what he was doing, that vile, despicable man. He knew that he could convince her father that his hands were tied, and that the only way to escape the clutches of debt was to give away his daughter. She could already see the ultimatum: it was either agree with this or go into poverty.

She noticed tiny beads of sweat on her father’s forehead. She knew that he had already pictured that same ultimatum inside his mind, and he was considering it. If there was anything to consider… Poverty was something none of them was prepared for. It was merely a distant fear, distant enough for them to be remotely aware of it but not fearful of it.

The Duke’s words made it seem much closer than they initially believed. One thing was painstakingly obvious. They had to find a way out of this debt, and as it would appear, this was their only option. The thought felt like a stone deep inside of Jane’s gut, pulling so deep down that she felt she would never come up for air again.

“If we agree to this,” her father started, taking a slow, defeated seat. Jane refused to follow suit although her mother did immediately, signaling that she would always side with her husband, no matter what. “Jane will own half of the merged brewery. I want her to have her own income.”

The Duke grimaced with a nod. Jane couldn’t tell if he liked the idea or not. Probably the latter. “That seems fair. Anything else?” he told them.

Jane felt her ears were hotter than lava, and her cheeks were blazing red. She wouldn’t dare look at herself in the mirror at this point. However, all she could do was listen to these two men decide her fate for her.

“She will have her own London house,” the Earl continued listing his conditions, “in case she decides that this wedding will be in paper only.”

This was where Jane could not hold her peace any longer. They were discussing her future without taking her will into account. She would not stand for it a moment longer.

“Don’t I get any say in this!?” she demanded. Her fiery temper was something she inherited from her father, and although she did not like it all that much, she had to admit that sometimes, it came in mighty handy. “I won’t do it!”

“Darling,” her mother’s soft voice brought the sound of reason. “It is our only option as the Duke has already explained.” Her mother placed her hand softly on her daughter’s, but Jane pulled it away as if her mother’s touch scorched her.

“You cannot make me!” Jane exclaimed louder than last time. What was worse, it seemed that her outburst of emotion only amused the Duke even more. He was not smiling, fortunately, but she could not help but feel that he was enjoying this.

“No one will make you do anything,” the Duke answered mild-manneredly, fully aware that the entire situation was under his control. That enraged her even more. “I am merely offering a proposition that benefits us all. If you find it unfair to you, feel free to refuse me.”

Jane’s lower lip quivered with indignation. Her eyes sought her father, but the moment their eyes locked, she knew that he had already made up his mind. It was the same with her mother. Like she realized, this was their only option.

Seconds felt like hours. All eyes were on her, waiting, anticipating. Finally, she sat down, feeling more defeated than ever. She felt like her entire life was out of her hands, now, and she was being punished for someone else’s transgressions.

She would acquiesce… for now.

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4 comments

  1. Sounds absolutely delightful. Pretty sure she will give him a run for his money. Can’t wait to read the remainder of the book.

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