Like the Englishmen who faced down the French army, the men who love Marielle Petersham, Duchess of Stonegreave, usually die. Hence, the ton has dubbed her the French Duchess. After a particularly notorious indiscretion, Marielle retired from society, determined to immerse herself in good works to wash the stain from her family name for the next generations.
Captain Sir Richard Campion despises his childhood friend for the mess she made of her life, especially since it led to his best friend’s death. But now Richard has been tasked by the Crown to stop a plot to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte that could plunge Europe back into war. Marielle is the one person who holds a clue to the plotters, and so he must seek her out and discover where her loyalties lie, even if it involves a bit of subterfuge.
by Rue Allyn
Sensuality Level: Sensual
Historical romance author Rue Allyn lives in southeast Michigan with the love of her life and one tyrannical cat, where she works daily on making Happy Ever After come true. Find Rue Allyn at RueAllyn.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter @RueAllyn.
An excerpt from The French Duchess:
London, March 24, 1814
Captain Sir Richard Campion, second son of Baron Gadleigh, entered General Bruskingly’s home at precisely two minutes before nine in the morning. The footman took his cloak, gloves, and hat then ushered Richard into a well-appointed study. A large desk, an even larger map table, a settee, and a number of wingback chairs populated the spacious room. Three of those chairs were drawn up near the fire, for even though the rain held off, the March day was quite chilly. A pie crust table held a silver salver, a crystal decanter filled with amber liquid, and one matching glass.
Boots extended toward the flames indicated that two of the chairs were occupied. Low voices confirmed the deduction. Richard advanced and was surprised to see the Duke of Margris seated beside the general.
“Good morning, your grace, General Bruskingly, sir.” Richard faced the men, his back to the fire, and stood at attention.
“Sit down, man. Sit down. You know his grace, the Duke of Margris,” the general urged. “No need to stand on ceremony. Have some whisky. His grace brought it with him from Strathnaver in Scotland, and we’re sampling the goods. Need to make certain the stuff’s good enough to give to Prinny.”
The duke met Richard’s eyes and smiled. “I do my part to keep our regent content. When he heard I traveled through Scotland, he requested I bring back the best whisky I could find.”
Richard took a seat and studied the man he knew as friend and advisor to the Prince Regent. His grace was a mite shorter than Richard’s own six feet and of severely lean build. The intelligence in the duke’s shrewd gaze was unmistakable. Richard had seen a similar expression on Wellington’s face when hearing intelligence reports or weighing the various counsel of his subordinates. Margris would rarely do anything—even obtain whisky for the regent—without a thorough understanding of the results. Richard nodded and adopted the blank expression practiced in the ton.
“That was kind of you.”
The general poured whisky into the empty glass and handed it to Richard.
Margris waved a hand at the air. “It was nothing. Always a pleasure to serve the crown, as you and General Bruskingly know, I’m sure.”
Richard inclined his head. Where was all this going?
“To Prinny,” Bruskingly toasted.
“To Prinny,” Margris echoed.
Richard followed suit.
“This whisky is excellent,” Richard remarked.
“Glad you think so,” Margris said. “I’ll give you a cask if you’ll do a small favor for the crown and England. I believe your father may have mentioned what we require.”
Richard shook his head. “I have not visited Gadleigh Park since resuming my duties.” He’d escaped his childhood home and his father’s machinations even before his wounds had completely healed. Could his father have planted ideas in Margris’s head? Wily as his parent might be on occasion, he was no match for Margris. If any idea planting had been done, it was Margris who manipulated Baron Gadleigh, not the other way around.
“What favor would you have me do?”
“We’d like you to visit your old friend her grace, the Duchess of Stonegreave.
“Her grace and I have not spoken for several years.” The reasons were his and his alone.
“Then renewing your friendship provides an excellent excuse for your visit,” said the general.
“How will a courtesy visit to a past acquaintance,” he had trouble speaking the jade’s name, “serve crown and country?” She was the last woman on earth he wished to see.
“I’m afraid we need a bit more than a simple courtesy visit, captain,” Margris murmured.
“You seriously expect me to court the French Duchess?”
“You need not marry the woman,” Bruskingly said, “but you require some reason to spend more than a few hours with her.”
Simple friendship was not enough? Of course, there was nothing simple or friendly about his feelings for Marielle Stonegreave. Not since Jennings died.