Lady Phoebe has spent two Seasons looking for the man who will steal her heart. Like the other members of her family, she wants love in her marriage, not the usual connections and wealth. While walking her energy off one morning as her twin sister pours over dress plates, Phoebe sees a man rescue a horse from its abusive owner. She is stunned when she realizes the rescuer is the Duke of St. Albans, better known as The Cold Duke.
Morgan, the Duke of St. Albans, is aware of his reputation as The Cold Duke and is not troubled by it. He was raised to keep his emotions in check and plans to select a suitable young lady this Season to fill the position of the Duchess of St. Albans. He has no desire for a love match that can only result in messy entanglements. His heartless reputation has served him well until Lady Phoebe, a young woman he has admired in the past, witnesses a rare moment of tender compassion.
Now that Lady Phoebe has seen beneath his icy veneer, will The Cold Duke acknowledge the passionate emotions she’s stirred or will he pursue a convenient marriage with a more suitable young woman?
Lady Phoebe Sterling left the overly warm modiste shop and stepped onto the pavement, inhaling a breath of fresh air. Her sister, Prudence, was still busy going through design plates to find the “perfect” gown for the first ball of the new Season in two weeks.
Although identical twins, they parted ways when it came to personalities. Prudence was of the “I need to see every single plate before I can decide on a gown” sort, while Phoebe picked the first one that caught her eye. That was the case with just about everything.
Phoebe jumped right in to something, letting her instincts guide her, while her sister needed an immense amount of time to get anything accomplished. Hence, Phoebe had finished her appointment with Mme. Bouchard while Pru continued to flip through the plates.READ MORE
Since the sisters had come to the appointment with their lady’s maid and a footman, Phoebe gestured to the footman, David, to follow her. A walk would be just the thing to use up some of the energy that always hummed within her.
The air was cool and crisp, but a rare sun peeked out from the clouds. With Parliament now in session, London was slowly gaining numbers as members of the ton returned from country estates in anticipation of the Season. She sighed. This would be their third attempt at finding husbands.
After two blocks, she intended to turn back and hurry her sister along so they could enjoy refreshments at their favorite tea shop before they returned home, but her attention was drawn to a man who jumped from his wagon and charged toward his horse. The man was slovenly dressed, with mud on his boots and a torn, dirty shirt.
A sorry-looking animal was this unfortunate horse. The poor beast’s head hung down, his body scrawny as if he hadn’t had a decent meal in ages. The man leaned forward and shouted at the animal, then grabbed a whip from the back of the wagon and began to beat the horse. The horse whinnied loudly and bucked, trying to escape the whip. The man hit the animal harder, its whickers becoming more pitiful.
Phoebe’s hand flew to her mouth at such cruelty. She picked up her skirts and made to cross the street to give the brutish man a tongue-lashing when a well-dressed gentleman strode up to the cretin and yanked the whip from his hand.
She could not make out their words, but it was obvious there was a great deal of shouting going on. As Phoebe studied the pair, it occurred to her that she knew the gentleman. He was the Duke of St. Albans, an elusive member of the ton. Known for his coldness and aloof manner, he was the very last person she would have expected to chastise someone mistreating his horse. Especially in public.
Rather than continue, she dropped her skirts and stayed where she was and watched the scene unfold. After a good five minutes of the duke waving his arms and shouting at the man, he reached into his pocket and drew out a pouch. He counted out coins and handed them to the man, who grabbed them and stood back, his arms crossed over his chest.
To her amazement, the duke gestured to his footman, who unhitched the horse and led him away. Her jaw dropped. The cold, aloof, reserved duke had purchased the sorry-looking horse from his abusive owner! The shock at his completely out-of-character actions astounded her as she stared, mesmerized, at the scene.
Before she could close her mouth, he turned in her direction and came to an abrupt halt as he stared at her. It was obvious from the shock on his face that he was embarrassed at being caught doing a good deed. Unable to contain herself, she grinned broadly and dipped a curtsy.
His eyes grew wide and he grinned back, causing her to flush. A strange feeling started in her stomach and made its way up her body, setting her heart to pounding. She’d never seen the Duke of St. Albans smile, let alone offer such a wide grin. In fact, were ladies allowed to bet, she would wager at White’s that no one else in the entire ton had seen the Duke of St Albans grin.
He hurried to his carriage, climbed in, and was gone so quickly she almost thought she’d imagined the entire scene.
Two weeks later, Phoebe and Prudence trailed their parents, Lord and Lady Pomeroy, down the steps to the Manchester ballroom. Her stepfather was not a devotee of balls and other formal events but accompanied them to please his wife. She, however, allowed him to abscond to the card room right after they had their one waltz.
Excitement at the first ball of the Season was in the air. All the young ladies who were making their come-outs this year were giggling and waving fans, their eyes bright with anticipation which would turn to the required ennui by the end of the Season. It was not considered “good ton”’ to appear anything but bored by the entire process.
She and her sister were stopped several times by gentlemen wanting to write their names on their dance cards. For the most part, it was the same men they’d danced with their prior two Seasons, none of whom had interested her enough to consider as a suitor. Would she never find someone who could possibly engage her heart?
Her three stepsisters and her parents all had love matches. She and Prudence wanted the same, even though other girls their age scoffed at such nonsense. Marriage was for connections, money, and continuance of the line, they said. Lovers and mistresses were for passion and love.
Not so for her. With her temper and impulsive nature, she was afraid that once married, if she learned of her husband visiting a mistress, she would probably shoot the woman dead. Then bop her wandering husband over the head with the pistol.
Phoebe was returning from the cotillion with Lord Bentley when a rumble rose from the crowd, as they all turned in the direction of the stairs. The Duke of St. Albans made his way down the steps, completely oblivious to the furor his arrival had caused. Young women waved their fans and dipped a respectful curtsy as he passed them, each one hoping to catch his eye.
While she’d seen him at a few balls during the two Seasons since her come-out, it was a rare event that could boast of St. Alban’s presence. Phoebe watched him, his strong, aristocratic features set, as if carved from a block of ice. His dark blond hair was combed straight back, giving his mien even more of a taciturn look. Her eyes wandered from his plush lips to his eyes to see him staring straight at her. Her eyes widened as he seemed to be heading directly for her.
Guests parted as he continued in her direction. She took a quick glance over her shoulder to see if there was someone else he could be concentrating on. Unless he was interested in old Lord Marshall who stood behind her leaning on his cane, he was headed toward her.
All eyes turned to her as he stopped directly in front of her and bowed. “Lady Phoebe.”
Luckily, her good manners took over, quelling the shock, and she curtsied. “Your Grace.”
“May I request a dance?”
When she didn’t answer right away, one of his noble eyebrows rose.
Phoebe fumbled with her card. “Of course.” She noted all the slots were taken. She held it out to him. “I’m sorry, Your Grace, my card is full.”
His lips twitched as he took the small pencil dangling next to the card, crossed out Mr. Davidson’s name, and wrote his name in. Then he bowed, turned on his heel, and headed in the direction of the card room.
The group surrounding her gave a collective sigh as they watched him leave. Still rattled, she looked at the card. Mr. Davidson had secured the supper waltz.
Morgan, the Duke of St. Albans, strode from the ballroom to the room set up for card playing. He hated these events and avoided them as much as he could. However, his mother, The Duchess—as he’d always thought of her since he’d been a lad—had been berating him for some time to find a wife. This year he’d decided to relent and do his duty.
He was fully aware of his reputation as The Cold Duke. However, he had no concern that he would not easily find a wife. Every unmarried young lady in the ballroom he just left would jump at the chance to be the Duchess of St. Albans. And their mothers? He shuddered to think of all the marriage-minded mamas who were currently plotting how to catch or trap him for their daughters.
Surely tongues were wagging at his singling out Lady Phoebe for a dance. He’d admired her at the few social engagements he’d attended the last couple of years, but never had she ensnared his attention as much as she had when he’d seen her after buying the pathetic horse being beaten by its master on Oxford Street.
Her saucy grin and curtsy had made him grin. If she was surprised by his reaction, it was much less than his own astonishment. The Duke of St. Albans did not grin. He did not smile. He did not take notice of an animal being beaten. But he had done all those things. His initial embarrassment at being caught by the lovely Lady Phoebe had soon turned into something else when she grinned and curtsied.
Heat he’d never felt before with any woman had risen to his face, and his stomach muscles tightened. He’d been very aware of her as a woman—an extremely fetching woman. She was average in height, but with his more than six-foot frame, she would barely come up to his chin. Her light brown hair had golden streaks throughout, almost matching her hazel eyes.
Even though she was clothed in a full-length, deep blue redingote, her curves were still visible. Lovely, finely defined curves. Enough to make a man’s mouth water.
He took a seat at one of the tables and received a nod from the other three men. Lord Benson dealt him into the game with Mr. Pettiford and Lord Danvers. Silence reigned as they played their hands, Morgan taking more hands than losing.
After several rounds, with Danvers departing to be replaced by Mr. Evans, Morgan checked his timepiece. It grew near time for the supper waltz. “I am out, gentlemen.” He threw in his cards, picked up his winnings, and left the room.
Lady Phoebe stood with her sister, Lady Prudence, their mother, and two other young women. All four of the young ladies stopped waving their fans as he made his way across the room to them. He arrived just as the orchestra began the waltz.
Mr. Davidson walked up to Lady Phoebe, causing confusion on her face as she turned to Morgan. He held his hand out, ignoring Mr. Davidson. “My dance, I believe?”
His reputation was enough to have Davidson back off, although he did scowl at him before storming away. The duke took her hand and placed it on his sleeve. Even through her glove and his coat and shirt, he could feel the coolness of her hand. He turned, placing his large hand on her lower back, almost covering the entire spot, and took her hand in his.
She eased her other hand up to his shoulder and placed it there. She looked into his eyes, the mirth there almost bringing a smile to his lips. But he maintained his cool demeanor as they began the dance.
“You look lovely tonight, Lady Phoebe.”
She tilted her head as she studied him. “How do you know I am Lady Phoebe?”
“Who else would you be?” He turned them, his legs brushing against her skirts.
“I have a twin sister.”
He shook his head. “You don’t look anything alike.”
“What!” She stared open-mouthed at him. “We are identical twins. Sometimes my stepfather can’t tell us apart.”
That did surprise him for a moment. He never had a problem telling them apart. “You are quite different than your sister in personality, and it shows in your walk and on your face.”
She nodded. “That is true, but you came directly up to me and asked for a dance.”
That did dumbfound him. There was no doubt in his mind that it had been Lady Phoebe who’d viewed him wrangling with the man beating his horse or that it was her when he approached her in the ballroom.
When he did not respond, she said, “How is the horse you rescued?”
He drew himself up, stiffening. “I did not rescue a horse.”
She laughed, a teasing look in her beautiful eyes. “Yes. You did. I saw you. Or did you think it was my sister who grinned at you on Oxford Street two weeks ago?”
“I knew it was you, but I merely offered to purchase a horse. Not rescue him.”
He turned them once again to avoid colliding with a couple who stopped to discuss something in the middle of the dance floor.
Lady Phoebe shook her head and offered that smile that once again had his stomach tied in knots. “I see. ’Tis against your reputation to be thought of as kind.” Lord, the girl had dimples when she smiled.
“My reputation?” Gad, he enjoyed bantering with her, something he’d done very little of in life. The Duke of St. Albans did not banter or flirt with a lady. The Duke of St. Albans decided on who he wished to court, then systematically went about the steps that were necessary to obtain the needed result.
The requisite carriage rides, walks in the park, flowers, dances, visits to the museum and theater. Then calling upon the eldest male in the chosen lady’s family, making an offer that would be immediately accepted. After a decorous period of time, a wedding would follow, with an heir and a spare entering the nursery in due time.
His life plan.
At least that had been the life plan drilled into him since he’d been in short pants. The Duke and Duchess of St. Albans had raised him to believe he was better than everyone else, and with his title, money, and connections he didn’t follow in the steps of his peers. No useless overindulging in drink, no excessive gambling, no brothels, no wasting time and money on hedonistic pursuits. His time was taken up with managing his estates, taking up his seat in Parliament, and sitting on various charitable boards of directors.
“Yes, Your Grace. You must be aware that you have a reputation for being—please don’t be offended—The Cold Duke.”
“Why would I be offended? I am what I am.”
She tilted her head once again, a slight smile on her enticing lips. “But are you who you are?”
He had the most ridiculous urge to laugh. Another thing he did very little of. “Are you purposely trying to confuse me, Lady Phoebe?”
“No, I am merely trying to point out that perhaps you are not what you present to the world.” She laughed, a soft, sultry sound that did strange things to his lower parts. “Perhaps you are not The Cold Duke, but deep down inside you are soft-hearted.”
The music ended, and he took her hand, placed it on his sleeve, and led her toward the room where supper was being served. They strolled along, Morgan very aware of the looks being cast in their direction.
Given his reputation, he was quite accustomed to the interest he garnered wherever he went. He walked her to a table and pulled out a chair. Once she sat, he bent low and murmured in her ear. “Keep in mind, my lady, that I am not soft-hearted. I have no heart.”