A Duke’s Skillful Seduction (Preview)

Chapter One

The dice rolled from ten-year-old Louis Wellington’s fingers just as they had almost a hundred times that morning. They fell into the dust at the centre of a small pebble circle landing on a five and a two. Against Brandon Walter’s three and three, it was an obvious win. Louis’ golden-haired friend slapped his thighs and snapped with aggression that he believed it was unfair for Louis to win so much as he did. Samuel, the innkeeper’s boy whose garden they were playing in simply chuckled at the agitation on the other boy’s face, and Louis shrugged his shoulders, offering the common boy a brilliant smile, feeling as though he was the largest boy in the world. 

Their little secluded area in the garden, surrounded by wildflowers once planted by Sammy’s late mother, was just out of view of the inn’s back door, leaving the boys with the freedom to do whatever they wished so long as they didn’t make too much noise and disturb the other guests, or their fathers who were inside talking business as they always were whenever they visited the inn. 

Above them, the sky was cloudless, and on the gentle breeze came the smell of freshly baked pies from the kitchens. Bees buzzed, and butterflies flitted from flower to flower. Had Louis not been so intent on winning their games, he might have taken a moment to admire the beauty of the gardens, but at ten years old, his attention was much more fixed upon their competition. Brandon was right; he did win more often than not, though he had no idea why. 

“Let me have a go,” Sammy suggested, reaching for Brandon’s dice, but the noble boy quickly snatched the dice up before Sammy’s grubby little fingers could touch them. 

“Get your own dice!” Brandon snapped at him. He stuck out his tongue petulantly and clutched the dice to his chest. 

“Ignore him; he just thinks that he doesn’t have to share because he’s a nobleman’s son,” Louis huffed, rolling his eyes at Brandon before leaning over and yanking the dice from the golden-haired boy’s fingers. Brandon’s brown eyes darkened, though he did not protest as Louis handed the dice to Sammy. 

“You are a nobleman’s son too!” Brandon pointed out, crossing his arms over his chest and huffing with a pouted lip. 

“Yes, but I know how to share,” Louis pointed out, and with a grin, he gestured for Sammy to take his roll. The innkeeper’s boy looked rather pleased with himself to have rolled a five and a six. Brandon’s eyes widened at the dice, obviously worried that the commoner might well be the one to beat Louis. 

“Come on, luck, don’t fail me now!” Louis pleaded, holding his dice up in cupped hands to breathe over them for luck. He closed his eyes, held the dice in one palm, and gave them a quick shake before allowing them to roll into the circle. The three boys watched as the dice turned end over end. They held their breath, Louis most of all, as they waited for the dice and dust to settle. 

“I don’t believe it!” Brandon gasped, showing his disbelief with an open mouth as he saw the six and six of Louis’ dice. “That’s impossible. How can you be so lucky?” 

Louis was so busy laughing that he barely heard the sound of footsteps coming around the bushes behind Sammy. It was only when the green fabric of a lady’s skirt caught the sunlight out of the corner of his eye that he realised they weren’t alone. 

“Perhaps we might be able to play?” The pale blonde, green-eyed girl who stood before them, her hands clasped in front of her, looked down at them all with an expression that just dared them to try and deny her request. The girl behind her was much more shy, standing with her head bowed and wearing a much plainer dress. Louis recognised them both instantly as the daughter of the wine merchant that his father was meeting with inside and her lady’s companion. 

“Hello, you must be Caroline Watford.” Louis smiled, pushing himself to his feet to offer her a bow. “I am Louis Wellington, son to the Duke of Trenton.” He had believed that the younger girl would be impressed by his knowledge of who she was, but she simply raised an eyebrow at him as he continued, “These are my friends, Brandon Walter, the son of the Earl of Truro, and Samuel, the innkeeper’s son, though we call him Sammy.” 

“Are you going to let us play or not?” Caroline demanded, crossing her arms over her chest, her face screwing up as though she wasn’t the least bit impressed with Louis’ knowledge of who she was. “Because so far, we have found this place quite boring.” 

Louis’ hackles instantly began to rise. Even at his tender age, he couldn’t ever remember a girl of any age ever speaking to him in such a manner. What is her problem? he wondered. 

“Don’t you want to go and play with your dolls or something?” Brandon suggested, his own brow furrowed.

“Yes, isn’t your governess going to wonder where you are?” Louis asked a little more tactfully than his friend. Though Louis was never rude, he didn’t particularly like the idea of allowing girls to join in with their games. They always had a way of making things less fun, always having to stick to the rules and vexed when they couldn’t seem to win. Louis was just glad he had never had a sister like Brandon had. The two were always arguing like cat and dog, and Louis had hoped that the earl having left his daughter at home with her mother meant they could play unencumbered by girls. With a sigh, he realised that wasn’t going to be. It was clear from the girl’s face that she had no intention of going anywhere. 

“What is the matter? Are you afraid that I will win?” Caroline goaded, the corners of her lips beginning to twitch upwards in a satisfied smile. 

The deep inhales of his friends followed by their snickering told Louis exactly what they thought of her challenge. The duke’s son felt his hackles rising further as he began to feel backed into a corner. Caroline placed her hands upon her hips, looking at him as if she were just waiting for him to deny her so that she could offer some scathing remark. 

This girl is ruthless! Louis thought, slightly afraid for the first time in his life of a girl. He would never admit it to anyone, especially not his friends or his father, who had always tried to practically beat masculinity into him at every available opportunity. But he admitted it to himself. This girl scared him. And worst of all, he couldn’t see a way that she wouldn’t try to make a total fool out of him if he did try to deny her. 

Steeling himself against her scathing expression, he sucked in a deep breath and reminded himself of his father’s constant teachings on how to be a real man. You have to face your fears, he reminded himself, picking up both sets of dice. He continued to hold his red ones while holding out the green ones that were Brandon’s to the overzealous Caroline. “Here.” 

As he passed them over, Louis couldn’t help noticing how similar in colour they were to the girl’s green eyes. Where the dice were a vibrant dark leafy green, Caroline’s eyes were closer to the pale green found on the inner petals of some white flowers. They sparked with determination as she took the dice from him and vowed, “You may have beaten them, but you shall not beat me.” 

With that, she hooked up the front of her gown with her hands and dropped down onto her knees opposite him, holding the dice at the ready. 

“Are you really going to let her talk to you like that?” Brandon demanded, sticking his elbow into Louis’ ribs. Louis shoved his friend away and brushed back his black hair as it had begun to fall in front of his face when he leaned forward to offer the dice. 

“You know, you really should act more ladylike,” Louis insisted, beginning to shake his dice in his hand, hoping that if he kept her talking long enough, she might forget about playing entirely. 

“Then maybe you should act more gentlemanly and allow me to roll first, like a lady,” Caroline countered, beginning to shake her own dice. Her delicate hand was mesmerising, whisking back and forth before Louis almost in slow motion. He could almost see the joints in her fingers twitch as she prepared to release the dice. The fluid grace with which she threw the dice distracted Louis for several moments, and he knelt staring at them without really seeing what was written there. 

“Oh! Two sixes!” Brandon exclaimed, both he and Sammy sucking in breaths between their teeth. “You know what that means!” 

“Roll the dice, Lou!” Sammy insisted, nudging Louis as if he realised that his friend’s mind was somehow lost. “Come on, two sixes!” 

Finally hearing his friend, Louis clenched his fingers harder around his dice for a moment before loosening and giving them a good shake. He watched in astonishment as the dice turned end over end, holding his breath as they finally landed on two sixes. 

“I don’t believe it!” Brandon gasped in astonishment even as Caroline demanded the best two out of three. Louis wasn’t entirely sure why, but he could feel alarm rising inside him. There was a danger here, unseen, lying just beneath the surface of their little game, and although he couldn’t exactly put his finger on what it was, he knew that it was unwise to continue. 

“Can’t we just call it a draw?” he asked, leaning back on the heels of his boots in an attempt to look nonchalant. “I grow tired of this game.” 

“What is the matter? Are you a boy or a mouse?” Caroline teased, her eyes dancing with green flame. She was obviously enjoying goading him; that much was clear. As if they sensed it, Brandon and Sammy began to urge him on. 

“What is the matter with you?” Brandon demanded gruffly, tapping Louis on the back. “You can’t let a girl tell you what to do.” 

“You always win, Louis. Prove it!” Sammy encouraged in a much more friendly manner than Brandon. “Show her who is the dice king.”

“The dice king?” Caroline chortled at that, obviously amused by the childish nature of the nickname, and Louis’ cheeks instantly began to heat with embarrassment. His insides twisted, everything telling him that he should just refuse to play or even half-heartedly throw the dice just to let her win and shut her up. Yet the other part of him, the competitive part, would not let him back down, and neither would the way his friends were urging him on. 

“Very well! Very well!” he snapped, gesturing with his hands for them all to settle down. Rolling his eyes at them all, he insisted, “Best two out of three, and then we will find something else to play.” 

Though he didn’t say it out loud, he hoped that Caroline would get the hint that by we he had actually meant himself and his friends and not her and her companion. The last thing he wanted was two girls following him around like sheep for the rest of their visit to the tavern. Having allowed Caroline to pick up the dice, he couldn’t help wondering if he was already on the slippery slope to allowing that to happen. 

Give a woman too much leash, and she’ll try for more, his father’s words echoed in his mind. Though he hadn’t been meant to hear them, he had heard his father mention such words more than once during his meetings with other noblemen and businessmen, especially those who had recently married and were far younger than his father, men the duke felt needed a little guidance on such matters. 

“What are you waiting for?” Louis demanded when Caroline didn’t immediately pick up her dice to play. She scowled back at him and took her time in retrieving the dice from the pebble circle. “Ladies first.” 

Caroline offered him a dejected expression, her rosebud lips pouting before she began to concentrate on her roll. Louis watched, anticipating what was about to happen. The moment her dice hit the dust, he began to roll his own, barely even daring to see what numbers she had rolled. 

He gaped in astonishment when he saw that her green dice showed a three and a five while his own dice were both sixes. 

“I don’t believe it!” Caroline snapped at him. “You are cheating! You have to be!” 

“I am not!” Louis protested, his mouth practically dropping open in disbelief. He couldn’t even believe his own luck. Caroline clearly didn’t believe him because her eyes began to burn with fury. 

“Roll again,” she grumbled through gritted teeth, and Louis could practically see her trembling with anger, her hands tightened into fists. Louis gulped, too frightened to even reach out for his dice. Something about the expression on her face reminded him of a raging bull. He barely dared to breathe let alone move. “Roll again!” 

Startled by her raised voice, Louis jerked into movement and grabbed his dice. His heart hammered as he shook the dice in his hand and rolled again. The dice rolled end over end through the dust and landed right at the very edge of the pebble circle, right in front of Caroline. A five and a six were clearly shown on them. 

There’s little chance of her beating that, Louis thought, alarmed. His heart was hammering, watching her reach for her own dice with a look of such intense concentration that he once again held his breath. A glance at his friends told him they were doing the same. Only the glint in Brandon’s eye hinted at the other noble boy’s excitement, and Louis knew that his friend had no fear of the girl’s anger being directed at him. Her attention is entirely on me! 

He couldn’t help feeling confused about how he could have found himself in such a situation. What had he done to her to make her so aggressive toward him? 

The dice clattered together even as Caroline released them from her pale, slender fingers, and Louis watched them roll on the dust once more. His heart sank the moment they landed and stopped in place. His chest tightened at the look of fury that spread once more across Caroline’s face. 

“Two and one! Louis wins again!” Brandon announced. 

“You cheat!” Caroline shrieked like a banshee, and the next moment, she was flying across the pebble circle. Her feet kicked up dust even as she threw herself at him, wrestling him to the ground. 

“Ahh! Get off me!” Louis screamed, gripping her shoulders in an attempt to push her off him. They rolled over and over in the dust, Brandon and Sammy barely able to dodge out of the way in time. 

“Get him! Get him!” Brandon encouraged, throwing a fist in the air. Over Caroline’s shoulder, Louis glimpsed the concerned expression of Sammy just before Brandon gave their friend a nudge, and the innkeeper’s son began to urge Caroline on too. 

It wasn’t the first time that Louis had gotten into fisticuffs. He, Brandon, and Sammy had been known to wrestle, beginning in play fighting and sometimes ending violently with one of them getting a black eye or even a cut cheek, but Louis had been entirely unprepared for this, and he certainly hadn’t anticipated Caroline’s strength. She almost reminded him of a wild animal, ripping and tearing at him with her claws. He felt her fingernails score his cheek even before she tightened her hand into a fist and brought her knuckles down on his nose. 

“Ahh!” he shrieked as pain bolted up his nose and into his forehead, spreading across his face until she was almost sure he would have two black eyes. The metallic taste that burst in his mouth told him that his nose was bleeding. 

“Caroline Watford!” The shrill voice of a woman sounded somewhere close by, and the sound of hurried footsteps was Louis’ saving grace. Taking advantage of her sudden distraction, Louis shoved her as hard as he could, sending her flying sideways into the dust. 

Feeling the eyes of his friends on him, he knew he couldn’t just let it go. Instead, he threw himself on top of her and pinned her to the ground, digging his fingers into her shoulders until she began to squeal, kicking her legs, trying to wiggle out from beneath him. 

“Lord Louis!” the second voice that sounded was that of his father’s valet, and at its anger, Louis’ face began to burn with shame. 

“Ouch! You’re hurting me!” he squealed as the valet pinched him by the ear and began to yank him up and away from the merchant’s daughter. “Let me go!” 

The valet did not let him go, not even when he stood, red-faced and panting before his friends, who looked as though they were having a hard time hiding their amusement. 

“Inside! Now!” the valet snarled, and Louis felt his heart stop at the implications of his actions. He was about to be dragged before his father to be held accountable for his horrendous behaviour. He knew it as well as Caroline did. He could see it on her face, though he did not see any hint of regret. In fact, she appeared to be smiling, hiding it behind her hand as she pretended to be cupping her cheek in pain. 

Whatever did I do to her to deserve this? he wondered, already able to feel the burning in his backside that he was sure to receive when his father bent him over his lap to teach him a lesson. 

The two of them were dragged before the duke and the merchant in the private room they had hired for their business. Louis’ father sat in the largest chair beside the empty fireplace, but the moment they entered, he threw himself to his feet, a storm upon his face. His heavy gut hung over the top of his breeches looking uncomfortable and perhaps even a little painful. His overly greased hair fell around his face in lank strips, but he quickly forced them back, spitting his fury. “What is the meaning of this?” 

He glared at the two of them, and Louis quickly lowered his gaze to the floor, feeling his father’s fury as though he had already struck him. A glance sideways at Caroline told him that she had at least had the sense to avert her gaze. She hung her head, though not nearly as far as he had. This is all your fault! He wanted to yell the words at her. 

As if she sensed his thoughts, she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and stuck her tongue out at him, the corners of her mouth twitching upward in the beginnings of an amused smile. 

“What happened?” Lord Trenton demanded, glaring at his valet almost as if he was wholly responsible for the current state of his son, who had only just managed to stop his nose from bleeding. He could feel the streaks of blood beginning to dry all over his cheeks, and he knew that if he opened his mouth to speak, they would begin to crack. He could feel the crust forming around his nostrils and could only guess how bad he must look. He had caught only a glimpse of himself in one of the tavern windows as his father’s valet had dragged him from the gardens. 

“The children were playing in the gardens,” the valet explained, his voice much stronger than Louis had anticipated for someone facing down the duke’s anger. 

“I am sure that playing does not usually end in a bloody nose,” the wine merchant spoke up finally, pushing up from his seat across the room. Louis was almost sure he could hear the crunching of the rug beneath his large feet as he crossed the room to stand beside the duke. Yet he did not address the boy’s father. Instead, he looked down at his daughter and asked, “Caroline, what happened, sweetheart?”

She turned her face up and blinking sweetly, responded, “We were just playing, Papa.” 

Louis struggled not to allow his mouth to drop open in astonishment. How could she possibly be so sweet after the performance she had put on in the gardens? His nose was throbbing so badly that he knew there was no way he could pretend that all was well. He was struggling not to place his hand to his face in an attempt to ease the pain beginning to pulse through his entire skull. 

“Louis?” Lord Trenton’s voice had gone quiet and cold, and Louis was almost sure that was even more frightening than his yelling in rage. “What happened?”

“We … we were just playing,” Louis began. In the hopes of easing tensions, Louis glanced at Caroline once more and sucked in a deep breath before continuing, “It is my fault. I think I may have given Caroline the wrong idea and made her believe I was cheating.” 

There was only a moment in which his father looked surprised at his open admittance. Then the duke’s face became entirely unreadable once more.   

“You said you weren’t cheating! I knew it. I knew you were!” Caroline yelled instantly, and Louis cringed. He had hoped that taking the blame might have eased Caroline’s hostility toward him, yet somehow, he had only managed to succeed in making it worse. 

“No matter who did what, fighting is not the answer,” the merchant insisted, glancing at the duke with an almost fearful expression upon his face. Though Louis was only young, he was old enough to understand that this might negatively affect the merchant’s business with his father. He hated the thought of what might happen if the two men disagreed because they hadn’t been grown up enough to play nicely together. It wasn’t my fault! he reminded himself, biting his lip to stop himself from saying the words out loud. How could he possibly say that after having just basically put all the blame on his own shoulders? 

“The two of you should be ashamed of yourselves!” the duke boomed loudly. “Just look at you both.” 

Louis and Caroline glanced openly at each other this time, and Louis finally saw what the duke and the merchant were seeing. The skirt of Caroline’s dress was ripped and dusty, and one of her sleeves had come apart from the shoulder. Did I really do that? 

Louis’ stomach twisted painfully when his father rounded on the merchant and demanded, “Robert, you should see that your daughter is punished, and I shall do the same with my son.” 

“Of course, Your Grace,” the merchant responded, pushing his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. 

“I think our business is concluded for today,” the duke announced. The merchant opened his mouth as if to protest before obviously thinking better of it. He simply nodded and reached for his daughter’s shoulder, guiding her to him. 

“Say good day, Caroline,” he instructed her, and the girl smiled sweetly, offering the duke a curtsey. When she turned to Louis and did the same, he didn’t miss the smirk at the edges of her mouth that suggested she was enjoying having got him into trouble. 

“Get him out of my sight,” the duke ordered his valet as soon as the merchant and his daughter were gone from the room. “I will deal with him when we return home.” 

Louis was only relieved that his father didn’t take him over his knee right there and then. His relief did not last long when the valet shoved him out of the room only to find that Brandon and Sammy were awaiting him in the hallway. They scrambled backward from the door as it was opened, almost as if they had been listening in. 

“Go and get yourself cleaned up, boy,” the valet ordered before slamming the door shut on him, leaving him with nothing left to do but endure the ridicule of his friends. 

“I cannot believe you allowed a girl to get the upper hand on you like that!” Sammy exclaimed, his eyes round with astonishment. 

“It isn’t his fault that he is such a weakling!” Brandon pointed out triumphantly. 

“I am not a weakling!” Louis protested, his hands tightening into fists at his sides. Only the pain in his nose reminded him he had been in enough trouble for one day, and he forced himself to be calm once more. 

“Yes, you are,” Brandon countered, his eyes gleaming with amusement, “I thought she would tear you apart for a minute there!” 

“Yes, Louis, it did look pretty bad,” Sammy admitted almost bashfully. Louis offered the innkeeper’s boy a gruff expression before he shoved his way past his friends and began to head down the hallway in search of a bowl of fresh water to clean his face up. 

He snapped over his shoulder, “Would you both just shut up!” The sound of their laughter suggested that there was no way they would let him live this one down. He was sure he would forever be known as the noble boy who had been beaten up by a commoner’s daughter. 


Chapter Two

Eleven years later …

The drawing room was Caroline’s favourite room in their small house in Cornwall simply because it attracted so much sunlight. It was the perfect place for her to write her letters, and she had just finished penning one to her cousin Elizabeth when she heard the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway behind her. Having sealed the letter in an envelope, she placed it on the desk and turned to find her father standing in the doorway. He continued to look at her silently for several moments before she asked, “Papa, is something the matter?” 

His dark eyes were glinting with something that Caroline couldn’t quite put her finger on, but she was almost certain he wasn’t concerned. If she had to guess, she would have said that her father was excited. 

“Has something happened?” she asked when she noticed the opened letter he held in his hand. 

“You must read this!” her father announced. He hurried into the room as if somebody had shoved him and practically forced the opened letter into her hands. Startled, it took Caroline a few moments of staring at the black handwriting before her eyes were actually able to read and her mind comprehend what was written. 

“I don’t understand,” she scowled once she had read the invitation more than once just to be sure she hadn’t missed something. “You have been invited to a birthday party. What about this invitation has got you so worked up?” 

She turned her face up to her father, still sitting on the small stool beside the desk. Her father was practically bouncing from foot to foot as though he could barely keep still. 

“Don’t you see?” he exclaimed, ringing his fingers together with excitement. “We have been invited to the celebrations for the Duke of Truro’s son!” 

“I can see that.” Caroline returned the letter to her father, allowing him to take hold of it before she added, “But Father, you have been invited to such occasions before. What is so special about this one?” 

“This occasion is an entire weekend with some of the most influential noblemen in the country!” her father exclaimed, and this time he did give a little bounce. Caroline almost reached out for him, fearful that he might topple over in his excitement. Over the last few years, she had noticed her father becoming more frail. He seemed to need his spectacles much more, and he spent most of his time on his business, constantly looking to make new connections. He would talk and gossip and plan until he was blue in the face, and Caroline had been eager to try to take some of the responsibility from him, offering to help wherever she could. 

“I hope it will be as fruitful as you imagine it to be.” Caroline sighed, feeling almost disappointed at the thought of her father leaving her alone for an entire weekend. What would she do with an entire house to herself other than her lady companion for company? 

“Oh, sweetheart, you can’t possibly believe that I shall be going alone!” her father gasped, gripping her under the chin with a trembling hand. Caroline could only hope that it was excitement causing him to quiver and not something a little more sinister. “I can’t very well go to such an extravagant event without my business partner, can I?” 

A wave of excitement rolled through Caroline but was quickly replaced by anticipation. She had attended many events with her father from luncheons to balls, but never in her wildest dreams had she ever imagined that she would be invited along upon a hunt. 

“I … I don’t know how to hunt,” she pointed out, half hoping that her father would agree to leave her at home. More concerning than her lack of knowledge on the subject was her fear of having to spend an entire weekend in the company of members of the ton. Though she had been surrounded by them her entire life, her father constantly in meetings with this duke or that earl or even a gentleman or two, she had never spent an entire weekend among them. After a couple of hours in their company she was always so exhausted from all the gossip and being sure to hold herself correctly that she could have slept for an entire week. Maybe after an entire weekend with them, I shall need to sleep for a month! she thought grimly. 

“Oh, my sweet Caro …” Her father chuckled, his eyes glinting with obvious amusement. “You won’t be joining the hunt. You’ll likely remain at the manor with the other ladies, and I am sure that as you always do, you will twitter your little songs into the ears of the noblemen’s mistresses and help us get exactly what we need for our little family business.” Robert Watford removed his fingers from beneath his daughter’s chin and cupped her cheek in his hand, squeezing the side of her face gently as he added, “Have I ever told you how much I value your intelligence?” 

Caroline barely managed to stifle a sigh, knowing already that there was no way around it. She would have to go with her father. Though as a woman, she could never openly admit to being her father’s business partner, or most of the time being the mastermind behind their business plans, she couldn’t very well let him go on such an influential trip alone. She didn’t get the chance to say so because her father continued, “We must do our best to keep up appearances, and you can be there to keep your eyes and ears open for me. Who knows when an opportunity might present itself?”

“Yes, Papa, I understand.” Caroline sighed with a nod, knowing that her father would continue to praise her until she had no choice but to agree. She knew well that it wasn’t merely her intelligence and business knowledge that her father wished to have at his side. It was the fact that if her mother had still been alive, she would have been the one at his side instead. Caroline had been trying her hardest to fill that void her entire life, always determined to be the strongest, smartest, and most interesting she could be for her father’s sake so he would not grieve too harshly the wife he had lost during childbirth. 

“Good.” Her father smiled down at her and gripped her other cheek with his free hand, guiding her face towards him so that he could give her a swift and affection kiss to the forehead. “I don’t know what I would do without you, my sweet Caroline.”

Her heart twisted with both affection and sadness. Hearing the inflection in her father’s voice, she guessed he felt exactly the same. They were silent for a few moments, Caroline resting her forehead against her father’s chin, thinking of the mother she had never had the chance to meet, the mother she had killed upon her birth into the world. 

The silence continued as her father pressed his lips once more to her forehead and then released her, making his way towards the drawing room door. He paused with one hand on the door frame and turned back to look at her. “Caroline, please will your promise me one thing?” 

The way he gazed at her over the lip of his spectacles made Caroline’s chest tighten with anticipation. Whatever he wished her to promise, she knew she would have to accept the vow. How could she not? He was her father, after all. 

“Yes, anything, Papa,” she responded quickly, forcing a smile although she was desperately worried about what she might be promising. 

“Promise me you won’t go beating up any dukes’ sons while we are away?” he said in all seriousness. Caroline’s mouth practically dropped open, and she just had time to catch herself before her father threw back his head and began to laugh haughtily. “Oh, I shall never forget the look on that noble boy’s face!” 

Heat rose to Caroline’s cheeks as she, too remembered the days all those years ago when she had thrown herself like a wild animal at a boy barely a year older than her. 

“I suppose I have always been determined to prove that I am just as strong as any male heir,” Caroline admitted with a shrug, hoping that her father wouldn’t see the shame in her eyes. Looking back, she knew that she had been an absolute terror all those years ago. 

“Just remember to use your words rather than your fists, and all shall be well,” her father said, smiling at her. 

“I think I am a little old for fisticuffs now, Papa,” Caroline pointed out, adjusting the skirt of her day dress. Her father simply raised an eyebrow as if he weren’t so sure and then smiled at her once more. 

“You shouldn’t dawdle on packing,” he pointed out, changing the subject. Caroline was more than a little relieved that he didn’t have more to say on the matter. It had been so many years since the incident, and yet her feelings on it still lingered. Something about the boy with the jet-black hair and amber-brown eyes had stayed with her always. He had been a gawky-looking child with long limbs and an almost constant awkward expression, but still, something about him had made her hackles rise, and her insides twist. She couldn’t remember ever having seen him again. No doubt her father and his had deemed it a good idea for them to be kept apart after the incident, though Caroline was sure that she had seen his father’s name written on several of the letters her father received. 

“Yes and do be sure to pack your very best clothes,” her father instructed her, his tone still affectionate, “We want to show that our business is thriving and that everyone should be trading with us.” 

“Yes, of course, Papa.” 

Caroline nodded her agreement. She had long since learned that her best chance of helping her father in business was to make herself as appealing as possible. Getting noblemen talking to her about the silliest of things so that she might be able to work in a little business talk before they learned her true reasons for showing any interest in them. I am just glad that my father is so focused on business, she told herself, knowing that as they spoke, many of her friends’ fathers were already planning their weddings to elder gentlemen and appropriate matches whether her friends liked their choice of man or not. She would much rather be helping her father with business than shopping for a husband, as many of her friends called it. 

“I was going to go into town to post this letter to Elizabeth,” Caroline explained, lifting the envelope she had yet to write her cousin’s address on. “Perhaps I might look for a new dress while I am there?” 

“Yes, oh, yes!” Her father nodded eagerly. “Be sure to take Daisy with you and get whatever you think will really catch the eye.” 

Caroline gulped at that. She wasn’t really the kind of lady who liked the latest fashions from France or would spend money willy nilly on new clothes whenever her father allowed her to, but she had long since learned to play the game, learned how to be a lady who could fit in with society while still doing all the tasks her father asked of her. 

“I will surely take Daisy,” Caroline promised, “she would never forgive me if I went to the dressmakers without her.” 

“Be sure that she has all she needs too,” her father insisted. “We wouldn’t want people to believe we can’t keep our servants properly dressed.” 

“Of course, Papa.” 

Caroline barely managed to stop herself from rolling her eyes at her father. He had always been so concerned with his appearance and the appearance of his household, and she couldn’t help wondering whether he had been like that before her mother’s death. Maybe he feels even more pressure to uphold appearances since her death, she thought grimly, since I caused her death. 

She gulped past the sudden lump in her throat and tried her hardest to push the thoughts away. She could not afford to fall apart. Now more than ever, she needed to be strong and project the kind of good young lady her father was expecting her to be. 

She watched him go, holding her breath until he had disappeared from the drawing room and then quickly wiped away the single tear that rolled down her cheek. She had only a few days to prepare for what might very well be the biggest test of her entire life. In the back of her mind, a small voice said, I hope that Lord Trenton’s son isn’t in attendance. Perhaps it was too much to hope for such a thing. After all, she could just remember Lord Truro’s son, who had been in attendance during her fight with the duke’s son. She distantly remembered the way the golden-haired noble boy had encouraged her on while she had been flailing at his close friend. She had seen Brandon Walter several times over the years, her father having done business with his many times, but she had always kept her distance. Never had she allowed herself to be caught in the same room as him, fearful that he might bring up the fact that she had once broken the nose of a duke’s son and left him bleeding with blackened eyes. 

This could be a very interesting weekend indeed.

“A Duke’s Skillful Seduction” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Being the only child of a wealthy and well-respected wine merchant, Miss Caroline Watford is expected to act as a lady, even if she is not one. While left alone in the shadows one fateful night, she becomes the right target for some very unwanted attention… What will happen when a seductive Lord comes to her rescue and turns out to be a disgruntled man from her past?

Will Caroline find the burning passion she has been looking for in the arms of a fiery acquaintance she has long escaped from?

Lord Louis Wellington is the epitome of what it means to be a nobleman; handsome, intelligent, gentlemanly, yet, he has a very dark side. When he finds out that the most tempting woman he has ever seen is actually the one who humiliated him when he was just a boy, he is not sure if he can let that grudge go. He knows it is childish, but he can not help himself…

Known for how dangerous he is when it comes to women, what could ever go wrong?

Caroline and Louis are forced to come together to rescue her cousin from a scandal that may just ruin, not only her reputation, but also her life and her family. Will they reach her in time or will her downfall be their own doom? After all, will their passionate affair prevail or will their flaming desires be buried deep in the ground?

“A Duke’s Skillful Seduction” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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3 thoughts on “A Duke’s Skillful Seduction (Preview)”

  1. I am trying to get the extended epilogue of this book and cannot find it anywhere, HELP. I’ve enjoyed reading the book but am disappointed to have this problem.

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