Title: The Duke’s Blackmailed Bride
Author: Leigh D’Ansey
Genre: Regency Romance
Vanessa Fitzwilliam is in dire straits. Her father’s death a year before has left her with a crumbling manor and a handful of old retainers relying on her for support. Her scandalous reputation has put her beyond the pale for most members of the Ton. When the Most Noble Hugo Ashton Duke of Northbridge sweeps into her life and proposes she should enter into a marriage of convenience, Vanessa is tempted – but the arrogant duke believes her to be something she’s not!
She was almost comfortable, except for a sharp little spike that insisted on trying to impale her spine, when a loud rapping at the outer door made her start with surprise.
The door was flung inwards and to her horror Vanessa observed a gentleman standing at the entrance. Rain dripped from his greatcoat onto the stone floor. A flurry of dead leaves swirled about his muddied boots.
Her scream brought Mrs. Shearwater tumbling back into the kitchen while the visitor muttered an oath, turned his broad back to Vanessa and faced the storm without.
“Are you decent yet, Madam?” he barked after no more than a few seconds had gone by. His riding crop beat an impatient tattoo against the side of his boot.
“Indeed, I am not, sir,” said Vanessa, rising from the bath. She took in the cut of his greatcoat and the damp, dark curls that brushed his collar while Mrs. Shearwater draped the rose-pink bedcover around her, exposing only slightly more than the amount of bosom that was proper.
But then, everything about these circumstances was improper, Vanessa thought suppressing a somewhat hysterical giggle—a grand Duke barging his way into the kitchen of a respectable manor house to find the lady of the house bathing in the kitchen.
For of course, both Vanessa and Mrs. Shearwater knew their visitor, planted like a bulwark against the weather, could be none other than the aforementioned Duke of Northbridge, no doubt demanding shelter from the wild weather, refreshment, or stabling for a horse gone lame.
Mrs. Shearwater coughed. “Perhaps you might shut that door, Your Grace,” she said, making a rather slapdash bob to his unresponsive back. “We would not want Lady Vanessa to catch a chill.”
One many-caped shoulder twitched irritably. With the hand that had removed his hat, the Duke pushed the door to.
Holding the edges of her makeshift gown between her breasts Vanessa exerted enough pressure to encourage a décolletage that was attractively rounded but in no way vulgar. His Grace was a different kettle of fish than her previous suitors and in the unlikely event he had come courting she might as well present herself as a package worth opening.
In any case, even though a curvaceous figure was not quite the style, she was proud of her body, shapely and firm from long walks and hours spent in the saddle.
“You may turn now, Your Grace,” she said after a minor adjustment of the bedcover’s heavy folds. Constrained by the tendency of her gown to part at the center, she nevertheless managed to dip into a modest curtsy.
When she raised her head, she found herself stripped by a pair of hard grey eyes. Pitted cheeks flanked a blade-like nose. A firm mouth with a small white scar at one corner and an uncompromising jaw. The shadow of new beard gleamed blue beneath his damp skin.
An unfamiliar warmth vibrated low in Vanessa’s belly. The raised nub of the damask weave grazed her fingertips and beneath the fabric her breasts tingled in a way that was strange and exhilarating.
But she did not lower her gaze. Instinctively she knew this could be a crucial encounter that would not only affect her, but those who had served her for years. Since Aunt Genevieve had died just a few weeks before, she was completely thrown upon her own resources. “You find me in an awkward situation, Your Grace.”
“I come with a proposal,” he said.
Aware of a rapid increase in Mrs. Shearwater’s expiration Vanessa shot that lady a warning glance before a full coughing fit was permitted to eventuate. If Vanessa could receive the Duke of Northbridge garbed only in a bedrobe then Mrs. Shearwater could also maintain her dignity for the welfare of all who inhabited Melrose Court.
She arched one eyebrow. “It cannot be a proposal of import for you to have entered via the kitchen door.”
He sent her a cool glance. “You may not be aware but the path from the direction of Ashton Castle is blocked by a windfall of beech. It appeared less taxing on my mount to venture this way than to ride all around through Berkley wood and approach Melrose Court from the exposed side in this vile weather.”
As he rather looked as though he had been hewn from stone, Vanessa was unsurprised that he had put his horse’s comfort before his own—in fact she applauded this consideration.
“Indeed, it seems as though this winter will never end.” He strode forward and set his hat on the scrubbed table. A shiver of awareness tripped up Vanessa’s spine as the musky masculine scent of him caught at her nostrils.
“I had rather waited for a more clement day but have come to the conclusion that this may never eventuate.” He turned to Vanessa expectantly, his hands clasped behind his back. His square shoulders and tall frame blocked out the meager light from the kitchen window.
Vanessa saw he did not seem averse to elaborating on his proposition without further ado, but she was not inclined to undertake any such conversation without even the dignity of a pair of drawers on her person.
“Perhaps this is a matter that should be furthered in the small drawing room,” she said, almost certain that Dunn would have lit a fire in that meager space. “Mrs. Shearwater, show His Grace the way if you please.”
From their expressions, Vanessa concluded that the notion of the cook leading the Duke to the drawing room was far more outlandish than his accepting a restorative drink and getting down to business at the kitchen table.
“I will join you before long, Your Grace.”
Gathering her drapery about her she swept ahead of them, picking up pace the moment they were out of sight, as if Northbridge himself was racing up the stairs behind her.
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
If you’re looking for an emotional short Regency Romance with a touch of spice, The Duke’s Blackmailed Bride is one for you. Vanessa Fitzwilliam, a feisty, witty heroine, pits herself against The Most Noble Hugo Ashton, the Duke of Northbridge, who hides his passion and a generous spirit behind the mask of a taciturn ruffian. Despite its brevity, The Duke’s Blackmailed Bride climbed to #1 spot on Amazon’s Regency Romance paid Kindle and held that ranking for some days. For fans of Regency Romance, this introduction to the Northbridge Bride Series is a must-read!
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Reading and writing have always been central to my life. Along with romance, I've written children's literature, short stories, and articles, and I established and published my own magazine, which I subsequently sold to a larger publisher. Some of my work has been recognized at a national level, and I'm proud to be a member of Romance Writers NZ, a superb organization for writers at all levels. Like most of us, I've experienced sorrow and loss, joy and excitement. Marriage and divorce, the excitement of falling in love, the joy of childbirth and the sorrow of losing two dear parents are life events that shift your mindset and alter your world view in both subtle and profound ways. My career path has been a long and winding road. I spent a short time as a very bad waitress; I've been a market stallholder, a B&B host, and a self-employed administrator. I've picked berries, driven tractors, mowed lawns and worked for a global humanitarian agency. I'm deeply connected to the natural landscape of my home in New Zealand/Aotearoa, a land rich in cultural history with picture-postcard scenery around every corner. Family is the beating heart of my life. I have two children and three gorgeous (naturally!) grandchildren. I share my home with my life-partner, also a writer, and Hutch, a black and white dog of uncertain pedigree. I love food, flowers, trees, storms, the sea, solitude and the sound of rain on the roof. Although I'm not keen on creepy-crawlies, I believe we all have a place in this world. What do I do in my spare time? Waste most of it! When I'm in productive mode I potter in the garden, cook and fool around with art-making. I spend too much time playing Spider Solitaire, googling almost anything and chatting on Facebook... but don't tell anyone!
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