A Duke’s Christmas Secret (Preview)


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Chapter One

London, 1815

“You will dance with as many handsome men as possible, will you not?”

“Bea.” Eleanor sighed tiredly with the words. “You do know that should not be your every desire when you are older.”

“Why not?” 

Bea’s young face appeared in the hallway mirror behind Eleanor. Ten years her junior, Bea had reached her tenth summer a couple of months before, and her enthusiastic nature was growing by the day, especially when it came to talking of the ton or anything concerning Bea’s future life. 

“I would dance with every man there if I could.” She took the ends of her skirt and turned around the rather sparse hallway, still managing to nearly bump into the one statue they had left in the room.

Eleanor chased after her younger sister, just managing to catch Bea’s shoulders before such a collision could occur. Lovingly, she turned Bea around the other way so she could continue to dance in the opposite direction.

“I wish I had your optimism,” Eleanor muttered under her breath, so quietly that Bea could not hear her over the happy tune she was humming. 

With her hands on her hips, Eleanor moved toward the doorway, watching her sister as she chewed the inside of her mouth and continued to worry about the night ahead.

Tonight is the night. I must make something happen.

Eleanor took no love or happiness in her goal in life, even though she knew it was necessary. As the eldest, and now of marital age, it was her responsibility to try and secure a wealthy husband—a gentleman of standing in the ton who would be able to bring her father out of the pits of debt he had plunged them all into over the last decade.

Eleanor pressed her hands together, wringing them nervously as she looked around the room. Where once there had been great plinths with large marble busts of various scientists and reputed adventurers, there were now empty spaces. Even the hallway mirror had been replaced with a wooden-framed one, a far cry from the gilt one that used to sit there. The one statue that remained in the hallway was evidently something her father was reluctant to part with.

The marble figure glittered in the last light of the autumnal day, the blood-orange light falling on it through the windows making the white face shine. The statue was of Marco Polo, a testament to his great adventures in the East and across Asia. Eleanor sighed as she looked at the statue, rather envying the freedom the man must have had, knowing he could leave his home life behind and begin such an adventure across the world.

If only the rest of us felt so free.

It wasn’t something Eleanor could indulge in. As much as the idea of adventure and the world tempted her, she had responsibilities—and one of them was now dancing toward her again, in danger of bumping into the hall table. She took Bea’s shoulders once more and spun her back the other way.

“Please be careful, Bea. If I come home to find you have knocked over all the furniture, I’ll be taking care of you and your bruises for a week.”

“I’m not so bad.” Bea abruptly stopped and folded her arms, pouting firmly. 

Her face wasn’t dissimilar to Eleanor’s, with the same pale blue eyes and rounded cheeks, though on Bea, those curves had the tendency to look very young indeed. Eleanor’s cheekbones were a touch more prominent, the slim peak of her chin delicate, and she had a fear that the angle made her lips look rather too full at times. They shared the same pale brown hair, so light that in certain weather it could almost look to be made of honey. 

“Well, I am ready.” Another voice joined them. “Let us get this over with.”

“Father…” Eleanor offered a warning tone as her father appeared. The Earl of Wessex, Richard Robinson, was a shadow of the man he had once been.

Eleanor could remember that her father had once been dapper and handsome, full of life and energy, with swaths of golden hair swept back from his head and the same blue eyes that were found in his daughters’ faces. These days, that blond hair was graying, and the eyes didn’t glitter with life as much as they once did.

Yet as she watched him walk down the tiled steps of the house and hurry toward her, adjusting the cuffs of his jacket that he was evidently struggling with now that he no longer employed a valet, there was something Eleanor would be eternally grateful for

After her mother’s death, Richard had dropped into despair, grief, and most particularly, brandy. For seven years, he had dwelled in such a dark place, his good humor fading and his hope in life dwindling with it. The last three years, however, something had changed. Richard had picked himself up a little, determined to remedy their family’s affairs, though it was no easy thing to do. His years of drinking and dwelling in misery had left them quite destitute. 

“Here, let me,” Eleanor whispered as her father stopped in front of her. She helped him adjust the cuffs of his tailcoat and then the cravat. “There. Very handsome, Father.”

He smiled, the lines around his eyes crinkling a little more.

“I am sorry about this, Eleanor.” He lowered his voice so only she could hear him as Bea was happily humming and dancing around the room again. “If I could think of another way, something more to do to help us all, I would do it. You know that, do you not?”

“I do.” She forced a smile and flattened the lapels of his jacket for him. They had a tendency to stick up at odd angles. He needed a new tailcoat, but they couldn’t waste money on such a thing. “Sometimes, life is about duty, is it not?” She tried to keep the sadness out of her voice. “I must accept that.”

Her words didn’t seem to help matters. He looked down between them, the shadows under his eyes appearing darker and worse than before.

“I’ll be happy, Father. Trust me. I’ll find a way.” She tried to show optimism, to reveal more hope than she truly felt.

To marry for love as my mother and father had done, that would be the true dream! Yet we are not all so fortunate.

Eleanor’s eyes darted to Bea as she reminded herself exactly why she was doing this, going on the hunt for a rich man. If she could marry well and secure the position of her family, then her father’s future would be safe, far from debtors’ prison, and Bea would have the opportunity to marry whoever she wished to in the future. Her opportunities would be completely open.

For Bea and my father, I must do this.

“Ah, my lord,” the butler called from the other end of the room. He stepped into the hall, and nearly colliding with Bea as she danced, he darted around her, appearing more sprightly than his elder years suggested. He smiled rather dotingly at Bea’s dancing and hurried toward Richard. “The carriage is prepared to take you to the Briarhurst Autumn Ball.”

“Many thanks, Garrison. What would I do without you, eh?” Richard clapped Garrison on the shoulder good-naturedly and offered his arm to Eleanor, ready to escort her to the ball.

Eleanor waved at Bea one last time and departed through the door, stepping out of the house and moving toward the carriage.

“Come back soon!” Bea called excitedly from the doorway behind her, where Garrison laid a gentle hand to her shoulder to stop her from leaping into the carriage, too. “I cannot wait to hear of the men you dance with.”

Eleanor and her father sighed together as they stepped into the carriage, sitting beside one another and staring forward. Neither of them said anything for a minute, but both forced smiles for Bea’s sake, waving at her through the window before the carriage pulled away down the drive. Eleanor tried to concentrate on admiring the autumnal leaves, the rich hues of red and orange that danced in the evening breeze on the trees that flanked the driveway.

The Manor of Wessex had been their home for so long. If their finances dwindled until her father was forced to give it up, it would break him almost as much as losing her mother had done. 

“By Christmas,” Richard said abruptly.

“I beg your pardon?” Eleanor turned to look at him, wondering if her father had been speaking and she had simply not been paying attention.

“I am thinking aloud.” He looked at her, his pointed chin downturned. “I have done some calculations, had a few more bills this morning from my debtors.”

“Oh.” Eleanor steeled herself, waiting for him to say more as she fidgeted restlessly with her reticule.

“By Christmas, I will not have the money to pay the interim bills. I’d have to sell the estate, and we may face…” He broke off, clearly not wanting to say the words “debtors’ prison.” “I am so sorry, Eleanor, but I fear we must get you wed by Christmas.”

“Christmas? So soon?” Yet Eleanor didn’t disagree or defy him. As she suspected, tonight had to be the night where she truly pushed things forward with Mr. Henry Briarhurst. If she stood a chance of saving her family, she had to persuade him to turn his offer of courtship into an offer of marriage.

God’s wounds, how on earth do I do that?


“What did you say?” Nathaniel stared at the solicitor, Mr. Thackery, certain he had heard him wrong.

Mr. Thackery grimaced behind the thick spectacles he wore, his great gray eyes appearing twice as large as they truly were. The effect was rather like that of a large puppy, staring at Nathaniel with a pleading gaze. He handed over the will for Nathaniel to look at himself.

“I wish I could say it was something else, but it cannot be denied. The proof is there before our eyes.”

Nathaniel tried to block out the stuffy solicitor’s room as he snatched up the will and looked down at the words before him. It was the kind of room he detested, the sort he had been all too happy to leave behind when he had turned his back on England five years ago and left for the Americas. Full of dark mahogany with closed windows, the corners were shadowy, the ornaments on the desk and above the mantelpiece overly ostentatious, and the Wedgewood pottery that littered the tea tray in front of him felt far too prim and proper.

Nathaniel read the words of his brother’s will, disbelief filling him all the more.

When the letter had first arrived informing him of David’s death after a sudden sickness, Nathaniel hadn’t hesitated to book his place on the soonest ship and return home. He had not wanted to believe it, refused to do so, yet when he had attempted to reach the family home, he found the driveway blocked and he was refused entry by workmen who declared he was not the master of the house. Angered to not be able to visit his own home, he had had to come to the solicitor to find out the truth of all that had passed.

The letter about his brother’s passing had initially been delayed; poor David had actually passed four months prior. In that time, his will had been executed, the funeral held, and Nathaniel had not been invited.

“You are telling me that I have missed my brother’s passing, his funeral, and now, I have nothing to remember him or the family by? Nothing at all?” Nathaniel asked in disbelief, reading the words again.

“I wish I could say something else, but I cannot,” Mr. Thackery declared with a rather withering and simpering voice that left Nathaniel disgruntled. It irked him almost as much as Mr. Thackery’s incessant bowing had done when he first entered the room. “This will arrived with a letter when your brother was dying, in which he expressed his clear wishes for me to execute the will. Your family lands and fortune have been left elsewhere, Your Grace.”

“Hmm.” Nathaniel said nothing, reading the will one more time.

I, the present Duke of Windhaven, David Musgrave, being of sound mind, leave my estate to my dearest friend of many years, Mr. Henry Briarhurst.’

The will went on in the greatest of details, saying how Mr. Briarhurst had earned the fortune due to his loyalty to the family and to David. These words most of all felt like a kick in Nathaniel’s gut.

I thought David understood me. I thought in our letters, we were at last seeing eye to eye.

Nathaniel was realizing now how mistaken he had been. After the cloud under which he had left the family home five years ago and headed to the Americas, much had changed. Where David had once agreed with their parents, his latest letters had suggested to Nathaniel that he understood him much more, and that maybe when Nathaniel returned to England, they could start again as brothers.

Clearly, I was mistaken. He has not left me a penny.

Nathaniel turned the pages of the will, checking each and every item in the hope that David would leave him something—a book from the library that he had adored so much, or a single plant from that beautiful garden—but it was not to be. He was given nothing from his family at all, nothing to remember them by.

“All my family’s heirlooms, everything from the dukedom, it is to belong to Mr. Briarhurst?” Nathaniel asked in disbelief, lowering the will to his lap as he sat in the rigid-backed armchair. It was uncomfortable, nothing like the plush and comfy chairs he had grown accustomed to sitting in the last few years. He supposed Mr. Thackery didn’t choose his chairs for comfort, but those that he probably thought made him look grander, and more suited to a higher class of clientele. 

“Not everything, Your Grace.” Mr. Thackery clasped his hands together on the desk between them. “Your title is yours. No duke can be disinherited from that. It is enshrined in law, from the days where such titles were thought to be ordained by God through the king. You are the next Duke of Windhaven.”

I am not sure I wish for that part.

Nathaniel kept his thoughts to himself. Of all the things to inherit, he was getting the one thing that felt stuffy and haughty. He would have been glad to get his brother’s lands, to check on the tenants for himself and see how they were faring. That would have been a better responsibility than an empty title. 

“I should thank you for seeing me.” Nathaniel stood and buttoned the loose gray jacket he wore, all too aware that Mr. Thackery’s large eyes narrowed through his glasses. He seemed to be staring at Nathaniel’s attire with wonder.

I know what he’s thinking. A duke should dress in a grander way.

The mere idea of defying convention made Nathaniel smile a little.

“Thank you for taking the time to explain everything to me,” he said as Mr. Thackery stood, too.

“I am only sorry I could not give you fairer news, Your Grace. Mr. Briarhurst has left a letter for you, to be read upon your return.” He proffered forward a sealed envelope, the red wax seal shining up in the fading light of the day.

Nathaniel took the letter rather hurriedly, relieved to see Mr. Briarhurst was not using Nathaniel’s family seal. Mr. Briarhurst had everything else, he didn’t need that as well. 

Dear Nathaniel…

He broke off at once and looked up. There was a time when Mr. Briarhurst had been almost an older brother to Nathaniel, for he and David had been inseparable, keeping each other company at gentlemen’s clubs and various gambling halls in town. At the time, they had all been on first-name terms, but there was something now about Mr. Briarhurst addressing him in such a way that felt wrong, as if Nathaniel had been struck down in some boxing match.

Please believe me when I say that these circumstances were not expected by me or any other. I dearly hope that the wishes of your brother will not sow discord between us. In fact, when you do return, please know that my townhouse is always open to you. Come to the Briarhurst estate in London, in Piccadilly, whenever you can. I would be glad of your company, and very happy indeed to toast the name of your brother with you.

Nathaniel lowered the letter, feeling a sudden determination to see Mr. Briarhurst after all.

“I hope it is of some use to you?” Mr. Thackery said, gesturing down to the letter.

“Oh, it is.” For Nathaniel had noticed something in the letter, something that now niggled away at him, as if ants were crawling over his skin. The letter was dated from before the letter that even told Nathaniel his brother was dead in the first place. Mr. Briarhurst had been informed very early indeed of what fortune was soon to be his. “It seems I have something to ask Mr. Briarhurst. I will visit him at once.” 

He nodded his head at Mr. Thackery, and the solicitor bowed flamboyantly.

Nathaniel left the room, his nose wrinkling with distaste at the sheer extent of that bow. If he had his way, no man would bow to a duke or any other who claimed to have a title again. 

Chapter Two

“Enjoy yourself quickly before he calls you to his side again.” Lady Sophie Runswick, the daughter of the Countess of Aylesbury, passed a plate of small cakes into Eleanor’s hand. “Hurry, hurry, he is already coming this way again.”

“Oh, calm down, Sophie.” Lady Linora, daughter of a marquess, laughed and placed a comforting hand on Eleanor’s arm. “He is hardly so demanding.”

“You think not?” Eleanor spluttered, not bothering to eat the cake. “Have you not heard him speak? He is a domineering man indeed!”

“You are the one who agreed to court him,” Linora said carefully with a wince. In unison, both Eleanor and Sophie glared at her. “Was that the wrong time to point that out?”

“What was your first clue?” Eleanor said in a wry tone, prompting Sophie to laugh heartily.

Since she had arrived at Mr. Henry Briarhurst’s Autumn Ball, she had been practically glued to his side. Each time she had attempted to step away for a moment’s breathing space, he’d take hold of her wrist or her waist and pull her back again.

“It’s almost as if you are already married,” Sophie mused with a whisper. She nudged Eleanor with her elbow, clearly warning her that Mr. Briarhurst was marching their way once again.

Well, I suppose I should be happy about such a thing.

Eleanor didn’t reply. Tonight had all been about persuading Mr. Briarhurst to make that offer of marriage. They had been courting for the last few weeks, yet the more Eleanor was in his company, the more reluctant she was to push him into such a conversation.

She didn’t like him very much. In truth, she had serious questions about his character, finding him rather demanding, not to mention he made her uncomfortable any time he placed his hand on her possessively. She supposed he was handsome, in the sort of dandy way where a man wore far too much decoration on his fine clothes, but each time she tried to find some fondness for him, her heart failed her.

“Why Mr. Briarhurst?” Linora asked, elbowing her from the other side.

“What?” Eleanor looked at her, startled by the question.

“Of all men, Eleanor. I know you are eager to marry, and he has just inherited a vast fortune, after all, but why him?” Linora wrinkled her nose. “You are as ill-matched as cheese and mint sauce.”

Both Eleanor and Sophie exchanged disgusted looks at the idea.

“Cheese and mint sauce?” Sophie repeated with a laugh. “Have you ever tried such a thing?”

“Why would one?”

As Sophie and Linora fell into a rather humorous conversation, Eleanor looked away. She loved her friends dearly, and their good humor usually had the habit of cheering her spirits. Sophie, the more elegant of the two, had long blonde hair that was cascaded in perfect curls. She received attention from a lot of men but batted them away frequently, showing little interest in marrying at all as of yet. In contrast, Linora’s beauty was much darker, with rich black hair and dark chestnut eyes that had almost as many men following her. She knew the marriage market well and was being very careful about who she chose to court.

By contrast, Eleanor didn’t have such choice.

Why Mr. Briarhurst, she asks me? Does she truly not know?

“I had no choice,” Eleanor said suddenly.

“What was that?” Linora asked, breaking off her conversation with Sophie and turning to face her.

“You asked me why I chose Mr. Briarhurst? Well, I didn’t. Not exactly.” Eleanor shook her head. “He chose me. My first two Seasons, I fear I frightened too many men away with all my talk of books. I am told no man wants such a thing. Mr. Briarhurst is the only man to ever show an interest. That is why I am courting him.”

“But…” Linora looked ready to argue the idea, but Sophie coughed rather loudly, and the three of them whipped around to see Mr. Briarhurst had at last reached them through the busy crowd of the ballroom.

Wherever Eleanor looked, the room was alive with hot air and chatter. Ladies laughed and waved fans in front of their faces as gentlemen guffawed and passed around thick glasses of brandy and claret. The dancers at the far end of the room were in such a state of joy that when couples collided, they merely laughed it off and continued on.

Their host seemed just as happy as his guests. His wide lips spread wider still as he looked at Eleanor and offered his hand to her, his rather pale pallor reminding her of the sallow skin of a lamb.

“Ah, Lady Eleanor, there you are. Come, come, there are some gentlemen I would like you to meet.” He urged her to follow him so abruptly that she nearly dropped her plate and was only saved from disaster as Linora and Sophie scrambled to catch it from the air.

“Our poor friend,” Sophie’s whisper followed Eleanor as she trailed along at Mr. Briarhurst’s side.

“I think you will enjoy meeting these gentlemen,” he said in what she supposed was his attempt at a soft tone. “They are advantageous men indeed to meet.”

She forced a smile, understanding what he actually wanted out of this endeavor. These must be men of business, men of success, and just like every other introduction he had made that night, he was introducing her in order to show her off. As the daughter of an earl, she had a good reputation, and the link to aristocracy was evidently something that Mr. Briarhurst craved.

“There you are, my good men.” Mr. Briarhurst led her to the center of the room, where they stood beneath a vast chandelier, full of candles that glittered between the crystal decorations. “May I present the young lady I am courting. This is Lady Eleanor Robinson, daughter of the Earl of Wessex.” The fact he added her father’s title only reinforced what Eleanor had already suspected was the reason for the introduction.

The three gentlemen before her all bowed deeply as she curtsied. She was quickly introduced to them all in turn and learned one was an investment banker, another a trader in the east, and the final man was a viscount, with particularly extensive lands in Cumbria. 

“What a transformation, eh, Briarhurst?” the portly investment banker asked after the introductions were finished. He raised his claret to his lips, his fingers and his cheeks practically the color of the wine he gulped. “A year ago, you were but a man of business. Now you have great lands, tenants, and a fine woman indeed on your arm.” 

He nodded his head at Eleanor with these words, though she felt disgusted by it, even as she struggled to hold her smile in place. I am spoken of as if I am some prize pig at a village fair.

“Yes, it has been a fortunate year indeed.” Mr. Briarhurst smiled at her indulgently, then his eyes looked over her. Her body stiffened. How could he feel so at ease to gaze at her in such a fashion?

“A toast, then.” The viscount raised his glass in the air. “To your future success, Briarhurst. May the next year be as good as the last.”

The four men all chinked their glasses together as Eleanor looked sharply at Mr. Briarhurst behind her. It struck her that this man had indeed faced sadness this last year. He had lost his dearest friend in the world. She’d heard much of it, from him and what she had read in the scandal sheets. Yet the late Duke of Windhaven was not mentioned now.

I suppose Mr. Briarhurst deals with his grief by choosing not to talk of it.

As the men all lowered their glasses, and the banker started a conversation about the many ladies Mr. Briarhurst had invited tonight, Eleanor stepped away a little but Mr. Briarhurst moved with her. She could not go anywhere without him following.

“Ah.” Mr. Briarhurst froze with his glass halfway raised to his lips. He looked across the room, over the banker’s head, to the double doors.

Eleanor strained at his side to see what had made him go so rigid. His sallow skin seemed even paler than before now, the hue of milk.

“Are you well, sir?” she whispered beside him, her eyes tracing his dark auburn hair that was slicked back with rather too much wax. 

He didn’t answer her but continued to stare over the rim of his glass. It was as if he had seen a ghost.

Eleanor peered past the banker’s shoulder, at last succeeding in seeing what had stunned him so much. There was a gentleman standing in the doorway she didn’t recognize, a man who was clearly having an effect on many in the crowded ballroom as people turned and pointed his way. It was rather like a stone being plunged into a calm lake, the ripples casting outward. Heads turned, whispers began, and the man who was the cause of it all stood stock still. The only thing that moved were his eyes, darting around the room.

Eleanor stared at him too, taking in his appearance. He was not dressed for a ball but wore a dark gray suit with a slim-fitting waistcoat that accented a rather athletic build and broader shoulders that were not often found in the ton. His dark hair curled at his temples, untouched by wax. On his chin was a little stubble. He had not bothered to shave or to grow a heavily manicured beard and sideburns, as so many men did, including Mr. Briarhurst beside her. Perhaps the most distinctive difference of this stranger was the hue of his skin. He was tanned, as if he had spent long hours out under the sun. It was such a contrast to Mr. Briarhurst that Eleanor’s eyes danced over the gentleman, drinking in the sight of him.

“Excuse me.” Mr. Briarhurst left Eleanor’s side willingly for the first time that night, loosening their arms. He crossed the room toward the man and clapped him on the shoulder, surprising him so much that this tall gentleman jerked his head toward Mr. Briarhurst.

Finding the three men before her were now all staring, agog, at the exchange, Eleanor took her chance to escape. She hurried back across the room to the drinks’ table, where Sophie was grabbing another glass of champagne.

“Ah, this must interest you, Eleanor,” Linora said knowingly, nodding her head across the room. When Eleanor offered a puzzled look, Sophie pressed the glass into her hand and took another, chuckling to herself. Eleanor didn’t bother to drink it. 

“You know Linora. She knows everyone in the ton, not to mention their friends, their grandmothers, and their third cousins once removed.”

“I am not that bad,” Linora insisted, flicking her head around so sharply that the loose dark wisps hanging down from her updo whipped her own ears.

“You know everyone,” Sophie insisted. “And all their business, too. How many scandal sheets are stuffed under your pillow right now?”

Instead of answering, Linora rolled her eyes and looked across the room at the exchange between Mr. Briarhurst and the incomer. 

“Linora, I will never scoff at you for your superior knowledge of the ton,” Eleanor assured her. “In fact, I am more than intrigued to make use of it now. Tell me, who is that? Clearly, I owe him a debt of gratitude. He is the first man to make Mr. Briarhurst leave my side all night.”

“He is the man I think most people least expected to be here,” Linora said, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. Eleanor and Sophie stepped closed to hear her, so near that Sophie was in danger of tipping her champagne glass over and Linora had to grab the base to stop it from happening. “That there is the new Duke of Windhaven.” 

“I beg your pardon?” Eleanor spun around so fast she nearly knocked the already precarious glass out of Sophie’s hand.

“Between the three of us, I think we’re in danger of destroying all of Mr. Briarhurst’s crystalware this evening,” Sophie said with a laugh.

Eleanor was no longer paying attention. She was staring at the new Duke of Windhaven across the room, stunned at the man before her. He was hardly what she had expected. Mr. Briarhurst had only mentioned once in passing before that his late friend had a younger brother who would inherit the title but not the fortune. The rather cold and icy look this gentleman was now bestowing on Mr. Briarhurst spoke volumes.

“They hardly look like the best of friends, do they?” Eleanor whispered.

“Are you surprised?” Linora snorted into her glass.

“Strangely, Linora, we are not all as up-to-date on the gossip as you are. Care to inform us lesser mortals?” Sophie said, elbowing her on.

“Very well. That there is Nathaniel Musgrave. It’s rumored he left the family home under something of a cloud five years ago. They say he intended to steal the fortune from under their father’s nose. He was wrapped across the knuckles for it and has been in the Americas ever since, swindling other unsuspecting men out of their fortunes,” Linora said, her tone horror-filled.

“You’d think a trickster with such success could afford a finer suit, Linora,” Eleanor pointed out, rather pleased with her own perceptiveness as Linora and Sophie both squinted at the duke across the room.

“Well, I suppose you are right,” Linora whispered. “Anyway, it was a great scandal a few months ago when the late Duke of Windhaven died, for as you know, he left everything to his friend. The two country homes, the estates, the tenants, every painting, every handkerchief, all of it went to Mr. Briarhurst. His brother was left with nothing but the title. After all, a man cannot be disinherited of his title, or they say he would have lost that, too.”

“He must have done something very bad indeed to have upset the family so much,” Sophie murmured.

“Stealing a fortune? That is awful, Sophie,” Eleanor said with sudden passion. “No wonder he has been unwelcome for so long.” Her gaze lingered on the Duke of Windhaven as he spoke with Mr. Briarhurst. Even as the latter smiled and seemed rather eager to engage the duke in conversation, the former gentleman’s eyes continued to narrow. “There’s an iciness to him,” she whispered, as her friends nodded. “Oh no.”

Mr. Briarhurst had turned and was beckoning to Eleanor across the room.

“Your man wants you,” Sophie said with a giggle. “Good lord, he’s demanding. You’d think you were his favorite actress on the stage, come to perform at his whim. Off you go, little actress, perform to your very best.”

“Do me a favor and swap places with me?” Eleanor said with fervor to her friends. Both shook their heads firmly. “Ah, shame. If only.”

When Mr. Briarhurst waved at her even more sharply than before, she was left with little choice. Steeling herself and holding her spine straight, she slowly crossed the room toward the two gentlemen. The closer she grew to the pair of them, the more she found her eyes dwelling on the Duke of Windhaven.

If he was some trickster, some awful swindler, she would have to be careful indeed. Her father was in enough debt as it was, and becoming acquainted with such as man as this could prove costly indeed. She resolved at once to keep a good distance between herself and this man, seeing little good that could come of it.

“Ah, there you are,” Mr. Briarhurst said to her with a tone of surprise as she reached his side, as if he hadn’t been beckoning her madly from across the room with his hand buffeting like the wings of a butterfly. “May I introduce to you the young lady I am courting. This is Lady Eleanor, daughter of the Earl of Wessex.” 

Used to the formal introduction by now, Eleanor curtsied.

“Eleanor.” The fact Mr. Briarhurst dropped her title made her shoulders flinch back, startled and irked at the familiarity of it. “This is the Duke of Windhaven, younger brother to my late dear friend.”

The duke bowed deeply and stood straight, his dark eyes finding Eleanor’s. When she looked him in the eye, she found it rather hard to look away. There was that same cool iciness that she had observed across the room now up close, but to her relief, he didn’t simper like the other men did around Mr. Briarhurst, nor did he force a smile or put on any false and flamboyant airs. Instead, he looked straight at her.

Now she was this close, she could see a mark upon his right cheek. It was as if he had been cut by some blade, and it stretched from the crest of his cheek down to his jaw, the white mark shining in the candlelight.

Oh, how inconvenient.

Being this near, Eleanor had to admit something to herself. Even with that scar, the Duke of Windhaven was very handsome indeed. In fact, he was perhaps the most handsome gentleman in the room.

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

In a world where duty and love clash, Lady Eleanor Robinson, a spirited young woman with a passion for adventure and a heart aching for true love, stands on the precipice of an impossible choice. Her father’s financial woes have forced her into the arms of the insufferable Lord Henry Briarhurst, a man she could never love and yet has to marry by Christmas Day. An unexpected twist of fate brings the disowned Duke of Windhaven into her life for the Christmas holidays, leaving her torn between duty and her heart’s secret yearning…

As the magic of Christmas draws near, will she discover a love worth fighting for or will she watch it slip through her fingers?

Nathaniel Margrave, the rightful Duke of Windhaven, returns to England with a heavy heart, seeking the inheritance that should have been his. Outcast by society and determined to reclaim what is owed, Nathaniel crosses paths with Lady Eleanor, an unexpected kindred spirit and the only thing that feels like Christmas magic. As he finds himself divided between the quest for his title and the irresistible pull of love, he is faced with a difficult decision.

Can he put his mission for vengeance aside for the promise of a love he never expected to find? Or will he walk away from it, leaving his heart forever torn?

As the holiday season unfurls, secrets unravel, and both Eleanor and Nathaniel must grapple with their desires and the truth about Nathaniel’s stolen inheritance. Soon, they’ll be faced with a heartbreaking decision that could forever separate them or bind them together in a love that defies all odds and becomes a Christmas miracle. Will their hearts find warmth in the cold of winter, or will their love be yet another casualty of the Christmas Season?

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

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One thought on “A Duke’s Christmas Secret (Preview)”

  1. Hello, my dear readers! I hope you have enjoyed this little prologue and you are eagerly waiting to read the rest of this Christmas love story! I am anticipating your first impressions here! Thank you so much! ❄️♥️

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