A Duchess of Inconvenience Preview

A Historical Regency Romance Novel

About the book


She will become his Duchess, and he will continue living the life wants. The deal is simple...Or is it?

Lady Altha Gullian has been ridiculed for her name and bookish nature all her life. Even worse, the man she gave her heart to all those years ago has grown to become a disreputable rake. So, when he proposes a marriage of convenience to escape the clutches of his overwhelming grandmother, she is at a complete loss.

Oren Magrath, newly appointed Duke of East Lowes, has a bit of a reputation. A man who knows how to enjoy life's pleasures, and a rake with a notoriously adamant dislike for marriage. So when his grandmother demands that he abandons his ways for the sake of the family, he proposes a deal to the only woman he knows well enough: Altha will become his Duchess, and he will continue to live his own life.

Reuniting after years of no contact, Altha and Oren's rocky start blooms into something powerful than neither expected. With their newfound conviction to make their marriage work, happiness is right within their grasp. Until a letter arrives: Oren is already married to someone else, and there is a marriage license to prove it.


Prologue


London, April, 1814

“Yes, we must. You cannot continue to run away from reality,” the voice came from just outside the door. Altha Gullian almost dropped the novel she’d been immersed in at the sound. Nobody was supposed to be here; it was a ball, after all. Who would choose to spend time in a library when they could be dancing and indulging in negus and cognac?

Well, aside from Altha, of course. She’d sought refuge in the Duke of Eastlowes’ grand library; certain nobody would trouble her here. So, she stood still, hoping that the voices she’d heard were only passing; alas, she was wrong.

“Grandmother, I truly am in no mood to discuss this.”

Oren! She knew the voice. It belonged to the Duke of Eastlowes himself. And he was heading here – along with his grandmother. Altha’s head zipped from left to right, desperate for somewhere to hide. As footsteps headed closer toward her, she gasped. She’d be found out. Not only would she be caught wandering Magrath Hall – something she knew was considered wrong – but she’d be caught by Oren, her beloved childhood friend who’d become such a terrible rake she could no longer look at him without feeling flushed with shame.

“But discuss it we will,” his grandmother’s voice sounded out.

She smelled Dowager’s strong lilac perfume as it wafted into the library before her when–

The jib door! She knew there was a jib door in the library. She’d spent much of her childhood here, playing hide and seek with Oren before they grew up and life tore them apart. The door to the secret room still had to be here. But where?

She hurried toward the window and ran her hand along the wall when, the very moment Oren and his grandmother walked through the door, her fingertips wrapped around the knob, and she pushed – and disappeared inside the secret door.

She blinked as she found herself swallowed by darkness. There was a window in the secret chamber, she knew, but like so many wealthy lords, Oren’s father had bricked it up to save on the window tax – thus, leaving Altha with nothing but the sliver of light that came from the library. She stepped toward the door and found she had an excellent view of the Dowager as she entered, wearing a grandiose puce-colored gown with black lace and a matching turban atop her head.

Although she was a Duchess, the Dowager had always been a little over-the-top when it came to her attire. Then again, it couldn’t be denied that her love for outlandish gowns matched her personality.

“Oren, sit,” she instructed in a stern tone.

“I’d rather stand,” he replied in a deep, raspy voice. “It won’t take long anyhow. I already know what you want to suggest, and the answer is no.”

Alta held her breath. Even though she knew Oren had spent the last few years living a life of utter debauchery, she couldn’t help it. The feelings she’d had for him were still there, in the pit of her stomach, and whenever he was near, they grew anew.

The Dowager pulled a chair out and sat with a deep sigh.

“Sit. I am an old lady, and these dancing slippers are killing my feet. The least you can do is give your old grandmother a chance to rest her weary feet.”

With a grunt, he sat opposite her in a way that allowed Altha a full view of him. His thick, brown hair flopped into his pale, sharp face that showed a thin layer of stubble. He still possessed those strong, square shoulders she’d always so admired when they were younger before he left the country. A smile spread on her lips, but she swiftly shook her head.

He isn’t the man I knew when we were children. A great many years have passed, and he’s changed. I hardly know who he is anymore. And I ought not to make a cake of myself. His reputation is terrible.

“Very well, Grandmother. What, pray, is it you wish to discuss? For, isn’t there a ball outside that you are the hostess of?”

“The ball is our ball, and you are the host. You are the Duke of Eastlowes now, Oren. You must start acting like it.”

“I never asked to be Duke,” he replied, his defiant tone reminded Altha of when they were children.

“Of course, you didn’t. Who among us does? It is a privilege of birth, and you’re squandering it away. You’re the 8th Duke of Eastlowes. Thus, seven came before you and built our estate and reputation. You must carry on the tradition. Yet, all you’ve done since you returned from Scotland is… what have you been doing?”

Silence settled between and as Altha stepped closer toward the gap in the door to see. Her sky-blue taffeta gown crackled as she moved, and her heart sank. Had they heard? It would be mortifying for her ego if she were discovered here. Thus, she had to remain as quiet as possible.

“What have I been doing? I’ve familiarized myself with London. I’ve taken in the important sights and landmarks, visited places where young lords might be seen and–”

His grandmother scoffed. “So, you mean you’ve been to White’s, and Brook’s. And visited the promenade?”

Altha chuckled despite her best intentions to remain quiet. The Dowager always did inject a little humor into her conversations, despite her stern appearance.

“And Watier’s,” Oren added with a sheepish grin. “Does that not please you? Don’t you always tell me I must make friends with some of the other lords? Get to know them and forge alliances?”

“Not with the sort of lords who spend time at Watier’s. That dreadful Beau Brummel has already been cut by Prinny anyhow. It will do you no good spending time in establishments associated with him. And to be frank, you have a reputation as a rake. You need not get a reputation for being a dandy on top of it.” She rolled her eyes; Altha saw it from where she was standing and snickered. Oren wasn’t in any danger of ever being called a dandy. A rake, on the other hand–

Altha shook her head and wondered just how her gentle, kind friend had strayed so much from his path in life.

“Grandmother, I lived a perfectly peaceful life filled with all the things I enjoy until you summoned me here to become Duke. Can’t I at least enjoy myself a little?”

“The time for enjoyment is over, Oren. And I didn’t summon you because I was in the mood for entertainment by way of my adventurous grandson. I summoned you because your father died, and you are next in line. You are Duke now, and you must work to repair your reputation. Your past dalliances and extravagant behaviors are on dit already, making it near impossible for you to make a good match.”

“A match. That is what I thought you’d forced me to come in here for. I take it you have someone in mind?”

Oren shifted in his seat as Altha’s heartbeat quickened. They’d come here to talk about a match for Oren. She wasn’t sure how she felt about this. For many years, she’d imagined herself as the Duchess at his side, but when the stories about his reckless way of living made their way into the scandal sheets, she’d begun to realize those dreams were foolish. And yet, hearing that he was to wed caused a lump to form in her throat.

“Of course, I do. We must ensure you make a match that will boost your standing among your peers in the House of Lords. Usually, by the time a new peer takes his title, they’ve spent years being tutored by their fathers; they would have already made connections, established alliances. Thus, you must marry into an alliance. You must marry someone who has a father who’s a well-established peer, with a following.”

Alta licked her lips but swiftly chided herself for it as she knew she’d licked away the cherry-red lip pomade her friend Jane had so carefully applied earlier in the evening.

“Grandmother, please do not keep me in suspense. I saw a rather delicious-looking trifle served in the dining room and a Wassail bowl that is calling my name.”

The Dowager shook her head. The assortment of gems and adornments jingled as she moved her head, and the bright wax candles in the chandelier above caused them to sparkle brightly, mesmerizing Altha in her dark, damp-smelling hiding place.

“Very well. I’ve determined the best match we can hope to make is with the Earl of Karthemere’s daughter.”

At the sound of her father’s title, Altha’s mouth dropped open, and she gasped. She clasped her hand in front of her lips, hoping the two people in front of her hadn’t heard.


Chapter One

 

Marry her? Altha stood open-mouthed. The Dowager wanted Oren to marry her? But why? They weren’t wealthy. While he was an affable, kind man and wonderful parent, her father had an affinity for the gambling halls of London, and much of their wealth found its way there.

It seemed Oren had similar concerns as he sat straight.

“Altha?” Hearing him speak her name was almost a tonic to her soul. Almost. For he spoke it with an apprehension that made her shiver.

“Indeed, Lady Altha would make a good match. I know she is bookish, but she’s well-bred, speaks four languages, and is highly accomplished. She even attended Mrs. Francine’s School for High-Born Ladies.”

“But her father is hardly what you’d consider well-respected,” Oren replied.

“Because he gambles? So what? A great many lords do. That is, in part, why this is such an advantageous match. Lord Karthemere is not in a good position financially; it’s his wife’s fortune that keeps them from the poorhouse. Thus, he needs to make a good match that will help him financially. We are that match. And what he lacks in terms of wealth, he certainly makes up for in connections. He’s well respected in the House of Lords; he can make it so that your reputation won’t keep you from succeeding in your political career.” She leaned back and watched her grandson while Altha kept her eye on him and awaited his reply.

Alas, when he cleared his throat and looked his grandmother squarely in the face, Altha already knew she didn’t want to hear it.

“Altha?” he said again as if the mere suggestion puzzled him. “No. I can’t marry Altha. It’s… it's a terrible match.”

“It’s a great match. The only concern I have regarding Altha, and the Earl is their connection to Viscount Barvile. As you know, he has his fair share of scandal, and his daughter, Jane, has–”

“I do not care about Lord Barvile or Lord Karthemere. And I certainly do not care to marry Altha. You must jest, Grandmother.”

Altha’s mouth dropped open as her heart ached at this rejection. Yes, in her mind, she knew he would be a terrible match for her due to his behavior in the past. Yet, she couldn’t deny that his words still hurt her.

Why am I not good enough for him? He’s got a reputation that would chase any lady away, and yet he has the audacity to reject me?

She knew she had no choice but to remain where she was, hidden, for at least she had the good fortune of having overheard this humiliation in private.

“Altha? Altha, are you here?” A shrill voice filled the space that had been occupied by the angry silence between the Dowager and Oren.

No! Altha closed her eyes. It was Jane. She’d all but forgotten about the agreement between herself and her friend. She’d begged Jane to help her find half an hour to remove herself from the hustle and bustle of the ball and then come for her as Altha had a habit of forgetting the time.

Jane was nothing if not reliable – albeit her timing was hideous, to say the least.

Altha pressed her lips together, unsure of what to do when her friend entered the library.

“Altha, I… Faith, excuse me, Your Grace,” Jane stopped in her tracks and fell into a curtsy so deep their teacher at Mrs. Francine’s would have been proud.

“Lady Jane,” the Dowager said, the bemusement evident in her voice. “To what do we owe this pleasure?”

Jane looked from the Dowager to Oren and back again before replying in a voice far less confident than Altha was used to.

“Your Grace, I was looking for Lady Altha. My friend. She… she went to peruse the library while the Scottish Reel was in progress, as she didn’t have a partner and I was to… that’s to say I wanted to… she–”

“Altha was in the library?” Oren’s voice boomed. She wasn’t sure if he sounded upset or just surprised. What was she to do? Stay where she was? Keep hiding in the hopes that they would go away?

“Well, it seems lady Altha is not here,” the Dowager said pointedly, and Jane was about to depart when Oren rose.

“Let us not be so sure of that,” he announced. As he stood, Altha swallowed. Surely, he wouldn’t… he couldn’t… could he?

“Perdition!” she cursed under her breath as he came toward the hidden chamber.

She watched in horror as his fingers curled around the opening between the door and the frame, and he pushed the door in, forcing her to step aside. The light from the beeswax candles streamed into her hiding place, and she looked up at him, mortified. His scent, a heavy, rich, earthy aroma, filled the small place and made her momentarily dizzy.

Altha raised her eyes and his smirking face, and her heart stopped into her knees. She was caught. And utterly mortified.

***

Oren stared at Altha who stood in behind the jib door, her heart-shaped face as pale as the wall. Her pretty evening-primrose gown made her green eyes stand out, and usually, he’d have been quite taken by how pretty she’d become over the years. Today, however, Oren could do nothing but grin at her as she reminded him of the young girl, he'd used to play games within this very room.

Good evening, Lady Altha. Are you enjoying our grand space?” he motioned to the little chamber, and she swallowed, clearly embarrassed.

“It is… grand, indeed.” she whispered, and before he knew it, she’d dashed past him like a lion escaping from the Royal Menagerie.

Altha darted across the room and was about to escape into the ballroom when she stopped beside her friend, Jane. The two exchanged glances, and for a moment, Altha appeared frozen on the spot. Then, however, she turned, faced his grandmother, and fell into a deep curtsy.

“Your Grace,” she said as his grandmother looked at her out of wide, blue eyes.

“Lady Altha,” she replied, her voice a mix of confusion and amusement.

Then, before she could say anything else, Altha turned, grabbed Jane by the hand, and together, the two hurried away.

Oren couldn’t help himself. He chortled as he joined his grandmother again.

“By Jove, Oren,” his grandmother shook her head as though it was his fault that Altha had hidden in the secret door. “Did you have to humiliate her?”

Her tone troubled him, and he stood, arms crossed in front of his chest. “Grandmother, what was I to do? Pretend that I didn’t know that’s exactly where she was hiding? When we were children, we would play ‘hide and go seek’ all the time in this Hall. She always hid in the secret chamber. The moment Lady Jane said Altha was here, I knew that’s where she had to be.”

His grandmother got up with a groan and shook her head. “You still didn’t have to expose her. We ought to have ended our conversation and moved elsewhere. Now she’s sure to be mortified and won’t agree to marry you.”

“That is fortunate, as I have no intentions to marry her,” he fired back.

“You must, Oren. You must marry.”

His grandmother’s harsh words struck him with such severity he felt as though she’d slapped him across the face. She had always been like this, strident, but underneath it all, he knew she had a kind heart. And she wasn’t wrong. He had given himself a reputation of being a rake. He’d indulged in the sort of activities that the nobility frowned upon. And yet, he didn’t regret his years of freedom, not in the least.

“Pray, if no respectable lady will have me, what does that say about your opinion of Altha?”

His grandmother pursed her lips together and stared at him without so much as blinking for a full minute. He didn’t know why he bothered engaging in these sorts of stare downs as he always knew he couldn’t win. Finally, he raised his hands.

“I know, I know. Her family and mine have a long-standing connection by way of our grandfathers.”

His grandmother relaxed her shoulders. “Well then, please stop contradicting me. Now, why are you opposed to marrying Altha?”

Her penetrating stare caused a hot flush to overtake him, and he looked away. Why didn’t he want to marry Altha? He wasn’t quite sure.

We used to be so close, she and I. Our grandfathers were friends, so were our mothers. And then, somehow, it all fell apart. Does she remind me of my old life? The life I had before everything fell apart.

He shrugged as he pondered this. “I cannot be sure. It is a feeling more so than anything. I don’t want to marry. I want to… I want to be free.”

“Well, freedom is a luxury reserved for paupers. We are not paupers.”

She blinked, and for a moment, Oren couldn’t help but chuckle. No, his grandmother, in her elaborately adorned turban, outlandish pearl necklace with a ruby the size of his thumb tangling from it and her cloud of expensive perfume surely was no pauper. In fact, he knew his grandmother would rather be swallowed up by a hole in the ground than being considered anything but a lady.

“Oren, you will have to beg her forgiveness and win her over. You need her father to achieve what you set out to do.”

He shook his head. “And what am I setting out to do?”

His grandmother rolled her eyes and shook her head; her bracelets jingled as she rubbed her forehead.

“To keep things as they are, of course. These Whigs and their ideas for reforms – she shook her head as though she’d bitten into a lemon. “Can’t have that. You must align with the Tories and make sure you influence votes so that they always go in our favor.”

Oren rubbed the side of his head. It was all too much; this talk of politics. He couldn’t care less about who was in charge and how much it cost to have an extra window or two. How ludicrous and tedious these affairs were. And yet, he knew he couldn’t escape it. He was his father’s only direct heir.

“Let me think it over, please,” he requested, but the older woman shook her head.

“What is there to think over? Is there another lady on the horizon you’ve not yet told me about? One that will not give me apoplexy the moment I lay my eyes on her?”

Oren averted his eyes. There were a great many ladies in his past, none of them suitable for marriage, and all of them certain to give his grandmother, not just apoplexy but to ensure the remaining auburn stands in her hair would turn as white as the rest of her.

“There isn’t,” he confessed.

“Well, then. Please do as I asked. You must have an heir, lest you wish for Paul Benton to be dragged out of his drunken stupor and placed into the House of Lords as Duke of Eastlowes when you’ve passed. I wish your mother had been able to have more than just one child before she died.”

“I wish she hadn’t died at all,” Oren replied dryly. His mother’s death, when he’d been but a young boy of five, remained the worst tragedy of his life. To hear his grandmother comment on her as though she were but a breeding mare troubled him.

“Well, she did. And without a spare, so as I said, it is your child, or the title goes to your cousin.”

“I should imagine that by the time I’ve cocked up my toes, I shan’t worry too much about the line of succession,” he replied dryly. Alas, he could tell when he’d pushed his grandmother too far, for she stared at him with a fire in her eyes he knew would result in a tongue lashing.

Back in his younger days, he’d have received a lashing of a different kind at the hands of his father for being rude to his grandmother, but he wasn’t a child anymore. He was a man. A Duke in his own right. Suddenly, his visage darkened as he thought of his father. That hateful, terrible man who’d made his life a misery. He shook his head, not wishing to think of him anymore.

“Grandmother, I promise I shall think about it. Please allow me this evening to consider my actions. I shall apologize to Altha, of course. I didn’t mean to offend her.”


Chapter Two


Before his grandmother had a chance to protest, he bowed before her and made his way back into the ballroom where the assorted crowd was now dancing the quadrille. He stopped and looked out into the assembled gathering. He knew most of the people here, all high born, all rich or pretending to be so. Many friends of his late father.

He watched as the couples’ switched partners and twirled while their feet smudged away the lovely chalk paintings that had been painted on the floors earlier. The room was bright as his grandmother spared no expense when it came to hosting balls. Hundreds of beeswax candles lit the two crystal chandeliers above the dancefloor, and the many wall sconces provided additional light. He glanced up at the ceiling painting. He smirked. It resembled the painting atop the Sistine Chapel, one of his grandmother’s preferred places to visit when the long war on the Continent allowed.

“Oren, staring into space, quite literally I, see?” his cousin Augustus said as he stepped up to him. The alcohol-loaded breath that wafted into his nose answered Oren’s question as to how Augustus had passed the last half an hour without even having to ask the question.

Oren reached into his burgundy waistcoat’s pocket and retrieved a small, wooden box.

“Snuffing? Here, in the ballroom? Your Grace has grown rather bold since acquiring the title. Grandmother will have your head,” Augustus chuckled, but the cheeky expression vanished the moment Oren opened the box.

“Jove, comfits?”

“Anise flavored. You are in dire need,” he declared and pushed the box closer toward his cousin, who took one with a shake of the head. He threw the comfit into the air and leaned his head back, tongue sticking out. “Got it!” He clapped his hands together as he showed Oren the comfit between his teeth. Oren could do nothing but shake his head.

“You will never change, will you?”

“I don’t intend to. But then again, I am not the one burdened with a Dukedom, as you like to complain.”

Oren smiled; it was true. While they shared a grandmother, Augustus was the son of his late father’s sister. Not only was he the son of a Lady who’d married a mere Viscount, he was the second son and thus stood to inherit nothing but whatever their grandmother would leave him. Not that Augustus was terribly worried. He’d already inherited a sum that kept him comfortable when his father passed away.

Sometimes I’m envious of Augustus. He has been my companion for years, we’ve gone on a great many adventures together, but those days are over for me, while for him, they will continue endlessly.

“Jove, what is the trouble? You look Friday faced. Did our dear grandmother take you to task over your lack of connections and such?”

Oren shrugged. “Naturally, she did. However, she has the perfect solution to my troubles. Marriage to Lady Altha.”

“Your childhood friend? The same Lady Altha who has made it clear she’d not be interested in marriage?” Augustus asked. Oren frowned; he’d only returned to London a couple of months prior and hadn’t had much time to spend with Altha or any of their old friends. He’s kept to himself, with only Augustus for company.

“She’s not?”

“No, I was at Brighton, enjoying my sea bathing just last week when I met Lord Peterborough. He attempted to court Lady Altha last Season, only for the lady to tell him she had no interest in marriage and that he was wasting his time. Wasting his time, can you believe it?”

Oren smiled. He could. Altha was a bookish person who enjoyed nothing better than to read, but she was also outspoken and wouldn’t lead a man on. He’d always liked that about her.

“Well, perhaps then I ought not to feel as bad about what I said… although I’m sure she is affronted anyhow.”

“Affronted? I know I’ve overindulged in the cognac, but what in the world do you mean?”

Realizing he hadn’t told Augustus everything that happened in the library, he made a full report on the events. When he completed his tale, he felt even more terrible about his rejection of her. He’d acted nonchalantly when he surprised her in her hiding spot, but inside, he couldn’t deny he was quite ashamed that she’d overheard him.

“And ashamed you ought to feel, “Augustus sternly admonished him. “It’s not nice to reject a lady so harshly. Whether she’d hidden behind a jib door or not. You ought to apologize to her.”

“I know, I should. I really should.” He canvassed the ballroom but couldn’t spot her anywhere.

“While you’re at it, you ought to make her a proposition,” his cousin went on.

“A proposition? What do you have in mind?”

Augustus shrugged. “You’re expected to marry, and marry well so you can start the ringing in of a new era in the House of Lords, yes? Well, to do so, you must marry. Meanwhile, Lady Altha must marry as well, lest she’s considered a spinster in a few years. She’s already had two failed Seasons and cannot have a third. Besides, you know her family needs the money such a union would bring. It seems convenient to me if the two of you should join forces.”

Oren stood, utterly shocked at this. A marriage of convenience? He’d never considered this possibility. He hadn’t wanted to settle into a typical marriage as so many of his peers had. He wanted to retain his freedom. Perhaps Augustus was correct, and this was just what he needed. He could do as he pleased, while Altha could enjoy all the things she liked without the pressures of having to find a husband – or have a child. For Oren knew one thing for certain, he never wanted to be a father.

No, his own father’s mistreatment of him had made it, so he had no desire to ever have children of his own. As he glanced at his cousin, he wondered if his friend, whose life consisted of gambling, drinking, indulging in fine foods, and visiting the various birds of paradise in their brothels, might have just had the perfect solution for his problem.

For, he hadn’t wanted to take Altha as a wife, not a true wife. The idea still troubled him. But as a fake wife, she might just be perfect.

With a smile, he canvassed the room again and, this time, spotted her standing in the corner near the French door leading to the garden.

“If you will excuse me, Gus. I have a lady to snare into a fake marriage.”

The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk

~ Cicero 


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  • Love tjis story so far and cannot wait to read what mischief and adventures will follow Lady Altha and Duke Oren. Lovely start

  • Emma, I can hardly wait for the whole book! Now I have to wait a whole week! Maybe cooking for Thanksgiving will distract me. : )

  • A very intriguing story. I can’t wait to read all the book. I already love the female lead and I urge to slap some decourous manners to the male lead. And the Granny is not that bad either ahaha.

  • Can’t wait to see if Altha will marry him and how their lives will go on. A real teaser- love grandma too. I can just see her in my mind.

  • Poor, embarrassed Altha! Overhearing her rejection by Oren to his grandmother’s suggestion to wed her! Will Oren convince her to engage in this marriage of convenience, and if so, how? Can’t wait to see!

  • A wonderfully written beginning. It will be very intriguing how Oren maneuvers Altha into marriage. And so the game begins. What will they be forced to overcome ?
    Well done, Ms. Linfield ! Anticipating the rest of the story.

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