Hi friends! It’s Tuesday which means a bunch of new romances are available today! I’m super excited to share from The Duchess Deal – Tessa Dare was kind enough to provide an exclusive excerpt to ALBTALBS, and I hope you enjoy! Thank you, and congratulations on your newest release!! <3
When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…
Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.
His terms are simple:
- – They will be husband and wife by night only.
- – No lights, no kissing.
- – No questions about his battle scars.
- – Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.
But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…
“We . . .” Emma forced herself to say it. “We could play. The two of us. You and I.”
He stared at her in disbelief.
He respects those who challenge him, she reminded herself. Although, at the moment, the piercing quality of his gaze didn’t strike her as admiration.
But Emma was in for the penny now. She may as well try for the pound.
“I adore badminton.” She attempted to twirl the racquet in a casual, sporty fashion. Instead she dropped it, and it bounced off her toe. She bit her lip, holding back a yelp of pain. “Whoops. How careless of me.”
She picked up the racquet with as much dignity as she could manage and limped to the other side of the ballroom, ducking under the net.
She gave him a game smile. “Shall we?”
“Very well. Let’s wager on it.”
“If you like. What is the forfeit?”
Now Emma’s interest was piqued. Weren’t the forfeits in these wagers typically naughty? A kiss, perhaps, or two minutes locked in the closet.
“When I win, you agree to leave me be. I’ve already conceded dinners, and further interruptions are unwelcome. I have a dukedom to manage.”
Well, and badminton to play, it would seem—which apparently outranked his wife in his leisure-time priorities.
“Fine,” she said, feeling testy. “But if I win, you agree to treat me with a modicum of respect.”
“Oh, come now. I already give you a modicum.”
“More than a modicum, then.” Emma considered. “How much is a modicum, anyway?”
“Somewhere between a soupçon and a whit, I imagine.”
“Then I want an ounce.”
“Two ounces. Actually, no. I should like a full pint of respect.”
He shook his head. “Now you’re just being greedy.”
“Greedy? I realize I may not be as captivating as a shuttlecock or a decanter of brandy, but I am your wife. The woman who is to be the mother of your child.”
After a pause, he said, “There’s no purpose in arguing the point. You’re not going to win.”
That’s what you think.
She might not win this silly game, but she was determined to triumph eventually. The battle began here and now.
He retrieved his racquet and a shuttlecock, took his position on the court, and, with a flick of his wrist, sent the shuttlecock sailing over Emma’s head before she could even move.
“Well done,” she said. “One point to you.”
“That wasn’t even a serve. I was merely lobbing you the shuttlecock. First service should be the lady’s. There’s your modicum.”
“But of course. Thank you, darling.” With an awkward swipe of the racquet, she managed to send the shuttlecock flying . . . straight into the net.
This time, he was the one to stand still in the center of the court. “What did you call me?”
“I called you ‘darling.’ We discussed at dinner yesterday that I must call you something. I refuse to address you as Ashbury or Duke, and you didn’t like ‘dear husband’ or ‘sweeting’ or ‘heart.’” She motioned toward the shuttlecock lying on the floor. “I believe it’s your turn, darling.”
“I am no one’s darling.” He batted the shuttlecock with a fierce backhand swat.
To her surprise, Emma managed to scramble under the falling missile and return it. “I don’t know if you have a say in that.”
“I’m a duke. I have a say in everything.”
Another effortless return on his part; another ungainly, desperate swipe on hers. This time, she missed.
“Darling is in the eye of the beholder.” Emma was already a bit out of breath as she retrieved the dropped shuttlecock. “If I choose to make a darling of you, there is nothing you can do about it.”
“Of course there’s something I can do about it. I can have you sent to an institution for the feebleminded and insane.”
She shrugged. “If you say so, cherub.”
He leveled his racquet at her. “Let’s set something straight, the two of us. You seem to be plotting a campaign of kindness. No doubt with the aim of soothing my tortured soul. It would be a waste of time. My temperament was not created by injury; it will not be magically healed by sweetness or pet names. Am I making myself clear? Do not harbor any illusions that my scars transformed me into a jaded, ill-tempered wretch. I was always—and shall remain—a jaded, ill-tempered wretch.”
“Were you always this long-winded, too?”
Emma’s next attempt at a serve skittered across the floor. No matter. She was enjoying this game anyway.
“Ashbury is my title. It is what I’ve been called since my father died. No one calls me anything else. I’ve told you this.”
“And as I told you, I am your wife. Being the only one who addresses you differently is rather the point.”
Speaking of points, Emma had lost count of how many points she was behind.
He sent a serve back toward her. Emma noticed a hitch in his swing. He winced ever so slightly. Perhaps the reason behind the thrice-weekly sport was not mere boredom, but restoring the use of an injured arm. If so, his wounds must extend beyond his visible scars.
She wondered how severe those wounds were. She wondered how much they still pained him.
Too much wondering. It wouldn’t all fit in her brain. Instead, it traveled down to her chest and tightened there.
She smiled. “Shall we continue, poppet?”
His glare in response could have shattered marble.
After a few minutes’ practice, Emma’s agility had improved. She could hold her side of a respectable volley.
“What about ‘precious’?” she suggested.
In response to that, he hit the shuttlecock so hard, it sailed all the way to the back wall and thwacked one of his ancestors right in the powdered wig.
She cheered. “Well done, my precious angel muffin.”
“This stops,” he said. “Now.”
Ignoring his outburst, Emma retrieved the shuttlecock. She served, barely managing to scrape it over the net. “I warn you, I don’t give up.”
“I warn you, I am more stubborn by far.”
“I left home at sixteen.”
“Orphaned at eleven,” he replied, sounding bored.
“I walked to London by myself. In the snow.”
“I marched a regiment to Waterloo.”
“I had to make a new life on my own. Begging for work. Stitching my fingers to nubs.” She dashed across the ballroom, rescuing the shuttlecock just before it hit the floor. Her swing sent it rocketing upward, almost to the ceiling.
He stood beneath the bundle of cork and feathers, waiting on it to swirl back to earth. “A rocket exploded in my face. I spent months near death. The scars left me a living monster. I quit opium by sheer force of will. My intended bride turned from me in revulsion. I’m still here.” He struck the shuttlecock, driving it into the parquet at her feet. “I win.”
She put a hand to her side, struggling to breathe. “Very well. You win.”
Emma felt chastened, and a bit ashamed. She’d been brave when she left home. People she held dear had turned from her, too. But the courage she’d been forced to summon couldn’t match that of a soldier in battle. As for the duke’s wounds, his scars . . . Vain and shallow as Annabelle Worthing might be, her rejection had heaped insult atop injury. The broken engagement must have deeply wounded his pride, if not his heart.
She bent to pick up the shuttlecock.
“Wait.” He jogged toward her, ducking under the net. “This will never be a proper match. Your volley is passable, but your serve is a disaster. Give it here, I’ll show you.”
Casting his own racquet aside, he plucked the shuttlecock from the floor and came to stand behind her, closing his right hand over hers where she gripped the racquet, and reaching around her with the other arm to position the shuttlecock.
She was in his embrace.
However unbelievably, for a couple who’d been engaged for a week, wed a full day and a night, and come within inches of consummating their union . . . this was the first time he’d held her in his arms.
All at once, the ballroom became a glasshouse—one filled with a steamy, intimate heat that amplified every sound, every scent. Sweat beaded at the nape of her neck, and she was deeply conscious of each wisp and strand of her hair that had tumbled free.
Mostly, though, she was aware of him. The wall of his chest against her back, and the strength of his arms around her. The soap and sandalwood scent she was coming to recognize. She stared at his hand. Last night, in the dark, those sure, confident fingers . . . they had been inside her.
“Hold it this way.” He shifted her grip on the racquet handle. “Better.”
A small vibration of joy went through her. Two curt syllables of praise from him, and her heart thrummed like a dragonfly’s wings.
Don’t, she bid it. Don’t you dare.
Her heart didn’t listen to her—but then, it never did.
Also – I have no idea what’s up with the formatting and seemingly randomly highlighted words … copy paste is whatever, so we’ll just say it adds character, yes?