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Authors: LAURIE BENSON

Tags: #REGENCY ROMANCE

UNCOMMON DUKE, AN

BOOK: UNCOMMON DUKE, AN
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Confessions of a Regency duke...

When the Duke of Winterbourne proposed to Olivia, she felt like the luckiest girl alive. Their happy marriage was the envy of the ton. But all that changed when Gabriel wasn’t there the night Olivia gave birth to their son...

Gabriel’s life is rooted in darkness, and he’s learned the hard way not to trust
anyone
with the truth. Yet, now his wife wants to try for another child...and Gabriel must bare his secrets in order to bring Olivia back into his bed, and by his side, forever!

Secret Lives of the Ton

What Society doesn’t know...

Meet Julian Carlisle, the Duke of Lyonsdale, Gabriel Pearce, the Duke of Winterbourne, and Phineas Attwood, the Earl of Hartwick.

In the eyes of the
ton
, these three gentlemen are handsome, upstanding men who (mostly!) play by the rules. But what Society doesn’t know is that, behind closed doors, these men are living scandalous lives and hiding scandalous secrets!

Read Julian’s story in
An Unsuitable Duchess
Already available

Read Gabriel’s story in
An Uncommon Duke
Available now

And read Hart’s story in
The Unexpected Countess
Coming soon!

Author Note

The idea for this story came to me after I learned about the
possible assassination attempt of the Prince Regent that occurred on January 28,
1817, when he was returning from the opening of Parliament. Thinking about that
event led me to imagine a second assassination attempt, taking place a year
later with other motives behind it. I know this isn’t a very romantic thing to
think about when you’re beginning to write a romance novel, but that is where it
all began.

Thank you for choosing to spend some time with
An Uncommon Duke
. I hope you enjoy Gabriel and
Olivia’s story. For more information about my next book in the Secret Lives of
the Ton miniseries, which features the Earl of Hartwick, please visit my website
at
lauriebenson.net
for details. While you’re there, you can also find
information about some of the other interesting historical tidbits I uncovered
while doing research for this book.

Laurie Benson

An Uncommon Duke

Laurie Benson
is an award-winning historical romance author and Golden Heart® Award finalist. She began her writing career as an advertising copywriter, where she learned more than you could ever want to know about hot dogs and credit score reports. When she isn’t at her laptop avoiding laundry, Laurie can be found browsing museums or taking ridiculously long hikes with her husband and two sons. You can visit her at
lauriebenson.net
.

Books by Laurie Benson

Harlequin Historical

Secret Lives of the Ton

An Unsuitable Duchess
An Uncommon Duke

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
.

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Many thanks to my editor, Kathryn Cheshire, for your insightful input and encouraging words. And to Linda Fildew, Nic Caws, Krista Oliver and the rest of the Harlequin Historical team, thanks for all you’ve done to help bring Gabriel and Olivia’s story into the world.

To my agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan with Handspun Literary Agency, your generous spirit is a gift. Someday both of us will sleep past six in the morning. In the meantime, I toast you with my coffee.

Jen, Mia, Lori and Lisa, thank you for being such wonderful critique partners, beta readers and friends. For Marnee, Terry and Gareth, thanks for being there on those days when chocolate and coffee were of no help.

To my family, I’m sorry to say there are no unicorns, aliens or vampires in this book. Someday I’ll write a story about an alien vampire unicorn just for the three of you. In the meantime, know that your love and support mean the world to me.

For the kind people who helped me with my research, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. And to those of you who shared unusual Regency era tidbits and antiques with me because you thought I’d find them interesting, thank you. I hope you have fun seeing how I used those items in this story.

Chapter One

London, England
—1818

B
eing shot at always left Gabriel Pearce, Duke of Winterbourne, in a foul mood. It didn’t matter that this time he wasn’t the intended target. It didn’t matter that he had saved the Prince Regent by tackling him to the floor of his coach. And, it didn’t matter that the shot had narrowly missed Gabriel. Being shot at was a nuisance that meant his orderly life would be thrown into chaos for the unforeseeable future.

Three hours after his coach had sped down the rutted country road, whisking the Prince Regent to the safety of Carlton House, Gabriel stood in his dressing room attempting to tie his cravat into a perfect
Trône d’Amour
. He had performed the task countless times. One would think he could do it in his sleep. Apparently, with the events of today playing out in his mind, one would be wrong.

Peering closer at his reflection in the mirror, he tore the linen from his neck.
Bloody hell! There should be no ripples in the knot, only one dent!
Hodges, his valet, immediately handed him another freshly starched neckcloth.

‘Just tie it into a waterfall and be done with it,’ his brother Andrew called out, walking into the room and dropping into the wingback chair beside the mirror.

‘Too plebeian,’ Gabriel bit out, his attention fixed on the task at hand.

‘That’s how I tie my cravats.’

Raking a critical gaze over Andrew’s brown tailcoat and the unimpressive shine to his shoes, Gabriel arched a brow.

‘Ho, I see now,’ Andrew said with a smirk. ‘Some day I will shock you and wear something you deem acceptable.’

‘If you would finally allow me to find you an acceptable valet, that might happen sooner rather than later.’

‘I’m quite content with the one I have, thank you. How many neckcloths have you handed my brother, Hodges?’

‘Six, my lord.’

Andrew sighed and studied the coffered ceiling. ‘Shall I wait in your study? If you continue on this path to perfection it might take some time and I could be enjoying your fine brandy while I wait.’

‘I’ll be but a moment. There is brandy by the window.’ Gabriel closed his eyes and managed to push all thoughts of gunshots, shattered glass and a frightened Prince Regent from his mind. Concentrating on each specific turn of the cloth, he finally tied a perfect knot.

Now he could attend to more important matters.

He nodded to Hodges, and the elderly man quietly left the brothers alone behind closed doors.

‘Please tell me we caught the blackguard,’ Gabriel said, accepting a glass of brandy.

Andrew dropped back into the chair and stretched out his long legs. ‘Spence jumped from his tiger’s perch the moment the shots were fired and caught the man. He was taken to the Tower—however, he refuses to talk.’

Gabriel took his first sip of brandy since returning home. The heat sliding down his throat did nothing to relieve the tight tension in his muscles. ‘We need to know if he was working alone. I don’t care what it takes. Make him talk.’

Andrew pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and held it out. ‘My thought is he had assistance. We found this on him. I don’t believe our gunman had access to Prinny’s plans. Someone had to have given him this information.’

Scrawled in pencil were the date, the name of the road and town they had travelled to, as well as a sketch of Gabriel’s coat of arms. Apparently whoever had supplied the information to the gunman knew Prinny would be travelling with Gabriel today and knew where they’d be going. But how was that possible when Prinny had only approached Gabriel last evening about taking him to purchase the painting?

Bringing the paper to his nose, Gabriel sniffed the unfamiliar pungent oily scent mixed with tobacco. The letter ‘m’ had an interesting swirl to it, but other than that there was no way to identify the author. ‘There’s no cipher, so it appears we are dealing with an inexperienced lot.’

As he took another sip, he organised the information before him. He was the man ultimately responsible for protecting the Crown. Unrest was rampant throughout the country. If his people failed to protect King George and the Prince Regent, there was no telling what anarchy might occur.

‘How is Prinny faring?’ Andrew asked, interrupting his thoughts.

‘He is shaken but unharmed.’

‘And you?’

‘I have this scratch on my forehead from shattering glass and my right shoulder is a bit bruised. As you know, I’ve survived worse.’ He handed the paper back to Andrew. ‘Show this to Hart. He may be able to identify the smell. Then remain at the Tower and notify me when the gunman is broken. I need to know who else wants Prinny dead.’

Andrew stood and placed his glass on a nearby table. ‘Please give my regrets to Olivia and Nicholas. I’m sure you’ll devise a plausible excuse as to why I had to miss his breeching ceremony.’

Demmit! Nicholas would be devastated his favourite uncle wasn’t there for such a momentous occasion, but Andrew was the only person Gabriel trusted completely. He needed answers and Andrew would make certain he got them. He shook off the guilt trying to settle in his gut. ‘Make an appearance, but slip away shortly after the ceremony begins.’

‘Very well, I will send word when we know more.’

‘And watch your back.’

‘I always do.’

Glancing at the ormolu clock on the mantel, Gabriel let out a curse. He was late. Now he would have to endure the customary icy demeanour of his wife. Tonight they might even be forced to actually hold a conversation. He took another sip of brandy, bracing himself for an encounter with the woman he had married.

* * *

Olivia, Duchess of Winterbourne, bounced her nephew on her knee and stole another glance at the longcase clock beside the drawing room door. The breeching ceremony should have begun twenty minutes ago. Her son was eager to take this first step towards manhood. How much longer would Gabriel keep them waiting?

She shifted her attention to her mother-in-law, who sat nearby talking with Olivia’s mother. When their eyes met, the Dowager gave her a slight sympathetic smile.

The sofa Olivia was sitting on dipped as her sister, Victoria, leaned closer. ‘Do you think he forgot?’

‘What man forgets his own son’s breeching?’ Olivia rubbed her forehead and prayed her husband was not such a man. ‘Mr James is a reliable secretary. I’m certain he reminded Gabriel of the occasion.’

‘Perhaps Mr James was unclear of the time.’

Olivia had reminded him of the time during their daily meeting that morning. This delay fell directly on Gabriel’s shoulders. She would give him five more minutes. Then she would ring for Bennett to locate him. It should be of no surprise to her that he was late. She had learned long ago Gabriel only thought of himself. ‘I’m certain Mr James relayed the correct time.’

‘Do you truly not speak at all now?’

‘Being in his presence is still a constant reminder of what he did. It’s best if I avoid him.’

‘Mother taught us to expect nothing from the men we marry. She always said that to them we are simply means to an heir. You should have listened to her,’ Victoria said gently.

Their mother knew first-hand how true those statements were and Olivia had never expected more. Their father married their mother to create a political alliance with Olivia’s grandfather, the Duke of Strathmore. He had never shown any interest in his wife as a person and their brother had followed suit with his wife. When he’d sought the Marquess of Haverstraw for Victoria, it was because the man had lands bordering their family’s Wiltshire estate. And he could not have been more pleased when the Duke of Winterbourne, a favourite of the Prince Regent, had shown an interest in Olivia. His pleasure had nothing to do with his daughter’s feelings on the matter. Not once had he discussed Gabriel with her before or after he consented to the marriage.

But Gabriel had taken her by surprise. This was a man who listened to her—really listened to her opinions and interests. To have the complete attention of a man who was that handsome and powerful had been intoxicating.

After having courted her for a month, he gave her the consideration of asking her for her hand before approaching her father. Foolishly she fell in love with him and believed some day he would grow to love her in return. But he never did.

‘You cannot direct your heart’s actions,’ she said to Victoria. If she could, Olivia would have saved herself many tearful nights.

‘I never understood why your heart became so engaged. The two of you fought quite regularly.’

‘We did not. When did you ever witness such behaviour?’

‘Usually during dinner.’

‘A discussion of contrasting opinions is not an argument.’

‘I would find such interaction with Haverstraw tiresome.’ She held her arms out towards her son. ‘I can take Michael from you. I fear he has become rather heavy.’

Olivia bounced Michael higher, pleased she was able to make him giggle. ‘Nonsense, he is a feather. I remember when I could pick Nicholas up this easily. Now he will have his ringlets cut and leave behind his gowns to don skeleton suits.’

As she rubbed her nose against Michael’s fuzzy blond head, he grasped a tendril of hair resting along her neck. ‘How I miss the smell of a baby.’

‘Should you hold him after he’s eaten, you might change your opinion.’

Olivia grinned in understanding.

Then, she felt it.

Even though she had tried to ignore the sensation, somehow she always knew when Gabriel entered a room. It was as if a ribbon was tied from one end of him directly to her.

His tall, broad frame obstructed the view beyond the doorway and his unruffled demeanour told her he was unaware he delayed the ceremony—or, perhaps, he didn’t care.

As if he felt the invisible connection as well, his unreadable hazel eyes found her and he nodded politely. He surveyed the room, his square jaw and carved features remaining impassive, until he spied Nicholas looking out the window with Gabriel’s brother, Monty. Only then did his lips curve into a smile that made the corners of his eyes crinkle.

She forced herself to look away. Years ago, that smile was given only to her, and it would always make her heart swell. Now, whenever she witnessed it, her heart would squeeze painfully.

Gabriel paid his respects to their mothers before advancing across the room to where Olivia sat. His eyes softened briefly when they settled on Michael, who was shoving his entire chubby fist into his own small mouth.

‘Duchess, Lady Haverstraw, I hope you’re both well.’

The brandy on his breath told Olivia how he had been occupying himself while their families waited patiently for his arrival. ‘Thank you, we are. I dare say I thought you might have been feeling poorly since you arrived so late, but I see you were relaxing with some brandy while we were debating on how long we could occupy the children before they began climbing the curtains,’ she said in the sweetest tone she could muster.

‘Forgive me. Urgent business kept me occupied until now. Had I been able to disengage myself and join you here, I would have.’

As he turned his head and watched Andrew approach Nicholas, Olivia noticed a thin red line over his left brow.

‘Did you injure yourself getting dressed today?’

He began spinning the gold intaglio ring on his pinkie. ‘I rode into a low-hanging branch in the park this morning.’

The only other time she’d witnessed him fidget with that ring was when he’d stood at the side of her bed after Nicholas was born—before she threw him out of her room. ‘I imagine you would like to say a few words before the ceremony begins.’

He stared blankly at her for a fleeting moment. ‘Of course.’

‘Very well, while you collect your thoughts, I’ll inform Nicholas we are finally able to begin.’ She placed her nephew in Victoria’s arms. As she stood, another whiff of brandy filled her nose. He was making it very difficult for her to resist the urge to step on his foot as she sauntered past him.

* * *

Once the carriages of her last few guests had departed down the drive, Olivia returned to the Green Drawing Room to find her mother-in-law seated on a sofa watching Gabriel and Nicholas build a house of cards across the room. Gabriel’s muscular form was stretched out across the Aubusson rug, while he supported himself on his elbow. She recalled the last time she had seen him reclining in such a casual pose. It was six years ago on a rug in her bedchamber. Squeezing her eyelids shut, she tried to force the image from her mind.

She needed wine. Unfortunately there was only tea. Heading to the table with the cups, Olivia looked at Gabriel’s mother. ‘Would you care for more tea, Catherine?’

‘If you are having another cup...I recall how trying it was to prepare for this occasion. Tea will be just the thing.’

Olivia handed Catherine a cup and poured another for herself, resisting the urge to steal another glance at Gabriel. It would be close to impossible to endure his presence much longer. Resentment rippled through her and tea would never relieve it.

‘Your sister’s youngest is beautiful,’ Catherine said, shifting so Olivia could sit next to her. ‘Watching you with him reminded me of how you would play with Nicholas when he was an infant. Now look at him. In those clothes and with his hair cut, he looks like a small version of his father and his uncles.’ She studied Olivia over the rim of her cup. ‘Soon he will be able to attend Eton.’

Olivia’s heart stopped. Gabriel wouldn’t do that to her. Would he? ‘Has your son mentioned something to you about sending him away to school?’

‘You’re the mother of his heir. Haven’t the two of you discussed plans for his education yet?’

Olivia shook her head. ‘I assumed he would continue to be tutored at home like his father until he was ready to attend Cambridge.’ Glancing at Gabriel, she wondered if he had other plans.

‘Perhaps. However, you’ll not know for certain unless the two of you discuss it.’ Catherine gave an appraising stare before turning her attention to her son and grandson. ‘My husband would build houses out of cards with the boys when they were children. Oh, how he would dote on them.’

BOOK: UNCOMMON DUKE, AN
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