The Duke Can Go to the Devil (Prelude to a Kiss)

 
9780349410678: The Duke Can Go to the Devil (Prelude to a Kiss)

In the new novel from the bestselling author of The Earl I Adore, May Bradford isn’t afraid to play devil’s advocate when it comes to a duke....

After her mother’s death, May’s sea captain father sends her halfway around the world to live with his stodgy sister in England. The summer festival in Bath made for a lovely distraction, but now she can’t wait for her father’s return so she can leave this country, its suffocating rules, and one infuriatingly proper nobleman in particular behind.

Because he is the Duke of Radcliffe, William Spencer’s whole life revolves around his duties. He never steps foot outside the bounds of proper behavior, and he expects the same of those around him. With her devil-may-care ways, May vexes him nearly as much as she tempts him, but there’s something about her that he just can’t resist. He knows he’s falling hard for her, but with lives that are worlds apart, will they ever be able to find any common ground?

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About the Author:

Erin Knightley is the author of the Prelude to a Kiss series and the Sealed with a Kiss series. Despite being an avid reader and closet writer her whole life, Ms. Knightley decided to pursue a sensible career in science. It was only after earning her BS and working in the field for years that she realized doing the sensible thing wasn’t any fun at all. Following her dreams, Erin left her practical side behind and now spends her days writing. Together with her tall, dark, and handsome husband and their three spoiled mutts, she is living her own Happily Ever After in North Carolina.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PRAISE FOR ERIN KNIGHTLEY’S PRELUDE TO A KISS SERIES

Also by Erin Knightley

SIGNET ECLIPSE

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

To most, Mei-li Bradford’s aunt was known simply as Lady Stanwix, second wife and widow of the old earl. To a very select few, she was referred to as Victoria. To the servants, she was called something not entirely fit to repeat. But in May’s mind, her father’s sister—with whom she’d be living until Papa returned from his current voyage—was more often than not The Warden.

An entirely fitting title, given how often she required May to stay buried in the suffocating opulence of the grand house the older woman had called home for the past two decades. The rooms were large, but that didn’t make the place any less confining. Especially since, thanks to her aunt’s uninspired sense of design, the place was as dark and dreary as a mausoleum.

Fortunately, May was nothing if not resourceful.

And while she prudently avoided clashing with her aunt whenever possible—she had made a promise to her father to behave in his absence, after all—she was not above exploiting The Warden’s weaknesses.

Which was precisely why May had been sneaking out every morning for the past three months. She had a routine to keep, and after a lifetime of tropical living, she refused to do her morning exercises within the olive-and-brown-walled confines of the lifeless old house. Although, to be fair, it was hardly sneaking when one walked straight out the front door. If her aunt chose to keep to a rigid routine that consisted of being awoken at nine o’clock sharp every morning—and not one minute before—then that was her prerogative. Just as it was May’s to rise before dawn and start her day.

Smiling, she breathed in the cool morning air as she pulled the door closed behind her, more grateful than ever for the quiet solitude of the city this early in the morning. Unlike many of the cities May had visited in her life, Bath had a certain laziness to it this time of the day. This was a city that came alive in the evening, with the monied glow of hundreds of beeswax candles lighting the rented homes and public gathering places that were packed to overflowing come sundown.

Walking along the deserted streets in the timid predawn glow, one would never suspect the thousands upon thousands of visitors filling every available inn and town house, nearly all of whom had flocked to Bath for the first annual Summer Serenade in Somerset music festival.

The festival, and the new friends it had brought her, was the only thing making this forced visit bearable. Until last night. Her jaw tightened at the memory of the disastrous evening she had endured thanks to the combined efforts of The Warden and one self-entitled, pompous visitor in particular. As quickly as the thought had popped into her mind, she mentally shoved it away again.

Coming to the park by the river today wasn’t about her aunt, or more specifically, defying her aunt. Nor was it about the encounter last night, as infuriating as it had been. Coming here today was about her. It was about doing what she had done every morning for years, whether she was in the Far East, the East Indies, on the open ocean, or right here in Bath.

And she’d be damned if she’d let her aunt’s dictates or last night’s confrontation spoil it for her.

Arriving at the park at last, May slipped out of her shoes and stepped onto the soft, dewy grass. Bliss. Next she shed her dull gray pelisse, letting the ugly fabric fall in a heap on the damp ground. The coat had been the first thing Aunt Victoria had commissioned for May upon her arrival this past spring. It had seemed a nice enough gesture, until she realized it was The Warden’s attempt to cover May’s bright and exotic wardrobe. Still, its dreary color did come in handy this time of morning, when she wished to avoid notice if, by chance, someone did happen to be about.

Sighing happily, she stretched her hands over her head, reveling in the loss of the restrictive garment. God bless the English and their propensity to sleep in. Not only did she actually have some time to herself each morning, but there was no one around to dissolve in a fit of vapors over the thin silken tunic and trousers she wore.

The soft whisper of the fabric was nearly lost in the muted sounds of the flowing River Avon as she walked toward the clearing beside the water, limbering up her body as she went. Rolled shoulders, windmilled arms, a few neck stretches—just enough to get the blood flowing for her routine. The light was particularly lovely this morning, all pinks and purples with the blushing promise of a new day. In this light, the greens of the trees and grass and shrubs and, well, everything in this bloody country, wasn’t quite so overwhelming. Truly, it was as though the king had ordained exactly one shade of green for every plant, leaf, and blade of grass in the country, and the flora, being good little English subjects, had obliged.

She caught herself sliding down the familiar path of negativity and firmly banished the thoughts from her mind. She was here to find peace. To be centered for the day, to start off the morning on the best possible foot.

Breathing in a long, slow lungful of the fresh morning air, she cleared her mind of all the clutter it had accumulated over the past twenty-four hours. And there was a lot of clutter, thanks to yesterday’s debacle. Getting her body into position, she closed her eyes, imagined her favorite place on Earth, and began her routine.

Each movement was slow and controlled, gliding effortlessly from one position to the next. She took slow, measured breaths and focused on the feel of the air as her hands swished through it, on the gentle sound of the river flowing against its banks, and on the soft, spongy grass beneath her feet as she slid from one step to the next.

Yes, the routine that she’d learned from Suyin, her friend and lady’s maid, was technically a form of martial arts, but it could more accurately be described as meditation in motion. The movements were so familiar, it was as though her limbs moved themselves, following the age-old rhythm that she’d learned years ago. The sleeves of her tunic slid along her arms like cool water, pooling at her elbows before slipping back down to her wrists. Again and again the silk caressed her skin as she went through the routine, a sort of silent lullaby.

As the minutes ticked by, the knotted muscles of her upper back loosened and her body became more and more relaxed. The tension caused by the day before melted like candle wax. Her mind settled as well, letting go of all the negativity that had plagued her since yesterday.

Just as she had reached the perfect place of quiet clarity, the sound of a cleared throat startled her from her peace, wrenching her back to the present. She straightened abruptly and swung around, her heart pounding.

She saw the interloper at once, standing only a dozen feet away with arms crossed and lips raised in a slight sneer that she was beginning to think was the only expression he was capable of. His strong, aristocratic jaw was tipped up in a look of superiority as his decidedly disgusted whiskey-brown eyes raked her over from the top of her head to the bottom of her bare feet. May silently cursed.

In four different languages.

The Duke of Radcliffe, it would seem, was not as easily forgotten as originally hoped.

*   *   *

The previous evening

“You look beautiful. A gemstone come to life.”

May glanced away from the mirror and grinned to Suyin, who was not only her lady’s maid, but her friend and companion. “Thanks to you, of course,” she said, giving a little wink.

Suyin nodded once. “Yes, I know,” she said, her dry humor making May laugh. Her English was much better than May’s Chinese, but she always spoke with an economy of words. Tilting her head to the side as she regarded May’s reflection, she smiled softly and said, “So like your mother. More every day.”

May drew in a swift breath, the unexpected comment making her heart squeeze. Joy and sadness mingled within her chest at the thought of her mother, who had died last year. Smiling past the emotion, she nodded her thanks.

Outward beauty was such a subjective thing—a truth learned over the years as May had encountered different cultures and their varying definitions of what was appealing. May never put much stock in comments, be they positive or negative, about her looks. But to be compared to her mother? It was enough to bring uncharacteristic moisture to her eyes, which she quickly blinked away.

“This was her favorite color,” she said at last, sliding her hand over the cerulean silk of her gown. Papa had bought it for May during their last trip to Java, and Smita, one of her dearest friends in India, had embroidered the bold design at her waist, a colorful two-inch-wide band with stylized flowers in varying shades of yellow, pink, and blue. Another band trimmed the gown’s hem, which was just short enough to show a hint of her magenta silk slippers. It was an ensemble she knew her mother would have loved, which in turn made May love it that much more.

Suyin nodded. “Blue silk makes blue eyes sing.”

“How very poetic,” May responded with a lighthearted shake of her head as she got her emotions back under control. “Although, at the moment, I’m much more concerned with making my fingers dance than my eyes sing.”

Her friend’s beautiful almond-shaped eyes widened incredulously. “Mei-li? Nervous? It cannot be.”

May chuckled at the teasing. “Not so much nervous as excited. This is the last time we shall play as a trio—I want to do well.” It had been an unexpectedly lovely summer, thanks to Sophie, Charity, and the little trio they had formed.

They had found one another quite by accident over a month ago during the first days of the festival, when one of the organizers had insisted there was room for only one more in their Tuesday evening performances. Not to be thwarted, they had impulsively joined together into a trio that turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to May. Being able to play her guzheng in concert with such wonderful musicians had been a treat, but it was their friendship that she truly treasured. When her father finally came to collect her, she had every intention of writing them copiously, no matter the cost.

The clock in the hall tolled seven o’clock. Devil take it—May was late. Rushing to grab her wrap, she turned and gave Suyin a bright smile. “Enjoy your evening! And do wish us luck—with that crowd, we may well need it.”

“Zhù hao yùn,” Suyin dutifully called after her as May rushed out the door.

Aunt Victoria was as fastidious about time as a clockmaker, so this wasn’t the best start to the evening. May hurried down the stairs, lifting her skirts halfway up her calves in an effort to keep from tripping. As she reached the landing, the butler smoothly pulled open the door, his dour expression unchanged despite the breathless female racing past him.

“Thank you, Hargrove,” she called as she rushed to the waiting carriage. Her aunt’s profile was just visible through the closed window of the carriage, her elegantly sloped nose lifted despite the fact she was alone. Perhaps that was her natural resting position after all.

The evening sun flashed across the black lacquer door as the footman pulled it open and assisted her up. She smiled briefly to him before settling onto the seat beside her aunt. Arranging her skirts as carefully as she could, she said, “Good evening, Aunt Victoria. My apologies for my tardiness.”

Instead of answering, her aunt rapped on the roof, signaling to the driver to be off. It was only after they had merged into the slow-moving traffic headed up the hill that she deigned to turn to May, her gray eyes disapproving. “Punctuality is a virtue. Particularly when a duke is present.”

Her aunt would actually have been quite attractive, if she could ever relax now and then. Her cheeks were smooth and softly rounded, but her mouth and forehead were lined from the scowl that seemed to weigh down her features more often than not.

Inwardly sighing, May nodded. “Hence the apology. I have no wish to be late to the gala.” She cared not at all for a duke she had never met, but she had no intention of wasting any of her remaining time with her friends, especially on such a big night.

“Do not take that tone with me, young lady. If I had my way, we wouldn’t be attending at all.”

May’s eyebrow lifted, despite her intention to remain impassive. “What tone? I was merely—”

“Oh yes, you are forever ‘merely’ doing one thing or another. I’ve gone above and beyond in my attempts to teach you proper comportment, yet you steadfastly cling to your habits.” She adjusted her shawl, aggravation making the movement jerky. “Which is precisely why I will not be introducing you to the duke. I will not allow your poor manners to reflect ill upon me in his presence. Heaven knows you’ve done enough damage already.”

May’s excitement for the evening abruptly fizzled in the face of her aunt’s censure. She had been all of one minute late, for God’s sake. Leave it to The Warden to snowball that small infraction into something so dire. Her spine stiffened as she cut her gaze to her aunt. “Yes, so much damage that the committee saw fit to invite the trio to perform for the vaunted duke.”

Aunt Victoria’s lips pinched together, emphasizing the wrinkles that radiated from her mouth like the spokes of a wagon wheel. May could practically see the steam building behind her ears. “One more impertinent comment, and you will find yourself back home the very moment the performance is over.”

It was May’s nature to rebel against her aunt’s authoritative manner, but for perhaps the thousandth time that summer, she bit her tongue and took a deep breath. Her father had implored her to respect his sister’s authority. May had done her best to honor his wishes, for more reasons than one. It wouldn’t be forever, and she didn’t wish to make either of them more miserable than they already were with the living arrangements. Still, it galled her not to defend herself.

After a few moments of silence, her aunt nodded, apparently pleased that she had won that round. They carried on for a few minutes with the tentative ceasefire, each of them staring out their respective windows in the increasingly stifling heat of the small space. For some ridiculous reason, her aunt felt it was more dignified to travel in a closed carriage.

Finally, the horses slowed to a stop, and the butter yellow limestone of the Assembly Rooms came into view. Without waiting for the groom to assist them, May pushed open the door and stepped out, grateful for a breath of fresh air. She pulled off her wrap and lifted her arms. She sincerely hoped no dampness marred the silk bodice.

Her aunt alighted from the carriage, her brow ominously furrowed as she took in May’s gown. Before she could say whatever sour thing was perched on the end of her tongue, May held up her hands. “Please, may we just ...

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Erin Knightley
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Book Description Little, Brown Book Group, United Kingdom, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the new novel from the bestselling author of The Baron Next Door, May Bradford isn t afraid to play devil s advocate when it comes to a duke . . . After her mother s death, May s sea captain father sends her halfway around the world to live with his stodgy sister in England. The summer festival in Bath made for a lovely distraction, but now she can t wait for her father s return so she can leave behind this country, its suffocating rules and - in particular - one infuriatingly proper nobleman. Because he is the Duke of Radcliffe, William Spencer s whole life revolves around his duties. He never sets foot outside the bounds of proper behavior, and he expects the same of those around him. With her devil-may-care ways, May vexes him nearly as much as she tempts him, but there s something about her that he just can t resist. He knows he s falling hard for her, but with lives that are worlds apart, will they ever be able to find any common ground?This charming, quick-witted Regency romance is a must for fans of Julia Quinn, Stephanie Laurens and Mary Balogh. Delicious humour, [a] dollop of suspense, and delectable characters. Sabrina Jeffries Will delight Regency fans looking to escape London s stuffy ballrooms . . . supremely gratifying. Publishers Weekly. Bookseller Inventory # AA29780349410678

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Book Description Little, Brown Book Group, United Kingdom, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the new novel from the bestselling author of The Baron Next Door, May Bradford isn t afraid to play devil s advocate when it comes to a duke . . . After her mother s death, May s sea captain father sends her halfway around the world to live with his stodgy sister in England. The summer festival in Bath made for a lovely distraction, but now she can t wait for her father s return so she can leave behind this country, its suffocating rules and - in particular - one infuriatingly proper nobleman. Because he is the Duke of Radcliffe, William Spencer s whole life revolves around his duties. He never sets foot outside the bounds of proper behavior, and he expects the same of those around him. With her devil-may-care ways, May vexes him nearly as much as she tempts him, but there s something about her that he just can t resist. He knows he s falling hard for her, but with lives that are worlds apart, will they ever be able to find any common ground?This charming, quick-witted Regency romance is a must for fans of Julia Quinn, Stephanie Laurens and Mary Balogh. Delicious humour, [a] dollop of suspense, and delectable characters. Sabrina Jeffries Will delight Regency fans looking to escape London s stuffy ballrooms . . . supremely gratifying. Publishers Weekly. Bookseller Inventory # AA29780349410678

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Book Description Piatkus Books. Book Condition: New. Erin Knightley, bestselling author of The Earl I Adore brings us the next in her Prelude to a Kiss series: a sparkling Regency romance perfect for fans of Eloisa James, Sarah MacLean and Sabrina Jeffries Series: Prelude to a Kiss. Num Pages: 336 pages. BIC Classification: FRH. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 128 x 198 x 29. Weight in Grams: 236. . 2015. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Bookseller Inventory # V9780349410678

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