Say Yes to the Duke (House of Brady)

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9781250009906: Say Yes to the Duke (House of Brady)
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SAY YES TO THE DUKE
Kieran Kramer
Janice Sherwood wants to marry for love, but she's failed to make a match after two Seasons. Her parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Brady, arrange to send her to the Duke of Halsey's country estate as a short-term guest of his grandmother, the dowager, in hopes that she might win the duke's affections. What they never could have imagined is that Janice would fall for the ruggedly handsome servant Luke, who lives in the stables and carries an air of mystery and temptation.
When Luke Callahan learns that he is the legitimate heir to a dukedom, he will stop at nothing to claim what is his. But first, he must begin a game of disguise to secure his rightful inheritance. Janice isn't part of his plan. But by engaging her in this dance of deception, might he lose her forever?

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About the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer is a former CIA employee, journalist, and English teacher who lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her family. Game show veteran, karaoke enthusiast, and general adventurer, her motto is, "Life rewards action."

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
 
 
Lady Janice Sherwood—the one with the gorgeous older sister—had literally waltzed, however inelegantly, through several London Seasons and still hadn’t found a husband. Everyone knew what a proper young lady did when she wasn’t in demand. She rusticated in the English countryside in the hopes she’d be missed. And it went without saying that if she were wise, she’d develop her own magical charm while she was there—perhaps even catch the attention of an eligible gentleman in residence.
The chances that the dowager’s grandson, the fabulously handsome Duke of Halsey, would fall madly in love with Janice when she was to stay at his house as a guest of his grandmother were next to nil. But Janice’s parents, knowing the duke was to be there hovering about his prize horses, hoped the impossible would happen.
“But it won’t,” Janice said that very frosty morning she left London. “Me? Marry a duke?”
It was a ridiculous notion. She was going to the country to hide, for goodness’ sake!
“If you have to fall in love, it might as well be with a duke,” Mama said in utter seriousness, Daddy nodding solemnly behind her.
They actually believed that Janice, in her diminished state, was capable of attracting such a lofty personage. Which was touching, of course, if a bit deluded, the way all parents’ hopes were.
She might not be able to fulfill her parents’ dreams of glory for her—after all, her three best suitors had deserted her last Season—but she could be sporting about it. So when Lord Brady’s glossy black carriage broke a wheel at the beginning of the long drive leading to the ducal manor, Janice put down her book and was willing to walk the rest of the way. But Oscar said no, she should wait for him to return with a fully equipped carriage from His Grace’s stables.
“Because the daughter of a marquess doesn’t arrive on foot at the front door of a duke’s house,” he said. “Nor does she ride in a cart.”
Of all the Brady drivers, only Oscar had the privilege of speaking so freely.
“I thought you told me nothing happens in the country, my lady,” her maid, Isobel, fretted.
Oh, dear. Perhaps Isobel had that privilege, too.
“Nothing ever does happen,” Janice asserted, hoping her confident delivery would lend her words extra power. A month dawdling in the country would allow her to forget for a while that she was the invisible sister, wedged between a glorious beauty—Marcia—and an adorable charmer, Cynthia, who’d soon make her own debut. “We’ll play cards until Oscar comes back, shall we?”
“Very well,” said the maid, “but you’re not very good at cards, my lady. Do you think you’ll have better luck with the duke?”
“Izzy!”
“Don’t you want to marry him? Every eligible young lady should if she’s got a head on her shoulders.”
“But I want to marry for love.” Janice did, too. Not that she had much hope for it, at the rate she was going.
Isobel dealt out the cards. “I should think loving a duke would be easier than loving someone else.” Her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth as she eyed her hand.
“The question is how easy it is for a duke to fall in love with someone like me,” Janice murmured. “And we both know the answer.”
“You’re being much too hard on yourself,” protested Isobel. “You’re very agreeable, my lady. And you had plenty of beaus in London.”
Had is the operative term.” Janice sighed.
Isobel gave a luxurious laugh. “Perhaps you were too sparing with your kisses.…”
Janice likely had been. She drew a card. Another heart! “I refuse to think any more of love,” she said. “It’s much too overwhelming a subject.” And kissing was dull. It had been a grave disappointment to her to discover that fact. “Now let’s play cards until Oscar returns. I vow to beat you this time.”
But when the carriage door opened fifteen minutes later, Janice had lost yet again and the person standing there wasn’t Oscar. From what she could see of the stranger through the new-falling snow, he was tall, broad shouldered, in his late twenties, she guessed—likely one of the duke’s grooms, in his well-cut but serviceable coat and simply tied cravat. Beneath his beaver hat, his hair was like coal, curling around his ears and framing a square, shaven jaw.
His horse stood waiting patiently behind him.
Janice’s spine straightened. The man’s eyes, thickly fringed in black lashes, were deep blue, the color of Daddy’s sapphire ring. And his mouth—ah, his mouth. It was a work of art. Hard, male, yet as expressive as his eyes, which radiated intelligence, good humor, and a bold, restless intensity that proclaimed him his own man, despite his servant’s garb.
The slight imperfection of his aquiline nose suggested he’d been in a fight or two. But the mystery and threat its crooked line hinted at only made his sheer masculine beauty more compelling. Indeed, his appearance was a shock, especially when she was expecting potato-eared—but perfectly lovable—Oscar.
Isobel, too, found the stranger riveting, judging from the way her chin dropped onto the thick violet muffler with extra pom-poms Janice had knitted for her.
The man’s eyes glittered with interest when he perused Janice’s face, setting her heart racing. What on earth? He was a servant, of all things. He shouldn’t be looking at her that way.
“You’re obviously unhurt,” he said, “so I’ll dispense with the niceties.” His voice was rich yet faintly bitter, like one of the coffeehouse brews she craved on a regular basis and sneaked out to get when Mama wasn’t looking. “State your business, my lovelies. No one with good intentions comes down this road.”
“Of course we’ve good intentions,” said Janice, mortified. “We’ve been traveling for hours with good intentions, and we intend to get out of this carriage and have a cup of tea with His Grace and the dowager duchess.” Her heart pounded like a herd of stallions crossing a plain. She was dressed modestly, in a navy cape and simple matching bonnet. And as for her hair, she’d taken no time to pin it back up after a few ringlets had fallen out at their last stop.
Yet the man eyed her as if she was a fascinating creature. He was the only man who’d ever looked at her that way, and she immediately thought of her underthings, all of them practical but with scraps of the finest Avignon lace sewn here and there. Mama had made them and stitched Janice’s initials on every garment.
“You’re after more than tea with the duke and the dowager.” He grinned, exposing strong, white teeth. “We received no notice of your arrival, yet you’ve enough trunks to stay for weeks.”
“Your impertinence is remarkable,” said Janice. “We are staying longer than tea. We plan to stay for a month.” She sat up higher on her seat and, despite her pique with this man, felt an insane desire to lean forward, lay the flat of her palm against his jaw, and cup it, just so she could trap that grin and stare at it all day long. She didn’t need the rest of him. Oh, no. The rest of him could jump in a lake. “The dowager summoned me herself.”
“How can that be when she’s incapable of summoning anyone? She thinks she’s the Queen.”
A great shock course through Janice. “Well, queens do summon people.”
His skeptical glance didn’t faze her.
“I’ll have you know she was quite lucid in her letter.” Janice’s tone was cool, but inside her heart was clamoring. How could the dowager think she was the Queen? “I have that letter in my trunk and am ready to produce it for the appropriate person, who wouldn’t be you. Who are you, pray tell? A tenant farmer? One of the duke’s grooms?”
The man lofted an elegant brow and opened his mouth to speak.
“I knew it!” gasped Isobel before he could say anything. “He’s the duke himself!”
Izzy!” Janice cried, embarrassed.
His mouth twitched in amusement. “I am a groom, actually.” He sounded quite proud of the fact. “My skills venture beyond the stables, however. I’m tasked with preserving the integrity of the place, so don’t bother making up a wild story about why you simply have to stay. I’ve heard them all, I assure you.”
The twinkle in his eye unnerved Janice like nothing else. What was so amusing? And even if something was, how dare he look that way at her? She was a marquess’s daughter, and while she didn’t often flaunt that fact, she was owed at least a bit of dignity, wasn’t she?
She looked down her nose at him. “But we haven’t done anything wrong. The dowager did summon me, I have the letter and seal to prove it, and you’re the most disrespectful”— handsome—“groom I’ve ever met—”
“I assume your driver has gone ahead with the horses,” he interrupted her smoothly. “This road is impeccably kept, not a pothole in it. Which of you engineered that? Or was that your driver’s trick? The letter is easy enough to discount—forgers abound—but a broken wheel permits a second chance at staying while the letter is examined. An ingenious complication to the ploy, ladies.”
“There is no ploy,” Janice returned hotly.
But she could hardly hold on to her sh...

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