Georgiana, the widowed Duchess of Darby, greets the Duchess of Haverford with a carefree smile even though her insides are fluttering about like the autumn leaves falling from the plane trees outside. The duchess has been her friend and mentor since the early days of Georgie’s marriage, proclaiming herself an honorary aunt, but she is far too perceptive and she is sure to notice Georgie’s unease even though this is just a morning call. But will she know why? Of course, Aunt Eleanor is much too dignified to pay any attention to salacious gossip… isn’t she?
However Aunt Eleanor doesn’t seem to notice that anything is amiss; she clasps Georgie’s hand warmly and places a gentle kiss upon her cheek before stepping back to study her face. “My dear,” she says gently, her soft blue eyes regarding her with genuine fondness. “It is wonderful to see you in Town again.”
“Thank you, Aunt Eleanor. It has been too long hasn’t it?”
“Quite understandable given the circumstances.” With an elegant wave of her hand, the Duchess of Haverford indicates they should both take a seat before the crackling fire in her sitting room where tea things and all manner of delightful morsels—tiny cakes, sandwiches and delicate biscuits—have been set out on a low mahogany table.
“Yes… indeed,” Georgie replies as she chooses a damask upholstered wingchair and then busies herself with smoothing the folds of her blue silk gown and removing her gloves. For all the heartfelt concern in Aunt Eleanor’s direct gaze, Georgie doesn’t wish to talk about the passing of her husband, Teddy, the Duke of Darby. He might have been a husband in name only but he was also her best friend. And my twin brother’s lover. Not that Aunt Eleanor knows any of that… She might a good friend to Georgie ever since her marriage, but it was but one of the many secrets Georgie vigilantly keeps under lock and key. Raising her own gaze to meet Aunt Eleanor’s again, she adds, “My brother, Sir Jonathon, and Helena, Lady Maxwell have been keeping me busy this past week.”
“Ah yes, the recent ball at Latimer House. How lovely it was for Lord and Lady Maxwell to welcome you back in such a fashion. I understand it was a lively occasion…”
Was that a twinkle of interest in Eleanor’s blue eyes? What if she had heard some of the on-dits floating around London this past week? On-dits involving Georgie and the mysterious Rafe, Lord Markham… Not only did he flirt outrageously with her during the ball, he’d also trounced her at piquet not once but twice. The indomitable Ice Duchess had been well and truly vanquished. Thank heavens Eleanor didn’t know the man had also kissed her… Even now the memory of that kiss made her stomach flip and her pulse skitter about. If only Lord Markham weren’t so attractive…
In an attempt to hide her blush, Georgie pretends to scrutinize the cakes before randomly choosing a pale pink petit-four.
But perhaps Aunt Eleanor does know something as she next remarks in an all too innocent tone as she adroitly dispenses tea and milk, “And I also heard that the company was most diverting.”
Georgie places her untasted cake on a fine bone china plate then sighs. “You know me too well, Aunt Eleanor. And if truth be told, ‘diverting’ is rather an understatement.”
Aunt Eleanor smiles conspiratorially as she hands her a cup of tea. “So, tell me all about Lord Markham.”
Georgie took her seat at one of the piquet tables in the card room and removed her gloves, hoping that Phillip, Lord Maxwell, wouldn’t notice her slightly trembling fingers when he joined her. It seemed absurd to be so nervous. Where was her famous sang-froid?
It probably didn’t help that a hush had descended over the card room as Jonathon had escorted her in, and at this very moment, she could feel at least a dozen pairs of eyes, if not more upon her. The unvanquished Ice Duchess—the woman who barely ever lost a game—was about to play cards again. Of course people were going to notice.
Curse her brother and Helena. She would have attracted much less notice if she had simply decided to dance after all. Lemonade in the ladies’ retiring room seemed more appealing by the second. And where in heaven’s name was Phillip? She glanced about the room but could not spy Helena’s husband anywhere.
Not only that, she could see Jonathon disappearing out of the card room, no doubt chasing the dapper young buck he’d been making calf’s eyes at earlier.
If Phillip didn’t appear within the next thirty seconds, she would cut and run.
“May I join you, Your Grace?” A soft baritone drew Georgie’s attention away from the ornately arched doorway of the card room and back to the table.
She glanced up. And it was all she could do not to gasp.
A dark-haired, lean-jawed rake was smiling down at her. Her dastardly brother and friends had set her up after all.
Blast them all to hell.
Drawing in a steadying breath she summoned a slight smile. Her well-practiced, cool duchess’s smile—a smile that had sustained her for almost a decade in the face of such obvious raw masculinity. Thank God she still had it.
“And you are?” she asked smoothly, arching an eyebrow. “I believe we’ve never been introduced.” She thought she knew most rakes of the ton and she had only been away from London for a year. But this tall, handsome man with smoke-gray eyes and a dark velvet voice, she didn’t know at all.
The corner of his wide, well-shaped mouth lifted into a smile. “Forgive my boldness, Your Grace. I am Rafe Landsbury, Lord Markham. Lord Maxwell has been… detained and offers his apologies. He asked me to stand in, in his stead.” His eyes held hers—a question or perhaps it was a spark of challenge flared in their gray depths. “If you don’t mind of course.”
As if she could refuse with everyone watching. She’d gleefully strangle Phillip, Helena and Jonathon later for putting Lord Markham up to this. They probably thought she’d build up a rapport with the man over cards. Then he’d suggest they dance or perhaps peruse the supper table together. His large hand would touch her elbow, the small of her back. His fingers would brush against hers as he passed her a glass of champagne… She knew all the ploys he would use to try and get her hot and bothered. But she wouldn’t fall for any of them. Never again. Just because she was a widow, it didn’t mean she was fair game.
Lord Markham was still watching her expectantly so she affected a small tinkling laugh and shrugged a shoulder. “Of course I don’t mind. Please, take a seat.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
Georgie tried not to stare as the nobleman folded his long, lean frame onto the damask covered Adams chair opposite her. Markham, Markham. No, not a memory of him stirred at all. Where had such a man been hiding for the last decade? He exuded such a quiet self-assurance as he watched her reach for the deck of cards, a completely unexpected and most disconcerting wave of heat swept over her face.
She hadn’t blushed in years. What is wrong with me?
The Ice Duchess (Scandalous Regency Widows, Book 2) by Amy Rose Bennett:
Georgiana Dudley, the ‘Ice Duchess’, has just emerged from mourning after a nine-year marriage of convenience to the Duke of Darby, her twin brother’s lover. Deeply hurt by a scoundrel a decade ago, Georgie swore she would never turn her head for any man, let alone another rakehell. But then she encounters the wickedly handsome and all too charming Rafe Landsbury, the Earl of Markham and against her better judgment, her interest is reluctantly aroused. An affair may be impossible to resist but dare she trust Lord Markham with her most intimate secrets… and her heart?
Society believes Rafe to be a diplomat but for many years he has been working on the Continent as a spy for the Crown. Leaving the shadowy world of espionage behind, he returns to London with the intention of finding a wife. When he is paired with the frosty yet fascinating Duchess of Darby at the piquet table during a ton ball, he is intrigued. Do-or-die man that he is, he’s certainly not going to let her cool demeanor dissuade him from pursuing her.
When Rafe’s dark past returns to endanger Georgie, he is determined to protect her at all costs, even if that means hiding who he once was. With the stakes so high, both Georgie and Rafe must decide if love is a risk worth taking…
Length: Novel (109,500 words)
Heat Level: Hot. This story is a Regency romance with open-door love-making scenes and frank language is used.
Meet the author
Amy Rose Bennett has always wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. An avid reader with a particular love for historical romance, it seemed only natural to write stories in her favorite genre. She has a passion for creating emotion-packed—and sometimes a little racy—stories set in the Georgian and Regency periods. Of course, her strong-willed heroines and rakish heroes always find their happily ever after.
Amy is happily married to her own Alpha male hero, has two beautiful daughters, and a rather loopy Rhodesian Ridgeback. She has been a speech pathologist for many years but is currently devoting her time to her one other true calling—writing romance.