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Authors: The Dukes Desire

June Calvin

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The Duke’s Desire

June Calvin





Published by the Penguin Group

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author


Signet Books edition / March 1996

InterMix eBook edition / November 2012

Copyright © 1996 by June Calvin.

Excerpt from
The Jilting of Baron Pelham
copyright © 1994 by June Calvin.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-57887-2


InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

This book is dedicated to Nancy Berland, who also writes as Nancy Landon. She has unselfishly shared her knowledge of the art of writing and her business expertise with me and countless other writers. Her unfailingly cheery voice on the telephone has been a lifeline to me on many occasions. Thanks, Nancy!

Chapter 1

An unfamiliar sound caused Justin Stanton, the fourth Duke of Harwood, to look up from his struggles with the estate books. Unrestrained weeping expressive of the deepest feminine grief echoed across the vast tile and marble entryway of Harwood Court. The duke sprang up, realizing that his usually cheerful daughter, Sarah, was the source of the distressing sounds. He could hear her sobs as she raced across the entryway, past the library, where he was barricaded by his bookkeeping.

His long stride carried him to the door before she had mounted half a dozen steps up the massive central staircase. “Sarah? What is it?”

Sarah whirled around and reversed directions, a blur of golden curls and frothy pink muslin. “Oh, Papa, Papa, I shall die. I shall simply die.” She flung herself into his open arms, weeping uncontrollably.

Harwood looked over her head into the sympathetic eyes of Timmons, his elderly butler. He gave a nod, which Timmons easily interpreted, and swung Sarah up in his arms as the old retainer opened the door to the front drawing room.

“Now, Sarah, can you tell me . . .” he began, depositing her on a sofa. “No, obviously you can’t.” He studied her features, usually so prettily arranged in a dimple-punctuated smile. Her chin was trembling and tears drenched her cheeks. She was attempting to speak over her sobs, with distressing results. Harwood crossed to a large cabinet. He turned the key, already in the lock, and extracted a decanter of brandy and one glass.

“Drink this.” He put the glass to her lips. “Sip it—that’s it—slowly.”

In spite of his cautions, Sarah almost choked on the fiery liquor. He persisted until she had downed a sizeable dose.

The brandy calmed her, or numbed her. Her sobs gradually faded away into her father’s lapels. His large comforting hand rubbed and patted her back while she regained control of herself.

“Now let me hear it, Sarah, for I may be imagining even worse than you have to tell me.” He lifted her chin and looked into the grey eyes so like his own.

“Y-yes, Papa. It is quickly told. I drove out with Gregory this morning . . .”

Harwood’s mouth firmed. “And?” His voice was ominous.

“He sent word that he must speak to me. I thought . . . I thought . . .” Her chin began to wobble again. “. . . he was going to propose at last. But he didn’t. He explained to me why he couldn’t, why he doesn’t want to . . . oh, Papa, he’s going to marry Amanda Greenwood.”

The duke drew his daughter into the circle of his arms again. He wasn’t surprised. He’d long suspected Allensby wasn’t as eager for their union as Sarah. Though his heart bled for his daughter, he couldn’t help but feel a certain relief. Allensby was a very ordinary young squire, with little to recommend him in terms of intellect or prospects. He was also burdened with a mother and three young sisters and an estate that was little more than a farm.

The duke had insisted Sarah go to London for the season before allowing her to be betrothed to her childhood friend. He had hoped she would find some more worthy suitor. When she’d come home a month ago still determined to wed Gregory, Harwood had bowed to what seemed to be the inevitable. “Allensby is a great fool to pass up such a bride,” he whispered into Sarah’s golden curls.

“Oh, Papa, he said he wasn’t worthy of me. He claims that is why . . . but he can’t love me, or he wouldn’t let our difference in rank matter, would he?”

“Not everyone would agree with you. Some might say it is a sign of his unselfish love.”

“Well!” Sarah sat up, her tears drying in a flash of indignation. “I don’t think it’s unselfish; I think it’s foolish. But anyway, he lied. Gregory could never fool me when he was lying. He always looks every which way. He was just trying to let me down kindly, I’m sure.”

Justin studied her bright hair and lovely features. Sarah was petite and pleasantly rounded. She was blessed with perfect skin, thick-lashed grey eyes, a short, slightly, retroussé nose, and a rosebud mouth. Her frequent smiles brought enchanting dimples into play.

“Surely that young fool couldn’t prefer Amanda Greenwood to you!”

“Oh, Papa, you are biased. She is tall and . . . and sturdy.” Sarah’s eyes filled with tears. “He said that she knew how to be a farmer’s wife and wouldn’t pine for a place in the fashionable world, as I would. But I wouldn’t! Not if he loved me. I wouldn’t!” She sought the comfort of her father’s shirtfront again.

“No, of course you wouldn’t. I never saw a young girl less affected by the fashionable

“Indeed, I missed the country terribly. My season would have been unbearable if Davida hadn’t been there with me! I know I would be a good wife to him.”

“I wonder if I should speak to him. Perhaps he thinks I wouldn’t approve the match?”

“No.” Sarah let out a long, hopeless sigh. “He spoke as if it was all settled between them. In fact, I got the impression that while I was in London—”

She stopped abruptly and was silent so long her father pushed her away and looked at her face. It was beet red.

“She’s increasing?” At his daughter’s nod, Harwood stood up. “I’ve a mind to horsewhip him. He’s been here visiting you any number of times recently. What kind of a rig was he running?”

Sarah stood up, too, catching her father’s arm in her small hands. “No, Papa, you mustn’t. He was trying to find a way to tell me. I can see that now.”

Despondently, she worried the ruffles on the front of her sprigged muslin. “I shall just stay here and keep house for you. I’ve no wish to marry, after all. Why, I am just now getting the rose garden and the succession houses the way I want them.”

Harwood put out a hand and smoothed back the golden curls that tumbled over her cheeks. “That will make an excellent project to occupy you this fall and winter. By next spring when I go to London, you’ll be feeling much more—”

“No!” Sarah bounced away. “I won’t go. I won’t ever go through a second season, stared at and measured like a beast offered for sale at the county fair. I never would have endured this last one if I hadn’t thought I had someone who loved me, truly loved me, to marry when it was all over.”

The duke nodded sympathetically, but his mind was racing. Somehow he had to prevent his daughter from burying herself in the country. “I quite understand how you feel. And of course you must do as seems best for you. But you will help me, won’t you? As I explained to you after my five-minute betrothal to Davida, I am weary of my widowed state. I plan to go to London to seek a bride; surely you’ll go with me and lend me your assistance?”

Sarah tilted her face up, perplexed. She had never quite believed that her father had wanted to marry her best friend. Surely he had just been acting out of kindness when it seemed Davida needed a way out of an unfortunate betrothal. “But Papa, if I am not to marry, I will be here to keep house and be your hostess. Why should you marry?”

Mastering the impulse to laugh at her naïveté, the duke slid his arm around his daughter. “There is a bit more involved in marriage than that, my dear.”

Once again Sarah turned beet red. “But you are forty!”

Harwood lost his battle for control and laughed outright. “I realize I have one foot in the grave, but still, forty is not dead, Sal.”

Chagrined, Sarah turned away, not quite able to deal with the implications of that pronouncement. “Well, then, I expect I must go with you, for it would never do for you to select a wife I could not deal well with, as I will be living with you.”

Passing his hand over his mouth and emerging sober and serious from behind it, the duke nodded. “An excellent point.”

“And you won’t push me to marry? Or arrange—”

He held up both hands. “Pax, daughter. You know my feelings on marriage. I would never push you to marry, and certainly would never arrange a marriage for you. Though I do believe you will change your mind sooner or later. You are only eighteen, far too young to think you can never love again. Nor do I think you will relish being called an ape leader.”

Sarah’s lower lip jutted out. “That is what they will call me, but I don’t care! I won’t give my heart to be trampled on again.” With dignity she stalked from the room, leaving her shaken father to stare after her.

Dear God in heaven, I hope she can change her mind,
Harwood prayed. The duke was less likely than most men to dismiss his daughter’s fascination with young Allensby, which had begun at fourteen, as calf-love. He had fallen in love once and only once, at eighteen, and had waited until he was of age so that he could marry Eleanor Gresham, a farmer’s daughter, without his father’s permission.

The duke paced back and forth the length of the drawing room, remembering his utter indifference to all the lovely females his father had paraded before him in the intervening three years, in the hope of securing a more eligible bride for his oldest son.

If Sarah, like him, could give her heart but once, she was destined to be lonely all her life, a fate he did not want for his sweet, loving daughter.

His own decision to remarry was a pragmatic one. After five years of grieving for his beloved wife, he recognized his increasing vulnerability to the pangs of desire.

He did not approve of illicit liaisons, so he had now decided to select a suitable mate, to save himself from repeating the kind of folly that had very nearly resulted in his marrying a girl his daughter’s age. He would hope for regard, perhaps even affection, on both sides in his second marriage. But he never expected to be able to love again. How terrible for her if Sarah were similarly constituted.

The Duke of Harwood stopped his pacing and looked up at the painting of his wife, Eleanor.
I will do my best to find a husband for her, my love. I will see that she has every encouragement to meet eligible young men.
He bowed his head, remembering the clumsy efforts his father had made to distract him from his love for Eleanor.
I shall be much more subtle than my father. Pray God I shall be more successful.


Deborah Harper Silverton, Dowager Viscountess Cornwall, suppressed a shudder as she seated herself on a backless sofa in the Egyptian Drawing Room. Merely changing the decor, as the new viscountess had done, could not cleanse the room for her. Nothing could wipe out the memory of her unhappiness in this house when her husband was alive.

She sat as stonily erect as if she were wearing a backboard and looked her brother-in-law in the eye, her own large brown eyes narrowed in an attempt to hide her alarm. It was unusual for her to be summoned in this way.

“Thank you for coming so promptly, Deborah.” Vincent smiled a quick, insincere smile as he took his place in a fragile-looking chair opposite her.

Deborah bowed her head briefly in acknowledgement and waited for him to come to the point.

“I asked you to come today to discuss Jennifer’s marriage.”

Deborah gasped. “What can you mean? She is only sixteen.”

“Yes, but before the season ends next year she’ll be seventeen,
n’est-ce pas

“Only just.” Deborah opened her mouth to rush into protestations, but Vincent held up his hand to silence her.

“I’ve been giving the matter a great deal of thought, and Winnie and I feel it would be best if she was wed before Lettice makes her come-out, which must be year after next at the latest. And then there is Patience right behind her.”

“Could . . . could not Jennifer make her come-out with Lettice? After all, she is only three months older. Or even with Patience? Indeed, would not the most economical way be to bring them all three out together, perhaps two years from now?”

Deborah knew that economy was important to Vincent, especially as it bore upon his own purse; she was surprised he was proposing a plan that did not allow him to charge some of his girls’ expenses to Jennifer’s account.

A brief widening of Vincent’s light blue eyes told her she had scored a hit. He hesitated, his mouth pursed in thought.

Deborah rushed on eagerly, hoping to convince him. “I mean, that is quite acceptable to me, and that way she would have another year at least to grow up. She is too young to marry.”

Vincent eyed her suspiciously. “I think, madam, given your attitude, you would not see her married at all.”

It was Deborah’s turn to hesitate. “True, but I know it is inevitable . . .”

“Yes, it is. Your hints to the contrary, Jennifer must marry. I cannot spend the rest of my life tending to her affairs without compensation. I’ll be glad enough to hand them off to a competent husband. As for economy, the most economical way to manage the matter would be for me to select a husband for her.”

“No!” Deborah stood suddenly, fists clenched.

“Calm yourself, madam.” Vincent leaned forward, pointing with an imperative finger to the sofa, indicating that she should return to her seat. “I will not insist on doing so, providing you can find an acceptable candidate yourself during this next season. Winnifred and I will put the town house at your disposal, and I will see that Jennifer is provided with sufficient funds from her trust to make a creditable entrance into society.

“If the season ends without your having selected a husband, I will then take matters into hand. Do I make myself clear?”

Deborah nodded, clenching her fists against her sides to keep from lashing out at him. He had that haughty look he took on when he was being Lord of the Realm.

“Good. See you purchase some respectable gowns for yourself, too. You look a veritable dowd.” Vincent leaned back in the chair, considering his sister-in-law’s appearance.

“Perhaps you will take the opportunity to seek a second husband.” With the title, Vincent had inherited his brother’s enormous debts; he considered it a great burden to have to support his relict also. Seymour had spent his wife’s portion, however, leaving only her dower rights, which Vincent must honor. His wastrel brother had not been able to get his hands on the fortune Deborah should have inherited through her mother from her grandfather, Lord Knollbridge. To keep it from Seymour, Mrs. Harper had passed over Deborah, leaving everything to Jennifer.

Vincent looked at Deborah hopefully. She was still a beautiful woman, with those large, liquid brown eyes, a perfect oval face, and hair the tawny color of old honey. Her figure was lush without the slightest hint of avoirdupois. Neither her thirty-eight years nor her many unhappy days were written in lines on her face, which was remarkably as it had been when she had married at eighteen. Surely she could attract an eligible
perhaps an older man.

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