How to Deceive a Duke Online - Lecia Cornwall

Chapter 1

Marguerite Lynton winced as her elder sister’s teacup fell to the floor and shattered.

There was nothing she could do about it in front of their esteemed guest. If the carpet that usually graced the floor of Wycliffe’s salon had been in place, then Rose’s cup would still be whole, but the rug had been rolled up and sold that morning, just hours before the Duchess of Temberlay’s unexpected arrival. She had come to ask Rose a very important question, which was happy news indeed, since the tea service was next on the list to be sold, and a diminished set would fetch considerably less.

The silence stretched as the duchess—and everyone else in the room—waited for Rose’s answer.

“Well, young lady, will you marry my grandson or not?” The duchess regarded Rose’s stunned expression and ignored the shards of china at her feet. Still her sister said nothing, and Marguerite glanced at the mantel where the clock had once stood, wanting to know the exact moment their fortunes had suddenly changed for the good, but the clock, like the rug, was gone.

She bit her lip. The duchess’s offer couldn’t have come at a better time, or been more generous, and Rose was sitting there in gape-jawed silence.

It was a pity the groom himself had not come to make the offer of marriage, but had sent his grandmother instead. She would have liked to see the infamous Nicholas Hartley, Duke of Temberlay, in the flesh. They’d only seen caricatures, and every one portrayed him as devastatingly handsome. Marguerite’s toes curled. Temberlay was said to be the wickedest rake in London, and now her sister was about to become his duchess. Rose had dreamed of a wealthy prince on a white horse, and now the nearest equivalent had appeared, all she could do was sit there, when all she had to do was say—

“No!” Rose’s anguished moan echoed off the bare walls.

Another teacup hit the floor. Marguerite’s mother shot to her feet from her seat beside Rose, her face a mask of horrified shock. Marguerite glanced at the cups the duchess and Uncle Hector still held, waiting for their reaction, hoping the china didn’t bear the brunt of their surprise too.

“No?” Flora Lynton, the Countess of Wycliffe, stared at her eldest daughter. “No? Rose, you can’t say no!”

“Young lady, are you truly saying you will not marry my grandson?” the duchess demanded, her tone gravel against Flora’s dismayed warble.

“Of course she isn’t saying no, Your Grace!” Flora cried, twining her fingers in Rose’s collar. “Are you?”

“No,” Rose said mulishly. “I mean yes, I’m saying no.”

Marguerite cast a pleading glance at her uncle, her father’s stepbrother, seated near the fireplace. He was usually the voice of reason, but he looked as stunned as Flora.

“Uncle Hector?” she whispered, trying not to attract the duchess’s attention, but the sharp black eyes swung toward her, swept over her russet hair and her shabby gown, and clung for a long moment of inspection. She felt her skin heat from toe to hairline under the bold appraisal.

Hector recovered himself and rose. “In this case, Flora, I would suggest—” He was cut off by a loud sob.

Before their eyes, Rose transformed from the family beauty to a wailing child. Her pert nose turned beet pink and began to swell. Her cupid’s-bow lips stretched wide and thin as she screeched like a scalded cat. She was shaking so hard that blond curls were working their way loose from her coiffure.

“Why me? Why do I have to marry him? Why not Marguerite or Lily?”

Flora stamped her foot, and shards of china crackled. She tightened her grip on Rose’s collar. “Be quiet this instant! Her Grace will think you are ungrateful!”

But she kept right on wailing, and Marguerite watched her mother’s complexion turn as red as Rose’s. In a moment she’d be crying too.

“Mama, perhaps you should take Rose upstairs to compose herself in private while I order more tea for Her Grace,” Marguerite said, taking control of the situation.

She led her sister to the door, and her mother followed, trying to curtsy and walk and apologize at the same time. “Please excuse us for just a moment, Your Grace, we’ll be back within—” Flora glanced at the absent clock and her eyes filled with tears.

“Papa’s watch is still upstairs, Mama,” Marguerite reminded her, and Flora nodded and left the room.

Marguerite shut the door and took her mother’s place on the settee, ignoring the naked speculation in the duchess’s eyes. “More tea, Your Grace?”