Book 1 in the >Heart of a Duke Series
After the tragic death of his wife, Jasper, the 8th Duke of Bainbridge buried himself away in the dark cold walls of his home, Castle Blackwood. When he’s coaxed out of his self-imposed exile to attend the amusements of the Frost Fair, his life is irrevocably changed by his fateful meeting with Lady Katherine Adamson.With her tight brown ringlets and silly white-ruffled gowns, Lady Katherine Adamson has found her dance card empty for two Seasons. After her father’s passing, Katherine learned the unreliability of men, and is determined to depend on no one, except herself. Until she meets Jasper…In a desperate bid to avoid a match arranged by her family, Katherine makes the Duke of Bainbridge a shocking proposition—one that he accepts.
Only, as Katherine begins to love Jasper, she finds the arrangement agreed upon is not enough. And Jasper is left to decide if protecting his heart is more important than fighting for Katherine’s love.
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Lady Katherine Adamson discovered very early on that all bad ideas began with her twin sister.
Far too many erroneously assumed because Katherine was a whole six minutes and seventeen seconds younger than her sister, that she must aspire to the model of ladylike decorum and beauty as evinced by her twin.
Only Katherine, however, seemed to realize Anne had proven a rather poor influence over the years.
She sighed. And yet, for all the years of bad decisions, she continued to follow along with her sister’s madcap schemes. After all, that is what you did when you were a sister, a twin sister, no less.
“It is not here, Anne,” Katherine said gently. Her breath stirred a puff of white, cold winter air.
Her sister, spun around so fast the bonnet atop her golden crop of curls tipped over her brow. She shoved it back and glared at Katherine. “Of course it is here. I have it on good authority the gypsy woman passed along the pendant to a vendor who would be at the fair upon the Thames River.” She looked pointedly at Katherine. “Surely she spoke of the Frost Fair. Now, we merely need to find the vendor, and…” She prattled on, and continued tugging Katherine along.
Katherine fell into step beside her sister. For the better part of a fortnight, she’d tried to convince Anne of the foolishness in hunting around for the small heart pendant their sister Aldora had once worn around her neck. The pendant had been fashioned as a kind of talisman by Aldora and her four friends. They’d sworn the trinket would lead them to the heart of a duke. In the end, all the ladies had found love. Only one had landed a duke. Which in itself should disprove the validity of the claim, and yet…
“Ah, it is there, I know it,” Anne exclaimed, drawing to an abrupt stop. She stared victoriously out at the bustling Frost Fair upon the frozen Thames River.
Katherine stumbled against her side. “Of course it is,” she said dryly.
Her sister either failed to hear or failed to care about the sarcastic twist to those four words. She spun to face Katherine, her hands clasped close to her emerald green cloak. “I feel it is here. And as soon as we find the merchant, who will sell us the pendant, then I…er, we can claim the heart of a duke.”
Katherine’s lips twitched with wry mirth. “Does the pendant stipulate as to the qualities of the duke? Must he be handsome? Or can he be a doddering, old letch?”
Anne wrinkled her nose. “Whyever would any young lady desire a doddering, old letch?”
“Why, indeed? So then, it is the heart that is more important? Or the ducal title?”
Anne angled her head, and again the bonnet pitched lower over her eyes. She nibbled at her lower lip, and then said, “Why, I rather think they are of equal importance.”
Katherine took a deep breath and forced herself to count to ten before speaking. “Anne, there is not an overabundance of eligible young dukes in the market for a wife.”
Her sister held up a finger encased in the white kidskin glove. “Ahh, but we do not need an overabundance of dukes, Katherine. We merely require two.”
Anne planted her arms akimbo. “If it is all the same to you, then you can marry the old, doddering letch. I, well, I shall have the heart of a handsome, young, affable duke. Now, come.” She reached for Katherine’s hand.
But Katherine withdrew, and took a hasty step backwards. She eyed the frozen expanse of the Thames, filled with tents and carts and skaters, it seemed entirely safe. And yet…
“Never tell me you are still afraid of the water,” Anne said with a touch of impatience in her voice. She stomped her boot in apparent frustration.
Katherine swallowed, not caring to admit to the shameful weakness. And yet, for all the great logic and reason she prided herself upon, she’d never been able to overcome the gripping terror of the day she’d fallen into the river of her father’s Hertfordshire cottage. She’d been nearly seven years old, and the horror of that moment, the water filling her throat, burning her lungs, stinging her eyes, still gripped her.
It had been the last time she’d entered the water.
“Katherine?” Her sister prodded.
Katherine drew in a steadying breath. “Go ahead without me. I’ll wait here.”
The loud squealing laughter of ladies, blended with the rumbling chuckles of their gentlemen; the sounds of merriment upon the ice filtered around them.
Her sister frowned. “You know I cannot attend the Frost Fair without you.” She glanced around. “We are unchaperoned.”
Yes, that had been the second foolish part to her sister’s madcap scheme to hunt down a gypsy’s bauble. Anne had a remarkable ability to lose her, and subsequently their, chaperone.
Katherine could not, however, bring herself to take the necessary steps to move onto the frozen patch of ice. She wet her lips. “I can’t do it,” she whispered.
Anne passed a searching gaze over Katherine’s face. The annoyance seemed to seep from her sister’s pretty blue eyes to be replaced by a momentary contriteness. “They passed an elephant across just yesterday,” she said on a rush.
Katherine shook her head. Even the custom of leading an elephant from one end of the river to the Blackfriar’s Bridge did little to alleviate her fears. What if the enormous creature merely was fortunate enough to miss the single thin patch? What if…?
“Please,” Anne said, her eyes imploring.
Ever the romantic, bold-spirited of the sisters, Anne had always managed to drag Katherine along on whatever flights of fancy she was set on. Because if Katherine was being truthful with even just herself, she yearned to be so lighthearted and adventurous.
And because it was nearly Christmastide, and the cool, crisp winter air infused her with holiday excitement; Katherine took a tentative step onto the ice. Her breath caught and held in her chest…
And nothing happened.
She released the pent up breath, and took another step. Then another. Each step more freeing than the next.
Anne laughed. She took Katherine’s hand and raised it to her chest. “See, Kat, why there is nothing to be afraid of!” She paused, forcing Katherine to a halt and perused the barbers’, butchers’, and bakers’ tents along the frozen waterway.
There had to be very nearly thirty tents, perhaps more. Ever the optimist, however, Anne looked over at Katherine with a wide grin. “Come along then. We’ll never find the pendant standing here.”
They weaved their way in between the couples skating upon the ice, onward toward the boisterous vendors loudly peddling their wares.
“Would ye ladies care for an ale?” a young merchant called out to them. He held out two tankards of ale, a wide-gap toothed grin on his pockmarked face.
“No, thank you,” Katherine murmured automatically.
Her sister shot her a reproachful look. “You are so very rude, Katherine.”
Katherine blinked. “I am not rude.”
“Well pompous, then.” Anne gestured to the young man in his frayed trousers, who stood at the entrance of his vibrant crimson tent. “That young man is merely trying to earn his livelihood, and you’d condescend him.”
“I am not condescending him.” A defensive note threaded Katherine’s words.
“Just because he isn’t as neatly put together, as the other vendors.”
The young man seemed to hear Anne’s not so discreetly spoken words, for he cocked his head, and his smile dipped into a frown.
Katherine reached into her reticule and withdrew several coins. “Here, sir. Two ales, please,” she said, with a glare for Anne. She most certainly had not been condescending the young man, and she most certainly was not rude or pompous. She merely recognized the folly of two, unchaperoned young ladies purchasing spirits of any sort, in the very public event.
The peddler’s smile reappeared and he proceeded to hand them each a tankard.
“ ’Ere ye are, m’ladies.”
Katherine handed the coins off to the man, and accepted her ale. As she cautiously picked her way over the ice, trailing after her excited sister’s much more hurried movements, she sipped her ale. She grimaced at the bitter taste of the brew upon her tongue, but then tried another. And another. And by the fourth, it really wasn’t all that bitter, but rather a tad sweet, and a good-deal too delicious.
Anne paused alongside a purple tent lined with black stripes. “I will speak to this vendor.” She hesitated, chewing at her lower lip.
Oh, dear. Katherine recognized her sister’s distracted movement.
“We shall never manage to speak to all the merchants before dark falls.”
The first bells of warning rang in Katherine’s head.
“It would be much wiser if…”
The ringing grew louder.
“We speak to different peddlers.”
Katherine took another sip, and frowned as she realized her tankard was empty.
Her head shot up, as she pondered her sister. What had Anne said? Katherine knew there had been a bad idea there, but the warmth that filled her from the ale had also warmed her resolve and stolen her ability to think with the clarity she usually prided herself upon. “Er, yes, fabulous idea,” she said, instead.
Anne’s eyes widened, and then her smile grew. “Lovely!” She stuck her finger toward a nearby sapphire blue tent. “Off you go, then.”
Without waiting to see if Katherine followed her succinct instructions, Anne turned around and slipped inside the purple tent lined with black stripes.
Katherine alternated her stare between the tent her sister had disappeared into and the sapphire blue tent. She sighed. Yes, all bad ideas began with her sister. Dear, fanciful Anne, she’d somehow retained all traces of innocence. At nineteen, Anne still possessed girlish hopes and silly dreams. She’d somehow remained untouched by their father’s sins…sins that had left their family destitute, and forced their eldest sister, Aldora to sacrifice herself at the marital altar to save their family. Granted, Aldora had ultimately found love. But that was neither here, nor there…men were fickle, unreliable, inconstant creatures not to be trusted. Unfortunately, her romantic of a sister was only drawn by the drivel written about on the pages of her gothic novels.
A snowflake fell and settled upon her nose. Katherine looked up into the thick grey-white winter sky at the sea of flakes that danced a path down onto the frozen river.
Except, just then, with the warmth of the ale and the crisp cleanliness of the holiday air, an uncharacteristic lightness filled her spirit.
Suddenly, the ice, which she’d earlier feared, seemed like a very magical gift.
Katherine made her way back to the vendor who’d sold them the tankard of ale. She returned the empty glass over and waved off his offer for a second.
She turned to leave…and walked into a solid, unyielding wall.
Whoosh. All the air left her lungs, and she teetered unsteadily upon her feet. The jolting movement displaced the bonnet atop her head. Her breath fanned little wisps of white into the cool air as she righted herself. When she regained control of her breath she blinked several times, and looked up at the gentleman who’d plowed into her.
A towering, broad bear of a man, he paused to glare down his slightly crooked Roman nose at her. His black, disdainful look dared her to speak.
So she did. Katherine tossed her head back. “Pardon me.”
The pompous prig jerked his attention forward and without so much as a murmured apology, continued on his way. The gentleman at his right, a lean, lithe fellow offered her a sheepish smile. His eyes expressed the other man’s apology.
Katherine gave a curt nod and turned on her heel, determined not to let the foul fiend spoil the lovely day that portended the coming of Christmas.
Mindful of the fact that she and Anne flouted propriety by being out, unchaperoned, Katherine tugged her hideous brown velvet bonnet down more around her eyes. She adjusted her green muslin cloak closer and peeked about.
But those passing by moved with an excited step, lords and ladies giggling and chuckling as they slipped upon the ice and righted themselves before tumbling onto the sleek surface. Merchants barking out the contents contained within their vibrant hued tents, drew the attention of would be buyers. Katherine realized in that moment, no one noticed the actions of two unchaperoned young ladies. Everyone was too engrossed in the spirit of the fair.
The practical and rational of the twins, Katherine felt herself hopelessly lost in the beauty of the day… and she set out to explore. She made her way down the long row of tents, past the pretty sapphire blue one she’d been instructed by Anne to explore. Ever onward to the end of the row, to where a grey tent rested on the fringe of the activity. Katherine was drawn to it; appreciating the somberness of the lone thrown together shop.
She paused beside it, and peered inside. “Hullo?”
Silence met her greeting.
She frowned, and made to turn back toward the activity upon the river.
“Hello, moi lady.”
Katherine spun back around. She squinted in an attempt to adjust to the dimness of the cold, lonely, little tent. “Hullo,” she said again. She rubbed her hands together to rub warmth back into her fingers and looked around. Suddenly feeling very foolish for indulging her sister’s flight of fancy, Katherine made to leave.
“Is there something oi might ’elp you find, moi lady? A gift for someone, perhaps?”
Katherine shook her head. “No. I’m afraid not.”
The gaunt old woman with straggly white hair came closer. “Wot is that, moi lady?”
Compassion filled Katherine at the sight of the poor woman whose tattered brown skirts and thin shawl would offer little protection by way of the elements. Katherine reached into her reticule and fished around for some coins but something in the woman’s eyes stayed her movements; something that indicated that even though impoverished, this woman would welcome no charity. “Er, yes. I mean, there is something you might be able to help me find. I’m searching for a gift for my sister.”
The woman’s small, brown eyes searched Katherine’s face. She nodded and moved to one of the tables littered with her wares. She held up a pink, satin ribbon. “Perhaps some ribbon for the lady?”
Katherine shook her head, and advanced deeper into the store. Anne had no shortage of ribbons.
The woman moved to the next table, filled with bright baubles and trinkets. “Then a kerchief for the lady?” She held up a floral piece of fabric embroidered with red, pink, and purple roses.
Katherine reached for the fabric. The old woman passed it into her hands.
Katherine glanced down at the handkerchief, passing it back and forth between her fingers, her gaze locked on the fuchsia rose expertly stitched upon the cloth. She remembered back to the day she’d learned of Father’s betrayal. Mother had been seated on the wrought iron bench within her gardens, weeping bitter, angry tears. She’d caught sight of Katherine and quickly dashed back those tears. “I’ve let the gardener go. A silly expense, don’t you think, Katherine?”
The fabric fluttered from her fingers, back onto the table. Katherine gave her head a clearing shake, a bid to dispel the pained musings of the past. “Er, no, no floral items.” Since that day in the gardens, Katherine had come to detest the cheerful blooms, the reminder of Father’s failings. That day had taught Katherine the perils of love.
The peddler’s brow furrowed, and she seemed unaware of Katherine’s inner tumult. Her beady eyes went wide in her wrinkled face. She reached into the front pocket of her jacket and withdrew a gold chain. “Perhaps a golden heart, then?”
Katherine looked at the pendant, and her heart paused at the implausibility of it all. She reached for it wordlessly, and studied the golden bauble, turning it over in her fingers. “It is perfect,” she said, quietly.
The peddler grunted, and held her hand out.
Katherine blinked, looking down at her open palm. “Oh,” she said, and reached into the front of her reticule and withdrew several coins.
The woman’s eyes widened at the small fortune Katherine bestowed.
“It is a fine piece, indeed,” Katherine murmured. There had been a time when Katherine had lain awake in bed, gripped by fear of her family’s dire financial straits. If she could prevent another woman from feeling those sentiments, even for just a bit, then a sovereign was a very, very small price to pay for the pendant.
“There is a story behind that heart, moi lady.”
Katherine slipped the heart into her reticule. “I’m certain there is,” she said. “Thank you very much.” And before the peddler could finish, Katherine stepped outside. Over the years she’d listened rather patiently to her sister’s fanciful musings about love, she’d not have to hear the foolish words of a stranger, too.
A blast of cool wind slapped at her skin. Katherine gasped as the frigid breeze sucked the air from her lungs. Her reticule fell from her fingers and skidded along the frozen surface.
“Drat,” she muttered, and hurried after it. Katherine took a step, when the flat sole of her kid leather boot slipped on the snowflakes coating the frozen river. She threw her arms wide to balance herself as she slid away from the lone little tent, past her reticule, ever farther.
She swallowed hard. Her heart hung suspended in her breast, and then the ice opened up.