Book 3 in the >Heart of a Duke Series
Lady Imogen Moore hasn’t had an easy time of it since she made her Come Out three Seasons ago. With her betrothed, a powerful duke breaking it off to wed her sister, she’s become the tons favorite piece of gossip. Never again wanting to experience the pain of a broken heart, she’s resolved to make a match with a polite, respectable gentleman. The last thing she wants is another reckless rogue.
Lord Alex Edgerton has a problem. His brother, tired of Alex’s carousing has charged him with chaperoning their remaining, unwed sister about ton events. Shopping? No, thank you. Attending the theatre? He’d rather be at Forbidden Pleasures with a scantily clad beauty upon his lap. The task of chaperone becomes even more of a bother when his sister drags along her dearest friend, Lady Imogen to social functions. The last thing he wants in his life is a young, innocent English miss.
Except, as Alex and Imogen are thrown together, passions flare and Alex comes to find he not only wants Imogen in his bed, but also in his heart. Yet now he must convince Imogen to risk all, on the heart of a rogue.
The day Lady Imogen Isabel Moore had made her Come Out almost three Seasons ago, she’d taken the ton by storm.
Not, however for any reasons that were good.
One glass of lemonade held in trembling fingers, one graceless misstep and an inconveniently situated Lady Jersey in the hallowed halls of Almack’s had placed Imogen in polite Society’s focus. At the time, that glass of lemonade had proven the most disastrous moment of her then eighteen years. In a single night, she’d shocked polite Society…and also earned the attention of the gloriously handsome, Duke of Montrose.
With a sigh, Imogen glanced down at the copy of The Times.
The D of M, recently wedded had returned to London…
She skimmed the details of the article. Hopelessly in love. Devoted… Love at any cost… Imogen tossed the newspaper aside, where it landed with a thump upon the mahogany side table.
He’d returned. The gloriously handsome, golden duke with his glib tongue and winning smile and his black heart. And he’d returned with his wife—Imogen’s, younger by a year sister, Rosalind. Or, the Duchess of Montrose, as she was now properly titled.
“Never tell me you are melancholy again.”
A gasp escaped her and she spun around so quickly a blindingly bright, crimson curl slipped free of its chignon and tumbled over her eye. In a flurry of noisy, blue bombazine skirts, her mother swept into the room. “Mother,” she greeted with a weak smile for the parent who’d merely been happy that one of her daughters had secured the duke’s title. None of the rest had mattered. “I’m not melancholy,” she added as an afterthought. Egads. Her lips pulled in a grimace. That faithless, roguish duke she’d imagined herself in love with had turned her into one of those dreadfully miserable types to be around.
Mother came to a stop before her and wordlessly brushed the errant, hideously red curl back behind Imogen’s ear. Narrowing her eyes like a doddering lord in need of his monocle, she peered at Imogen.
Imogen drew back. “What is it?”
“I’m looking for tears. There are to be no tears. Your sister is happy and that should bring you happiness and….” Her mother launched into a familiar lecture; a nonsensical lesson on sibling loyalty expected of Imogen when her own sister had been anything but. “…you will take the ton by storm.” Those hopeful words brought her to the moment.
An inelegant snort escaped her, earning a hard frown from her mama. “I did take the ton by storm, Mother. Remember? There was the whole incident with the lemonade two,” nearly three, “years ago.” That defining moment which had brought the Duke of Montrose into her life and into her heart.
That blasted glass of lemonade.
Her mother waved a hand about. “Oh, do hush, Imogen. That is not the manner of storm to which I refer.” Alas, Mother had never been capable of detecting sarcasm. “You shall go to events and smile and find a gentleman.”
“I found a gentleman,” she took an unholy joy in pointing out. “The Du—”
“Would you have had him wed where his heart was not engaged?” That handful of words struck like a well-placed barb.
Ah, so her mother had become something of a romantic. “Indeed, not,” she squeezed out past tight lips. Greed for a duke tended to do that to a title-grasping mama.
“We shall find you a powerful, titled nobleman and then you shall be blissfully happy. Just as your sister.” Another well-placed mark. If her mother weren’t so very flighty, Imogen would have believed her words were intended with deliberate cruelty. A startled squeak escaped her as her mother claimed her cheeks in her hands and squished Imogen’s face. “I promise this shall be your last Season as an unwed lady. We shall see you attend all the most popular events and dance with all the most eligible bachelors.” All of which, sounded utterly dreadful. With a smile, her mother released Imogen and spun on her heel.
Her mind raced. Surely even her flighty mother knew that anything and everything the ton discussed would not be Imogen’s suitability as a match, but the scandal surrounding her name. “But—” Her protestation trailed off as her mother slipped from the room. From the corner of her eye, the open copy of The Times stared mockingly at her. With a curse unfit for most gentlemen’s ears, she swiped the newspaper and carried it over to the windowseat. As she claimed a seat, Imogen scoured the page for other poor souls who’d already earned the ton’s attention this Season.
Lord AE, the notorious Lord Alexander Edgerton, has taken up residence at his scandalous clubs and gaming hells.
Well, that was hardly news. She scoffed. Lord Alexander Edgerton, her dearest friend Chloe’s brother, had earned a reputation as quite the scapegrace. A rogue. A scoundrel. In short, another Duke of Montrose.
The young duke had, at one time, been an outrageous, scandalous gentleman most mamas would turn their noses up at. Until a distant relative had gone and died making him the unlikely new duke…and suddenly perfect marriageable material for all those protective mamas.
Imogen threw the paper aside once again and turned her attention to the window, studying the passersby below. There were certainly worse things than having your betrothed sever the contract just three days before the blessed wedding. It was a good deal harder finding those worse things when one’s betrothed broke your engagement—to marry your sister. Imogen desperately tried to call up those worse things.
Or there was…
Imogen sighed. Nothing. There was surely nothing worse than this.
A soft rapping at the door cut into her musings.
Imogen knocked her head against the wall. “Go away,” she murmured to herself. She didn’t want company. Certainly not her harebrained mother. Another knock. She was content to become one of those outrageous spinsters who brought their wildly attired pups to fashionable events and earned furious amounts of stares from—
Another knock. “My lady…”
Oh, bother. “Do come in,” she bit out, not taking her gaze from the carriages rattling along the London streets below.
The butler cleared his throat. “Lady Chloe Edgerton to see you.”
Imogen spun about. Her best friend stood in the doorway, a wry smile on her pretty face. She dangled her legs over the side of the seat. “Chloe,” she greeted with far more excitement than she’d felt for anything or anyone since the broken betrothal. She’d been wrong. There was one person she’d care to see.
“Imogen.” Chloe swung her reticule back and forth.
The butler discreetly backed out of the room and pulled the door quietly closed.
“I gather you’ve heard the news,” Imogen said without preamble. She’d never been one to prevaricate.
Chloe tipped her head. “The news?” She tapped her hand to the center of her forehead once. “Ah, yes, silly me. Did you mean about Lord Whetmore’s horse nipping Lady McTavishs’s shoulder? Quite scandalous really.”
Imogen appreciated what her friend was doing. She really did. Her shoulders sank and she returned her attention to the window. It was hard to be happy when one’s sister had so betrayed you and your betrothed had humiliated you. Even a best friend who’d boldly challenged all your nasty enemies at finishing school didn’t have much of a chance in rousing you from your melancholy.
Chloe sank beside her in a flutter of ivory skirts. “I do hate seeing you like this,” she said quietly, setting aside her matching ivory reticule.
Imogen mustered a wan smile. “And I hate being like this.” Nobody preferred a gloomy, despondent creature. Then again, her betrothed clearly hadn’t preferred her happy and loquacious. So really, who knew what one wanted, after all?
A dandy in garish, canary yellow knee breeches and a lady in like color chose that awful, inopportune moment to glance up. The couple in the street widened their eyes and stared openly at her.
Chloe reached over and drew the curtain completely closed. “Busybodies,” she mumbled.
When the scandal was as great as Imogen’s even the rare few who didn’t partake in gossip now bandied her name about.
“It will get better,” her friend said with a confidence Imogen didn’t feel. She leaned over and patted her hand. “Why, I daresay you are better off without one such as him.”
“Polite Society does not agree,” Imogen said, a wry smile on her lips. With his golden blond, Brutus curls and his grinning countenance, the Duke of Montrose’s company was desired by all—including her sister.
Chloe squeezed her hands. “Look at me.”
Imogen lifted her gaze.
“You are better off without him.” She wrinkled her nose. “Why, I heard Mama say he’s quite a rogue and not at all proper.”
Yes, breaking a formal arrangement to wed your betrothed’s younger sister certainly spoke to that truth. She curled her hands into tight fists. Though for one considered to be a rogue, he’d hardly demonstrated an amorous intention toward Imogen. Embarrassment turned in her belly.
“You wouldn’t want to marry him. Not when he’s proven himself inconstant. You deserve more than that.” She paused and when next she spoke, she did so in hushed tones. “Don’t you remember what you confessed at Mrs. Belton’s?”
Ah, yes, Mrs. Belton would not be pleased by this very public shaming of one of her students. For purely self-serving reasons, of course. After all, a headmistress’ reputation was bound to the ladies she turned out into the world.
Chloe nudged her in the side.
Imogen grunted. “Love. I said I’d wanted to make a love match.” She’d believed she loved William and worse, believed he’d loved her, too. What a naïve fool she’d been. A young girl so desperate for that emotion in her life, she’d convinced herself of foolish dreams. And yet, a shameful, pathetic sliver of her soul still longed for that dangerous, painful emotion.
“You do remember.” A wide smile wreathed her friend’s face. “Splendid.” Chloe glanced about, as though searching for interlopers. She reached for her reticule and fished around inside the elaborate, satin piece. “I’ve brought you something,” she said, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial whisper.
The faintest stirring of curiosity filled Imogen; any sentiment beyond the self-pitying, pained fury she carried was a welcome emotion. Chloe withdrew a shining, gold chain. The sun’s morning rays filtered through the crack in the curtains and played off the small, heart pendant. Imogen studied the light reflecting off the glimmering heart. “It is beautiful,” she murmured.
“Here, take it,” Chloe prodded. She pressed it into her fingers. “It is yours.”
“I couldn’t.” She made to push it back.
“It belonged to Lady Anne, the Countess of Stanhope.”
Imogen blinked several times. “What?” she blurted. The young lady, courted by the powerful Duke of Crawford, then betrothed to her cousin, had quite scandalized the ton when she’d abruptly ended her engagement and wed the roguish Earl of Stanhope. In fact, it had been the last scandal to shock the ton…until Imogen. “How?” She couldn’t string together a coherent thought. The faint stirrings of unease rolled through her. Oh, dear she didn’t care to know the extent her friend had gone to obtain the piece.
“Lady Anne is married to Alex’s closest friend, Lord Stanhope. It was nothing to speak to the woman.”
Oh, please let the floor open up and swallow me whole. “You didn’t.” She dropped her head into her hands and shook it back and forth.
“I did.” Chloe nodded excitedly. “You see,” she spoke in such hushed tones it brought Imogen’s head up. “The necklace,” she nodded to it, “is the same one worn by her sisters and a handful of their friends. It is fabled to land the wearer the heart of a duke and as you’ve already had a duke, you’d instead want one of those noblemen, but this time, his heart as—”
Oh, please, no. “You did not speak to her.” Shame curled her toes.
Chloe paused, mouth opened, thought unfinished, only confirming Imogen’s suspicions. “She was entirely gracious.” Imogen winced. “And understanding.” She flinched again. “And more than happy to gift you the heart pendant.” Chloe wrinkled her brow. “Or rather, give me the pendant to pass along to you.” An uncharacteristically somber light filled her dearest friend’s eyes. “I just want you to be happy once more.”
So much so that she’d unknowingly humiliate Imogen before a stranger. She sighed not knowing if she should laugh or cry.
Chloe claimed her hands and gave them a squeeze. “You will find the gentleman who is your true love. I promise.” Through the years, Chloe had been the more practical, logical of them when it came to matters of the heart, swearing off that emotion for herself while allowing, even supporting, Imogen in that dream.
She hardly recognized this young woman who spoke of magic and pendants and dreams of love. With a sound of impatience, she shoved to her feet, her fist tightened reflexively about the chain. “This is about more than love.” Imogen began to pace. Chloe had never been accused of being a hopeless romantic. Unlike Imogen—or rather, she had been, until life happened and showed her the folly in giving her heart to another. She increased her frantic movements. “It is about being respected, inspiring devotion and dedication in another.” Feats she’d failed miserably where the Duke of Montrose was concerned.
Her friend hopped up and placed herself in Imogen’s path. And then she said the only two words Imogen had longed to hear since the whole public shaming heaped on her by her disloyal sister and fickle betrothed. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. That was it. She just wanted someone to not make excuses or worry after the scandal and how Society looked on it. She wanted someone to care about her and that she’d been hurt.
Imogen mustered a smile. “He did have fetid breath.”
A sharp bark of unexpected laughter bubbled past her friend’s lips. “And he was entirely too tall.” She shuddered. “We shan’t find you a tall gentleman like him.”
“And handsome,” Imogen supplied, feeling vastly better for her friend’s devoted teasing. “He was too handsome.” Which is why her grasping, self-centered sister had first noticed him. The familiar stirring of fury turned in her belly. And she embraced it, far preferring it to the kicked and wounded pup she’d been since the unhappy occasion. Determined to set aside the still fresh betrayal, Imogen threw herself back into her friend’s game. “He drinks too much brandy.” His breath had stunk of it whenever he was near. “I shan’t ever wed a gentleman who touches even one glass of liquor.”
“Splendid.” Chloe gave a pleased nod. “You are quite grasping the spirit of this.” She lowered her voice. “I’ve heard from my brother that His Grace has a wicked penchant for the gaming tables.”
She’d little doubt just which brother Chloe spoke of. Not the respectable Marquess of Waverly but rather, Lord Alex Edgerton, known rogue, skirt-chaser, reprobate, brandy drinker. Another gentleman all ladies would be best served to avoid.
Chloe clapped her hands once, jerking Imogen’s attention back to her. “You’re woeful again.” A stern frown turned her lips down in the corners. “You must focus on how horrid and horrible and all things awful he is.”
“Er. Yes, right.” Except she’d run out of insulting charges to level on his miserable head. She stopped pacing so quickly her satin skirts fluttered about her ankles. Though in truth, as hurt and humiliated as she was by his betrayal, she truly was better knowing the man’s true character before she’d gone and wed him.
“I have an idea,” her friend put in tentatively, which was all show. There was nothing tentative about Lady Chloe Edgerton.
“Oh?” she asked dryly. Too many troublesome scrapes at Mrs. Belton’s Finishing School had begun with those four words.
Chloe beamed with Imogen’s interest. “Now that you have this necklace,” she gestured to the chain in Imogen’s hand, “you shall find a gentleman. And make him fall hopelessly and helplessly in love with you and His Grace will be outrageously, wickedly jealous.”
“That is your plan?” She’d long adored her friend for her cleverness, however, this was an ill-thought out idea on the lady’s part. What was the use in making William jealous? “That will not change anything where Montrose is concerned.”
Her friend plucked the necklace from her fingers. “Nor should you want to change anything, silly,” Chloe murmured. “Here, turn around.” Before Imogen could protest, Chloe spun her about. She settled the chain about her neck and fiddled with the clasp. A soft click filled the quiet. “There,” she said, turning Imogen around once more. “I’ll have you know,” she gave a toss of her blonde curls, “that was not my plan.” A slow, mischievous grin turned her lips. “You rejoining Society was…is,” she amended, “my plan.”
Imogen had retreated from ton events after The Scandal, as Society had taken to referring to it. Those drawn out syllables the ton used to set it apart from other scandals. Imogen sighed. “I’ve little interest in entering Society.” Alas, now that Rosalind had wed her duke, Mother’s wedding plans were at an end, and she’d turned her sights once more upon Imogen. “I intend to wait until the scandal isn’t so—”
Her friend’s snort cut across the remainder of those hopeful words. “Oh, Imogen,” she said gently, taking her hands once more. “This scandal shall remain until some other foul lord goes and does something outrageous that captures their notice. I shan’t allow you to bury your head in shame. Not when you haven’t done anything wrong.” Fire snapped in her blue eyes. “Is that clear?” She opened her mouth to respond but Chloe gave a pleased nod. “We shall fill your days! There will be shopping trips and we’ll take in the theatre, and various balls…”
As her friend prattled on, Imogen groaned. All those options were about as appealing as being tasked with plucking out each strand of hair on her head, but most particularly any visits to Drury Lane. “Not the theatre.” There she would be on public display like one of those Captain Cook exhibits at the Egyptian Hall. She was brave. She was not that brave.
“You’ll have me,” her friend said, accurately interpreting her concerns. “The sooner you make your appearance and show the ton you’ll not be cowed or shamed by them and miserable Montrose then the sooner they shall move on to some other poor creature.”
Imogen shot her a look.
Chloe had the good grace to blush. “Er…not that you’re a poor creature.”
She tapped a finger to her lips. Insult aside, if she was being honest, it really wasn’t an altogether awful plan. In fact, it was quite a brilliant one.
As though sensing victory was close, Chloe added, “Furthermore you’ll be spared your mother’s matchmaking for the Season.”
Yes, Mother had begun to speak of the Marquess of Waverly with an increasing frequency. After all, by Mother’s thinking, if one couldn’t have a duke, she may as well aspire to a marquess. “Very well, I shall go.” After all, the alternative would be to flit from one event to the next with her married sister and her beaming mother and the faithless Duke of Montrose for company.
“Splendid!” Chloe said, with a clap of her hands. “My brother will accompany us. No one will dare slight you with the fierce Marquess of Waverly at our side.”
Envy tugged at Imogen. Through the years, her own sister had been at best rude and condescending, and at worst, deliberately cruel, mocking the flame-red curls Imogen had been cursed with. She would have traded her left index finger to know the loving friendship Chloe had with her siblings.
With an energized stride, her friend started for the door. She paused at the threshold and spun back once more to face Imogen. “Prepare yourself, Imogen Moore. You are going to take Society by storm.”