The Beastly Duke and his Virgin Preview

About the book


A tale as old as time…Beauty and the Beast…

Florence is escaping scandal. After being assaulted and humiliated, her family sends her to the countryside in hopes that she will return salvaged. But when all she meets there is abuse, she makes the difficult decision to run away, ending up right in the hands of the beastly Duke…

Thomas is a beast. That’s what his father called him the moment he was born, and that’s how the ton sees him. But he has no time for gossip, or love, since there is only one thing in his mind: find his missing twin sister. And when the vulnerable and attractive Florence ends up in his Castle, he finds himself desiring her very being…

A beauty and a beast are not meant to fall in love. Everyone warns them that their love could be their very end, and it’s all proven true the moment Florence goes missing. Will Thomas find her before it’s too late?

Prologue


Arengmoor was a study in black and white. The landscape of hills and valleys was white. With Christmas a week away, snow covered the ground in a smothering carpet. Sound was muffled. The farmers of the valley communities huddled in their homes, keeping warm around fires kept burning with peat. The townspeople of Areng Major swathed themselves against the cold wind that lashed down their streets from the high places.

Over all was the looming, black shape of the castle. Arengton Castle had long stood on its vantage, glowering over the surrounding country. It had once dominated, its gates opening for the Lord and his knights. Now, in the year of the lord 1800, it was money that gave the Lord of Arengton castle such control over his people. It was no less complete than it had been when swords ruled the land. The people avoided looking up at the castle and when they did it was with fear and loathing in their eyes.

In the evening of the seventeenth of December 1800, a storm lashed the ancient parapets and towers of the castle. Wind howled at the mossy stone and rattled the windows in their casements. Flickering lamps and firelight from within seemed a weak and futile attempt to keep out the black night.

Hugo Marshall, Seventeenth Duke of Arengton, paced the Hall of Swords. The room was so named for its many trophies of the Arengton’s long martial past. Swords hung from the walls between banners and shields. Suits of armor, adorning wooden models of the human form, stood sentry between the room’s stone walls. It was a relic of the castle’s medieval past and had been largely untouched by successive generations. Arrow-slit windows on one side looked down on a courtyard.

A fire blazed in the huge hearth. The Duke was a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark hair and a chiseled, handsome face. He had an imperial nose and the raised chin and elevated gaze of a born aristocrat. His hands were clasped behind him as he strode, brows furrowed. Elsewhere in the castle, his wife was screaming. The stone walls held onto her cries of agony, ensuring they did not reach her husband.

Despite this, he knew they came. Ripping from her throat as she fought to expel the child from her body. The Duke’s hands clenched and unclenched behind his back, not out of concern for his wife, but for his first born child. The son he hoped would continue the ancient and noble Arengton line. The tall, oak doors to the Sword Room were opened and the Duke’s head rose to the sound of an infant screaming.

A woman stood in the doorway. She wore a dress of serviceable cotton and linen, its sleeves rolled to her elbows. She was wiping wet hands on a piece of white linen and there was blood on the apron she wore. She looked across the room at the Duke. Their faces bore the similarity of siblings. But while his was marred with arrogance, hers was humble.

“Well, Evangeline? Is it done?” the Duke demanded.

Evangeline’s face crumpled. Tears welled in her eyes. She stepped aside and turned. A servant stood behind her, holding a swathed bundle from which the cries of the infant came forth. Evangeline gently took the child.

“Your son, Your Grace,” Evangeline said, her voice heavy with weariness, “but I’m afraid Elizabeth…she did not survive the birth. Your wife is dead.”

The Duke strode forward, eyes alight with eagerness.

“Wives come and go, dear sister. But heirs are much harder to come by!” he said.

“Indeed, Your Grace. May I remind you that this child is your son, your first born. Your blood. No matter what happens.”

The Duke shot her a confused look as he reached for the bundle. Evangeline held it away.

“Look first, brother. I know your temper and would not see this child harmed.”

Confusion gave way to anger at being defied. Evangeline moved aside the swaddling clothes to reveal the babe within. Then she looked at her brother, knowing the reaction she would see. The Duke’s eyes went wide, his mouth fell open. Then clamped shut, lips pulling back from bared teeth.

“What is this! What trickery! This cannot be…”

“He is your child. Born of your wife. I delivered him, Your Grace. His condition is no fault of his and though I would gladly lay the blame on your wicked shoulders, it is not a judgment on you. Your child is different on the outside but he is an innocent on the inside. Will you, for the first time in your miserable life, do the right thing? Behave like a Christian? Hold your child and welcome him to the world.”

The Duke howled, staggering back as Evangeline held the child towards him. Grief contorted his face but rapidly dissolved into anger.

“No!” he snarled, “How can this be? What sin have I committed that this…”

He turned to look back at the child but whirled away, closing his eyes tightly. “I will not welcome a…monster into the world. This is not my son. He is…he is a freak! I deny him.”

He turned away and strode across the room to a table bearing a decanter of brandy. Evangeline covered the baby again. She looked down at his face sadly, stroking his cheek gently with one finger.

“I expected this reaction. He will trouble you no more, brother,” she said, “I will do as you ask and take him from this house for good. You do not deserve the blessing of this child.”

“Get out! You’ve always been a disgrace to this family! Mixing with the peasants, dirtying your hands with their ailments and complaints. Take that…that thing with you!” the Duke roared, pouring, and consuming a large brandy before pouring another.

Evangeline left the room, striding down a stone passageway lined with tall windows, plush curtains drawn tight against the storm and the night. She held the baby boy close to her breast, her tears flowing freely for the child’s mother. And for his twin sister.


Chapter One

Florence stepped into a fairy tale. She gasped, clasping her hands together in front of her as she looked around. The great hall of Hunter House was a chamber that dripped gold. Chandeliers lit the room, candles glittering amid coruscating precious stones. The paneled walls were inlaid with gold, amber and silver. They reflected the candles that stood around the room’s edges.

Mirrors that were taller than her stood between windows that were taller still. They gathered the light and shone it back tenfold.

“It is lovely, I suppose,” Bethany Arnam replied, “a trifle overdone perhaps. But, it is the style and who am I to question the taste of the Prince Regent?”

“The Regent? Golly, is he here?” Florence asked.

“Hardly, my dear,” Bethany replied, “but society follows where he leads. His tastes are the ton’s tastes.”

“Oh, yes of course,” Florence said, slightly dejected at the naivety she had shown.

But the dejection did not last long. She had been in London with her parents for two weeks and this was the first true society ball to which they had been invited. The house itself was a palatial construction in Mayfair, the grand residence of the Duke of Norfolk. Bethany smiled, putting an arm around her friend’s waist, and giving her a squeeze.

“Never mind, Florence. No-one heard but me.”

Florence grinned back, reassured. Bethany had round cheeks and hips with a mountain of dark hair atop her head and a dress in the latest fashion. Florence, was also bedecked in the latest style, her father having insisted that she take a shopping trip along Oxford Street upon receipt of the invitation from the Duchess of Norfolk.

“Our family may have come up from nothing but we are something now. No one is going to look down their noses at us,” Sir Jake Gillingham had declared, a hearty grin splitting his face.

Bethany led Florence into the room and along its periphery. Florence felt as though she were moving through a sea of silk and jewels. She and Bethany made polite conversation here and there, made eye contact and smiles with lords and ladies, the great and the good. Behind them, Florence’s father and mother came into the room. Jake Gillingham had been elevated to the gentry by a grateful Prince of Wales, before he became Regent, for services rendered during the war against the French.

It was a source of immense pride for her parents, giving titles to go with the wealth her father had spent years accruing from his trading business. Florence hoped they were happy. She herself loved the splendor of London society, the prettiness of it, but was left untouched by the pretensions of the ton. She was as comfortable talking with a stable hand on her father’s country estate as with an Earl or a Duke.

“You are drawing a lot of eyes,” Bethany said under her breath.

Florence hadn’t noticed but felt herself flushing at the very idea. She had brown, curly hair and a smattering of freckles across a button nose. Her figure was as curvy as her friends but she had never seen herself as Bethany’s equal in beauty. Now she noticed an appraising look cast over her by a young man with fair hair and green eyes.

As her eyes met his, he smoothly picked up two wine glasses from a passing servant and took a step towards her, a confident smile growing on his lips. Bethany interposed between them, taking Florence’s arm, and steering her away.

“Now, now, young Florence. Let’s not grab the first sweets we see. There are lots to choose from,” she chided.

Florence laughed, following her friend but not failing to perceive the edge that had crept into Bethany’s voice. It was inconceivable to Florence that the daughter of the Earl of Wakefield should be jealous in any way of her. But, that was the instinct she had.

Bethany moved them along more rapidly now until they reached a clear space. She took two glasses of wine from a tray on a table and handed one to Florence.

“Here you are, my dear. A fine vintage, I’m sure.”

Florence sipped, “I’m not used to wine,” she said.

“Florence, you will be. It is the nature of these affairs. You drink wine, dance with handsome men and if you are very lucky, find one who will make a good husband.”

The thought of a possible husband, a future love of her life within the crowd, excited Florence. The idea that her destiny awaited her just around the corner. After all, this was how her father had met her mother. Not in such grand surroundings but at a ball, he a young knight, full of his own achievements, she the daughter of a Baron. The story of their meeting, the first dance they had shared and their subsequent courtship had always struck Florence as unutterably romantic.

“Good evening, Lady Arnam. May I be introduced to your beautiful friend?” came a voice from behind Florence.

She turned and found herself looking at the most handsome man she had ever laid eyes on. He was tall and slender, with curling fair hair, which looked almost golden in the candlelight. He was dashing in the uniform of a cavalry officer, with gold braids across the front of his short coat. His eyes were pale blue and his face strong and masculine but with lips that seemed sensitive and delicate.

“Lord Ettingham, this is Florence Gillingham. Daughter of Sir Jake Gillingham, a…knight merchant.” Bethany said, “I had so hoped you would be here.”

A look passed between Lord Ettingham and Bethany. Florence caught it and the flash of a smile across his face. But she did not understand its significance, other than the fact that they knew each other. But, then why should they not?

Lord Ettingham bowed low and took Florence’s gloved hand, pressing his lips to it.

“It is an absolute pleasure to meet you Florence. Please do me the great honor of calling me Simon.”

He smiled and Florence felt her heart skip a beat. He was bewitching.

The next few hours were a bewildering whirl of music, wine, laughter, and the intoxicating smile of Simon Ettingham. Bethany vanished from Florence’s awareness as did the ball itself. She found herself walking along a passageway lined with paintings by some of the continent’s masters. Florence had no little knowledge of art and delighted in explaining form and meaning to Simon, enthusing over intricate brushwork and use of light.

At his suggestion, she stepped through a doorway into a dark room. As the door closed behind her, she felt Simon’s hands about her waist, turning her to face him. Then he was kissing her roughly. His hands grabbed first at her breasts and then her buttocks, through her skirt. Florence pushed him away but he clung to her, his lips finding her neck.

His smile suddenly became cruel, naked lust painting his face.

“Get your hands off me, sir!” Florence exclaimed, shoving him harder.

“You do well to call me sir, you are no better than the whores down at the docks. I am a gentleman, born and bred. You should be on your knees,” Simon growled.

He grabbed for her shoulder and she wrenched away from him as his hand closed on her dress. She felt a sharp tug and heard the material tearing, leaving her shoulder and the top of her breast exposed. She did what she had been taught to do as a girl, by Barney, the stable hand who had been her best friend. Balling her fist, she swung and caught Simon high on the cheeks.

The blow knocked his head sideways and made him stagger. Florence ran for the door as she heard his snarl of rage behind her. Wrenching it open, she began to run down the hallway only to cannon into an elderly couple making their way along the paintings.

“Oh my!” she exclaimed.

“How dare you, madam!” the man said in an outraged tone, “this is the house of a noble family.”

“But he…!” Florence pointed back to the room.

Simon was quietly slipping out of the room through another door. She saw a malicious grin before the door closed behind him.

“Leave this house at once!” the man demanded.

More people appeared at the end of the hallways, drawn by the commotion. With a sinking feeling of despair, Florence saw Bethany for a moment among them. She smiled, a look of pure victory, before slipping away into the crowd. Florence clutched at her torn dress, trying to cover her exposed body, turned, and ran.


Chapter Two


The glittering light and bright beauty of the ball were a tarnished memory. Florence sat in the window of her bedroom, looking out over the streets of London below. Her father’s house overlooked Green Park. He had purchased it after renting the country manor in which Florence had grown up.

The streets below bustled with horses and carriages, with gentlemen and ladies going about their business. Shops faced the house, windows glowing and inviting. Snow was beginning to fall in gentle drifts, lending the scene a pretty whiteness. Before the events of the previous week, it would have been enrapturing. She would have been full of the enthusiasm to be out in the tumbling flakes of snow, in the life of the city.

Florence missed the country but found London’s pulsing energy fascinating. But not now. Now, she wanted to hide away from it. She could not forget the judging, accusing eyes of the couple she had run into that night. A couple that she later discovered were the Duke and Duchess of Avon. Nor the eyes of the others who had witnessed her shame. But worse than the judgment she had felt being heaped upon her by those staring eyes was the laughter.

Bethany, she was sure, had been one of those who had laughed. It had all been a cruel trick, she could see that so clearly now. Bethany had been jealous of the attention Florence had received. Had deliberately exposed her to a man she must have known was a brute. And then had laughed when Florence had been accosted by him and exposed to ridicule and shame.

After running through the house, desperately seeking escape from those eyes, she had found herself in the gardens. There she had found a stone bench in a secluded spot and sat, weeping. A servant had eventually found her, and then her parents. Her mother had been aghast, her father enraged. But had his anger been directed at the man who had attacked his daughter. According to Sir Jake Gillingham, a man of Simon Ettingham’s rank could not possibly have acted without encouragement.

In other words, it was her fault. Tears stung at her eyes. It was so unfair. A knock came at the door.

“Come in,” Florence said, blinking back the tears and standing.

She straightened her skirts, composing herself. She had endured enough humiliation, she would not be so exposed before anyone else. The door opened to admit a serving maid.

“Your pardon, Miss Florence. But, your father has requested your presence in his study,” the maid said.

Florence thought she detected the slightest hint of a smile as the maid performed a deep curtsy. Was she to be mocked even by members of her own family’s staff?

“I will be along presently,” she said.

“Begging your pardon, Miss but your father said you was to come to him at once,” the maid replied.

There was definitely a smile on the young wretch's face. Even the servants knew of the rumors that were flying around town concerning her. They were all laughing! Florence briskly walked across the room. She felt an almost overwhelming urge to strike the girl but knew she could not. It was not the maid’s fault. Gossip was part of society. It was so in the country and it was certainly so in London.

Passing the maid without a word, she walked to her father’s study. Before she reached the closed door, she heard his raised voice.

“By God, my father would have taken matters into his own hands directly. A thrashing is an excellent way of getting discipline. Boy or girl. Spare the belt and rue the day, that’s what he used to say. I’ve let you spoil that girl, and this is what happens!”

Florence took a breath. The same rant that had echoed within these walls for a week. And still, the anger had not dissipated. She opened the door without knocking and stepped inside.

“You sent for me, father?” she said.

Florence’s father sat behind his wide desk at one end of the room. Her mother sat on a chaise next to the fireplace at the other end. Her chin raised as Florence entered and she sipped from a glass of pale wine. There was an air of delicate nobility to her, she exuded it without even trying. Jake Gillingham on the other hand was red-faced and nursing a tumbler of whiskey. Papers were strewn across his desk. The wall behind him was dominated by a full-length portrait of himself and Florence’s mother.

“Well then. I thought you should know that our invitation to the Duke of Brighton’s Christmas ball has been revoked. Your mother is beside herself. This is the first time since her debut that she has not been in attendance! The very first time. Do you know what that means?”

“That we stand in shame?” Florence said archly.

“That you stand in shame!” Roared her father, “you…you…flaming hussy!”

He stood as he spoke, slamming the tumbler onto the desk and slopping whiskey across open ledgers. He was well-spoken until anger got the better of him. Then, his native country accent broke through. Her mother sniffed, turning her back on Florence. But, Florence took after her father. His anger sparked her own.

“I was attacked!” she spat, advancing a few paces into the room.

“So, you say!” her father spat back, “except I’ve written to Simon bloody Ettingham demanding an answer to your allegations. And got a flaming letter back on the stationary of the office of the Prince Regent no less! Seems His Grace admits to allowing himself to become carried away by your advances. That he regrets his passion, as he calls it, resulted in damage to your dress. But, says in no uncertain terms that if I publicly accuse him of assaulting you the Prince Regent himself will take a very dim view!”

“Then the Regent is as bad as Ettingham!” Florence shouted.

“The Regent is all but King and without him, we wouldn’t have any of this,” her father protested, “so you’ll keep a civil tongue in your head about him. Don’t think that a man like him will not see us dragged through the courts and bankrupted. And all because you…”

“Was foolish enough to think a man would be enjoying my company, my conversation and not simply waiting for an opportunity to…to…roll me.”

Florence heard her mother gasp, she knew the use of a slang term would shock her. She glared defiantly at her father. Her anger was stoked by the injustice of it all and the sense of betrayal. Her parents should have been able to protect her, or at least stand by her. Instead, they seemed more concerned with the opinions of others.

“Our standing has been decimated. And your lack of remorse makes me think there is every chance of something like it happening again if you remain here.” Her mother finally spoke.

Florence turned to her. “You’re sending me away?”

“I’ve taken advice on the matter. From one of the few men who have not turned their back on our family. Reverend Wayland, the vicar of our parish church here. A very earnest young man. He felt very strongly that the only curb for such behavior is a very Christian household.”

“So, you will be staying with your Aunt Lavinia.” Her mother told her with a thin smile, “you will be a long way from London, out in Arengshire. Removed from temptation.”

Florence swallowed, feeling her stomach lurch. To be removed from London was no great hardship. She yearned to return to the country. But Lavinia Herald was a devout, almost rabid, Methodist. At her aunt’s house, there would be no music, no art, or books. There would be prayer meetings and study of the bible. And if she transgressed any one of the hundreds of rules her aunt enforced, there would be beatings.

“I won’t go to stay with that harridan!” she exclaimed, feeling tears fill her eyes.

“You’ll go,” her father said, resuming his seat, “a case has been packed for you and the carriage is ready.”

He reached for a silken rope that dangled beside his desk and a bell rang somewhere in the house. The door to the study opened and two grooms stood there.

“If you will not go willingly. These men will carry you to the carriage even if you must be tied hand and feet.”

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  • Loved it.Florence is portrayed as a strong character and was not afraid to defend herself when she was assaulted.She even stood up to her parents.Pity her parents did not believe her.Would love to read more .How she survives when she moves with her aunt, how she meets the duke and why the baby(duke)was shunned by his father.The title is beauty to the beast.Yes looking forward to this book.Thank you for including me in your ARC group and sending the preview

    Manisha

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Manisha! It means so much to me 🙂 I hope you enjoy it when it’s out–stay tuned for my email!

  • Wow. Banished without ever believing her side of the story. Women seemed to be treated so
    Unfairly in those times. Can’t wait to read more.

    • I agree! It was so easy to accuse a woman without hearing her side of the story–but I’m sure a happy ending met a lot of these women. Thank you 🙂 Stay tuned for my email!

    • Thank you so much, dear 🙂 I’m glad you’re enjoying it so far and I hope you enjoy it just as much when it’s out!

  • Where to begin with the injustice taking place when parents should have been on their daughter’s side of these scandoulous remarks and gossip!

    • I agree. It can have catastrophic consequences on the victim too–not being believed or blamed for can destroy your mental health. But I’m certain Florence will have her happy ending 🙂 Thank you so much for the comment!

  • This is a very interesting start to this story. I loved it. The worst part is how easily parents would be willing to throw their daughters to the wolves and then abandon them during this era. I can’t wait for Florence to get a greater gift than she expected from her exile. My strongest hope is to see what happens with Bethany and Ettingham. I do believe it will be epic.

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