The Scarlet Rake Duke Preview

About the book

“I am the Scarred Duke…”

After the death of his betrothed, Colin, the Duke of Hathstone, joins the war to escape the torturous memories. But when he returns, his mother makes him promise he will leave his past behind and find a loving wife...

Sassy and bold, Lady Janette does everything in her power to avoid unwanted suitors—especially rakes. But her focus turns elsewhere once she’s forced to get married to a cruel man that threatens to destroy her sister. Until the Duke comes to save her…

Everything changes the day Colin and Janette’s lips touch. What started as hate soon turns into a passionate love beyond control. But they need to resist each other if they want to stay alive...

Chapter One

The arrow sped through the air and connected with a solid thud to the small red circle at the center of the target.

“Bravo, Janette!” boomed Lord Percival Gleemstone, Seventh Earl of Ardford.

His voice drowned out the polite smattering of applause from the ladies and gentlemen who had gathered to watch the archery contest. A young man with tousled blond hair and a coat of Sherwood green swept a bow to the opponent who had just bested him. She inclined her head graciously, permitting herself a smile of triumph. Janette had a bold face with a strong jaw and a delicate nose. The auburn ringlets of her hair were held atop her head, revealing a pale, swan-like neck.

Her pale blue eyes, slightly tilted above sharp cheeks were a match for Lord Gleemstone’s. He beamed as he applauded, slapping broad hands together vigorously. Janette gave him a curtsy as she handed her bow to an attendant. Next to Lord Gleemstone stood a woman with fair hair and a face of extraordinary beauty. A younger woman stood beside her, sharing her delicate, feminine features along with the pale blue eyes of her father. Lady Gleemstone politely clapped her stepdaughter’s accomplishment and looked askance at her daughter, Phillipa, who clapped with their father’s gusto.

Both girls, separated by no more than five years, possessed the Gleemstone Gleam, as it was traditionally known within the family. Both had pale blue eyes and high cheeks. Phillipa had her mother’s heart-shaped face and full, pouting lips. She rushed forward to congratulate her sister, bestowing hugs and laughing praise. Janette was shorter than Phillipa, reaching no higher than her shoulder despite her seniority in years. Her own mother, Lord Gleemstone’s first wife, had been a petite lady, and their only child had taken after her mother in this regard.

“What skill!” Phillipa, gushed with all the unrestrained enthusiasm of her age, “why you thrashed him!”

“Thanks, Flip,” Janette whispered with a wink, “I did rather, didn’t I?”

“Now, Phillipa. There is no need for vulgar slang language,” chided her mother, “Janette, if you are quite finished with this most un-feminine display?”

“Oh tosh, Victoria! Archery is a very fine, traditional skill. And my Janette has proved there is nothing any man in England can accomplish that she cannot match,” Percival said with a voice that rarely seemed to drop much below booming conviviality in its tone.

“That is well, my Lord. I just do not understand why she should want to match the accomplishments of a man. I would not expect you to be more skilled at needlepoint than I, or more accomplished at dancing than Phillipa,” Victoria protested, chin raised.

“Lady Janette, if I may be so bold?” The young man stepped closer as Lord and Lady Gleemstone became absorbed in an old and recurring debate.

Janette suppressed a sigh, put on a civil smile, and turned her attention to the man. He gave an ingratiating grin and puffed out his chest, straightening his coat as though to call attention to it. Janette supposed that the garment was well-tailored and probably expensive. He wore a gold watch chain that was displayed prominently across a silk waistcoat.

“Does a man need permission to be bold, Lord Pennington?” Janette inquired in a sweet voice.

His response was a look of confusion, quickly masked. Janette bit her lip and pinched the palm of her right hand with the thumb and forefinger of her left.

“My apologies, good sir. The excitement of the moment, you must understand,” she said contritely.

The young man may be a peacock and had displayed no small amount of arrogance when challenged by Janette to the archery contest. But, she supposed, for the sake of her family name and her stepmother’s sensibilities, she should be civil.

“No apologies necessary, Lady Janette. Your accomplishments are rare indeed. Might I be permitted to ask…”

He hesitated, as though nervous, then cleared his throat, “Might I be permitted to ask for an introduction to this young lady?”

He looked to Phillipa, who blushed prettily and looked down demurely. Janette suppressed another sigh, telling herself that she hadn’t wanted to engage this young oaf in conversation anyway, so shouldn’t be disappointed that he was primarily interested in her sister.

“Why, of course. This is my sister, Phillipa. And your name is?”

The young man introduced himself directly to Phillipa, taking her gloves hand to lightly kiss it. Janette stepped away, forgotten by both. There were plenty of passersby on this sunny May morning in Hyde Park that there was no need for her to act as chaperone for her sister. Janette lifted her face to the sun, savoring the kiss of warmth on her cheeks. It was her favorite part of the city, the closest to the natural world that one could find in London. Janette regretted every moment spent away from Ardford, with its rolling hills, high moors, and cool, dark woodlands.

“Well, after all that excitement, I think a stroll before elevenses. Will you join me, Jan?” Percival said, striding away from his wife and offering a meaty arm to his daughter.

“Gladly, I think Phillipa is quite happy with the introduction I’ve secured her with that young man. And Victoria will be happy with that too, no doubt.”

Percival harrumphed. He had prodigious whiskers that blew out with his breath. His face was ruddy, the complexion of a country farmer, and his figure solid.

“Your mother would have sent him away with a flea in his ear. Society fop.”

As usual, he paid no mind to social niceties and Janette laughed as she hushed him, lest the earnest young suitor should overhear.

“Let’s promenade then, before you get into any more trouble with Victoria,” she said.

They walked into a smattering of birdsong, away from the babble of conversation. As it always did between them, the conversation soon turned to the management of the Ardford estate. Which crops to plant and which fields would lie fallow. How to best husband the extensive woodland that covered the estate’s eastern half and the prospect of coal mining in the hills to the north. As Percival caught the trill of a particular bird, he challenged Janette to identify it. She did and issued a challenge of her own.

Father and daughter were soon lost in a game they had played since Janette was a child, identifying birds by their song, then plants by leaf or flower. It was while engaged in an attempt to classify a tiny, blue, white bloom they found growing in the shade of a yew that Phillipa and Victoria caught up.

“Percy, I do wish you wouldn’t wander off. It is not seemly for a man of your stature to disappear while we are in company.”

“My dear, I did not think it possible for a man of my stature to disappear anywhere!” Percival exclaimed, slapping his stomach.

Janette snorted a laugh, and Phillipa hid a delighted smile behind a delicate hand. Even Victoria’s lips twitched before decorum dictated that she show disapproval.

“Now, you know what I mean. Lord Pennington was showing an interest in Phillipa, and there were any number of respectable and eligible men in the company for Janette to talk to.”

Percival looked abashed. He gave his wife an impulsive kiss on the cheek and Phillipa on her forehead, “you’re right, of course. Janette, you should not have allowed me to selfishly take your time like that. After all, we are here to find you a husband at long last.”

Janette grimaced, which brought a tsk of displeasure from her step-mother and a warning wag of the finger from Percival. As he offered his arm to his wife and they walked on ahead, Janette stuck out her tongue. Phillipa laughed, hugging her older sister's arm as they fell into a step behind.

“Oh, Jan! I know we will find a man that is worthy of you. I am quite sure. Lord Pennington has invited us to luncheon with him tomorrow. He is quite the man about town, as they say. I have asked him to bring along a handsome friend.”

“Thank you, Flip,” Janette replied, knowing that it would be what her sister wanted to hear. To Phillipa, finding a match for Janette was very important. It just wasn’t all that important to Janette herself.

They rounded a corner and found themselves facing one of the wide gates that led from the park onto the Bayswater Road. There were many ladies and gentlemen taking in the air. Gentlemen wore coats and top hats; ladies carried parasols. Janette experienced a moment’s discomfort at the milling throng. In a week, she had not gotten used to the sheer numbers of people in the city. With determination, she kept pace with her sister and maintained a pleasant outward expression. Suddenly, the throng was parting around a figure that strode into the park.

It was the pocket of space the man walked in that caught Janette’s attention. That, and the looks and whispers that followed him. He was tall and broad-shouldered. His hair was dark and straight, but most extraordinarily of all, it flowed down to his shoulders. A full beard hid the lower half of his face. He was bareheaded and wore a coat and breeches of black and gray, with riding boots and a black cane that struck the path in cadence with his footsteps.

The man moved with a brutal decisiveness that was a contrast to the aimless wanderings of most of the people making use of the park that Monday morning. Janette found her breath catching in her throat as the man strode in their direction. His face was hard, all planes and angles. The eyes were almost black, fixed on the ground, and tense. Victoria whispered something to Percival, and they stepped out of the man’s way. He passed them without apparently noticing.

Janette found herself irritated by the man’s rudeness. He clearly expected people to get out of his way and showed no sign of thinking that he should be the one to step aside first. The path on which she and Phillipa walked was narrow and flanked by flower beds. Janette stood her ground, refusing to squeeze herself up against the tall hydrangea bushes to accommodate this strange man. He looked up at finding his path blocked, and his dark eyes bored into hers.

Chapter Two

He had a scar on his cheek that ran from just below his left eye to his jawline. There was a ferocity in his eyes that made Janette’s stomach jump. She felt a thrill of fear as he stepped closer, not saying anything. But she would be damned if she would let this extraordinary man intimidate her.

“Your pardon, madam. If you will excuse me,” he said.

His voice was deep and hard, the politeness of his words belied by the sharp edge of his tone. Janette was struck by the impression that this was a man unused to social interaction. She wondered at finding that in London and from a man who was clearly of some rank. His clothes were finely made, his tie pin bearing a small, gleaming ruby. His words were well-spoken, indicating education. But, at the same time, he made her think of a savage.

“Yes, sir. These paths are hard to negotiate in places, are they not?” Janette said, as he made to move around her.

“Indeed. Something should be done to widen them, a man about his business should not be detained by those simply taking in the air,” he replied.

“Your pardon, Your Grace,” Percival boomed, raising a hand to forestall the man, “but I do address His Grace the Duke of Hathstone, do I not?”

The Duke shot a dark look over his shoulder, the scar giving him a villainous appearance, though still handsome.

“You do,” he replied tersely.

“May I introduce myself and my family. I am Percival Gleemstone, Earl of Ardford, and this is my wife, Victoria, and daughters, Phillipa and Janette.”

Victoria and Phillipa curtsied deeply, and the Duke gave a curt nod, turning away. His eyes alighted on Janette and remained there. She could not deny that he was handsome, in a dark way. She felt that she should not feel attraction for such a man, that it would be in some way taboo. But his open rebellions against the conventions of society were attractive. After a long moment, she offered her hand, not a curtsy. He took it with the ghost of a smile momentarily crossing his lips. His grip was strong, and Janette had a sudden lurid impression of what it would feel like for those hands to be gripping her about the waist.

Her breath quickened, and she dismissed the senseless image, berating herself for the flight of fancy.

“How progressive,” the Duke murmured as he released her hand, “you stand out amid the ladies of London society. Do you find yourself accepted?” he asked.

Janette cleared her throat, taken aback by the question. It was so strange, certainly far different from the usual in these situations.

“It matters not to me. I am here for my family, not to partake in society myself,” Janette replied honestly.

“What she means, Your Grace, is that coming from the country, as we do, London society is new to us,” Victoria put in hastily.

She and Percival came to stand beside Janette. The Duke barely looked away from her to acknowledge their presence.

“I myself am newly returned to town after a period in the country. Yorkshire, to be precise. I find that I care little for societies’ rules and conventions,” the Duke said.

“But then you have sufficient rank that it does not matter,” Janette replied, “you will be accommodated regardless.”

She felt as though she were in a contest with this man, just as she had been in her recent archery match. But she didn’t know the rules or even if she was scoring. Again, the ghost of a smile touched his lips, barely visible amid the beard.

“Do you think so? But then you have not been in town long. You are not familiar with the Hathstone name.”

“We know that it is one of the oldest and most respected families in England,” put in Victoria, “and we would deem it a great honor if you would join us for luncheon, Your Grace.”

“Alas, I am otherwise engaged,” the Duke said, mockery loud in his voice.

Janette felt a flash of anger at the arrogance on display.

“Now, if you will excuse me, but I have tarried in idle talk too long. I have business.”

With that, the Duke turned away only to stop before taking a step. Janette saw his gloved hand tighten momentarily on the head of the black cane he carried. Then he turned back to the Gleemstones.

“Where are my manners? I am hosting a ball on Wednesday evening. Please come.”

He spoke hastily, as though unsure of the proper way to phrase his invitation. Victoria smiled broadly, dropping a deep curtsy that Phillipa followed. Percival seemed taken aback, mouth gaping before he recovered himself.

“Why, of course, Your Grace. It would be our great honor.”

The Duke nodded curtly and strode away without looking back.

“Well, if that doesn’t take the biscuit!” Percival exclaimed, “to be invited to a Hathstone ball. The family are cousins to the Crown, you know?”

“A most satisfactory turn of events. Janette, I did not miss the attention he gave you. I do hope that on Wednesday evening you will behave as a proper lady. He is unmarried and of ancient lineage.”

Janette’s heart sank. At the social functions which they had attended thus far, Phillipa had been the center of attention. Janette had been content to fade into the background, there to do her duty until she could return to Ardford. Now, it seemed she was to be pushed into the foreground. And all because of an uncouth, arrogant Duke who clearly believed his rank entitled him to behave precisely as he pleased.

“Oh, Jan! What a ripping day for the Gleemstone girls!” Phillipa enthused, “you win an archery battle. I win a handsome suitor, and you secure the attention of a royal Duke. How smashing!”

“Language, Flip,” Janette joked.

The smile she gave her effervescent sister was only skin deep. She considered all the ways she might get out of this invitation she was forced to accept but her duty was clear. She would attend, but she would not allow the Duke, or any other man, to court her. She had decided long ago on the path she would take, overshadowed as she felt she was by her beautiful and talented sisters. She was content to help her father run the Ardford estate. She promised herself that she would be as cold as ice to this eccentric Duke and would return home at the earliest opportunity.

Chapter Three

Colin Brennan, eleventh Duke of Hathstone, left Hyde Park and crossed Park Lane. Ahead lay Mayfair and the grand, white stone homes of the English aristocracy. Hansom cabs flashed by aplenty, but Colin preferred to walk. He stabbed the pavement with the simple, unadorned black cane he carried. There were looks from passersby, looks directed at his idiosyncratic fashion sense, favoring the long hair and beard that he had first cultivated in Afghanistan. It was distinctly against the prevailing fashion in England. But he didn’t care.

A pair of challenging, pale blue eyes occupied his thoughts, driving out all else. The damned woman had stood in his way, refusing to step aside. He had grown used to the path he could cleave through the crowded streets of London, as though his reputation were a physical force projected out from him. This daughter of Ardford had seemed impervious to it. Being from the country, she may not even be aware of it.

There was something refreshing about that. He had long grown used to wearing his history about him like a cloak. London society was hemmed with rules and unforgiving to those who broke them. Or, in his case, showed scant regard for them in the first place. Still, his family name was old and well connected. The ball would be well attended, even though most would pretend to be there under protest.

As he turned a corner and heard a frightened gasp from a matronly woman coming in the opposite direction, Colin realized that his teeth were bared. It had been a silent grimace of disgust at the fetid pool in which he was forced to swim. Life had been so much simpler amid the dales of North Yorkshire, and the modest cottage he had purchased there. A breeze touched his face, and for a moment, he was transported, standing atop a fell gazing over a rugged landscape unchanged for millennia and blithely unaware of his existence.

The stony, wind-scoured landscape had suited his outlook in the years since…He shook his head angrily, dispelling the memory before it brought pain. Why had he stopped to invite the Ardford’s to the ball? Because of a promise made to his mother. Because, though he wanted nothing more than to cancel the whole wretched business, he had a duty now. To see him married had been his mother’s only desire. She had drawn the promise from him before her death. And now that promise lay, like a lead weight, on his heart.

Clouds had begun to gather by the time he turned into St James street. The breeze had stiffened and carried the first hints of rain, as the sky darkened on the horizon. Ahead was Sharp’s, his club and destination. It was a modest building on the corner of Park Place with blue painted bay windows along its front. A plain, blue painted door was the only entrance, located atop a set of narrow steps at the side of the building. It still carried the ancient sign that had belonged to the tavern which the building had been, in previous years. Its paint was peeling, and the chain it hung from was rusty.

The interior was dark, divided into numerous small rooms, and redolent with the odor of cigar and pipe smoke. Liveried servants moved discretely from room to room bearing silver trays of food and drink, and there was a quiet rumble of conversation. Colin walked up a staircase carpeted in rich burgundy and to a room at the back of the building, which overlooked a private garden. Macintosh sat at a small circular table, a foaming glass of Porter in front of him.

His face lit up when he saw Colin, who couldn’t help but return the smile begrudgingly. Mac’s sunny disposition was infectious. Colin was usually immune to such characters, but the esteem in which he held the other man was such that he couldn’t maintain his usual sour outlook. Mac was tall and wide with flaming red hair and green eyes. His face was round and lined around a mouth ever ready to smile.

He wore a coat of pale blue over a cream vest and breeches with black, leather shoes. It was a clashing contrast with his fiery hair, but Colin knew that Mac would never wear any color other than blue, for no other reason than it was the opposite of red. For both men, red was the color of a past that haunted them. Colin, therefore, embraced black. His friend claimed blue.

“Colin! My dear chap, good to see you!” Mac enthused.

His familiarity with a royal Duke caused a few eyebrows to be raised from those within earshot. None would look to the source of the voice, the traditions of privacy at Sharps were considered gospel.

Mac extended a broad hand which Colin took, clasping it firmly. Mac slapped him heartily on the shoulder.

“Is that grip weakening, old friend? Life as an English aristocrat making you soft, aye?”

Mac’s west of Scotland accent was broad, untouched by his years abroad.

“Your lack of respect for rank is sharper than ever. Will you ever realize you’re not in Argyll anymore?” Colin replied gruffly.

“Ha! A man is a man. Whether he’s a Glasgow dock worker or the King of England! I call you as I see you. Always have. Sit yerself down, man. Steward!”

Mac bellowed for service, and a servant promptly appeared, took an order for beer, and left. Mac took a long swallow of his own drink.

“So, what brings you to London? Last time we spoke, you were setting up a practice out in the shires somewhere,” Colin said.

“I have. Ardfordshire. Not far from the county town, Ardbridge. It’s a nice little place. Got it for a decent price too.”

“Sounds idyllic. What brings you to town?”

Mac took another swallow of beer as the drink he had ordered for Colin arrived. Colin drained half of the glass tankard in which the ale was served.

“I am on the hunt, old chap,” Mac replied with a gleam in his eye.

“Ah, about time, I would say. A wife for the country doctor. Who?”

“Not someone I would expect you to know, old chap. Not with your anti-social tendencies. But a lovely girl. She really is quite lovely…”

Mac trailed off, staring out of the window to the street below. There was a dreaminess to his voice and face that Colin found himself jealous of. He dismissed the thought, drowning it with another long swallow of bitter ale. Such feelings were beyond him. Marriage was a transaction, nothing more.

“Hair like spun gold. A complexion of purest cream and a character that would melt even your heart. I have met with her on a number of occasions in Ardbridge, but she has kept me at arm’s length. However, I happen to know that her family is here in town and intend to try again.”

Colin nodded. His old friend had always been an optimist and utterly irrepressible. The thought occurred to him that he had met the Earl of Ardford and his family earlier. Once again, the bold face and challenging stare of the eldest daughter returned to his mind. He wondered if Mac was familiar with the family.

“That’s a coincidence. I happened to meet a family from that county earlier today in Hyde Park,” Colin commented, “the Gleemstones. Can’t remember the fellow’s name, an earl I believe. And two girls…”

“Three,” Mac corrected, “three daughters. Janette, Hannah, and Phillipa. Hannah is the one who has captured my heart. You saw her?”

Mac was sitting forward, eager as a schoolboy. Colin shook his head.

“No, I did not. I met the earl and his wife and two daughters. What do you know of them?”

He asked as casually as he could but knew that Mac had never been one for subtlety. He was being foolish. What did it matter what Mac knew of Janette. If he decided to take her for his wife, it would be in name only anyway. To fulfill his promise to marry.

Mac grinned, “Janette is the eldest, handsome enough girl but not a patch on her sisters. Bit of a tomboy, as I recall. Phillipa is a budding socialite, great fun to be around. She’s made her debut and will be courted, mark my words. But, I just need to create the perfect scenario to get close to Hannah. Have you heard of any shindigs coming up, old chap? Something to which she might be invited?”

Colin wanted nothing more than to order another round of drinks and help his old comrade forget his forlorn heart amid the camaraderie of drink. But, he could see how important this was to Mac. And the debt between them would never be repaid. The scar he carried was a reminder of what he owed to Mac and his skill as a physician. For a moment it burned, as it had when newly inflicted. For a moment, he could taste the gunpowder and feel the hammer of the Afghan sun.

“You’re in luck, Mac. I am throwing a ball on Wednesday and have invited the Gleemstones. Of course, you are also invited. And best of luck to you.”

The words sounded hollow in his ears, but it produced the desired effect. Mac beamed, drained his glass, and ordered another in between clasping Colin’s hand and shaking it with enthusiasm.

As he talked about Hannah, Colin found himself thinking of Janette. A handsome girl who was a bit of a tomboy. Not a replacement for Antonia. No one ever could be. The woman who had been his first love and, all too briefly his wife, had burned brightly, leaving behind a light in his heart that none could equal.

She had burned brightly indeed. Then her light had been snuffed out. No, no one would ever compare to her. But this Janette Gleemstone seemed a respectable enough companion to carry the title of Duchess. He pursed his lips, staring into the dark depths of his drink. Colin listened, nodding occasionally, and tried to dispel the memory of pale, blue eyes.

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  • I read the review of your new book loved it, I forgot it was a preview and was suprised when it finished so looking forward to reading the rest of the book enjoyed the first three chapters.

  • Crisp, enticing introduction to a new story! A strong female lead, as well as a strong male= set up for a dynamic interaction between the two!

  • Janette is going to give this boy a run for his money. It’s already shown that the story will be filled with a lot of hilarity. I can’t wait for the rest.

  • As usual Miss. Osborne you have been able to catch our interest into the first chapters so that we want to purchase your book. Can’t wait!

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