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An Unsuitable Duchess by Kathleen Buckley

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  • After her guardian’s death, Anne Sinclair comes to Town seeking a man with broad interests, rather than broad estates. She possesses a competence and a pretty face, so why did her late guardian think it might be difficult for her to make a match? The question becomes urgent when she discovers that London can be perilous for a young lady of inquiring mind—especially when she has a hidden enemy.

    Lord John Anniscote unexpectedly inherits the title and responsibilities of his dissolute brother, the Duke of Guysbridge, including houses, servants, tenants, and the need to provide himself with an heir. Formerly poor, cynical, and carefree, he finds himself hunted by marriage-minded females. When a plot against a young lady up from the country touches his honor, can the new duke safeguard her reputation and repair his own? 

    Rating: Sweet
    Page Count: 386
    Word Count: 96930
    978-1-5092-1424-2 Paperback
    978-1-5092-1425-9 Digital

    Excerpt

    So Anniscote’s and her theory was correct, and she did have a double or near-double. And that was inconvenient for someone.

    “I don’t either, mistress, for a fact. But what’s to do?”

    What indeed?

    “We must escape from here,” Anne said. “If you help, it will be easy.”

    “Priss will be terrible angry. Now I’ve seen this place, I think my uncle must be worse than I knew, and Priss, as well. I think it’s a place men go to visit women.”

    “I wouldn’t be at all surprised. I’ll see you don’t suffer for helping me, for we must get away,” Anne said. “I overheard something Priss and a man called Ned were talking about earlier. Do you know who Ned is?”

    “He’s Priss’s spark. I only met him twice and I didn’t like him much. He can be pleasant enough, but he’s low. I can’t make out what he works at, either, except it’s something to do with my uncle’s business.”

    “They plan to send me to America as an indentured servant, and you, too, but to a different place. It seems to me they don’t want you here to testify against them, or to testify in the Colonies that they abducted me and indentured me against my will.”

    Prue turned white.

    Anne abandoned her mug of ale and went to the door to listen. Not a sound. She tried the door knob.

    “It’s locked,” she told her fellow prisoner. “But I think it won’t stop us.” The lock was old and not very complex, much like the one on the pantry door at home. Mrs. Bowman would insist on locking it—as if the maid or Grandfather’s valet would raid the pantry in the night!—and then misplace the key. In Fletching, Anne had kept an L-shaped length of stiff wire. Here…she pulled a long hairpin out of her hair, causing a lock to fall free to her shoulder. The pin was a pretty one, with a filigree head, but not expensive. She contrived to bend it by holding the greater part down on the rough table, pressing the end of it over the edge with the knife handle. It was easily bent. Anne hoped it would be strong enough. “Were there many people about downstairs?”

    Prue shook her head, watching in a fascinated manner, rather as creatures were said to be paralyzed by the gaze of a snake. The lock resisted; it was rusty and certainly not as well oiled as the one on the pantry door. Anne was unpleasantly aware of perspiration breaking out all over her body. If she could not open the door, they must see if it were possible to depart by the window. Would the bed sheets be strong enough to make a rope, and would it be long enough? She thought she would have little difficulty getting down, though it would be a longer drop than the rope in the barn which she had slid down as a child. Would Prue be able to do it? Or even be willing to try? She could hardly leave the girl behind.

    When the lock at last yielded with a grudging snick! Anne’s knees felt oddly weak.

    “Come. I fancy this is our best chance in a house of this sort. You won’t want to stay?”

    “I’m afraid to go, mistress, but I’m more afraid to stay.” They tiptoed out into the corridor.

    Anne thought she could hear snoring from behind one door. Otherwise, all was silent. They crept along the hall and down the narrow stairs. They felt solid enough, though they squeaked in places. Anne held up her hand to stop Prue short of the first floor and listened. She descended the last two steps and peeked around the corner. The door to one room was open, and a broom and basket stood outside it. Someone was cleaning. Anne beckoned, and Prue followed her onto the flight of stairs that led to the ground floor.

    Just short of the landing, they paused to listen. No sound came from the front of the house. Going as silently as they could, they continued down the last steps. Then the front door was in sight. Far off, a metallic rattling suggested someone in the kitchen, preparing for the night’s business, but that would be at the back of the house, or maybe in the basement. Anne squeezed the maid’s hand for encouragement, and whispered, “When we get out, we must make haste, but it would be a mistake to run. Can you take us to the nearest street where we might find a hackney coach?”

    Prue nodded. “We go to the right once we’re out the door.”

    Then they were in the narrow front hall, dim without any candles lit. Anne took a firm grip on the heavy bolt that secured the door and pulled hard. With a rustle of cloth and a squeak from Prue, a big, hairy hand closed on her wrist, and Ned growled, “What’s this, missy?”

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An Unsuitable Duchess

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