on September 25th 2017
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Driven into exile years earlier, due to family scandal, Declan Sinclair is called home, devastated to discover his brother has been murdered and he’s the new Duke of Darington. When clues point to the man he blames for both his exile and his brother’s death, Declan resolves to ruin the culprit. If only the daughter of the man’s business partner, lovely Lady Alethea Swinton, didn’t tempt his resolve.
Lady Alethea Swinton has cultivated her pristine reputation in the hopes of winning her father’s praise. When her childhood friend returns, Alethea finds she’s willing to court scandal and defy her father to help the handsome Declan uncover the truth behind his brother’s death. Until she realizes Declan’s redemption will mean her family’s ruin.
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The carriage ride to Rockhaven House was strangely silent, with only the rumble of the wheels over the cobblestones to fill the still air. Alethea and Finlay usually teased each other while their father laughed at their traded barbs. However, the mood inside the cab was oddly quiet. Subdued.
She, nevertheless, could scarcely keep still. She couldn’t fathom how the night had changed so drastically. One moment, she’d fled the crowded theater for the rooftop, desperate to escape the talk surrounding Declan’s return. In the next moment he was with her, seeking solitude beneath the open sky. Just as he had when they were children, he’d seemed to know just where to find her.
She was thankful their reunion had occurred privately. In the scarce lighting, she could ignore the awkwardness that lingered between them, and instead enjoy the velvet- smooth timbre of his voice and how it washed over her skin like a gentle breeze. She didn’t have to hide her smile when he shortened his vowels, his French accent bleeding into his words. She could discreetly blink away her tears when he revealed he’d learned of Albert’s death upon his arrival. For a short while, Alethea could imagine no time had passed since the days when they used to run across the meadows together.
But then she remembered how he’d looked at her before she left the rooftop, and her skin grew warm, and her heart threatened to gallop from her chest. Inexperienced she may be, but even she recognized the admiration and desire that burned in his gaze.
She clamped her eyes shut and pressed her lips together as she replayed the very satisfying moment Declan realized she was a girl no longer.
“How did you enjoy the performance?”
Finlay looked at Alethea, no doubt assuming the earl’s question was directed at her. She managed not to roll her eyes.
“It was…” Her words stumbled to a halt, her tongue lethargic in her mouth. All thoughts of the opera had been pushed from her mind as soon as Declan appeared. She coughed into her hand as she frantically tried to recall details of the performance. “Do excuse me. I thought it was spectacular. The new singer, John Templeton, promises to be a real talent.”
“I concur,” her father said, turning to look out the window again.
Finlay slipped forward until he perched on the edge of his seat. “Did you hear the news, Father? Declan has returned.”
“I did.” The earl flashed a brief smile then returned his attention to the streets passing out the window. “I actually had an opportunity to speak with the young man.”
“You did?” Alethea exclaimed before she could censor herself. The dim light didn’t hide how Finlay’s brow furrowed at her reaction.
“I did. He looks much the same. Said he spoke with you both.”
Finlay nodded. “We encountered him on the rooftop where Allie retired for a spell.”
At this, the earl turned in his seat, his gaze locking on hers in spite of the dark cab. “Alone?” When she nodded, he scowled. “Take an escort next time. But why did you need a break?”
She shifted in her seat, not wanting to reveal the true reason why she’d ed. But as he continued to regard her, his silence finally forced her to blurt out, “I didn’t want to hear the gossip.”
Her father sighed and relaxed back on the squab. “Unfortunately, I don’t believe we’ll be able to escape it. The new duke has not been seen in over a decade, and he’s an…oddity. Naturally, people will be curious about him and how he intends to comport himself now that he’s Darington. With the rumors, I expect the gossip to increase.”
“What rumors?” Finlay leaned forward so far Alethea was surprised he didn’t fall.
“I suppose you’ll hear them eventually.” The man blew out his cheeks. “There has been talk that while the new duke was away, he engaged in some…illegal activities.”
Pressing a hand to her mouth, Alethea sensed a blast of cold streak under her skin. Declan involved in illegal activities? The assertion, even if merely speculation, seemed so far out of character from the boy she once knew that she was hard-pressed to believe it possible. But you don’t really know him anymore, do you? Heaviness weighed down her shoulders as she remembered how much he could have changed in the years they’d been apart.
“Activities such as privateering, I wager?” Finlay offered, his lips turning into a disgruntled sneer.
She scowled. “Why do you assume it’s privateering?”
Finlay flattened his mouth into an exasperated line. “He’s spent the better part of his years in the West Indies doing God knows what. With his mysterious past and dark looks, I suspect the bacon-brained fools of the ton will whisper he’s a pirate.”
As she bit back an incredulous laugh, the earl cleared his throat. “Privateering is just one of the rumors being whispered about. Unfortunately, the claims are being investigated by the Foreign Office.”
Privateering, Alethea thought, disturbed she was not appalled by this revelation. In truth, he looked like he should be standing on the bow of a ship, commanding the wind and waves with the sheer power of his presence. She wished she had thought to ask him about what he’d done during his travels. Surely his tales were more exciting than hers.
Finlay snorted. “Ridiculous, indeed. Does the Foreign Office really intend to arrest a newly titled duke?”
“It’s highly unlikely.” Lord Rockhaven drummed his fingers on his knee. “Still, until all this nonsense is sorted out, I expect both of you to do credit to the Swinton name, and fraternizing with one who’s surrounded by scandal will not do.”
“Are you asking us to avoid him?” Finlay rubbed his temple.
“Not necessarily. I know the young man will need friends like you, Fin, to help him acclimate to his new role. I plan on meeting with him soon myself.” He paused, waiting until each of them had met his eyes. “But I am asking you to have a care and be mindful of how your actions affect the family name. Darington is followed by a storm of innuendo and if you get too close, you might get swept up in it as well.”
The carriage rumbled to a halt, a footman opening a door to reveal the limestone walk that led to the front door of Rockhaven House. Samuels could be seen standing just inside the foyer, ready to welcome back the earl.
Their father doffed his hat and made to exit the carriage, but halted. “And although I hate to say it, I feel I must caution you both not to assume that your old friend remains the same boy you knew.”
“He does seem like a completely different person,” Alethea admitted reluctantly.
“Who’s to say he’s not?” The earl raised a brow. “And you may find the new Duke of Darington is not the sort of man you’d like to be friends with after all.”
With those words, he swept out the door and up the steps.
Declan, the hero of TO LOVE A SCANDALOUS DUKE has spent the last twelve years in the Caribbean, growing his family’s sugarcane empire. When he returns to England, and takes up the title of duke, he struggles with the change.
If you could choose, would you rather live in the Caribbean, forging your own path or in England, as a respected and privileged member of the haute ton? Why?