The Duke’s Scandalous Bluestocking (Preview)


 Chapter 1

Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another…

Alice’s slender fingers grazed over the paper, her eyes taking in each word. Her heart swelled with longing during the most romantic bits; she’d read this particular book so many times she had it nearly memorized. She reclined on the soft sofa in the drawing room, getting comfier for her favorite part of the story; the big romantic finish.

In the end, even meddlesome Emma found her match, her “perfect happiness.”

She let her mind conjure up the heroine and her love, picturing them in their bliss. Alice wondered what being loved like that would feel like. She had just gotten to her favorite part of Emma when reality tugged back at her skirts again. She let out a wistful sigh, trying without success to put away the thoughts that pulled at her so.

Surely it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she didn’t secure a husband this year.

Would it?

Two seasons had come and gone, and Alice still sat unwed in the Egerton home. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on her part. She had bumbled through her first season, awkward and ungraceful both in conversation and on the dance floor. Her father insisted that discussing her passion for reading should be kept to a bare minimum, but it was all she knew.

“Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen are not proper topics for courting conversation,” her father scolded her. “Why don’t you talk about your love for piano or perhaps your singing?”

But Alice knew the truth. She was capable at the piano at best, and her singing voice fell flat. There was no point in bringing up meager skills that would impress no one. She considered her well-read mind to be her best quality and initially had been excited to perhaps find a husband to discuss literature with, but no suitors had come to call.

Why couldn’t anyone else see that a book-smart young lady was just as marriageable as a lady with considerable drawing skill or a beautiful singing voice?

The first season Alice felt as though she were getting on quite well with several gentlemen, but none of them had offered a proposal. In fact, none of them had even taken the time to court her at all. The memories of her sitting in the drawing room for hours, pretending that she wasn’t waiting for callers, still stung.

The second season had gone by much the same, with Alice sitting out dance after dance until the season had passed by entirely. She had attempted to catch the eye of a few suitors at first, hoping beyond hope that one might prize her well-versed mind.

But again, she was unsuccessful.

Her third season would be her final chance before she was deemed a failure. Though, she was certainly beginning to feel that way already.

“You mustn’t give up, Alice,” her sister, Nancy, had said, ever confident in her. “Surely out there is a suitor that will want to hear you speak your opinions on your books for hours and hours.”

Alice, for her part, was beginning to feel that her failures on the marriage market had less to do with her reading habits and more to do with her looks. She took a glance in the looking glass across from the settee she reclined on.

Still the same boring Alice.

Her brown hair hung about her shoulders, limp and long. Maria, her maid, had done all she could do to fluff it up, trying her best to get the brown locks to frame her face. It had done little good, but the sparse curls she had managed to achieve at least brought out the blue in her eyes a tiny bit more.

Alice thought it did, at least.

She sighed, determined to get back to her book and stop her self-deprecating thoughts when suddenly the drawing room doors flung open. Nancy tumbled in, toppling over her own two feet, startling the life from Alice.

“Nancy!” Cried Alice as she jumped from her seat. ” Whatever is the matter? Is everything alright?”

Alice bent to help her sister to her feet. It wasn’t like Nancy to lose her grace and balance, and the shock of seeing her sister tumbling into the drawing room had her heart beating fast.

“Better than alright, sister!” the younger girl crowed, brushing off the skirts of her pastel pink dress. “I feel as though I could fly, though present circumstances may prove otherwise. Here, look at what I’ve received!” Nancy clutched a sheet of parchment paper that looked to be a letter to her chest.

“All of that bluster over a simple letter?” Alice asked. “You’re acting quite unlike yourself.”

“But that’s the exciting bit, sister!” Nancy exclaimed. “It’s not a simple letter. It’s a letter from the Duke of Bedford!”

Nancy dissolved into delighted, girlish giggles. She held the letter high, handing it to Alice, who took it delicately.

She scanned it once and then once again, unsure if she read the words correctly. She couldn’t be; this Duke had to be mad.

Dear Lady Nancy Egerton,” the letter read. “I, the Duke of Bedford, am pleased to announce the arrival of my aunt, the esteemed Lady Harrelson, to town. Celebrations are in order for such a momentous visitation to welcome Lady Harrelson properly. I would like to welcome you, as well, to my estate to participate in an intimate, secret dinner…”

That couldn’t be right.

“Nancy, are you quite sure this is from the Duke of Bedford?” she asked. “This states that you’re invited to his –”

“To his estate!” Nancy finished for her. “Isn’t it simply divine?”

“It would be, were this a real letter,” Alice said. “But it simply can’t be. This is a terrible hoax to play on a young debutante, but don’t worry, sister. I shall get to the bottom of this.”

“Oh, but it isn’t a hoax,” Nancy said. The hopeful, overjoyed smile still hadn’t fled her pretty, young face. “Look, here! The Duke’s official seal! Oh, Alice, isn’t this the most wonderful news?”

“I’m afraid I still don’t understand,” Alice said, scrunching her brows together as she read the letter over once more. “A secret dinner?”

“Yes,” Nancy said. “That’s correct. It’s to be held tonight at the Duke’s manor. Oh, whatever shall I wear? The trouble will be staying out of Mrs. Wellington’s sight, let alone Father. Do you think that I should wear my hair up in a chignon or down around my shoulders? There are so many things to decide! I do wish he’d have sent that letter a little sooner, but I suppose that’s a part of the game itself.”

“What game?” Alice cried, fully confused.

Nancy looked guilty for a moment, as though she’d said the wrong thing, but then sighed.

“The Duke of Bedford is searching for his Duchess,” Nancy said. “Finally, he’s ready to wed. And he’s chosen me as one of his potential brides!”

“What do you mean ‘one of’?” asked Alice. She was growing ever more suspicious of this Duke.

What could his intentions be for her sister? And how had he taken notice of her?

“He’s sent a copy of this same letter out to some other young ladies of the ton,” Nancy said. “Debutantes, all of them. Or at least, that is what I’ve come to believe. Mary received one, and she’s only just starting her first season as well. Oh, how exciting to have been selected from so many young ladies! The letter is so mysterious, though. The Duke of Bedford will only wed when he finds his perfect bride, and he wishes her to have certain…qualities.”

“I’m quite sure he does,” muttered Alice.

“Anyway,” Nancy continued. “He doesn’t state what those qualities are, but he thinks that it may possess them! Clearly, he must, or he wouldn’t have sent the letter. Oh, Alice, don’t you see what this means?  Perhaps this is where I find my perfect match! The Duke of Bedford is said to be of incomparable handsomeness. Like a painting of a Greek God with his black hair and dark eyes. Not to mention his title and wealth! Alice, can you imagine? The whole family could benefit and you especially. Perhaps you would no longer be pressured into marriage.”

But Nancy didn’t quite understand.

The trouble wasn’t that Alice didn’t want to marry. She craved that same love she read about in her stories, that she’d seen shared by so many young and old couples alike. Even an arranged marriage held the potential to gift her that special connection.

Alice, though, was too plain to attract suitors, even just one.

Nancy was still babbling to herself about the details of tonight when Alice snapped out of her thoughts.

“I don’t think that this is a good idea,” Alice said gently. Nancy was so excited, and she didn’t want to hurt her sister’s feelings. “It isn’t wise to compete with other young ladies of the ton for the affections of one man. Don’t you feel as though he is a bit pompous for declaring himself such a… a… prize?”

“Pompous, perhaps, but rightly so,” Nancy countered. “He’s a Duke! I’ve heard that he’s like something carved from marble! And have you seen him?”

Alice hadn’t, and she knew that Nancy had not either.

“I simply do not agree with his methods of finding a Duchess,” Alice said. “And I do not think you should go. It’s only your first season! You don’t have to throw yourself at the first possible suitor that you have. Take your time and enjoy the attention you’ll surely receive. You’re a beautiful young woman of good lineage. You’re skilled in painting and singing, and your French is…improving. The Duke hasn’t even shown you the respect of properly courting you, anyway. Do you not see that as even a little bit disrespectful?”

But Nancy clearly did not.

“Sister, this is an opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up!” she said. “I agree that his methods are a little…eccentric. But perhaps it is just that he truly does want to find his perfect love match? Surely you can’t fault a man for wanting to find true love?”

She couldn’t, and Nancy knew it.

“There’s only one issue,” Nancy said in a cautious tone. “One small detail about this whole escapade which could pose a problem. I’m to go alone.”

“Unchaperoned?” Alice asked, scandalized. “Surely that’s not what the letter said…”

Nancy turned the parchment around, pointing at the word with one shining nail. “But it does. ‘Please arrive at a quarter to midnight, and please do take care to come unchaperoned.‘ It’s the last thing the letter states.”

How had she missed that part?

Alice snatched the letter, re-reading it. But right above the Duke’s perfect, swirling signature was the word.


What kind of man could this Duke possibly be that he would endanger a young debutantes honor in such a way? And not only that, it could endanger Nancy herself.

No, there was simply no way that Alice could let her sister go on her own. She was too impulsive, too dreamy, and innocent. She still didn’t see the world for what it was, and if anything happened to her sister in there…

Alice couldn’t think about it.

“Nancy, please,” Alice said. “Think this through. Think about your reputation! If anyone were to catch you –”

“I swear to it that they will not,” Nancy said. “Alice, I’m doing this as much for the family as I am for myself. It will be good for us if I secure this match. Think on what this could mean.”

“I cannot let you endanger yourself,” Alice said. “I simply cannot think of something happening to you, and even if anything ill did not occur, imagine if someone were to catch you! It would be all you could do to secure a match after that…”

The thought of her sister, beautiful and lithe and in her first season, shackled to the fate of a spinster, nearly broke Alice’s heart. There was nothing plain about Nancy and no reason she should have difficulty finding a well-suited husband.

Unless she ruined herself by being caught unchaperoned at a man’s manor, if someone were to talk, it would be the end of Nancy’s debut.

“I’m going with you,” Alice stated before she realized the words had escaped.

“What?” Nancy asked. “D-do you think that’s allowed?”

“I don’t care what this Duke says,” Alice said, though she felt a twinge of fear at being exposed at this ‘secret dinner.’ “If anyone spies you here, I’ll say that I’m acting as your chaperone. Everyone knows that I’m doomed to become a spinster; they’ll accept me as your chaperone immediately. Your reputation will be protected, and once this is all over, you can return to your search for a suitable husband.”

“Oh, Alice, I do wish you wouldn’t talk about yourself like that,” Nancy said. “But I am glad you’re coming. And who knows? Perhaps you’ll find a gentleman of your own there! Oh, I’m ever so excited!”

Alice felt something as well, but she wasn’t sure that it was excitement. It was more equitable to a looming dread that something horrible was going to happen.

Alice pondered who this strange man could be and what he could be like. It stood to reason that a man who would be so eccentric as to choose a wife in such an odd manner might be odd in other ways as well.

And she wasn’t so sure that she wanted Nancy to find out what those ways were.


Chapter 2

Henry Wraxall, the Duke of Bedford, was annoyed and nervous, though he would do just about anything not to show it. Unfortunately, his nerves had begun to get the better of him. He ran his fingers through his dark hair, a sigh starting to build up in the deep well of his chest. Smoothing out his navy-blue tailcoat, he silently cursed himself for his anxious fidgeting.

He wasn’t sure what the matter was; the event hadn’t even yet begun. The servants were all buzzing around him, decorations and trays in hand. His manor gardens were immaculate; he’d had the gardener dig up the blue hydrangeas and plant white roses instead, mysterious and alluring. The candles were all in place, and a maid was going about lighting each one.

The mood was set, but still, something was bothering him. He watched all this with satisfaction but couldn’t shoo away the niggling thought that he was going through all this trouble for something he didn’t want…a wife.

He would know the face of his future bride after the night was through.

If he had to marry, then he was going to search out the most suitable young lady for him. She would surely be a debutante; no one older would suit him much. He’d sent the letters out to whomever he thought had the loveliest face, but he knew he couldn’t tell a book only by its cover.

And that was why the private dinner was necessary.

“I still don’t like it,” his aunt huffed from the drawing room. “The ton don’t have secret dinners, Henry.”

Henry poked his head inside to see Lady Harrelson frowning at him from the sofa. She placed her needlework down, agitated.

“If you were really against it, aunt, I think you wouldn’t have allowed me to use your name in the letters,” he said, a smile in his eyes.

The older woman sighed, aggrieved. “You know I like to have a bit of fun every once in a while, but don’t you think this is going a bit overboard?” she asked. “You do realize what it would mean for a young woman of a certain caliber to be caught sneaking about in the dead of night? And to an unwed man’s home nonetheless? Duke or not, it wouldn’t look good for you, either. You’d be the muse of the scandal sheets for ages!”

“And then I shall never marry. What a terrible fate that I hope I shall never have to suffer.” Henry mocked.

“Be serious for once in your life,” Lady Harrelson demanded. “The Dukedom is a large, looming responsibility. One that you’ve been ignoring for quite some time now.”

“I don’t think ignoring is quite the right word,” Henry said. “I’ve done my duties. Most of them.”

“Yes, and there’s the trouble,” Lady Harrelson said disapprovingly. “Most of them. You’re expected to wed and sire an heir, and you know this well. And you so far have said that you haven’t the time nor the energy to go about searching for a Duchess. I’ve certainly heard enough about your reputation lately to know where all your energy has fled to.”

She raised her eyebrows high and frowned heavily at him. “Don’t you think that it’s high time that you settle your rakish ways into the past and start a family?”

“If it were up to me, dear aunt, I wouldn’t be shackled to one woman for the rest of my life,” he said. “But I was fated to become the Duke of Bedford, and as such, I will do my duty and marry.”

“Thank the heavens for that,” his aunt muttered. “I’ll help you find a wife, Henry, but do not make things any more difficult for me than they already are. Your roguish antics are not unknown to the members of the ton. These young debutantes will already know all about you.”

“And still they come,” said a high-spirited voice.

“Robert, I won’t have you encouraging him,” Lady Harrelson said with a roll of eyes.

A young man with a crop of fair hair appeared at her side. His green eyes twinkled mischievously.

“I’m not encouraging him, Mother,” Robert answered. “I’m simply saying that still, the ladies will very likely arrive. And soon. I, for one, am excited at the idea of a secret dinner. And who can tell? I’m sure that if the word does get out, every family in the ton might start planning them.”

“I certainly hope you don’t plan on any word of this night getting out,” Lady Harrelson said pointedly. “I only agreed to this scandalous reception to find you a wife, Henry. It would also serve as a bonus if Robert found himself a wife from your list of young ladies.”

“I wouldn’t complain,” Robert said, laughing. “You’ve said that the debutantes you’ve invited are all exceptional of face. I can only imagine that if they manage to secure a way to your estate in the dead of night that they’ll be exceptional in other ways as well.”

“Don’t be crass, Robert,” Lady Harrelson admonished.

“I’m not!” he said, a guilty smile on his face. “I simply agree that I may, in fact, find a suitable wife for myself amongst this group.”

“I’m not pleased that you’ve displayed your roguish ways to twenty families of the ton Henry,” his aunt said, crossing her arms.

“I simply want a woman who will capture my heart and my attention,” Henry replied, with mock offense. “That’s all.”

That was true. At least, partially.

He dreaded the thought of being shackled to a boring woman. He couldn’t imagine sharing a household with someone who wasn’t the least bit interesting. It was regrettable that he would have to put his roguish habits behind him, but that was the duty of his station. Gone were the days of being with a different woman each night. If he would have to be fettered to one woman for the rest of his days, she could at least be the best version of a wife he could possibly find. He desired her to be bold and beautiful as well as clever enough to hold his interest in conversation.

Having chaperones present for each young lady would only force them to be demure, quiet, boring, and not their true selves. Not only that, but if she could manage to make it back home unchaperoned without being caught, it would also prove her intelligence and courage.

What better way could there be to discover the true hidden qualities of each hopeful young lady?

It was regretful that were the young lady in question to be found out that her reputation would be sullied. But if there were no risks, how could he ensure that he would find the best woman for him? If she were willing to risk her reputation to win him she had some courage in her heart, and he respected that more than nearly anything. At least the woman who would become his bride wouldn’t be afraid to surprise him every now and again.

“I hope you’re prepared for twenty unchaperoned young women in your manor, Henry,” said Lady Harrelson. “I, for one, won’t be taking responsibility when one of them is discovered by her father. Or worse. Her mother.”

She gave him a disproving look then sighed. “But I suppose while they’re here, I may as well lend you my assistance in sniffing out the brightest diamond in the room. If you insist on having this…tawdry event.”

“And I thank you ever so much, aunt,” Henry said. “As does all of the duchy, I assure you.”

“Mm,” was Lady Harrelson’s only reply, her lips pursed.

Henry and his cousin retreated to the quiet solitude of the library for a bit of privacy.

“Are you excited to finally see the face of your bride?” Robert asked. “Even though you were never one to settle down, I’m sure you’re at least glad to finally reach this milestone in your life?”

“To tell you the truth, Robert, I’m not sure how I feel about it,” Henry said. “It’s difficult to say. On the one hand, I’m quite glad to get this over with in a way that I have complete control over. No spectating mothers, no uninteresting daughters. Only they who I’ve invited and they alone. On the other hand, however…”

He trailed off, shrugging.

He knew that he wanted a bold woman, a clever one, and one that would awe him with her beauty. But what else precisely did he expect of her? He had been with so many women that he couldn’t even envision what his perfect bride might look like.

Try as he might, he couldn’t bring up any woman, real or imagined, that could quite satisfy him in his quest for the perfect bride. A wave of anxiety hit him suddenly before he had even realized it was building up.

He considered the possibility that he might suffer through this entire dinner, unsatisfied with any of the options that he’d invited to his manor. Perhaps the young ladies all expected an answer tonight.

No, certainly not.

He made the rules here. That was nearly the entire point of having the dinner itself. He would simply tell the young ladies that he would write to them his answer, whomever he chose. That would surely abate them, for the time, at least.

But he was working himself up for nothing.

His bride was among these young debutantes; he was sure of it. She would win him over immediately with her beauty, talents, brain, and bold personality. He wasn’t sure what he wanted her to look like, but he would certainly know her when he saw her.

She would be cunning and adventurous, and she would stun him immediately with her beauty and grace. She would be, simply put, the best among them. He would know that from the start.

“Your Grace, the first few carriages are starting to arrive,” announced Thompson, the butler.

Henry jumped slightly, wondering if Robert took notice. The other man said nothing, however, and Henry was grateful.

“Excellent,” Henry said, though, for some reason, another jolt of nervousness struck him. He stood straighter and adjusted his cravat, hoping he didn’t seem as though he had a case of the nerves. “Please see the ladies escorted safely indoors, Thompson.”

The tall man bowed as low as he was able.

“Of course, Your Grace,” the man said, turning on his heel.

Henry let out a breath, not realizing how shaky it would be. He moved the lace curtain away from the window and peered out. It was true. The carriages were rounding the large fountain in the center of his courtyard. He tried to squint to see the young ladies on their way up the walk, but they were too far away to see clearly, and it was much too dark on top of it.

It was time to meet his guests.

Henry and Robert descended the great stairwell in the grand hall of the manor, waiting with bated breath to view the beauties on their way.

The door swung open, and three young ladies stepped inside. They ogled the beautiful decor and the regality of his manor, their heels clicking on the cold marble as they cooed and complimented his immaculate eye for decoration. He had done none of it himself, and he knew that they knew that as well.

Well. Flattery would get them nowhere. He would decide for himself what impressed him and what did not.

There would be no insistent mothers, no boring daughters, and no watchful fathers. It would be, all in all, perhaps the easiest way to choose a bride and the brightest idea that a man had ever conceived.

Tonight, was the night, then. All his planning to achieve the perfect match for him would come to fruition tonight.

It had to be perfect. It simply had to be.

After tonight, everything would be different.

Before the night was through, he would have discovered the identity of the future Duchess of Bedford, whether he truly wanted to or not.

Or else, he certainly hoped he will have discovered her, because if she wasn’t among the ton’s most beautiful debutantes, then who could she possibly be?


Alice’s feeling of dread was mounting ever higher with each step toward the manor. Nancy was giddy but managed to hide her excitement behind a poised face. No one but Alice would know how gleeful Nancy was to be here.

“I can’t believe we managed to sneak away!” Nancy whispered as they approached the steps, arm in arm.

“I can’t believe we’re actually going through with this,” Alice replied. “We can head back to the carriage now if we hurry.”

“We’re already here, sister,” Nancy said. “We might as well go through with the night.”

A stone-faced footman stood in front steps to the manor. He held out his hand to Nancy. She handed him her invitation and curtsied gracefully in her fine silk as he stepped aside, allowing her to pass.

“And yours, miss?” the man asked, hiking up one brow.

“Mine?” Alice asked, kicking herself for not expecting a guard. “Can we not both simply use that one?”

The look on the servant’s face was enough to tell her what she already knew he would say.

“This invitation is for one young lady, a Miss Nancy Egerton,” the man said, regarding her suspiciously now. “You are obviously not she, and I am not permitted to allow anyone in without an invitation. My apologies, miss.”

Alice felt her face burn with shame. Was it that obvious that she was not supposed to be here?

Nancy looked on sadly when a fair-haired man brushed by her through the front door.

“What’s all this?” he asked. “Trouble?”

“No trouble, my lord,” said the man. “Just a young miss without an invite. I told her to be on her way, and she was just leaving.”

The fair-haired man smiled at Alice kindly. “Whyever should she leave? The young lady has come all this way; surely it would be rude to turn her away at the door. Come, come. The more company, the merrier.”

Relief flooded through Alice. She wasn’t sure what she would do if she had to leave Nancy alone in that vast manor.

The man gestured at the footman to step aside, and he did as he was bid, not without giving Alice one last look of suspicion. The two girls followed the fair-haired man up the walk and ascended the last few steps to the manor.

“I thought I spied Rodrick turning away someone through the window,” he said good-naturedly. “Thought I would come to see what the matter was.”

Who was this man? Was he the Duke?

Surely not. Nancy had said that the Duke had dark hair and eyes; this man looked nothing like that.

He held the door open for them, and the two girls stepped inside.

Alice gasped at the decor. There were candles enough for a grand ball, though she could see only a handful of girls, nearly twenty at the most. Deep, red rose petals were strewn about the floor and there were enough stunning floral creations to impress even the Queen.

It was a ridiculous display that Alice didn’t like one bit.

The young women dotting the grand hall were all as gorgeous as the flowers themselves. Each one was in her finest silk dress; pastel pinks and blues and greens clung to the lithe form of each hopeful young debutante.

Alice touched her face. She fervently wished that she had at least bothered to put on some rouge. She stuck out here more than she ever had at any ball; now that there were so few young ladies in the room, it was crystal clear exactly how plain she was.

Not only that, but she was the oldest one here as well. This man might have allowed her inside, but this man was not the Duke himself. She felt a horrible fear creep into her nerves, and suddenly, she just wanted to take her sister’s hand and run.

What if the Duke didn’t want her here?

How shameful would it be to be escorted out of the manor for being so obviously plain?

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