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The Duchess Takes a Husband

The Duchess Takes a Husband

by Harper St. George
The Duchess Takes a Husband

The Duchess Takes a Husband

by Harper St. George

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)

Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on May 23, 2023


A scandalous arrangement between a London rogue and an American duchess leads to lavish stakes—perfect for fans of Bridgerton!

Despite her illustrious title, Camille, Duchess of Hereford, remains what she has always been—a pariah. Though her title means she’s technically accepted by London Society, the rebellious widow with her burgeoning interest in the suffrage movement and her American ways isn’t exactly high on every hostess’s guest list. But Camille starts to wonder if being an outcast is not without its perks when the tantalizing answer to her secret fear appears in the shape of Jacob Thorne, the illegitimate son of an earl and co-owner of London’s infamous Montague Club.
Jacob is used to making deals with his club members—he’s just not accustomed to them being beautiful women. Nor have the terms ever been so sweetly seductive as Camille’s shocking proposition. To finally buy his own club and gain the crucial backing of investors, Camille offers Jacob the respectability of a fake engagement with a duchess. In return, the tempting widow has one condition: she wants Jacob to show her if it’s possible for her to experience pleasure in bed.
The lure of such a bargain proves too delicious to resist, drawing the enterprising rogue and the wallflower duchess into a scandalous game and an even more dangerous gamble of the heart.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593440988
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/23/2023
Series: The Gilded Age Heiresses , #4
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 64,084
Product dimensions: 4.12(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

Harper St. George was raised in the rural backwoods of Alabama and along the tranquil coast of northwest Florida. These were settings filled with stories of the old days that instilled in her a love of history, romance, and adventure. By high school, she had discovered the historical romance novel, which combined all of those elements into one perfect package. She has been hooked ever since. She lives in the Atlanta area with her family and loves to hear from readers.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Bloomsbury, London

Winter 1878

Smile, but not too wide. Smiles in public are meant to be mysterious, not expressions of joy. Keep your shoulders squared at all times but always, always remain demure. Chin tilted downward the slightest bit, darling. It wouldn't do to appear too confident. A wise woman knows her place is one of support and encouragement. When a suitor gazes upon her he should see a prospective helpmate, someone who will assist in his life instead of forcing her own will. No one likes a headstrong woman.

Camille, Dowager Duchess of Hereford, closed her eyes, attempting to block out the words. No matter how she tried to ignore them, her mother's advice always seemed to play in the back of her mind when she least wanted to heed it. As the only child of Samuel and Martha Bridwell, she had been raised to the most exacting standards from birth. Her mother had been fastidious when it came to her grooming, comportment, and even her friends. Her education had centered around the intricacies of both running a large household and navigating the treachero's waters of Society. Nothing had been more important to her parents than seeing her married well, and Camille had all these speeches memorized, having heard them relentlessly.

Unfortunately, her parents' ideas of married well had been vastly different from Camille's. She had valued kindness and affection, while her parents had valued social status. That was it. That seemed to be their sole requirement.

She opened her eyes and smiled at her reflection in the mirror before her, the muscles in her face responding from memory, curving her lips upward in a cold imitation of happiness. She hated this practiced smile. It made her feel aloof and untouchable. While it had its uses in London ballrooms, it was not what she needed now. She was at Montague Club, not a mansion in Mayfair. The gaming club was for entertainment, not social climbing. Something a bit more sincere would probably be better for her purposes this evening, though she honestly didn't know. She'd never tried to seduce a man before. Her stomach fluttered in nerves and perhaps a tiny bit of anticipation as an image of Jacob Thorne came to mind.

She let the smile drop and leaned forward to get a better look as she rubbed her fingertips along the bracket lines left behind in the fair skin on either side of her mouth, hoping to make them disappear. At twenty-three she wasn't old, but recent years had given her face a maturity that her mother had warned her against when Camille last visited her in New York.

Haven't you been wearing the night cream I sent you?

Camille had lied and answered yes, but when she'd returned home to London, she had found another case of the fancy French jars waiting for her. At the time she'd been annoyed. She'd been in mourning for a dead husband whose loss she did not grieve and her mother was already stressing the importance of marrying again. Well, Camille did not want to marry again. Ever. But now she rather wished she had started applying the night cream. Men liked women who looked young and fresh. The cream might help that, but there was nothing she could do about her eyes.

Her eyes were sad, and she didn't really understand why. Hereford was dead and not around to control her life anymore. She did not miss him or his high-handedness. She was a wealthy widow with all the freedoms inherent in the position. Though the bulk of the money her father had transferred to Hereford upon their marriage had gone to his heir on his death, she had been provided a small pension and a London residence. Then, completely unprompted, her father had bought her an estate situated not far outside of London. She suspected he had been motivated by guilt but had never questioned him. So given that, she should be very happy, but there were her eyes, staring back at her and calling her a liar.

She smiled again, this time wider and with joy, revealing a row of mostly straight, white teeth, but her brown eyes did not brighten at all. Sighing, she sat back, thinking of all the women she had seen Thorne escort about the club with their easy smiles. It reaffirmed her instinct that he would like her better if she could smile more naturally, and she would have tried again, but the door to the ladies' retiring room swung open and a beautiful woman came sweeping in. She paused in surprise as soon as she set eyes on Camille. She appeared to be about the same age as Camille with dark eyes and hair and a golden complexion.

"Well, well, well, you do exist." The newcomer smiled and took a seat beside Camille on the elongated ottoman that was set before the mirror and vanity. "Lilian Greene," she introduced herself.

"Camille-" she began, but the woman took over.

"Duchess of Hereford, yes, I know." Lilian Greene's smile had no trouble lighting her eyes as she turned toward the mirror and leaned forward to adjust a hairpin hiding near her temple in her raven tresses. She was elegantly dressed in a modestly cut chocolate-colored gown.

"Dowager now," Camille clarified.

"Of course, Dowager." She paused, her sympathetic eyes catching Camille's in the mirror. "I am sorry for your loss, Your Grace."

Camille gave a nod of acknowledgment. "Please call me Camille. I'd prefer to have one place where my title doesn't matter." She hated the title, actually. It had brought her nothing but pain and frustration.

"Then you must call me Lilian. When Jacob told me another woman had joined the club, I was happy, of course, but then I never saw you here and I wondered if he'd made you up simply to placate me. I am always on at him to bring on more female members and stop referring to it as a gentlemen's club." She chattered easily as she arranged other pins in her hair.

"You know Mr. Thorne well, then?" There was no reasonable explanation for why the fact that Lilian had called him by his first name made her feel so heavy inside. Lilian seemed unaware of this fact as she pulled out a small cosmetic tin from the handbag dangling on a strap looped around her wrist and dabbed a bit of scarlet rouge on the apples of each cheek and her lips.

"Would you like some?" she asked instead of answering the question, holding the little pot out to Camille.

"Oh, thank you." Perhaps a little color would brighten her face.

She put a dab of the cream on her fingertip and slicked it across her bottom lip. It was brighter against her lighter skin and blond hair, but she loved the effect. Usually, she wore only neutral shades meant to subtly enhance her peaches-and-cream coloring, but the scarlet was arresting, drawing the eye immediately to her lips. A tiny revolt against the social constraints of her life. She couldn't help wondering if Thorne would like it. Another swirl of anticipation swooped through her, prompting her other hand to press against her stomach.

"That color works well on you. And to answer your question, yes, Jacob and I know each other well. I'm a longtime member." Lilian winked and rose, adjusting her skirts.

It was absolutely none of her business, but she couldn't help but wonder if Lilian and Thorne were lovers. He had lovers. Camille knew that. She had been a member of the club for a few months, and in that time she had seen any number of women arrive by the ladies-only entrance and greet him very warmly. Sometimes he'd offer his arm, other times he'd slide his hand around their waist and disappear with them into parts unknown and she wouldn't see him again that night. She couldn't say with reasonable certainty that he slept with all of them, but it was a fair bet that he'd bedded a few.

"How many women members are there?" Camille hadn't thought to ask when she'd filled out her registration form and paid the rather expensive dues. She'd joined because Hereford would have been appalled, not because she'd been trying to prove a larger point about equality of the sexes.

"A dozen, give or take, not nearly enough. I have to hurry off, but I would love to chat more. Will you be here another evening this week?"

Camille opened and closed her mouth when she realized she didn't know what to say. If Thorne rejected her proposition, then she couldn't imagine showing her face here again, but she didn't want to miss the chance of making a new friend. She didn't have many of those. Since coming to London over three years ago, she'd become that American because she could never seem to live up to the expectations of being Hereford's duchess. It had become the done thing to invite her to events only to sneer at her behind her back. Fellow American heiresses the Crenshaw sisters, August and Violet, were her friends, but they were both happily married now and starting families of their own.

"Perhaps we could have tea one afternoon?" she offered.

Lilian's smile was genuine when she said, "I would like that very much."

They exchanged goodbyes and Camille was left alone. She didn't bother practicing her smile again because it could quickly become a procrastination tactic. Either he was attracted to her and he said yes, or he wasn't and he said no. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, she rose and brushed out invisible wrinkles on her skirts. She wore an emerald-green gown cut the slightest bit lower than modest and in the natural shape that emphasized the flare of her hips, selected precisely because she thought it showed off her figure to the best advantage.

Pushing open the paneled mahogany door, she made her way down the wide corridor to the gaming room. It was nearly ten o'clock in the evening, which meant Thorne was probably there talking with patrons or dealing cards. He owned Montague Club along with his half brother, Christian Halston, Earl of Leigh, and their friend Evan Sterling, Duke of Rothschild. Both men were married to the Crenshaw sisters, so Camille had met him socially a handful of times. While she had always been charmed by his handsomeness in those social settings, it wasn't until she had joined Montague Club that she'd found herself viewing him differently . . . as someone she might want to get to know in an entirely more intimate way.

The double doors that led to the main gaming room were thrown wide open, revealing a dimly lit but richly appointed setting. Gilded sconces topped with frosted globes were set at regular intervals giving off flickering gaslight that was immediately absorbed by the dark wood paneling, creating playful shadows and an aura of intimacy. Aubusson rugs in dark reds, greens, and gold matched the sofas and overstuffed chairs set in small groupings near the fireplaces on either end of the space. Rosewood gaming tables topped with green baize were scattered throughout the middle of the room. It was a slow night, so only a few had men playing at them, while the rest sat empty.

As usual, the table where Jacob Thorne stood dealing cards was busy. He was well-liked and the club members seemed to gravitate toward him. He was as sinfully handsome as his half brother, Christian, but not nearly as forbidding. They were both tall and filled out a frock coat nicely, but where Christian's smile seemed to hold an edge of cynicism, Thorne's was more open and friendly. That was partly why she had decided to approach him with her indecent proposition. He was kind and trustworthy. She didn't think he would laugh at her or brag to his friends, but even more than that, he was the only man who had turned her head in a long time. Since her parents had introduced her to Hereford. Once she had met her future husband and reluctantly agreed to the marriage, she hadn't viewed men in the same way. She'd begun to despair that she ever would again, but something about Thorne had her looking twice.

She studied him as she made her way around the tables to reach him. He was dressed as well as the men he entertained with nothing about him to indicate he owned the club and they were customers. His clothing was bespoke like theirs and had probably come from the same tailor. He was the son of an earl after all, though born outside of wedlock. He had been raised by his father, and that aristocratic arrogance showed on his face and in his mannerisms, except he wore it more naturally than many. It wasn't conceit with him, so much as grace and charm.

His well-formed lips parted in a smile as he dealt another hand of vingt-un and made a joke she couldn't hear. The men at the table laughed as they added to their bets. Thorne picked up the deck of cards with a skill born from years of practice and tossed another card onto each stack. His hands were strong but graceful with long fingers and clipped nails. If all went to plan, he could be touching her with those very hands soon. She paused as a flush warmed her face, but it was too late. He'd caught sight of her.

"Your Grace." He smiled as the other three men greeted her in turn. "Have you come to join us?" he asked, his voice rich and smooth.

She swallowed and willed the butterflies in her stomach to cease their antics. She'd talked to him many times since joining his club, and tonight didn't have to be any different. Only it was. Fighting past her nerves, she took the chair at the end of the crescent-shaped table. "Yes, but I'm afraid I've never played the game before."

"Not to worry, Your Grace. We'll teach you, won't we, gentlemen?"

They murmured their agreement. A footman came forward almost immediately, bearing a small tumbler of her favorite whisky on ice. The service here was remarkable. Accepting it with a smile, she spent the next several minutes watching the men play as Thorne went over the rules. The game seemed easy enough; one simply tried to get the sum of their cards to add up to twenty-one without going over. It wasn't complicated. Finally, Thorne dealt her in, and she promptly lost the first two hands.

"Too aggressive," he warned her with a shake of his head when she asked for another card on the third round. The gaslight played in his thick, black hair, and she wondered if it would be as soft as it looked.

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