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It's Hard Out Here for a Duke

By:Maya Rodale

Prologue


My dear Miss Green,

I write to you with the most shocking news. Though the ton said I was mad to seek Durham’s long-lost heir rather than simply hand the estate off to the odious Mr. Collins, it seems I shall soon be vindicated. It is quite the story, one best related in person over a pot of fortifying tea and some of Cook’s cakes, so I shall spare the ink and paper here.

The duke is en route and is to be expected—along with his three sisters, all of whom we will need to launch in society. Yes, we. I bid you to come to London at once, should your mother’s condition allow it. This is my life’s work, and I fear I shan’t be able to do it without your assistance. Besides myself, you know Durham best.

Yours,

Josephine

P.S. How is your mother’s condition? I hope these months with her in Hampshire have done you both some good, though I am eager for the company of my ever-faithful companion.




Southampton, England, 1824

The Queen’s Head Tavern



Some men were born to be dukes, and some men were James Cavendish. Despite being an undistinguished American, he found himself in possession of an aristocratic title in a country he had never before visited.

Back home in Maryland he was James Cavendish, the horse breeder and trainer of some renown round those parts. He was known as Henry’s son, the one with a talent for horses, an easy and charming way with women, and the one responsible for three sisters who were endless trouble.

But here in England, he was the Duke of Durham.

Whatever that was.

Whatever that meant.

Or he would be, once he and his sisters completed their journey and arrived in London. Oh, he knew the title had passed to him the moment his father took his last breath, shortly after his mother had passed away. Or rather, he learned it sometime later, when the Duchess of Durham’s representatives had tracked him down and informed him of that fact.

He had known it while he and his sisters debated traveling to England, and he’d been achingly aware of it for every minute spent crossing the Atlantic. They had docked in Southampton this morning, would remain in this inn tonight, and would continue on to London on the morrow. James had sworn to himself that he would not be Durham until he set foot in London.

In his head and heart he would not become the duke until his boots touched London ground. And until he crossed the threshold of Durham House, he would be James. Just James. Just an unremarkable, plain young man of no import or renown, just having a pint in a pub like anyone else.

His sisters—Claire, Bridget, and Amelia, each one more trouble than the last—were settled in a room upstairs, happily having baths and stretching out on full beds after a long journey at sea.

James wasn’t ready to sleep. Couldn’t, really. More to the point, he wasn’t ready to be alone with his thoughts. Worries tangled with regrets. He doubted whether they should have even come so far and feared it was too late to turn back. He wasn’t sure he could do this ducal business.

Was it better to try and fail than to never try at all?

Not only did James not have the answers, he didn’t even want to consider the question. He had a sinking feeling it was too late anyway.

A tavern at night was an excellent place to be when one wanted to avoid deep thinking.

This particular tavern wasn’t very different than the ones back home, and he appreciated the familiarity provided by the same scuffed wood floors, rough-hewn tables and chairs, tallow candles. If he concentrated only on the hum and roar of voices, he could tune out the strange accents reminding him that he was on the other side of the ocean. He could pretend he was at Fraunces Tavern back home, that his friend Marcus would stroll through the door any minute, ready to regale him with some of his latest exploits, usually involving whiskey, women, and a deplorable lack of judgment.

But Marcus wasn’t here, wasn’t going to be here, and James knew no one. There wasn’t anyone he particularly wanted to know, either.

Except—

James noticed a woman. She sat primly at a seat near the bar, mostly keeping to herself, though occasionally conversing with the barmaid. She sat with her spine straight, holding her head tall. Her hair shone like unrefined honey in the candlelight.

She seemed too proper for a place like this.

He watched her for a while, wondering. Where was her companion, what was the purpose of her travel, what was she thinking as she traced her fingers along scratches in the wooden tabletop? Where had she come from and where was she going? She must have a story and he wanted to know it.

He caught her eye. She just happened to glance his way, giving him a mere hint of doe eyes and full lips.

She looked away quickly.

Back to the table, back to the teacup she sipped elegantly, back to ignoring him.

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