<About a Rogue>

About a Rogue
Desperately Seeking Duke
ISBN 978-0-06-291362-3

It’s no love match…

Bianca Tate is horrified when her sister Cathy is obliged to accept an offer of marriage from Maximilian St. James, notorious rake. Defiantly she helps Cathy elope with her true love, and takes her sister’s place at the altar.

It’s not even the match that was made…

Perched on the lowest branch of his family tree, Max has relied on charm and cunning to survive. But an unexpected stroke of luck gives him an outside chance at a dukedom—and which Tate sister he weds hardly seems to matter.

But could it be the perfect match?

Married or not, Bianca is determined to protect her family’s prosperous ceramics business, even when Max shows an affinity for it—not to mention a dangerous ability to intrigue and tempt Bianca herself. And when Max realizes how beautiful and intelligent and desirable Bianca is, he’ll have to prove he’s no rogue, but the passionately devoted husband she craves…

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Reviews & Honors

“Linden begins her “Desperately Seeking Duke” series with a beautifully written, sensual tale that combines slow-burn heat, witty enemies-to-lovers banter, and lush detail…" —Library Journal

☆ "A marriage of convenience becomes more … Warmly satisfying." —BookPage

"Readers will love this fresh take on a classic plot. The distinctive setting and engaging characters are delightful while the Taming of the Shrew aspects of Bianca and Maximilian's relationship provide tart, insightful dialogue." —Shelf Awareness

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The first book in a new series, Desperately Seeking Duke.

Prologue

<About a Rogue>1787

News of the untimely death of the vicar of St. Mary’s parish of Kittleston spread on a tide of dismay, causing sincere mourning among his parishioners. A mere forty-five years old, he had been well-liked, a calm, cheerful presence who always had a kind word, a helping hand, or a sympathetic ear for anyone in need.

The ladies of the parish gathered to console the deceased’s fiancee, Miss Calvert, who was just as beloved in the town and whose devastated sobs brought more than one neighbor to tears of their own. Everyone in the parish murmured to themselves how terribly sad it was, for poor Miss Calvert and for the parish, for how could either hope to find another such man?

Twenty miles away, in the sprawling grandeur of Carlyle Castle, the news spurred a very different sort of mourning, as well as a tremor of despair that seemed to unmoor the great house. Stephen St. James was not only the beloved vicar of St. Mary’s, he was also the youngest brother of His Grace the Duke of Carlyle.

“It was a wound from an old scythe,” said Mr. Edwards, the family solicitor. He had received the news of Lord Stephen’s worsening health two days ago and come at once to the castle. “He was using it in his garden on some pernicious vines, and accidentally cut his leg. By the time the doctor was sent for, the wound was deeply inflamed. I am told his suffering was brief,” he added quietly.

Her Grace the Duchess of Carlyle stared out the window. Her eyes were dry and her chin resolutely steady, but she gripped a crumpled handkerchief. “Thank heavens for that much. My darling boy,” she said softly. “He did so love being in his garden…”

“Miss Calvert was with him when it happened. She urged him to send for the surgeon when it happened, but he believed it to be trifling injury.” Mr. Edwards shared this with great reluctance, but he had promised he would. Emily Calvert had been hysterical, pleading with him to beg the duchess’s forgiveness and mercy. She thought herself a murderer for not insisting upon the doctor immediately.

“That poor girl,” replied the duchess, still staring out the window. “She must not blame herself. No one could persuade Stephen to worry. It was not in his nature.” Her voice trembled at the last. She took a deep breath. “Send someone to see if Miss Calvert is in want of anything we can supply.”

Mr. Edwards coughed. “She would like to visit his grave.”

The duchess was silent. “We must put him in it first.” She sighed, her hands moving restlessly for a moment. “Of course she may. I could hardly deny her that.”

Mr. Edwards made a note of it as the porcelain clock on the table ticked steadily along. “Have you any wishes for the funeral, Your Grace?”

“Heywood will know what to do,” she said, naming the august Carlyle butler. “As it was for—for Lady Jessica.”

Lady Jessica had been the duchess’s beloved only daughter. They had buried her just seven years ago. Her Grace’s voice still broke when she said the name.

“Yes, ma’am.” His pen scratched a few more notes. “I suppose His Grace has been told.”

<About a Rogue>The duchess’s face spasmed. “No. I will do it later. He was not well this morning.”

“Of course,” murmured the solicitor. Formidable though she was, the duchess was also a mother who had just lost her youngest son, and now must tell her last surviving child that they would open the family crypt again, to bury his brother. It was doubtful the conversation would be brief or easy. The duke’s mind was neither quick nor agile, and his understanding was always uncertain.

But there was nothing he could do about that. Mr. Edwards hesitated, then put the pen back into the stand. “There is one more subject I must broach…”

“Yes, yes,” she snapped, now glowering at the window. “I know.”

He waited, but when she said nothing more, he reluctantly went on. The matter was urgent, as the duchess herself would tell him, were she not so grief-stricken. “I have taken the liberty of examining the records… It is always better to be excessively informed, I believe, although I am deeply sorry it has become necessary…”

“Are you?” The duchess made a visible effort to gather herself. Mr. Edwards averted his eyes, in case she required a moment of privacy. “Get on with it, then,” she said crisply, a moment later. “Who is he?”

Lord Stephen had been not merely the Duke’s younger brother; he had also been his only heir. A terrible accident years ago had left the Duke with the mind of a child. He had never married, never had a son, and never would. Lord Stephen’s death meant the dukedom must now pass to a distant cousin.

It had been fiercely hoped by all at Carlyle Castle that Lord Stephen’s marriage would yield an heir. Miss Calvert was not a very young woman, but she was by no means past the age of bearing a child, and there had been genuine affection between her and Lord Stephen. Now those hopes were dashed, which meant the heir presumptive was wandering about, somewhere, in complete ignorance of the monumental inheritance about to befall him.

Mr. Edwards drew a paper from his case. Thirty years ago, the second Carlyle son, Lord William, had been killed in the American colonies, shortly before the duke’s accident. As the years passed and Lord Stephen did not marry, the succession had become precarious. Quietly and discreetly, Mr. Edwards had begun investigating three men, against the grim possibility that this day would arrive.

Even so, despite the urgent necessity, this must be done delicately. Edwards had been the Carlyle solicitor for over twenty-five years, long enough to know the family secrets and stains. He chose to begin with the easiest point. “Captain Andrew St. James, of His Majesty’s Scots Guards. His grandfather was the younger brother of His Grace the fourth Duke.”

“Yes,” she said, her expression unreadable at this mention of her late husband. “I remember. He’ll be Adam’s grandson. Is this young fellow anything like his grandfather?”

<About a Rogue>Mr. Edwards cleared his throat. Lord Adam, by all accounts, had been both sensible and charming. That had not saved him from a vicious falling out with his older brother, the fourth duke, and Lord Adam had left the family estates decades ago. “I’ve no idea, Your Grace. My reports are that Captain St. James is an honorable and respectable man.”

She harrumphed. “Of what age? Is he married?”

“About thirty years, ma’am, and he is not married, to the best of my knowledge.”

She sighed. “It would be a military man.”

Her second son had gone into the British army, and never come back from it. Her opinion of the army was not high.

After a moment she roused herself. “I suppose we should be grateful that he’s survived this long. That may mean he’s very clever—or extremely stupid. I am not sure which I prefer. Who else?”

Edwards withdrew another sheet of paper. “Mr. Maximilian St. James.”

“I can tell from your tone of voice this one is not so respectable.”

The solicitor gazed at her evenly. “He is a gamester, Your Grace. He has no other income that I can discern, but he is well known at the gaming hells. He is descended from the second duke, is about twenty-seven years of age, and also has no wife.”

“Such dissolute fools the young men of Britain are these days.” She frowned ferociously. “Are there no more?”

“Er—perhaps.” He hesitated; this was the most delicate territory of all. “His Grace the fourth Duke had two younger brothers.”

“Oh yes,” she said after a moment, a lilt of surprise in her voice. “Good heavens. I forgot about him.”

<About a Rogue>Mr. Edwards nodded. Nearly everyone had, because the duke had ordered it so. Lord Adam had been banished, but his name was still spoken at Carlyle Castle. Lord Thomas St. James, on the other hand, had disappeared at the age of five as if he’d never existed. He had been his mother’s favorite son—so much so, that she took him with her when she fled her husband, the third duke, and returned to her native France. Rumor held she had gone back to the French vicomte who had been her lover. It was whispered that Lord Thomas might be his child.

It had been an enormous scandal, and the third duke had declared both his wife and son dead to him. On one notorious occasion, half a dozen servants had been whipped for gossiping about her. After that, the names of the runaway duchess and her son were never mentioned by any of the Carlyle servants or staff. The fourth duke had been no more forgiving of his mother’s desertion, and in time Anne-Louise and her son Thomas had been all but forgotten.

“I have made a few attempts to trace him and his mother, without success.” Mr. Edwards paused. “It has been several decades. Who knows where Lord Thomas may be?”

The duchess sniffed. “His grandchildren, you mean. He would be a man of eighty or more, if he were still alive—Carlyle men do not live that long.” A fresh spasm of grief contorted her face for a moment before she went on. “And those grandchildren, if he had any, would be French.”

“Likely so,” Mr. Edwards murmured. “I would have to launch a determined search to trace Lord Thomas and any of his descendants.”

“Must you?” she snapped.

He hesitated. “If a son or grandson of Lord Thomas should survive… His claim would be pre-eminent, Your Grace.”

For a moment the duchess sat in grim disapproval. “An army man, a cardsharp, or a Frenchman,” she said sourly. Her gaze moved upward, over the exquisitely adorned ceiling of the room, over the tall gleaming windows, over the graceful furnishings and paintings in gilt frames. “And one of them will have Carlyle.” She turned back to Edwards. “Send for them. All of them, if you can find any relict of Thomas in France, but I want the other two here, as soon as they might come. I shan’t allow any callow fool or heartless scoundrel to take my son’s place.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

<About a Rogue>“Attend me through next week,” she went on. “I will have some instruction regarding this decidedly lackluster lot of heirs, and there are some urgent matters about the estate which must be settled as well.”

Mr. Edwards sighed. “Your Grace, I cannot handle all the affairs of the estate, even if I were to take up residence in the castle. You must allow me to engage a new estate steward. Mr. Grimes assures me he is utterly unable to return to his post, and I fear he never will be—”

Irritably she waved one hand. “Very well. But on a trial basis only,” she added as the solicitor breathed a sigh of relief. “Grimes suits me very well and I shall hold out hope for his return.”

Mr. Grimes was nearly seventy and had developed a lung condition; he would not be returning to his post. Mr. Edwards had already arranged his pension, needing only the Duchess’s approval—and a replacement. In the meantime, the responsibility had fallen onto Mr. Edwards himself, and these six months had nearly driven him into his own retirement. “I shall make enquiries as soon as I reach London, ma’am.”

“Hmph.” She gave him a dark glance and shook her finger at him. “A sober, reliable fellow, Mr. Edwards, with a vast experience of managing such an estate. Not one of these hungry young men who wishes to experiment with improvements to things that need no improving!”

“Naturally, ma’am.”

“You may go,” she announced, and the solicitor got to his feet, gathered his papers, and bowed his way out of the room.

Sophia Marie St. James, once one of the most eligible heiresses in England, sat in her silk-upholstered chair, her bejeweled fingers clutching a handkerchief of finest Irish linen, and gazed vacantly through the tall mullioned window at the rolling sweep of lawn, prosperously dotted with sheep on the distant hills. It was Carlyle, as far as the eye could see and acres beyond.

Almost sixty years ago she had come here as the young bride of George Frederick, the fourth Duke, a man twice her age. On her wedding day her mother had whispered in her ear to stand her ground early, or to give way forever. She had chosen to stand her ground; she was the only child and heiress of a wealthy banker who brought immense wealth to her marriage, and she demanded that her husband recognize her worth. And he, tyrannical and arrogant though he was, had done it, because she gave him no choice.

<About a Rogue>When he died, she’d expected a life of more ease and comfort, only to suffer the devastating loss of one son, a nearly fatal injury to her eldest child, and the death of her only daughter. Still, she had not quailed from her duty. For nearly thirty years she had been guardian of everything she could see, in her son’s stead, fiercely determined that Carlyle would be preserved and whole for the next generation.

Now it would go to someone else’s son, and she would bury hers —affectionate, charming, beloved Stephen, her heart’s darling. Her throat tightened with misery. Three of her children, dead; all of her dreams and loves, gone. Although her eldest child still lived, he was no longer her Johnny, and he hadn’t had the sort of life she’d ever dreamt of for him. The vast, verdant vista out her window might have been a mirage.

A rustle at her skirts disturbed her morose thoughts. “Oh, really, Percival,” she exclaimed as the ginger cat leapt into her lap.

“I am sorry, Your Grace,” said Philippa Kirkpatrick, closing the door behind her. “He was lying in wait outside the door.”

The duchess smiled, holding up the cat so they were face to face. “Never willing to be excluded, are you, my great beast?” She let him down and he curled up in her lap, lashing his tail across his face.

“Shall I put him out?” asked Pippa.

“No, no, let him be,” the duchess said, her fingers ruffling then smoothing the cat’s fur. “He is a comfort.”

Quietly Pippa took a chair beside her. She folded her hands in her lap and waited.

<About a Rogue>The duchess was grateful for that. Despite her youth, Pippa wasn’t one of those flighty modern girls, wild for dancing and flirting over cards with a beauty patch on her cheek. She was kind and sensible, with a tender, loyal heart. She had always been a sweet girl, from the first moment the duchess had seen her, on the day Jessica married Pippa’s father Miles. Snug in his arms, young Pippa had gazed at her with big dark eyes and smiled, and the duchess had been instantly smitten.

“See, Mama,” Jessica had said with a luminous smile, smoothing the little girl’s hair. “I’ve got a husband and a daughter at one fell swoop!” Jessica had loved Pippa like her own, and the duchess had followed suit. The girl had grown up to be very like Jessica, and privately the duchess wished Pippa had been her granddaughter.

She sighed silently, sorrow flooding her again. She would never have grandchildren now. “Has Mrs. Humphries brought out the crepe?”

“Yes, ma’am. The maids are covering the mirrors.”

The duchess glanced at her, noting the color of her dress. “I see you’ve anticipated her.”

Pippa smoothed her hands over her black skirt. “Lord Stephen was always very kind to me, ma’am. It’s not right for him to be gone so young.”

“No,” murmured the duchess. Not right at all. “Edwards wanted to speak about the heir.”

<About a Rogue>The girl’s eyes widened. “So soon? Oh, madam, how inconsiderate!”

She flicked one hand, disturbing a meow from Percival. She resumed stroking his fur. “It’s not soon. I ought to have done it years ago, if I had not been so confident of Stephen…” She closed her eyes at the sudden memory of Stephen’s boyish laugh, his voice assuring her he knew his duty to Carlyle. Never fear, Mama, he’d promised when he came to tell her about his engagement to Miss Calvert. I shan’t let you down.

With an effort she wrenched her mind away. She was surrounded by ghosts today. “Now the likely candidates are grown men, most certainly set in their ways, and surely unequal to the responsibility before them.” She paused. “I have no intention of letting Carlyle descend to an ignorant fool. I may have no say in which of them inherits, but I can and will exercise all leverage at my command to make them worthy of the title. I have sent for them.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Pippa after a startled pause.

“I would like your help,” continued the duchess. “They will be quick to grasp my role, and, I have no doubt, attempt to flatter and appease me. But you… You, they will not be so eager to please. You must be my eyes and ears for their true feelings and intentions.”

“Of course, ma’am. If you wish.”

The duchess turned to her, smiling ruefully. “I do rely on you so, Pippa.”

Pippa smiled back. “I shall do my best, Your Grace.”

“I know you will. That is why I depend so heavily upon you, poor girl.”

<About a Rogue>“Not poor at all! I’m pleased to be of some support to you.”

The duchess patted her hand. “You always have been, child.” She gazed out the window again in silence for several moments. “The most likely heir is a military officer. I have hopes for him,” she said at last. “Thin hopes, but there are you. Mr. Edwards reports that he is a respectable man, whatever that means in the Army. But the other…” She clicked her tongue in displeasure. “A gambler! And only very distantly related. No, I have no good expectations of him.”

“They may surprise you, ma’am,” ventured Pippa.

“And they may not!” said the duchess tartly. “But either of them are preferable to a Frenchman, of all people. How my husband would turn in his grave, to think of Carlyle going to a Frenchman.” She brooded on that for a moment before rousing herself. “The gambler is most likely a hopeless case. Once a gamester, always a gamester. It’s like an infection in the blood. As for the Frenchman…” She sighed. “I shall hope he does not even exist, or at the very least refuses to be found. No, we must pray for the best, and that means we pin our hope on Captain St. James.”