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THE ACCIDENTAL DUKE
The Mad Matchmaking Men of Waterloo Book 1
BY BARBARA DEVLIN
What happens when the Mad Matchmakers of Waterloo join forces to find wives for each other? Delectable chaos. And no woman in London is safe.
Welcome to book 1 in the fabulous new series from USA Today Bestselling Author Barbara Devlin.
A WOUNDED WARRIOR British
Army Major Anthony Erasmus Hildebrand Bartlett, 7th Marquess of Rockingham, returns to London a tortured soul after losing an arm at Waterloo. Suffering incomprehensible terror from his wartime experiences, or what is referred to as nostalgia, Anthony is now the sole heir to a dukedom and a betrothal he doesn’t want. He wishes he died on the front lines with his elder brother, and the last thing he needs is a wife. Can Anthony find the will to live again?
A RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE
Lady Arabella is not so sanguine about her prospects, because she doesn’t want to marry anyone. That Anthony is injured and may be mad is the least of her concerns. Smart and perceptive, she sees through the tormented soldier’s pain, offering comfort and support that reaches through the fog to awaken him, and she is drawn to her fiancé. When the duke imprisons Anthony in an asylum, Arabella must rely on her wit and wisdom to free the man she loves. The Mad Matchmaking Men of Waterloo The Accidental Duke The Accidental Groom The Accidental Hero
Surprise often functioned as a double-edged sword for the intended recipient, because the rude awakening could inspire either joy or panic. It was the latter response Arabella endured, when her parents revealed they would host an impromptu dinner party for fifty of their closest friends and connections that very evening. Her parents were anything but spontaneous. Regardless of her mother’s assurances, Arabella suspected there were games afoot.
Standing before the long mirror, she toyed with the seed pearls trimming the bodice of her pale green eau di nilsilk gown and scrutinized her coif. In usual circumstances, she paid little attention to her appearance, other than to ensure she wore sufficient cover and caused no embarrassment. Since her reputation remained inextricably intertwined with Anthony’s, she resolved to put her best foot forward.
“My dear, your fiancé and your in-laws just arrived, and we would form the receiving line to present a united front when we welcome our guests.” Mama snapped her fingers. “Come along, Arabella. We do not want to keep His Grace waiting.”
“Of course not.” Yes, her tone carried more than a bit of sarcasm, because she cared not for Anthony’s father in light of his scheme. Why did he not take an interest in Anthony’s wellbeing? After four days of reading, she suspected she knew her fiancé better than those closest to him, and that saddened her. As she descended the stairs, she vowed to protect him.
“Lady Arabella, you are a vision.” His Grace dipped his chin and scrutinized her from top to toe. Suddenly, she reconsidered the fashionable gown, with its low-cut bodice. “Is your fiancée not lovely, Anthony?”
“As always.” Devastatingly handsome in his polished ensemble, the centerpiece of which was a black coat trimmed in old gold, Anthony adjusted his cravat and bowed. “Good evening, Lady Arabella.”
“Lord Rockingham.” She curtseyed and studied him for any signs of distress. “Shall we assume our respective positions, since I believe our first arrivals approach the threshold?”
A series of hushed whispers preceded the tour of the receiving line, when the invitees noted the significance of the arrangement, which included a rare sighting of Her Grace, and Mama gushed like a giddy debutante, while inside Arabella wept. Would it not have been easier and much less trouble to hire a herald?
“I contacted my solicitor about converting my assets into usable resources.” Anthony paused to acknowledge another guest. Then he bent his head and said, in a low voice, “It could take a sennight, or more, to sell my properties, so I instructed him to begin the process, posthaste.”
“Are you sure that is wise?” With a fake smile, she welcomed another interloper. “Our parents conspire against us, and this spontaneous celebration does not bode well for our plans.”
“Then we must delay, by any means.” He stiffened his spine, and she noted the fine sheen of perspiration on his brow and the subtle but growing pants as he fought to draw breath. Recalling their discussion at Gunter’s, and what he braved at war, she pledged to support him in all enterprises. “Feign illness, if necessary.”
“It will be fine, Lord Rockingham.” As he fidgeted with his cravat, she recalled Dr. Larrey’s advice and sought a distraction. “Cook serves delicious pork ribs, and there are four courses, including a mouthwatering cheesecake, so I hope you brought your appetite.”
“I am not hungry,” he replied with a frown.
All right, she required another diversion.
“Papa purchased an expensive box of cigars for the occasion.” Grasping at threads, she employed pedestrian bits of minutiae to avoid disaster. According to Dr. Larrey, anxiety would only increase Anthony’s torment, causing him to act in a disturbing manner, which would not aid their cause. If possible, she would spare him further shame and a trip to an asylum. “And there is fine Spanish brandy, too.”
“I prefer French.” Little by little, he calmed while they conversed. “But I will drink whatever the host provides.”
“Perhaps the Shrewsbury cakes are more to your liking?” Her mind raced, when he offered a slight smile, and Arabella aimed to keep it there for the remains of the evening and beyond. “Or should I send a footman to Gunter’s for a vast deal more than decent portion of the neige de pistachio you favor, because you all but licked the dish?”
“Now you have my attention.” Ah, the boyish demeanor emerged, and Anthony winked. “How I enjoyed that afternoon in your company.”
“Oh, I echo your sentiments, because I delight in talking to you.” Indeed, she loved talking to him, because he treated her like an adult. Their parents followed the last of the guests into the grand dining room, which adjoined the ballroom and featured two long tables, and Papa waved a summons. “I suppose we must do our duty, Lord Rockingham.” She settled her palm in the crook of his arm. “Shall we join the party?”
“I would rather surrender my other limb.” When she gave him a nudge, he met her stare, and his unutterable helplessness called to her on some basic level which she could not ignore. “Will you stay with me?”
Something inside her melted.
“Boney, himself, could not drag me from your side.” For a scarce second, Anthony simply stood there, and Arabella desperately wanted to hold him, to console him, to reassure him that she would allow no one to harm him. “And whatever happens, we will face it, together.”
“Perhaps you should escape to the Continent with me?” He chuckled, even as she considered the offer. “I can compose a suitable story to satisfy the ton’s thirst for gossip, shouldering the blame, because my family can bear the brunt of the scandal. What say you, Lady Arabella? Fancy a sail?”
“I would love nothing more, Lord Rockingham, but I cannot abandon my parents.” In the dining room, she was shocked to discover the seating arrangements conflicted with social edicts, because she had been assigned a position of prominence to the left of His Grace, and Anthony occupied the chair beside her. Per the rules of polite decorum, her fiancé should have been placed opposite her, and she should have been located near the center of the table. Gooseflesh covered her. Leaning close, she whispered, “Anthony, I think we are in trouble, because our parents appear euphoric, and I can only guess at the reason.”
“I would wager you are correct.” He paled and flinched, when the butler opened a bottle of champagne, the first in a series. “It looks as if your father’s domestics prepare for a toast.”
“Oh, no.” Along with the Sèvres porcelain and polished silver settings, Mama deployed the Baccarat crystal, and the walls seemed to collapse on Arabella. “Anthony, promise me something.”
“Anything, my lady.” Shielded by the expensive linens, he clasped her hand. “What is it, Arabella?”
Strange, he actually tried to comfort her, and she glanced at the tray of glasses filled with the bubbly intoxicant. “Whatever happens, you will pay attention to me, to my eyes, to the sound of my voice, as we proceed through the evening.”
“Why?” The butler uncorked another bottle, and Anthony started.
“Because we can survive the awkward affair if we rely on each other and present a united front.” To her relief, no one noticed his blanched complexion, the lines of stress etched about the corner of his eyes, or the rigid set of his lips. “Agreed?”
In that moment, Their Graces stood, and the crowd quieted. In silence, Anthony indicated the affirmative with a nod.
“My honored guests, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to this informal dinner, and I must begin the festivities by expressing my thanks to Lord Ainsworth, my longtime friend, for temporarily ceding hosting duties that I might share the reason for this little gathering and allay your curiosity.” The duke stared at Arabella and Anthony, and she shifted, as she would wager her most cherished book she could recite the forthcoming report. “Her Grace and I are proud to announce the engagement of our son Anthony, the Marquess of Rockingham, to Lady Arabella Hortence Gibbs, daughter of Lord and Lady Ainsworth, in nuptials to be officiated by the Archbishop, at my home, eleven days hence.”
The room erupted with applause, and she teetered on the brink of hysteria but mustered a glance of adoration at Anthony. “Smile.”
Not for a minute did he fool her, because he offered what could best be described as a brittle, lopsided grin. Exposed and vulnerable, he cast a silent plea, and she prayed he didn’t swoon or scream. It was at that very instant she lifted her glass, if only to break the grip of fear clawing at her throat, and the duke called to order the group.
“To Anthony and Arabella.” Oblivious to the unrest he inflicted on his son, His Grace faced her. “May they be blessed with many strong sons.”
Her knees tingled, and she gulped the champagne, while Anthony drained his glass and signaled for a refill. Despite their plan, she surmised they enjoyed no escape, and she reclaimed her seat as resignation set in with a vengeance, because the announcement was tantamount to a marriage, barring a massive scandal. As far as society was concerned, the ceremony was but a formality.
USA Today bestselling, Amazon All-Star author Barbara Devlin was born a storyteller, but it was a weeklong vacation to Bethany Beach, DE that forever changed her life. The little house her parents rented had a collection of books by Kathleen Woodiwiss, which exposed Barbara to the world of romance, and Shanna remains a personal favorite. Barbara writes heartfelt historical romances that feature not so perfect heroes who may know how to seduce a woman but know nothing of marriage. And she prefers feisty but smart heroines who sometimes save the hero, before they find their happily ever after. Barbara is a disabled-in-the-line-of-duty retired police officer, and she earned an MA in English and continued a course of study for a Doctorate in Literature and Rhetoric. She happily considered herself an exceedingly eccentric English professor, until success in Indie publishing lured her into writing, full-time, featuring her fictional knighthood, the Brethren of Coast.
Devlin skillfully blends a rich assortment of emotions into one beautiful book. Readers who like a smart, solid plot, strong characters, richly described settings, and a captivating, forbidden love story with a happy ending, should find this book much to their taste. ~NY Literary Magazine
Devlin’s prose and descriptions enchant right from the opening scene. ~RT Book Reviews
This heart-fluttering, nerve-wracking, swoon-worthy romance is one for the ages! ~InD’tale Magazine
Barbara Devlin offers history, romance, and mystery all wrapped up in an engrossing story that is filled with witty repartee and ribald scenes that border on debauchery. ~IndieReader
Links to Barbara’s website, blog, books, etc.:
For more information, visit Barbaradevlin.com
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