The Devil’s Own Duke
Wallflowers vs. Rogues, Book 2
Available September 28, 2021 from HarperCollins Avon
USA Today bestseller Lenora Bell returns to her Wallflowers vs. Rogues series with a romance between a lady and the scoundrel claiming to be next-in-line for her father’s title.
Lady Henrietta Prince is far too busy for romance. She’s dedicated her life to turning her family vineyards into a profitable sparkling wine venture. But when she shares a thrilling kiss at midnight with a handsome stranger, she’s captivated…until he claims to be the distant heir to her father’s dukedom.
Ash Ellis is a gambler who lives life on the edge. Now he’s locked his sights on a glittering prize and nothing will stand in his way.
When Henrietta is forced to marry the wicked rogue to keep her beloved vineyards, she vows that Ash will never have her trust, or her love. Even if his kisses are more intoxicating than the finest champagne.
His new bride is certainly beautiful, but biddable? Not so much. Ash will settle for nothing less than Henrietta’s total surrender…but is he the one in danger of losing his heart?
HarperCollins Avon (September 28, 2021)
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Reviews for The Devil’s Own Duke
“With a perfect sense of aplomb and plenty of whimsical wit, Bell continues her Wallflowers vs. Rogues series, following Love Is a Rogue (2020), in splendid fashion by offering readers a cleverly crafted marriage-of-convenience plot that delivers not only a spot-on cast of characters (including a delightfully finicky feline), but also a generous dose of smoldering sexual chemistry and combustible love scenes.” (Booklist (Starred Review))
“A vintner meets her match in the owner of a gaming house in Bell’s enchanting second Wallflowers vs. Rogues Victorian romance (after Love is a Rogue). Lady Henrietta “Hetty” Prince wants her widowed father, the Duke of Granville, to remarry so he can get an heir and save his property, Rosehill Park, from reverting to the crown upon his death. Then rakish gambling hall owner Ash Ellis steps forward, claiming to be the Duke’s long-lost heir. Uninterested in any of Hetty’s candidates for duchess, Hetty’s father is quick to accept Ash’s claim. Though Hetty is convinced that Ash is a fraud, she accepts her father’s wish that she marry Ash to secure her claim to Rosehill, treating the marriage as a business proposition: in exchange for Hetty helping Ash integrate into the aristocracy, he offers her six months to prove the profitability of Rosehill’s vineyards before he considers razing them to raise thoroughbreds. This convenient arrangement quickly becomes much more as their mutual attraction gives way to deeper emotions. The romantic tension is ever-simmering, enhanced by Ash’s determination not to fall in love and Hetty’s single-minded quest to gain recognition for her wines. Fast-paced plotting keeps the pages turning, making for a magnetic historical romance.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The second book in Bell’s Wallflowers vs. Rogues series is a charming enemies-to-lovers tale, though the clear chemistry from the couple’s second-chapter kiss leaves little doubt about the outcome and the many steamy scenes that will happen on the way there. With lots of winemaking detail and good attention to the obliviousness of the ton, it’s a historical romance with great depth. A sweet slow burn of a Regency romance.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Excellent chemistry between the romantic leads and a headstrong, intelligent heroine to root for will keep romance fans reading. Fans of the series will look forward to reading about the next bluestocking to get her happily ever after. Some much-needed historical context and a steamy, satisfying romance between the two well-written leads…[a] delightful, well-written romance.” (Library Journal)
“This is the second book in the Wallflowers vs. Rogues series about a group of strong, intelligent, talented women who find success in their talents and love. If you love Lenora Bell, you will love this book. She writes the most delightful characters, and this book doesn’t disappoint. I love this whole series.” (Goodreads Review (5 stars))
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One
Viola leaned closer. “Don’t look now, Hetty, but there’s a broodingly handsome gentleman standing across from us and he’s been staring at you the entire time we’ve been speaking with rather a hungry look in his eyes. Gives me the shivers, really.”
“Maybe he’s staring at you,” replied Hetty.
“No, he can’t take his eyes off of you.”
“Do you recognize him?”
“Never seen him before, though that hardly signifies since I rarely go out in society. Oh, Hetty.” Her eyes widened. “He’s striding this way with the most predatory expression on his face. I do believe he means to speak with you.” She shivered. “Or possibly swallow you whole.”
“No doubt he’s a brother, or nephew, of one of the ladies, thinking to ingratiate himself with the duke’s daughter. I’ll soon put an end to any such notion. Tonight is about my father, not me. The decision will be his alone.”
Hetty swiveled to face the man, ready to fix him with a forbidding stare to halt his forward progress. Her breath caught in her throat. He was just as Viola had described. Brooding and predatory, with piercing gray eyes that caught and held her gaze. His hair was overlong, wavy and brown, streaked with gold where candlelight fell. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and so handsome that she glanced behind her to see if perhaps he meant to bestow all of that smoldering appeal on some other lady.
The way he prowled wasn’t suited to a society ballroom. There was something almost brutish about him, nearly uncivilized. It was the way he held his ungloved hands, half-curled into fists. Something about the slight crookedness of his nose, the blunt edges of his stubborn jaw.
Capturing her hand, he bowed his head and brushed his lips against her knuckles as if they were intimately acquainted. There was a faint shadowing of whiskers along his angular jaw.
His evening attire was ill-fitting, the coat straining at the seams, as though the man beneath was too much to be restrained by a tailor’s art. He wore a scarlet embroidered waistcoat, a gaudy gold watch on a fob, and his black dress shoes were scuffed. Straight from Savile Row, he was not.
“Lady Henrietta.” His lips quirked into an audacious half smile that said he had a secret he would reveal to her alone. “May I say that you are the loveliest sight I’ve ever beheld?”
“I’d prefer that you didn’t.”
“Too late. I’m going to extol your beauty and there’s nothing you can do about it. You are a goddess, Lady Henrietta, created from starlight and roses, sent to this earth to—”
“That’s quite enough, Mr. . . . er.” Hetty stopped, realizing she had no idea with whom she was speaking. “You have me at a disadvantage, sir. I don’t recall your name.”
An unruly lock of hair flopped over one of his eyes. “Ellis. Ash Ellis.”
She mentally searched through the guest list, attempting to match him with one of the duchess candidates she’d invited, but no connection came to mind.
He slid the tip of his finger over her palm. Good gracious. He was still holding her hand. She snatched her hand away, her cheeks flaming as though she’d swallowed an entire glass of wine in two gulps.
Somewhere far away the orchestra began to play, a violin bow dragging across the taut string of her nerves.
“Waltz with me, Lady Henrietta.” It was more an order than a request.
She hadn’t planned to dance this evening, but before she could object, he grasped her hand and led her onto the floor. She glanced back at Viola, who gave a little shrug of her shoulders with an amused expression dancing in her green eyes. Hetty could refuse to dance with him, but her father was being surprisingly well-behaved at the moment, dancing and talking with the ladies, and she didn’t want to be the one to cause a scene.
As her hand came into contact with Mr. Ellis’s solid shoulder, and he placed a hand against the small of her back, a quiver traced the curve of her spine. She hadn’t danced with a man since her first—and only—ball, in this very room seven years past.
He smelled of vanilla-laced cigar smoke and a heavy-handed eau de cologne. Her friend, Miss Ardella Finchley, a chemist and perfumer, would have been able to pinpoint the scent immediately. All Hetty knew was that he wore far too much of it, and it had too much musk and cedar to it.
When they were halfway across the room, and her feet had remembered the familiar pattern, Hetty finally collected her thoughts enough to fix him with that forbidding stare she’d been meaning to employ.
“I didn’t wish to dance with you, Mr. Ellis. I was having a conversation with my friend.”
He smiled lazily. “Ah but waltzing with me is so much better than decorating the wall.”
Hetty bristled. The man was insufferable. And he hadn’t seemed the least bit discouraged by her quelling stare. “Not all wallflowers are longing to be plucked from the wall, Mr. Ellis.”
“Dancing with a skillful partner is one of life’s great pleasures.”
It was, rather, though Hetty wouldn’t admit it to the domineering man who’d given her no choice but to stand up with him. She’d forgotten how much she liked dancing. She was tall for a woman, but he was taller, and that was a pleasure, too. She remembered towering over one disastrously diminutive duke at her debut.
“I’m not supposed to be dancing,” she said. “Tonight isn’t about me, it’s about my father.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun.”
The wicked gleam in his eyes made her neck and bosom feel heated, as though it were a hot day, and she was working in the vineyards. She couldn’t even blame it on the wine. She’d only had half a glass. “When the clock strikes midnight, my father will choose a bride and my life can resume its customary schedule.”
“Rather a role reversal, isn’t it? A daughter compelling her father to choose a bride.”
“It’s his duty to our family. If I were forced to marry to save our family fortune, I would make the sacrifice.”
“Do you know what I think, Lady Henrietta?”
“No, and I’d rather not become acquainted with the workings of your mind, Mr. Ellis. I’d rather we finished this waltz in silence.” The sound of his low laughter did something suspiciously fluttery to the pit of her stomach.
Control yourself, Hetty. You don’t do fluttery.
“I think that you like to manage everything, Lady Henrietta. For example, you’ve been attempting to take the lead and guide my steps since we began waltzing.” The pressure of his hand on her back increased and he tugged her closer. “Try to relax,” he murmured. “Allow me to do all of the work.”
The way he said those words so seductively, in that deep, rumbling voice, made her heart hammer in her chest.
“There. That’s better, isn’t it? I know what I’m doing.” He stroked the small of her back. “Sometimes it’s best to let the expert lead.”
Did he know what he was doing to her? Gazing into his eyes, she had the fanciful thought that they were the only couple on the dance floor, and everyone else had faded away into colorful blurs, like swirling autumn leaves.
Time tilted backward, until she was seventeen again, with butterflies waltzing giddily in her belly, and a song bubbling in her heart. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to melt into the lilting sway of the music. Just for a moment. Just for a few more steps.
After all, they might take one more step and float effortlessly into the air, dancing between the chandeliers, leaving the real world far below them.
“Very good,” he whispered into her ear, his breath fanning her cheek.
Her eyes flew open. She’d allowed herself to melt a little too much. They were dancing far too close. A proper distance must be maintained. She didn’t do giddy, either.
She straightened her spine and angled as far from him as possible. “I wasn’t trying to please you with my compliance to your whispered instructions, Mr. Ellis.”
Another lazy smile lifted his sensually curved lips. “Of course you weren’t.”
“I was lost in a memory from my first ball.”
It had been the memory, not the man. The man was much too cocksure and controlling. Though he did dance like a dream.
“You have many pleasant memories from many balls, do you not, Lady Henrietta?”
“Not really. I’ve only attended one ball in my lifetime before this evening.”
His brow furrowed. “How can that be? You’re young and beautiful. Doesn’t your social set dance every evening?”
“I’m four-and-twenty, Mr. Ellis. And this will most likely be my very last waltz.” She had no time for frivolous pursuits. She had a schedule to maintain. The vines wouldn’t harvest themselves.
“What a terrible shame to deprive the ballrooms of London of your radiant presence.”
There he went again, slathering on the compliments like butter on a breakfast roll. He probably thought he was an expert in seduction, as well as waltzing.
Well, this was one female who wouldn’t fall under his spell. Thankfully, the waltz was nearly finished. “Why is your waistcoat embroidered with playing cards?” she asked.
“Not just any playing cards. The Ace of Spades. The highest card in the deck. To bring me luck.”
“Are you a gambler?”
“I don’t approve. My friend is music instructor to the Duke of Westbury, and he’s gambled away his entire fortune at the low gaming hells in St. James’s.”
“Poor blighter. Shouldn’t play cards if you don’t know how to win.” He held her gaze with an intense focus that made the rest of the room fade and blur.
“You must be related to one of the duchess candidates I invited.”
“Must I?” he asked.
“Tell me your connection.”
“It amuses me to leave it a mystery for now.” His slate-gray eyes glinted with devilish humor. “Haven’t you always wanted to waltz with a mysterious and devastatingly handsome stranger?”
“You must have me confused with a lady who thinks you’re handsome.” Lie. He was sinfully attractive. And well he knew it.
“They told me you were a bluestocking with a tart tongue. You don’t disappoint.”
“It’s probably best if you keep such impolite observations to yourself.”
“Never expect politesse from me.”
“What should I expect?”
“Danger, Lady Henrietta,” he said in a low, intimate voice. “Expect danger.”
His gaze caught and held her captive. His fingers slid along the back of her gown, slipping ever so slightly beneath the fabric to stroke her back. A quiver traced the curve of her spine and raised gooseflesh on her arms. He wasn’t the stuff of her seventeen-year-old dreams. He was rough-mannered and dominant. Unpolished. Nothing pretty, poetic, or respectful about him. She’d never been touched in such a sensual, commanding way. Never seen desire flare to life in a man’s eyes like a warning beacon on a hilltop.
An answering fire lit within her. The heat of it gave her a flush that bloomed across her bosom and spread up her neck and across her cheeks. Surely he recognized the effect he had on her.
“You’re blushing, Lady Henrietta.”
“It must be the sparkling wine.”
“Or it could be that you like relinquishing control for a few minutes. You like following my lead. Your body betrays you when you sway against me like that.”
Couldn’t everyone in the room see what he was doing? Seducing her in plain sight. Controlling her movements. Undressing her with his eyes. But no one was paying them any attention. All eyes were focused on her father and Mrs. Dudley. Everyone was wondering if she would be the lucky new Duchess of Granville. Once the scandal sheets had reported that the duke was on the hunt for a new bride, the gossip had flown thick and fast. Wagers had been placed in the betting book at White’s club. Young widows and debutantes had formed a queue, writing letters extolling their accomplishments and virtues, and hinting that they had every expectation of fecundity.
Which one of the ladies she’d invited had brought this wolf to their door?
* * * * *
Ash stared into those big brown eyes of hers. Eyes that held a velvet, near-purple darkness, like the heart of a violet. The lady hadn’t recognized him. Everyone else in the room knew exactly who he was: The Devil’s Own Scoundrel. Owner of the notorious gaming hell known as The Devil’s Staircase. Because he led people to sin.
He wouldn’t mind leading Lady Henrietta to sin.
He’d known Granville had a bluestocking spinster daughter living on his estate in Surrey. He’d pictured a mousy, bespectacled thing. Not a voluptuous goddess with lush curves poured into a tight silk gown the color of clotted cream. Abundant brown hair begging to be freed from its jeweled hairpins.
And more than enough wit and fire to talk circles around him.
Candlelight spilled over the graceful lines of her shoulders and breasts. They were dangerous, those curves. They felt entirely too good in his arms. He’d never danced with a genteel lady before. Polite society snubbed him when it suited them, deeming him of inferior birth, and resenting him for what they saw as his ill-gotten riches. Once the lady put two and two together, she’d stare down that straight nose at him disdainfully. Purse her lips with displeasure at being sullied by waltzing with the devil.
He pulled her closer. Only a sliver past propriety but enough to make her blush deepen. She relaxed into him with a dreamy look on her face that made him think about her draped across his bed after being thoroughly pleasured. Attraction, strong and immediate, spiked through him like the first deep drink from a bottle of strong spirits, quickening his pulse and settling low in his belly.
He was here to speak to the duke, not to seduce the daughter.
The duke had been a difficult man to pin down. He had thick walls around him—solicitors, servants, sycophants—to keep the devil out. So Ash had taken matters into his own hands, forging an invitation to the ball and presenting it with the combination of confidence and crisp banknotes that always seemed to get him whatever he wanted.
He had to take what he wanted. No one was going to hand him anything on a silver platter. Life was something to be conquered, a game to win, and he was good at winning. He redistributed ill-gotten wealth. Trimmed the fat from bloated budgets. Skimmed from the top of tainted cream. He ran high-stakes card games that were mostly honest, but he’d selected a small list of targets to lead along the garden path to ruin. Wealthy, rash young bucks who could afford to lose their fathers’ money. Landed gentry, born into privilege and ease, greedy, arrogant, and cruel-minded.
And one of those reckless young bucks had inadvertently given him what he needed to win an even more glittering prize: a dukedom.
The lady in his arms was a symbol of the order he meant to topple. She’d been born to wealth, coddled and cared for by servants and family. Blinded to the suffering of those less fortunate than she, all wrapped up warm and cozy in her privileged life. Heedless and ignorant of the source of her father’s wealth.
She was French champagne, expensive and sweet; he was back alley gin.
But his day would come.
The music ended. He released her and bowed.
“Our waltz is over, Mr. Ellis,” she remarked, with a slightly dazed expression.
“Perhaps you’d like another?”
“I would not.” She gave him a curt, discouraging nod and walked swiftly away, soon swallowed by the crush of people.
Where was Granville? Ash searched the room but couldn’t find him. Damnation. He’d been too busy dallying with the daughter to keep track of the duke.
Eyes on the prize, Ash. Tonight, your fortunes change forever.