Duke Most Wicked
Wallflowers vs. Rogues, Book 3
Now Available from HarperCollins Avon
USA Today bestselling author Lenora Bell returns to the Wallflowers vs. Rogues series with a brilliant new novel about a scandalous duke and a wallflower with a secret.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a wicked duke who has gambled away his fortune must be in want of an heiress.
Scarred by a dark secret, Brandan Delamar, Duke of Westbury, must concede his misdeeds have finally caught up with him. With five younger sisters to support, he must marry for money.
Sunny and steadfast, Viola Beaton is no heiress. As music instructor to the duke’s sisters, she’s developed a genuine affection for the bright young ladies. Unfortunately, she’s also developed a forbidden passion for her wildly attractive employer.
It must be the way he inspires her to compose sonatas about moonlight and kisses. Or how his gaze smolders and lingers on her skin. Or because he makes her heart whisper impossible things.
When Westbury decrees that he’ll choose not only a bride, but grooms for his sisters, Viola can’t allow him to curtail their freedom. She strikes a bargain: if he allows his sisters to attend the Season, Viola will chaperone them and keep them safe from scandal.
Only…what if Viola and the duke are the ones most likely to cause a scandal?
HarperCollins Avon (September 27, 2022)
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This is the recording of my mom playing the original Yuletide Carol she wrote for Duke Most Wicked:
Reviews for Duke Most Wicked
“I await the release of a new Lenora Bell novel the way some people (also me) wait for Christmas. Her historical romances are always engrossing, lush, and downright moving. Her latest, Duke Most Wicked, does not disappoint. Haunted by his father’s cruelty and a terrible secret, Brandan Delamar, Duke of Westbury, has made it his sole mission in life to be a ruined rake. But when Viola Beaton, his sisters’ affectionate and bright-eyed music teacher, points out that his sisters need him to reform his ways to have any chance on the marriage market, an attraction flares. Viola is the loveliest of heroines, warm, cheerful, and stubbornly optimistic, even while nursing a healthy degree of pragmatism. West is cut from the finest of rakish Duke cloths, a dissolute drunk, gambler, and brawler, until the love of a good woman brings him to his knees. Viola is also a talented musician and composer in her own right, struggling with supporting her famous composer father over letting her own talents shine. West sees her skill and not only celebrates it, but finds ways to champion and forward it. Bell always stacks her novels with memorable supporting characters, but this might be her best group yet. There’s the women of the Boudicea Club, Viola’s friends who we’ve met in previous novels. But the most charming of all are West’s distinctive set of sisters — a hopeless romantic, a bluestocking, a fashion maven, a tomboy, and a perfect lady. Bell never falls into the trap of painting her side characters with a broad brush, letting each one breathe, fully formed, even if they’re only on the page for brief moments. More and more these days, I just want a cozy romance to lose myself in — a perfectly pitched blend of longing, romance, sexy sequences, and heart. Bell offers that up in spades and proves why she keeps earning a spot on my keeper shelf.” (Entertainment Weekly, Grade A-)
“Brandon Delamar, Duke of Westbury, did not employ Viola Beaton to peevishly lecture him on his wicked ways. He hired her as his sisters’ music instructor. However, the outspoken Miss Beaton may have a valid point when she informs West that if he doesn’t do something to rebrand his reputation with polite society, his sisters’ chances at securing suitable matches will definitely be in jeopardy. So when West’s announces his intentions to turn over a new leaf, beginning with his engagement to Vanessa Chandler, an American heiress who is happy to marry him for his title, why does the news make Viola so cranky? With the latest swooningly romantic addition to her Wallflowers vs. Rogues series, Bell (The Devil’s Own Duke, 2021) delivers an exquisitely composed historical romance powered by a generous measure of buoyant wit, including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to one of the most famous scenes in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and an abundance of scintillating sensuality.” (Booklist (Starred Review))
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter Two
Viola nearly started out of her chair. The duke was here. In the room with them. Days too early! She looked a fright, her hair mussed from playing croquet in the gardens with Betsy earlier, her gray gown stained from Bernadette’s disastrous attempt at making cherry cordial to bring to a meeting of her book club.
Maybe he wasn’t really here. Maybe she’d imagined him. She turned her head slightly, only to snap it back to face the pianoforte.
He was here. Every broad-shouldered, blond-haired, blue-eyed, square-jawed inch of him.
Every time she saw him, something went ping inside her heart, as though she were a pianoforte played so forcefully that one of the strings snapped.
Every time she saw him, she was lost. Over and over again.
“West! You’re here!” Birdie jumped up from her chair and ran across the room to embrace him.
He laughed. “How’s my little Birdie today?”
“Bored. But now you’re here and you’re never boring.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“West,” said Blanche in measure tones. “Why do you have bruises on your face?”
“You should see the other fellow,” the duke joked.
“Were you bare-knuckle boxing?” Betsy asked eagerly, leaving her seat to join her brother by the door.
“Something like that.”
Viola had to acknowledge his presence. She couldn’t sit here frozen forever, staring at the piano keys as if she could disappear between the cracks.
“Your Grace,” she said, and turned toward him, only to knock the music off the pianoforte in a cascade of fluttering white pages. She bent to retrieve the pages and hit her head on the edge of the pianoforte as she came back up.
“Mother of . . .” she muttered, seeing red stars dancing before her eyes. The pain was intense, but nothing compared to the humiliation she would experience as she recalled this excruciating moment later.
“Are you quite all right, Miss Beetle?” the duke asked.
A new name. A small insect to be crushed under his custom-made leather boots. Appropriate.
Viola’s eyes were still screwed shut to block out the pain. She had to open them sometime. The girls would be staring at her with concern and their brother . . . he would gaze at her with tender solicitation as he knelt to help her lift the sheet music and accidentally on purpose brush his hand against hers.
Miss Beaton, I feel as though I’ve never truly seen you before this moment.
“Miss Beetle,” the duke said impatiently. “Are you quite all right? I hope you didn’t hit your head too forcefully. Allow me to help you up.”
Viola opened her eyes. There was a hand extended in front of her. His hand. She was meant to take it, to be lifted by him, lifted from the floor and into his . . .
On no account would she touch the Duke of Westbury.
She had an irrational feeling that if she touched him, her foolish, forbidden fantasies would be communicated through the contact.
She hauled herself upright and sank onto the piano bench, holding the sheet music to her chest like a shield against dukes.
Westbury gazed at her with what could only be described as fleeting concern, the same momentary pity one might feel when witnessing a stranger stumble on an uneven cobblestone.
“I’m quite well, Your Grace. We were rehearsing for the musicale.”
“You can stop rehearsing. This,” he gestured toward the pianoforte, “is unnecessary now. We’ll send out a notice of cancellation to the invitees.”
“But the ladies have worked so very hard,” Viola said with dismay.
“Why should we cancel it?” Blanche asked. “We must have the musicale. We simply must!”
“We must!” Belinda agreed. “I’ve a new gown to wear with the most adorable cherry blossoms embroidered around the hem.”
“Bully!” Betsy raised her fist. “The musicale is canceled!”
She and Bernadette exchanged delighted grins.
“The musicale isn’t necessary,” the duke repeated. “You don’t have to display your talents in an antiquated mating ritual. I’ve procured husbands for you.”
“Pardon?” Blanche, who prided herself on always maintaining her composure, even when severely tried by her recalcitrant sisters, was actually seen to gape. “You’ve procured what?”
“Husbands, dear Blanche. Two for you to choose from, one likely gentleman suitor for Bernadette, that was a rather more difficult task I must say, and several promising prospects for the fine ladies Belinda and Betsy, though you two may take your time in making a decision since you’re still so young.”
The room erupted into chaos, the ladies speaking over one another.
“I don’t want a husband!” said Bernadette.
“We haven’t even had our first Season,” cried Belinda. “You can’t steal my moment in the sun!”
“Ladies,” Viola said. “Ladies! Allow your brother to explain. I’m sure he doesn’t mean that the way it sounded.” He’d better not. He couldn’t simply arrange marriages for his sisters without consulting them first. That would be the height of male arrogance and presumption.
“Thank you, Miss Beetle,” he said, without glancing in her direction.
“Beaton,” she muttered under her breath.
“There’s really no explanation required. I’m making an executive decision. You don’t have to prance about at balls, dropping your fans and other such such transparent maneuvers. I’ve taken care of everything. It’s much simpler this way. And more economical.”
“Brother,” said Blanche, “am I to understand that you’ve made some marital arrangements on my behalf?”
“No contract as of yet, but two outstanding candidates.” He crossed to the sofa and settled in, a footman immediately bringing him a tumbler of brandy. “When I do something, I don’t do it by half, by God.” He slapped his gloves upon his thigh.
Viola stared at his massive buckskin-encased thigh for a giddy moment or two, her mind reeling, before she brought herself to heel.
“And how did you manage this?” Bernadette asked. “I do hope you haven’t bribed one of your friends to marry me. Or given me away in exchange for a debt.”
“Nothing of the sort, Bernadette. I simply sold my title to the highest bidder. And we are now wealthy beyond belief. Your dowries have been tripled.” He propped his boots up on a table and swigged his brandy. “I’m going to be wed.”