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Eliza Melrose has always cherished her independence. And when she and her family lived in the countryside, it was easy to slip out for a midnight ride, write articles for her father’s newspaper, and otherwise do as she pleased. But now that they’ve moved to the heart of fashionable London, her every move is scrutinized and judged. Worse yet, her father wants her to wed and take her proper place in society.
But Eliza wants nothing to do with marriage. And when the new Duke of Chester moves into his family’s long-abandoned home across the square, her journalistic instincts immediately kick in. Are the rumors true—did he really kill his family? Is he as rakish as everyone says? The more Eliza finds out, the more she wants to know. Because the duke is a fascinating study of contradictions—reclusive and arrogant, fiercely protective and deeply passionate. But those who dance too close to the fire often get burned. And as the undeniable flame between them ignites, the only question is: Who’s holding the match?
Sexy, scandalous and utterly unputdownable, this is the Regency novel you've been waiting for!
The view from the drawing room window is not one that I am accustomed to. I don’t see the rolling countryside and crops growing aplenty. My favorite mare, the blackberry bushes, the cowsheds.
I sniff, getting a whiff of the new aroma. It isn’t horse manure or grass, but instead an odd earthy smell. Bricks, mortar and paint. It’s the smell of our new house. A grand new house that sits beside many more impressive dwellings, looping the lush green gardens of Belmore Square, where a fountain, a few benches and rose bushes are all closed in by cast-iron railings beyond the cobbled road. There’s not a farmer to be seen for miles. Instead, here in London, we have affluent members of the ton strolling with no urgency, the fancy, gold-trimmed clothes of the gentlemen and the intricate lace-trimmed garments of the ladies providing an eclectic color palette I’m not used to. Top hats, canes, and carriages. Money leaks from every brick, cobble and pruned bush. It’s another world, one I am not entirely certain I can fit into. Or want to.
It’s the start of a new season, and my very first. The politicians will do their work in Parliament and the businessmen will conduct business, while their wives update their wardrobes and plan their social calendars for the next few months. There will be parties galore, dinners, and gossip to be had. Now, I am a part of the circles I had only ever heard of. Not dreamed about but heard of. Perhaps even dreaded. I can’t say I’m all too keen on what I have experienced of London so far, and, worse, I am without the freedom I was once blessed with in our old life.
And I can hardly breathe in these fancy frocks.
On top of that, my inspiration is lacking, and I have absolutely nothing to write about, unless, of course, I should like to indulge in the unsubstantiated nonsense that Father’s new business partner and financial backer, Lymington, Duke of Cornwall, thrives on. Which I don’t, and it is a good thing, because I am not allowed to write for Father’s newspaper in London.
I pout to myself, remembering the times I would take a story to Papa and he would sit in his chair by the fire smoking a cigarette, humming his interest. And his wry smile when he would say, every time, “You know, my dear Eliza, this is really rather good.” Then he would dip, plant a kiss on my cheek and send me on my way. The fact that each and every story I penned and that was printed in Papa’s newspaper was credited to my brother, Frank, was a small price to pay. Recognition wasn’t something I sought, even if, admittedly, I would have liked it. It was more the freedom to write what I desired and not what I thought people would want to read. I wrote factual, informative pieces meant to educate people with the truth.
Alas, now Father’s newspaper only has space for censored news and advertisements, and Lymington doesn’t mind reminding Father, at any opportunity and sometimes without opportunity, that it is his name and backing that allowed my parents to buy the final plot on Belmore Square and build this sprawling, beautiful cage.
I am surely not the only young lady around these parts that feels suffocated. Or perhaps I am. The residents here are a peculiar bunch of humans, who do not seem to care for the world, but rather their position in it. The men must be successful, wealthy and loud. The women must be compliant, well turned out and unopinionated. Image is everything. Money is power. My father is now a very wealthy man, and, as a consequence, also very powerful. I’m not at all certain that I like power on my father. Being powerful seems to take up all of his time and makes him appear persistently exhausted.
How I long to return to a time when his business limped along and mother baked all day. It was of little consequence that I liked to indulge myself in words, whether reading them or writing them, or that I perhaps spoke up too often in matters of no business of mine. There was no one to impress, therefore lectures were a pointless task my father rarely wasted his time on. In fact, I think he enjoyed me biting around his ankles, squeezing him for all the information I could get. He let me sit on his knee while he worked. Answered my questions when I asked. Gave me more books to read, perhaps to keep me quiet. And Frank would always creep up on me whenever I was lost in those books and flick my ear. I’d punch his bicep. He would scowl playfully. Father would grin down at his quill. I would stick my tongue out. Then Frank would chase me around our father’s desk while I screamed to high heaven and Papa laughed as he dealt with the poor state of his finances.
Now our address is Belmore Square, Mayfair, London. Father’s newspaper is on course to become the biggest in England with the help of steam printing, and I long for the days when Papa laughed, even though we struggled to make ends meet. These days, all I have to look forward to is Latin and piano. Playing piano bores me to tears, and learning Latin seems like a pointless chore, since I am not permitted to travel to a place where I may have an opportunity to speak the language.
I scowl at the pane of glass, looking across the square to the corner of Bentley Street, where a house, individual in its architecture, stands alone, starkly separate from the rest of the homes on Belmore Square. It’s fascinated me since I arrived here in London. It was once the Winters residence, until it burned to the ground a year ago and the family perished. I read the report that was written by Mr. Porter, a journalist who works for Father, about the tragic accident that wiped out the Winters family. Rumor has it that it was not, in fact, an accident, and it was the eldest son, Johnny Winters, who started the fire. That he acted in a fit of rage after a disagreement with his father over… what? No one knows. It’s easy to fill mindless people with thoughts and conclusions when the accused is dead and unable to defend himself. Except, Mr. Porter is a journalist, and, oddly, a respected one. I say oddly respected, because how anyone in their right mind could possibly trust a man who lives such a promiscuous life I do not know. He is loud, abrupt, egotistical, and dare I say it, a monster. And a power-hungry one at that. He mistreats his wife, ignores her in public and beats her in private. He’s also a raving Conservative.
In any case, the Winters house has been rebuilt and someone is moving in.
Someone audacious, I am sure of it. Bold and unapologetic. There are thirteen houses here on Belmore Square. The old Winters residence is the only one that hasn’t followed the uniform exterior so as to keep the rows of homes looking as pristine and neat as the gardens they circle. In fact, the new owner of number one Belmore Square seems to have gone out of their way to make the old Winters residence as different as possible to every other home. Better, actually. Bigger and grander in every way. It’s a statement. A declaration of supremacy. Over the past few weeks since we have moved in, I have watched huge, exotic plants being off-loaded and taken into the property, along with the biggest, most sparkly chandeliers you ever did see, and beautiful, heavily carved pieces of furniture, which, after I had asked the men trusted to transport the pieces, I discovered were from India! So, whoever is moving into number one Belmore Square, I assume they are well traveled. How thrilling, to have traveled further than England.
So the finishing touches are being added, the wooden branches held together by hemp coming down from the exterior of the building, and now I, along with the rest of Belmore Square, wait with bated breath to see who will be moving into the sprawling, opulent mansion.
Hmmm, royalty, perhaps? Time will tell.
My attention is caught by the Duke of Cornwall, Lymington. His gray powdered hair is a beacon that could light the street better than the new gas lighting I have seen down in Westminster. He also happens to live at number two Belmore Square, with his son, Frederick, who I am yet to meet, which isn’t such a hardship as I have heard he is an eternal bore. Lymington stops rather abruptly, and I follow his eyes to Lady Dare—she lives at number six Belmore Square and was widowed at the age of twenty after being married off to a decrepit lord at nineteen—breezing toward the gardens in a beautiful coat dress and an elaborately decorated bonnet. The woman does not walk, but floats. Her chin is constantly raised, her lips persistently on the verge of a suggestive, knowing smile, as if she is aware of the unspoken disapproval of the ladies of Belmore Square and the silent awe of the gentry who try and fail to ignore her beauty. Like Lymington right in this moment, who is still motionless, apparently caught in a trance, as he watches Lady Dare go. She is supposedly an exhibitionist, winning genuine disapproval from the ladies of the ton and false disapproval from the gentlemen. This rumor I know to be true, for I have seen the many men come and go from number six in the dead of night when I have been unable to sleep and have sat in my window wishing to be back in the countryside. Lady Dare is a ladybird, set free from the constraints of an arranged marriage by the fortunate death of her ancient husband, and now she will not bow to expectation, and yet she will also not flaunt nonconformity.
I purse my lips and peek down at my morning dress, an elaborate button-down piece trimmed with endless lace and sporting needlework that’s really rather impressive. It’s a status symbol, that is all. Along with this house, the staff, and the parties thrown most evenings by various members of the ton, this dress is merely here to demonstrate our wealth and standing. It’s ironic, since no one will see it while I’m hanging around the house.
I lift the endless material so I can walk without tumbling, hearing the clanging and clattering of pots coming from the kitchen. Lunchtime. It has been only a few hours since breakfast, and it will be only a few more hours until dinner, and then tea, and finally supper. Eating five times a day is, apparently, a necessity when one is stinking rich. Because what else is there to do but hang around our mansion in a fancy dress constantly stuffing my face?
I pass the dining room, where one of our staff is laying the shiny mahogany table, and divert down the stairs to the kitchen. The smell of freshly baked bread is strong, the constantly raging stove and ovens making the underground rooms bordering unbearably hot. But it reminds me of home. I find Cook hunched over the flour-dusted table kneading more dough, probably in preparation for any one of the other three meals we will eat today. I release the bottom of my dress, not at all bothered by the mucky floor that will most likely dirty the crisp white muslin material. My hands are itching to sink into the mixture and get dirty.
“Miss Melrose,” Cook cries, her doughy hands held up. “You mustn’t be down here.”
I pluck a plum out of the basket and sink my teeth in, something catching my eye. I slowly move around Cook’s table. “The Art of Cooking,” I say quietly, looking down at the open page. “Mama had this when we lived in the country.”
Cook wipes her hands on her apron, rounding the table, shooing me away as I sink my teeth into the ripe fruit. “I believe it is Mrs. Melrose’s, Miss Melrose.”
My chews slow, a sadness that feels perpetual since I left the countryside overcoming me. Mother doesn’t have time to bake for us anymore. She’s too busy being a lady in her new shiny manor. “Off you go now,” Cook says. “We must serve lunch.”
Silently, I leave Cook behind to finish her bread and climb the stairs, one hand holding up my dress, only to stop myself tripping and tumbling flat on my face, the other holding my fruit. By the time I have made it to the dining room, I have a band of grime around the bottom of my white day dress and a juice stain on the bust. “Oh dear,” I murmur, brushing at the mark on the perfect dress.
“Eliza, you look like you belong in a slum terrace,” Frank muses, looking up from the newspaper he is reading, seated at the far end of the table. “Perhaps even a gutter.”
“I am not worthy, brother,” I say, nibbling around my plum, eager to get every last piece of the juicy, sweet flesh as I present myself to the wall-hung mirror. I wipe my mouth and lean in, staring into my eyes that have always been described by my father as amethysts, and feeling at my hair that he says is rich like cocoa beans. I get both from my mother. And today, both seem significantly less… alive.
“I trust your mind is being suitably entertained by high-energy, top-quality, highly substantiated, educational reports about London and its residents,” I say, looking away from my reflection and back to Frank, who, ironically, has blond hair and blue eyes, like our little sister, Clara, which they take from our father.
Folding his newspaper, he sets it aside. “Of course, since it really is I who writes the high-energy, top-quality, highly substantiated, educational reports which grace the pages of Father’s newspaper these days.” He cocks a brow, as if challenging me to challenge him. I would not, and he knows it. Frank wants to be a journalist about as much as I should like to be here in London. Not at all.
“And how are sales?” I ask.
His eyes narrow. “Sales are not something you should concern yourself with.”
“Could be better, then?” I ask, feeling the corner of my mouth lift as I sink my teeth back into my plum. “I know a great writer who may help increase readership. Not everyone wants to read censored, political and religious nonsense.”
“Will you please sit down while eating?”
“Now if I did that, brother, I would be on my backside permanently.” I lower to a chair, my back as straight as it is expected to be, my neck long. This is not through practice, but more my natural posture through years of horse riding. “What treasures will I find in today’s edition of The London Times?” I ask, reaching for the newspaper. “Are the Catholics threatening to take over England?” I gasp, and it is wholly sarcastic. “Are they plotting to assassinate King George III?”
Frank scowls, unamused, pulling the newspaper out of my reach and standing, wandering over to the glass cabinet under the window. “You are caustic, Eliza,” he breathes, unlocking the door and resting the latest edition atop the pile of newspapers, one copy of every edition since Father invested his last seven hundred pounds on a steam printing machine. The average and underwhelming two hundred copies per print are a distant memory, although, I hasten to add, Papa always sold more when I had written for his newspaper. Accepting my brother was named as the author was a small price to pay. I wanted not the accolades, only the satisfaction, fulfillment and purpose. Now The London Times is slowly building, although I cannot help wondering if it is growing fast enough for Father and Lymington’s liking. There are other newspapers biting at their heels, all trying to get their hands on one of those fancy steam press machines.
“Papa should let me write.” I pluck a bread roll from the basket in the middle of the table and begin tearing it apart, popping bits past my lips. “I don’t mind if you have to take all the credit.”
“You know that can’t happen,” he says, settling in his seat, his arms folding over his single-breasted frock coat. It’s a new one. Another new one. While I have struggled to learn my place in this world, Frank has fallen seamlessly into upper class living—shopping, drinking and socializing with ease. And, I know, indulging in the fresh selection of women in between writing for Papa’s newspaper. I know the latter pains him, which makes this whole situation even more ridiculous. I could free him of the burden.
“Have you been to see your new best friend at the Burlington again?” I ask, chewing slowly, keeping my smirk concealed.
Frank dusts down the front of his new piece. “Perhaps.”
“Another twenty shillings on another coat?” I tut and sigh, rubbing the tips of my fingers together to rid them of flour dust. “Why, brother, you are becoming rather frivolous in your old age.”
“And you, dear sister, are becoming rather cynical.”
“I’m a realist.”
“A real pain in my backside,” he muses, peeking up at me with a wry smile. “Please, can you keep your world-saving, pioneering ambitions in check tomorrow evening?”
“What is happening tomorrow evening?”
His head cocks, his look uncertain. I know it’s because whatever it is I have neglected to remember, I should not have forgotten. “Only one of the biggest events of the season.”
My shoulders slump, but I soon correct them. “Oh yes. How could I have allowed that, of all things, to slip my mind?”
“Easy. Because you, dear sister,” Frank chirps, “do not want to go.”
“I don’t want to be paraded around the palace like a fat, delicious pig waiting for Mama to give permission for some greedy, rich lord to sink his teeth into me. I wish to remain a spinster.” I frown to myself. Do I? I’ve never really given much thought to it, because I never had to.
Frank balks. “A spinster?”
I square my shoulders, deciding in this moment that I am wholly invested. “Yes. I don’t know why the word arouses such dread in women and pity in men.”
“Over my dead body will my sister become an ape leader.” Frank laughs, but quickly reins himself in, clearing his throat as I smirk across at him. “And there will be no teeth sinking into anything.”
“Oh damn,” I whisper, and he shakes his head, exasperated. “That’s a shame, since with all this eating and nothing else to busy myself with, I am gaining some extra flesh to bite at.”
“Your mind needs a wash.”
“My mind is fine. My spirit, however, is slowly dying.” I reach for Frank’s hand and squeeze, my expression turning into one of pleading. If Father listens to anyone—which isn’t many people since he became a magnate—he listens to his oldest child, his most reliable, abiding offspring. His heir. “I don’t want to go. Please, please, please tell Father I am unwell.”
My brother smiles fondly, turning his hand over to clasp mine and leaning toward me, pushing one of my dark curls back. “Not on your nelly.”
“What a silly expression. What do you even mean?”
“I don’t know, but I think I shall coin the phrase.”
“You do not need to coin anything, brother. You are now the heir to a growing empire, and I shall wither and die of heartbreak for the life I have lost in the arms of my suitor, whoever he may be.” I snatch my hand back. “You never know, if I’m lucky, my first season may pass without even a sniff of interest from any eligible bachelors.” I know it not to be true; Father has been flexing his matchmaking muscles even before we arrived on Belmore Square, and I know he’s been prepping Mama for the part she will play in the Demise of Eliza Melrose too. I’m doomed, but only if I allow it, which, of course, I absolutely will not. “I just need to survive the season and the ton and escape back to our home in the country,” I say quietly.
I catch a look of guilt that passes over my beloved brother’s face, and I find myself leaning back in my chair, wary. I can hear Mama in the distance, singing orders to the staff, and Clara, our little sister, playing piano. “Why are you looking like that?” I ask.
“Like you know something you think I should know.”
“I must be going—reports to check, and Porter is due imminently to meet with Father and me in his study about the next edition.”
“You mean talk about what rubbish he’ll be putting in Father’s newspaper tomorrow?” I ask, getting a tight smile in return, which tells me my brother understands me, even if he cannot admit it. I lean forward. “Oh, Frank, please speak to Papa. Convince him to let me write again, I beg you. I feel utterly misplaced and without purpose.”
“What will you write about, Eliza? We are in a different world now.” He motions to the table that’s laid with silverware and bone china, and I sigh. Perhaps Frank is right. What would I write about, because I’m certainly finding no inspiration from these surroundings or the people? But imagine if I could travel. Imagine if I could bring back stories to London. Imagine, imagine, imagine.
Frank rises from his chair as he pulls his jacket in.
“Wait!” I seize his arm, and his backside plummets to the seat. I narrow an eye on him, and once again he cannot look at me. I gasp and sit back. “My God, he’s done it, hasn’t he?”
“Done what?” Frank asks, wincing, as if regretting opening his big, fat mouth.
“Found a man. A suitor.”
Frank’s eyes drop as he rises. “Have a good day, sister.”
Once again, I seize him, making him sit. “And you know who it is,” I say, sounding rather accusing.
“I know no such thing.”
“Oh, God, Frank, we’ve been here just a few weeks.”
“Think yourself lucky,” he says, close to a hiss. “This is Esther Hamsley’s fifth season. There’s talk of Lord Hamsley now offering money.”
I roll my eyes. Perhaps Esther, like me, doesn’t want to marry. Good for her. “Did you accept?”
“Eliza,” he warns.
For pity’s sake. It’s preposterous that credit and acceptance comes only through giving yourself up. I will not. I can only liken this whole ridiculous situation to a sandwich. I like beef sandwiches. Have always been partial to one. But, and it’s a surprise to me, if indeed worrisome, I have recently developed an aversion to the meat. Yes, I have gone off it. Perhaps because now, here in London in our fancy new home complete with servants, maids and cooks, we have been scoffing the rich meat in abundance. I’m bored of it. What was once indulgent is now tiresome. I crave variety. Like when I write, I like to write about various subjects, because one would surely become bored if their mind was eternally focused on one matter. I imagine the same can be said for a man. I might like a man. Become partial to him. Even marry him. But what about when boredom strikes? I’m then stuck with him? No. Lord above, it would be hell.
But, really, do I have a choice? To be impervious would be to tarnish everything my father has built. Destroy it. I am defiant, but I am not wicked. I know his intentions are admirable. That a good life is all he wishes for, for Mama and Frank, Clara and me. But a good life is what we had before the newspaper started growing. This?
This is hell glossed over with fancy food, drink and frocks.
I sink into my seat, despondent, my life as I knew it in ruins.
“Frank, Eliza,” Mother chants as she flounces into the room, happy to see us, like this lunch is a rare family event and does not happen five damn times a day. She swishes her way round the table to her chair, followed closely by Emma, her maid, because since Father became stinking rich, our mother suddenly cannot do anything for herself.
She lowers herself like a lady to her chair, and Emma pours her tea.
“Where’s Papa?” I ask. Perhaps he’s been forced to abandon lunch with his family in favor of a breaking story. Something outrageous and also probably untrue. Let us not get sticky over minor inaccuracies, Father had said last week when I read the article Mr. Porter had written claiming a vagrant ransacked a home and murdered a lady while she slept in her bed. Bypassing the matter of one violent husband who I had personally seen manhandling said lady into their fancy, gated home off Grosvenor Square on more than one occasion did not seem like a minor inaccuracy to me. Your imagination will get you into trouble, Eliza, he’d snapped after I’d pleaded for him to let me re-write the story with the facts I had and knew to be true. But no. The vagrant will be hung. The husband will mourn his wife for a few weeks and then find a young bride who will face the same fate.
“He’s indulging himself in Clara’s latest piece.” Mama motions to the china bowl of sugar and Emma is quick to fulfill.
“How delightful,” I mumble, unheard. Or ignored. But Frank hears me, and he nudges me under the table for my trouble. I scowl at him, giving him a look to suggest that I will not be abandoning our previous conversation. He knows who my suitor is. Suitor. It’s a ridiculous word to use, especially for me. Every member of my family would admit—not publicly, mind you—that there is possibly no man alive suited to me. The world outside these doors is led to believe that I am a perfect example of a lady. God help the poor gentleman who has been handpicked by Papa to take me on. I suspect he’ll expect a subservient female. Am I capable of that? Who is he?
“It was wonderful, darling,” Papa says, leading Clara into the dining room. “A beautiful piece.”
“Thank you, Papa,” she replies, indulging the world’s need for politeness and compliance. “Next week, I will learn Beethoven.”
“Marvelous! Did you hear that, dear?” Father beams at Mother. “Beethoven!”
I roll my eyes and sink into my chair.
“Do sit up, Eliza.” Papa directs a warning, albeit soft, look my way as he lowers himself to the chair at the head of the table. “You are all scrunched up.”
My brother’s persistent half smile is kept in check, naturally, as our staff serve lunch.
“And what delights are we being blessed with today?” Papa asks.
“Beef sandwiches, sir.”
I look down at my plate. “I don’t feel like beef today.”
Papa laughs, Mama and Frank joining him. “Do behave, Eliza,” he says, helping himself and sinking his teeth into a wedge of bread. “Everyone feels like beef.”
Do behave? I’m not in the least bit hungry. Not for food, anyway. “I don’t feel at all well,” I say quietly, more to myself than to my family. I honestly don’t, my stomach is churning terribly. I’m unsure whether the constant sickly feeling is me mourning the carefree life I have lost, or dreading the stringent, shallow one I have gained.
“Eliza?” Mama says, and I look up.
- "Malpas's sexy love scenes scorch the page."—Publishers Weekly
- "Super steamy, emotionally intense."—Library Journal on With This Man
- "A brave, cutting-edge romance...This is a worthwhile read."—Library Journal on The Forbidden
- On Sale
- Apr 18, 2023
- Page Count
- 304 pages