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Hazel Statham Writer of Historical Romance
First book in the Dukes of Lear trilogy. The others, in chronological order are,DOMINIC, and MY DEAREST FRIEND
In the wake of a duel, Marcel Blake, the Duke of Lear, an infamous rake and gamester, leaves London to visit his cousin in Paris. Here he meets and falls in love with Julie, the British ambassador's daughter. Thinking she would be horrified if she learned of his reputation, Marcel fights the attraction; but when he is wounded while saving her from the unwanted advances of a less-than-desirable would-be suitor, Marcel finds that she returns his affections.
Ultimately, vengeance conspires against them; at their wedding reception, Julie is maliciously informed of Marcel's previous life of misdeeds, and she's led to believe that he only married her to please the king. With this insurmountable gulf suddenly between them, will Marcel prove his reformation, woo his wife, and find happiness with her, or is the sudden desolation in Julie's heart impossible to overcome? Have Marcel's games finally caught up to him for good?
Everyone had gone to the hunt excepting Julie, who had pleaded a headache, Lady Markham who never rode to hounds and his grace who did not think fox hunting in France held any interest.
It was about half an hour before mid-day when his grace, about to enter the library, heard a scuffle and a muffled cry come from the drawing room, and vaguely interested in its source, languidly opened the drawing room door. The scene that met his gaze however, cast aside all languor. Julie was found to be struggling in Coustellet passionate embrace, most obviously repulsed by his amorous attentions and vainly attempting to free herself from his hold. Coustellet having his back to the door neither saw nor heard the duke’s entrance, and it was with no mild surprise that he felt his collar taken in a strangling grip and himself thrown bodily to the floor.
After briefly asserting that Julie was unhurt, Marcel wrenched a bemused Coustellet to his feet and drove his fist into his jaw. Staggering back, Coustellet shook his head before rushing forward like an enraged bull. Throwing a wild right he caught the point of the duke’s jaw but a follow up to this move was confused by his grace serving him a heavy blow to the chest, which felled him to the ground. Again Coustellet was on his feet and this time was favored with a lucky punch that drew a spattering of blood from the duke’s nose. The thrashing that his grace then administered to the unfortunate gallant was suddenly cut short by Coustellet who, finding himself once more companion to the floor, in desperation, grabbed a nearby foot-stool and, quickly rising, dealt his grace a foul blow to the side of his head.
Marcel sank semi-conscious to his knees while Coustellet, taking full advantage of the situation, ran to the open casement by which he had entered and beat a hasty retreat in the direction of the stables.
Julie ran stumbling forward to help the duke whom, having risen rather shakily to his feet, was gingerly feeling the swelling that was fast forming over his left temple. However he managed to execute a graceful if somewhat short bow. “You must forgive me, my dear,” he said succumbing to Julie’s ministrations and sitting in a large chair. “It was not my wish that you should be witness to such a vulgar turn of fisticuffs, especially one in which I should suffer the indignity of being defeated by a foot stool!”
There had been a light of amusement in the duke’s eye as he spoke these last few words and Julie could not help but give a reluctant chuckle. “It was neat was it not?” she agreed. “If only Bertram could have seen you he would have been your eternal friend. There’s nothing he likes better than a mill.”
“In that case perhaps I should repeat the whole performance for his edification,” said the duke, with an attempt at levity. Seeing that her hand trembled, he took her fingers in his warm clasp, his gaze intent on her face. “Did he hurt you?” he asked quietly.
“Apart from a few cracked ribs, I think not,” she said in an attempt to mirror his flippancy. She tentatively raised her finger to the bruise that was spreading at his temple. “It is you who are hurt, sir, and all for my sake. I do beg your pardon. Coustellet entered unannounced and took me by surprise. I had thought him at the hunt with the others but, upon finding me absent, he came back to Sefron supposing me to be alone.” Julie’s eyes fell before the duke’s fiery scrutiny, “and – and then he tried to force his attentions on me,” she stammered, unable to hide her distress at the situation, and whispered with a catch in her voice, “I don’t know what I would have done if you had not intervened.”
“Probably used the footstool on him,” replied the duke with a lightness he was far from feeling. Then unable to disguise his anger any longer, “I shall find it necessary to pay our amorous friend a visit in the very near future, so if you would be so kind as to furnish me with his direction…”
“No!” she cried hotly, then, as the duke looked sharply at her, she said a little more calmly, “I will not allow you to be put out on my account, sir.”
“I think Coustellet has already put me out as you term it,” purred the duke at his most unpleasant. “There is now an issue between us that must be settled. His actions toward you cannot be allowed to go unpunished.”
“But it must go no further,” she persisted. “No one must know, not even my father who holds Coustellet in strong aversion. It would be said that I encouraged him by staying away from the hunt, apparently alone.” Her gaze swept his face and as if suddenly becoming aware that his fingers still held hers, she pulled her hand away, saying “Where are my senses, your head must ache terribly and there is a very large bruise fast appearing.”
“You need not worry,” said the duke, making to rise.
Julie gently but firmly pressed him back into the chair. “I will get you something for the swelling,” she said, and without waiting for an answer hurried from the room.
His grace was not very much hurt, but of a sudden had taken a liking to being pampered and allowed Julie, when she returned, to bathe his temple with a cooling lotion. She perched herself on the arm of his chair requiring him to hold a small china bowl wherein reposed the soothing liquid and gently bathed the offending lump.
The duke, deeming it prudent not to mention Coustellet, in an attempt to divert her thoughts asked lightly, “Did you enjoy your season in London
Julie smiled ruefully, thankful for the diversion. “I’m afraid my aunt who was to have brought me out suffered a seizure just before the season began and so my debut had to be postponed. However, Papa has promised that I will have a season next year.”
“No doubt your debut will be a great success, my dear,” he said, smiling. Indeed, it is an event I shall look forward to with great anticipation.”
As Julie gently smiled in response, he involuntarily became fascinated by the turn of her delicate cheek, and for the moment, imagined his lips resting there. Mentally taking himself to task, he attempted to banish such errant thoughts but against his will, the fascination remained. When, inadvertently spilling some of the liquid on his coat, Julie leaned closer to his profile in an attempt to dab away the offending liquid, he found the temptation impossible to resist. Without conscious thought, he gently tilted up her chin and tenderly kissed the sweet roundness of her face.
For a moment she gazed blankly at him, and then with a sudden cry, ran from the room and up to her apartments, locking her door against all intruders and there spent the remainder of the day.
The Duke of Lear, cursing himself for being every type of fool reflected that he had treated her hardly better than Coustellet by taking advantage of her trusting innocence. It had however, taken him completely by surprise that he could feel so tenderly toward her, for he had thought himself impervious to her charms and it was in some consternation that he also retired to his room.