To Steal a Duke
The Sisterhood of Independent Ladies – Book One
She didn’t steal. She simply took what was rightfully hers—including his heart.
Charles, Duke of Hasterton, admired and respected for his cunning business acumen both at home and abroad has an astounding secret. He is imaginary. But his brilliant twin sister Cecilia is quite real. She was born in Germany after her father died and taught to guard the title, wealth, and power like the rare stolen treasure that it is. After all, as a daughter, she could never inherit the dukedom legally.
Cecilia and her mother cultivate the ruse of the fictional duke quite nicely. Everybody who is anybody in London believes His Grace resides with them at their stunning residence in Germany. Their acquaintances in Germany believe the pretend peer is always in London or traveling the world over. But when Cecilia’s mother falls victim to a grave illness and begs to visit her beloved London one last time, even though it’s risky, Cecilia can’t refuse her. But her mother can’t travel alone, and Cecilia refuses to entertain superficial men pining for nothing more than her dowry. So, she poses as her mother’s companion to ensure their elaborate farce remains safe. While everyone is told Lady Cecilia remained in Germany because of frail health, Miss Celia Bening, companion to the dowager duchess, enjoys the freedom to handle whatever arises—or at least, she tries.
Lord Elias Raines might be the second son of a duke and the youngest solicitor in his law office, but he’s proven himself so capable and talented that when his mentor dies, he’s promoted to partner and assigned to the rich, influential clients cared for by the man who taught him everything he knows. Well, almost everything. His dearly departed advisor failed to mention some of the peculiarities in the Duke of Hasterton’s file. Elias’s requests for the duke to review the oddities have, so far, gone unanswered. Luckily enough, he discovers the duke’s mother is in London. While decorum demands he wait for answers from the duke, he can’t refrain from digging deeper when the dowager duchess requests he draw up her will with a suspiciously generous endowment for her companion, the lovely Miss Celia, an intriguing woman who drives him mad with desire.
Delightful, passionate, and at times heartbreaking, a merry chase is had by all until a lifetime of secrets explodes. Elias must make a choice—help Cecilia devise a plan to protect the world she and her mother so carefully crafted or end their illegal scheme and escort them both to the prison.
Only one can win: his profession or his heart—until a third option too terrible to imagine rears its ugly head and makes the choice for them both.
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Miss Bening moved to serve them, allowing Elias yet another opportunity to admire her beauty. Her delicate features were unspoiled by pots of rouge or powder. The gleaming lushness of her ebony braid pinned into a simple chignon made him wonder what she would look like with her tresses freed and tumbling down her back—or across his pillows.
“Well, Lord Raines?” she said as she poured. “Your amusing story about your barouche and coachman?”
Elias laughed. “It is doubtful my story will amuse you. My brother gifted the coach to me upon my acceptance as partner at Parkerton, Hodgely, and Kane. It was terribly difficult to enjoy the company of several guests whenever I drove through the park, so I employed a coachman.”
“Your brother?” Miss Bening left the question open-ended, but Elias understood exactly what she asked.
“The Duke of Almsbury,” he said, adopting a feigned tone of warning. “Beware of him, Miss Bening. He is quite the scapegrace—but of course, I say that with all the affection my only brother is due.”
Miss Bening, the fearless lioness he was determined to know so much better, gifted him with an almost teasing smile. “And would he say the same of you, my lord?”
“Doubtful,” Elias said, and it wasn’t quite a lie. He couldn’t hold a candle to Monty’s escapades. And more importantly, he was not about to admit that he had no troubles when it came to finding a lady to warm his bed. That topic simply wasn’t brought up in polite company. “I was always the studious lad. More into books than mischief.”
The dowager used her cane to push herself to her feet and ambled to the door. She opened it as wide as it would go, then turned and looked back at them. “I am tired and do not possess the energy to pretend otherwise.” Her unsmiling focus centered on Miss Bening. “Enjoy your tea, enjoy the park, and leave this door as I have placed it.” She shifted her sharp-eyed scowl to Elias. “I want that will ready for my signature before I depart for Lady Bournebridge’s ball tomorrow evening. Are we quite clear on that, Lord Raines?”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Knowing word would never arrive from Germany by tomorrow, Elias reluctantly and silently admitted defeat on delaying the document’s finalization any longer. “I shall bring it for your signature tomorrow. You have my word.”
“Very good.” The duchess’s weary attention turned back to Miss Bening. “Door open. Understand?”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Miss Bening gave the woman a deep, respectful curtsy.
After a look of dubious approval, the dowager left them to their tea.
“Should you help her reach her rooms?” Elias asked, keeping his voice down.
Miss Bening jerked and stared at him as if she had forgotten he was there. “No, my lord. She prefers for her maid to attend to that when we are here at home.”
Elias found the lady’s nervousness concerning—as if the two of them had just become bait for the duchess’s snare. He almost smiled. As a second son, he had never had to worry about a lady leg-shackling him by using a compromising situation. He was safe from the Marriage Mart. The lovely lioness’s unease had to be from something else. “Miss Bening, are you unwell?”
“I am not.” Her sharp gaze softened, turning almost thoughtful. “Forgive my bluntness, but your concern about Her Grace surprised me.”
Elias found himself more than a little insulted. “Have you found my behavior wanting toward Her Grace or yourself? Have I been so rudely cold and callous?”
Genuine remorse shone on the lady’s lovely face. With an apologetic tip of her head, she served him his tea. “Forgive me, my lord.” A hint of a smile played across the tempting suppleness of her lips. “You have been impertinent and frustrating at times, but I have sensed no vicious intent from you.”
“And you never will.” Elias purposely touched her bare fingers again as he accepted the cup and saucer. “My intentions are nothing but the best for you, Miss Bening.”
The half-smile that so delightfully plumped her cheeks returned. “Do not push too hard, my lord. I fear you may overwhelm me.”
The sarcasm in her voice made him chuckle. “I doubt very much that anything could overwhelm you, my lady.”