Undone by the duke, p.1

Undone By The Duke, page 1

 

Undone By The Duke
 



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Undone By The Duke


  Undone By The Duke

  Secrets In Silk [1]

  Michelle Willingham

  AmazonEncore (2012)

  * * *

  Rating: ****

  Tags: Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Scotland Highlands, Scotland, Love Story, Romance, London

  Victoria has a secret...

  Reclusive designer Victoria Andrews hasn't gone outside in five years, though she yearns to escape the prison of her house. She designs sensual lingerie for the most exclusive dressmaker in London, although she has never known a man's touch.

  A Duke in disguise...

  Wounded and stranded in Scotland, Jonathan Nottoway, the Duke of Worthingstone, is avoiding the murderous scandal that darkened his family name. As his wounds heal, he spends several sensual nights with the beautiful seamstress who knows nothing of his true identity.

  A passionate awakening

  Can a woman trapped by her emotional scars be able to love a duke, when it means abandoning her safe world to embrace the life of a duchess?

  Praise for Michelle Willingham

  “Two wounded souls find hope and redemption in Surrender to an Irish Warrior, a richly detailed and emotionally intense medieval romance.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Using lots of emotion, Seduced by Her Highland Warrior is sure to touch your heart and soul with the tenderness and love that shines from the pages. Michelle Willingham has penned another winner.”

  —4.5 stars, CataRomance.com

  “Michelle Willingham writes characters that feel all too real to me. The tortured soul that is Kieran really pulled at my heartstrings. And Iseult’s unfailing search for her lost child made this book a truly emotional read.”

  —Publishers Weekly on Her Warrior Slave

  “Willingham successfully draws readers into an emotional and atmospheric new tale of the Clan MacKinloch. Allowing a gentle heroine to tame a hero who has lost his ability to speak draws readers into the story and keeps them enthralled to the very end. Well-crafted, brimming with historical details and romantic from beginning to end, this is Willingham at her best.”

  —4 stars, RT Book Reviews on Tempted by the Highland Warrior

  “Willingham neatly folds equal measures of danger and desire into her latest historical, and the snippets from Emily’s cookbook that open each chapter add an extra dash of culinary spice to her well-crafted romance.”

  —Booklist on The Accidental Countess

  Also by Michelle Willingham

  MACEGAN BROTHERS SERIES (MEDIEVAL IRELAND)

  Her Warrior Slave

  “The Viking’s Forbidden Love-Slave” in the Pleasurably Undone anthology

  Her Warrior King

  Her Irish Warrior

  The Warrior’s Touch

  Taming Her Irish Warrior

  “The Warrior’s Forbidden Virgin”

  Surrender to an Irish Warrior

  “Pleasured by the Viking” in the Delectably Undone anthology

  “Lionheart’s Bride” in the Royal Weddings Through the Ages anthology

  Warriors in Winter

  THE ACCIDENTAL SERIES

  (VICTORIAN ENGLAND/FICTIONAL PROVINCE OF LOHENBERG)

  “An Accidental Seduction”

  The Accidental Countess

  The Accidental Princess

  The Accidental Prince

  THE MACKINLOCH CLAN SERIES (MEDIEVAL SCOTLAND)

  Claimed by the Highland Warrior

  Seduced by Her Highland Warrior

  “Craving the Highlander’s Touch”

  Tempted by the Highland Warrior

  OTHER TITLES

  “Innocent in the Harem” (sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire)

  “A Wish to Build a Dream On” (time travel to medieval Ireland)

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Copyright © 2013 Michelle Willingham

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Montlake Romance

  P.O. Box 400818

  Las Vegas, NV 89140

  ISBN-13: 9781611098839

  ISBN-10: 1611098831

  To Charlie, for being such a wonderful father-in-law. You read all of my books, encouraged me, and I was truly blessed to have you in my life. I’ll always remember your kindness and love. Rest in peace, Dad.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Epilogue

  EXCERPT FROM UNRAVELED BY THE REBEL, BOOK TWO IN THE SECRETS IN SILK QUARTET

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Prologue

  BALLALOCH, SCOTLAND

  DECEMBER 1810

  JONATHAN NOTTOWAY, the fourth Duke of Worthingstone, was staring down the barrel of a gun.

  He supposed he ought to be feeling fear or even a sense of impending doom. Instead, Fate had a way of mocking him. His attacker wasn’t a seasoned killer or a disgruntled tenant. No, he had the damnably bad luck to be threatened by a boy who wasn’t even old enough to shave.

  “Put the weapon down,” he ordered. “You don’t want to shoot me.”

  “Yes, I do.” Anguish lined the boy’s face, along with a single-minded purpose. “It’s your fault. All of it.”

  The boy’s hands started shaking, and Jonathan tried to take a step back. The gun would go off if his finger tightened even a fraction.

  “And what, precisely, am I accused of?” He spoke softly, as if soothing a wounded animal. Glancing around, he saw none of his servants nearby. Not his groom or even a blessed footman. He supposed it was his own fault for snarling at them this morning to leave him the hell alone. They’d done just that.

  The outside temperature was growing colder, and a few fat snowflakes fluttered from the sky. Jonathan had tethered his horse back near the frozen stream, so he didn’t even have the option of riding away.

  “You know what you’ve done,” the boy spat. “Burned our homes and murdered the others.”

  Though Jonathan was aware of the Highland evictions, with landowners forcing the Scots out of their homes, he’d had nothing to do with that. His reasons for being in Scotland were purely financial. After acquiring this land a year ago, he’d come to inspect the crumbling house that went with it.

  Now it was perfectly clear why land stewards were meant to handle such details.

  “I’m not the one who set your home on fire,” Jonathan said. “And I’ve killed no one.”

  “Your men did,” the boy insisted. He raised the gun to Jonathan’s chest. “When you’re dead, the burnings will stop.”

  “I’m not certain who you think I am,” he said to the boy, “but I can assure you, you have the wrong man.”

  “You’re the Earl of Strathland,” the boy said, his eyes brimming up with tears. “And because of you, my mother was burned.”

  “I am n
ot the earl,” Jonathan began. “You’ve made a mistake. I only came to—”

  His words broke off when the gun fired.

  Chapter One

  THREE DAYS EARLIER

  VICTORIA ANDREWS knelt at her sister’s feet, her mouth full of pins. With a careful eye, she judged that the hem was exactly the right length.

  “Is it finished yet?” Amelia complained. “I’ve been standing here for years.”

  Victoria pulled another pin from her mouth, ignoring her sister’s theatrics. “Hold still. Just a few more stitches.”

  The morning gown had belonged to their sister Margaret once, but with the help of some new fabric, Victoria had completely remade the skirt and bodice. She’d stitched delicate strips of blue silk to yards of white muslin, so as to give the illusion of a striped fabric. The fitted waist emphasized the girlish lines of Amelia’s figure in the latest style.

  “Should we lower the neckline?” Amelia suggested. “It seems a bit prim.”

  “It’s a day dress, not an evening gown.” The curved neckline exposed a good portion of Amelia’s throat, and the long sleeves with vandyked cuffs provided an air of modesty. As a last touch, Victoria had made pink roses from a tired pair of satin gloves and fastened the flowers to the waist.

  Her sister preened in front of the dressing mirror, scooping her brown curls into a more formal arrangement on her head. “Toria, it’s wonderful. I can’t believe how lovely it is.” With a delighted smile, Amelia threw her arms around her.

  Victoria basked in the warm hug. “Happy Birthday.”

  “I’ll wear it when I pay calls with Mother.” Amelia brimmed with excitement, twirling around. Her sister was more than eager to leave Scotland for London, even if it was only to visit Aunt Charlotte for Christmas.

  “And perhaps when I arrive, I’ll become best friends with the sister of a handsome earl or… even a duke! He might see me at a distance… and fall in love.”

  Her voice grew hushed, and Victoria hid her amusement at Amelia’s dramatics. “You’re sixteen and not old enough to marry.”

  “Oh, I know that.” Amelia shrugged. “But he can pine for a few years.” Her face brightened with a sudden thought. “You might find a husband, too.”

  When Victoria didn’t respond, her sister’s face fell. “You are coming to London, aren’t you?” To Amelia, the idea of remaining secluded at home was like cutting off all her hair—unthinkable.

  Truthfully, Victoria was perfectly content to remain within these four walls. Although they had lived in England for most of her life, the last five years had been spent in the western Highlands. Scotland had become her new home, although every time she looked out the window, the gnarled mountains reminded her of how stark and isolated this land was. In the distance, the snowcapped peak of Ben Nevis towered over the hills like a benevolent grandfather.

  “I can’t go with you,” she told Amelia. “But you’ll give Aunt Charlotte my best, won’t you?”

  “Toria.” Amelia held on to her, not bothering to hide her dismay. “You can’t stay inside this house forever. It’s not right.”

  “You needn’t worry about me.” She smoothed an invisible wrinkle on Amelia’s gown. “Mrs. Larson and Mr. MacKinloch will keep me company while you’re away.”

  Her sister stepped back to look at her, a worried expression on her face. “Don’t you… want to find a husband?” she asked softly. “Or have children one day?”

  Victoria said nothing. The unbidden tears heated her eyelids, and she stared down at the floor. Of course she wanted that. She wanted a normal life, more than anything. But after so many years of living with fear, the possibility had stretched into an unreachable dream.

  “You never leave this house,” Amelia continued, “and I don’t know what you’re afraid of.”

  “I can’t explain it. But it’s impossible for me.” Each time she drew close to the front door, her insides twisted into knots. She couldn’t stop shaking, and the air choked off in her lungs until she couldn’t breathe.

  “I wish I could go,” Victoria whispered. “But it’s better if you travel without me.” She couldn’t stop the physical overreaction, no matter how many times she’d tried to walk out into the garden.

  Their hundred-year-old house had cozy rooms and polished oak floors that creaked. Made of stone, it sat atop a small hillside, overlooking fields of gorse and heather. The road leading from the house curved down toward rows of makeshift tents erected by the Highland refugees. Dozens of men and women had been evicted a few weeks ago, and her mother had allowed them to take shelter here. Victoria often watched the people, wondering about how they lived and whether they were all right. But not once had she spoken with them. Though she loved her home, it was also her prison.

  For she hadn’t gone outside in five years.

  Victoria helped her sister out of the gown, and Amelia pleaded, “Will you unlace me, just a little? It itches dreadfully.”

  Her sister’s stays were drawn tight, and the chemise was made of a rough cotton that wasn’t entirely pleasant against the skin. Victoria loosened the laces, all the while studying the construction of the corset. It was functional, with no embroidery, and made from little more than whalebone, buckram, and a steel busk.

  Amelia sighed with relief as she scratched her skin. “I’ve heard there are women in London who don’t wear stays at all. Can you imagine?”

  “No, I can’t.” Though her own figure was slender enough that she could wear short stays instead of the longer ones, the idea of wearing only a draped gown with nothing beneath the bodice was scandalizing. “Our mother would never allow it.”

  “No, but I would happily burn this torturous garment, if I could.”

  Victoria hid her smile. “It’s not so bad, really, when you’re used to it.” Yet, as she laced the corset again, a strange thought occurred to her. I wonder if I could make something like this. Only something softer, more comfortable to wear.

  If the chemise were created out of a delicate material like satin or velvet, the fabric would cling to a woman’s skin. Even the corset itself could be lined with silk.

  Her hands stilled upon Amelia’s back, the idea evolving and taking shape. Already she’d seen patterns for embroidered petticoats, made of fine lawn or muslin. Yet, she’d never seen a corset made out of anything except unyielding, coarse material. All of them were white, as if proclaiming a woman’s purity.

  Slowly, Victoria began to pull the laces tight, unable to stop turning the idea over in her mind. Was it possible to construct a corset out of silk or satin, or would it tear under pressure? Perhaps it could be made of buckram but covered in silk, with a double lining next to the skin.

  The idea intrigued her with a challenge she’d never before attempted. She had no idea how long it would take to make such a complicated garment… and yet, she found herself wanting to try it.

  There was an older set of stays she could take apart to study for a pattern, and she knew there were gowns belonging to her grandmother in the bottom of a trunk. If she took one of them apart tonight, she could—

  “Victoria?” her sister prompted. “Aren’t you going to help me get dressed again?”

  “Of course. I’m sorry.” She lifted her sister’s woolen dress over the undergarment, but her mind was still caught up in the vision.

  As Victoria buttoned her sister up, Amelia wouldn’t let go of their argument. “Toria, you can’t stay in Scotland. It’s too dangerous for a woman alone. We heard gunshots yesterday when we were visiting the crofters.”

  “They’re fighting again?”

  Amelia nodded. “There’s not enough space and barely enough food to feed them all. Some have talked of taking back the land and killing the Earl of Strathland.”

  Victoria moved to the window. In the distance, she could see the smoke curling from their campfires. A child wandered outside in the snow, her hair covered with a plaid, her clothing hardly more than rags. It bothered Victoria to see them suffering in this
way. She wished her family had more to give away, but there were simply too many of the crofters. Worse, with the food shortages, it wasn’t surprising that some would turn to stealing from each other, if it meant feeding their children. The winter was always difficult, and Victoria’s mother had sent for more supplies from London, simply for their own survival.

  “You can’t stay here alone. Not while we’re gone.” Amelia’s face tightened. “What if they attack the house?”

  “We’ve given the crofters sanctuary,” Victoria reminded her. “There’s no reason for them to turn against us. And it’s only temporary until they find a new place to live.” She wanted to believe that, praying that the MacKinlochs would leave before the fighting worsened.

  “It isn’t safe,” her sister argued. “Without Father here…” Her words broke off, her eyes filling up with tears. Their father, Colonel Henry Andrews, now Baron Lanfordshire, had been fighting in Spain for the past three years. There was no way of knowing when he would return.

  Or if he would return.

  Victoria took her sister’s hand in reassurance. “Most of the crofters don’t even know I’m here. And the ones who do, know that I never leave the house. I’m no threat to anyone.”

 
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