Tamed By a Duke – Claudia Stone

Brandon Michael Drew was born into a family that had, for at least two centuries, been on the rise — financially speaking at least. The beginning of the family’s ascendancy into wealth had begun in Holland, during the Dutch Golden Age, when Brandon’s great-great-grandfather—a shoemaker by trade—had made his fortune by cashing in on the tulip-mania which had gripped the country in the early sixteen hundreds. The fortuitous Dutchman had bought when prices of the newly introduced bulbs were low and then when they rose to exorbitant levels in January 1637, had sold all his stock for an astronomical figure. The price of bulbs then plummeted in February that same year and thinking himself done with Holland, Anders De Vrew had set sail for England with his newfound wealth. Once on English soil, he had married a lady—gently bred, but not overly so—and Anglicised his name to Drew. For the next century and a half, his descendants enjoyed a comfortable life as they invested his fortune in industry. The family would have remained a completely unremarkable footnote in the history of the burgeoning middle classes had it not been for the arrival of Brandon, in the mid-seventeen hundreds. Brandon had a thirst for adventure that could not be satisfied with remaining in Manchester, overseeing the running of the family’s textile mills. So, once he was old enough, he set sail for the East, in search of fame, fortune and fun. When he reached India, Brandon fell in with the East India Company and became heavily embroiled in the Carnatic Wars. The defeat of the French gifted the English with near-total control of the trading territories, leaving Brandon free to make his fortune. He traded everything from opium to tea, exported everything of value he could find, and by the approach of the end of the century, he was a very, very rich man. In the summer of 1788, Brandon gathered the staff of his sprawling tea plantation in the Kangra Valley and regretfully told them he would be returning home. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” he said with a sigh, though none of his faithful staff seemed overly moved by the pronouncement of his departure. “Sorrow is a British import,” one man helpfully piped up, to which Brandon laughed.

They could be rather funny, the Indians, he thought with a wry smile. Imagine anyone thinking that the Great British Empire brought sorrow anywhere. No sorrow, not Britannia; she modernised, she civilised, she made men rich. She had made Brandon richer than he had ever thought possible. Once back in England, Brandon found that doors which had previously been shut to him were now open. He was invited to join members’ clubs, invited to balls, and invited to the bedrooms of several society widows, who took a shine to the dashing merchant. In fact, he was invited to so many gatherings that he soon had to employ a social secretary. “Lord and Lady Helestine have invited you to a ball that they are giving for their daughter,” said Percy the secretary one afternoon, as he read aloud Brandon’s correspondence, “As have the Viscount and Viscountess Charleville. Another ball, another daughter.” “Lud,” Brandon replied, scratching his blonde head, “Nearly every invitation is to go watch one of the gentry’s chits make their come out.

” “Well, yes,” Percy said, clearing his throat awkwardly, “I suppose they’re rather hoping you’ll marry one of them.” “They are?” “Well, you are incredibly wealthy, sir,” Percy said delicately, “In fact, you’re quite the catch.” He, the ancestor of a cobbler, quite the catch for the daughters of the bon ton? It was a novel idea for a man of Brandon’s origins. Though his family had always been well-off, they had never been so well off that they had elicited attention from the top-ten-thousand, as the aristocracy were known. Money might buy power—and it had for Brandon, in the shape of a seat in Parliament from one of the rotten boroughs—but it could never buy blue-blood. And Brandon, despite his impressive wealth, felt this quite keenly. “Tell them I shall attend them all,” Brandon said decisively, “All of the balls. All of the daughters.” “Yes, sir.” And so, after rounds of endless balls, routs, musicales, and regattas, Brandon found himself a wife with lineage so blue that could be traced back to the Norman conquest.

His new wife, Lady Aubrietta, was the daughter of the Earl of Wilkes and was beautiful in that frail and delicate way which was so in vogue. Unfortunately for Lady Aubrietta, being frail and delicate was no help when it came to childbirth, and after delivering Brandon a second daughter, she promptly expired from the strain of it. “Will you ever remarry, sir?” Percy enquired punctually, the day that Brandon’s half-year mourning period had come to an end. “La! Why ever would I do that?” Brandon asked. He was a man who was willing to try anything once, but now that marriage had been crossed off his list, he saw no reason to revisit it. “Why, for an heir, sir,” Percy replied; Brandon Drew was in possession of enormous wealth; wealth which could not possibly be left to daughters. “Charlotte and Bianca shall inherit,” came Brandon’s bored reply, “It’s not a title I’m leaving behind, just money. There’s no need to sprog another poor woman up for the sake of fetching a boy. Now enough of this talk of inheritance, Percy; I find it all quite morbid.” No mention was ever made of Brandon requiring a male heir again, nor did he ever think on it.

Brandon Drew was not the type of man who liked to think of death, for it required him to imagine a world without him in it. Which was, for a man of his pride, near impossible. Instead, Brandon threw himself with gusto into the raising of his two daughters, keen that from an early age, they would be prepared for the life he had planned out for them. There would be no marrying of nabobs for his two daughters, oh, no. Brandon was determined that his two girls would marry into the peerage—and no mere baron or viscount at that—only an earl, a marquess, or a duke would do. As the two girls grew into beautiful young women, Brandon was certain that their looks, coupled with their vast inheritance, would catch them a prize-husband, if it were not for one problem. Charlotte. After a disappointing first season out in terms of husband-hunting, his eldest daughter had become vocal, opinionated, and headstrong, and she soon began to make a name for herself as something of a bluestocking. “I blame the last governess,” Lady Everleigh, the girl’s maternal grandmother, said with a sniff, after one particularly disastrous outing to Almack’s Assembly Rooms. “Miss Greengrass was rather progressive,” Brandon agreed, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other, for he had enjoyed some of the young woman’s more libertarian notions.

“Imagine,” Lady Everleigh continued, unaware of Brandon’s discomfort, “She brought a pamphlet on the emancipation of some downtrodden group, and tried to interest Lady Jersey in her cause. It’s a wonder she didn’t have her voucher revoked on the spot.” “They can do that?” Brandon spluttered with horror. Almack’s was the place to find a husband; if the stringent patronesses ejected Charlotte, she might never be wed. Worse, her younger sister, who was yet to make her come-out, might be barred on foot of her elder sister’s troublesome reputation, and then where would Brandon’s grand plans be? “Not only can they do it, they love to do it,” Lady Everleigh replied with a sniff. The patronesses of Almack’s were notorious for their adherence to the strict rules of membership, having once refused even Prinny admission when he arrived past the allotted entrance time of eleven. “La! We can’t have that,” Brandon said nervously, “Think of how poor Bianca might suffer.” Bianca, the youngest of his two offspring, was by far Brandon’s favourite child. Not only did she mirror him in looks—which appealed to his vanity—but her temperament was sweet and placid, and entirely in contrast with that of her sister. The idea that the fiery Charlotte, whose flaming red hair matched her temper, might scupper the chances of his sweet, blonde Bianca, left Brandon with a sense of unease.

“You must appeal to Charlotte’s sense of fairness,” Lady Everleigh replied firmly, for as a female, she had a better understanding of Brandon’s progeny than he did. “Charlotte might be opinionated, but she is fond of her sister and would hate to see Bianca suffer as a result of her actions.” “Yes, yes,” Brandon agreed; even he knew that Charlotte would do anything for her sister, “But what should I do?” “It’s rather simple,” Lady Everleigh said simply, “Tell Bianca that she may not make her comeout until you are certain that Charlotte can secure a husband.” “Is that not punishing one for the behaviour of the other?” Brandon queried, somewhat perplexed. “It’s not punishment,” Lady Everleigh wrinkled her nose, “It’s encouragement. Charlotte is old enough now to learn that her behaviour reflects not only on her but on her family too. Believe me, once Bianca learns that her sister holds the key to her future happiness, she won’t be long in persuading her to change her ways.” With her advice dispensed, Lady Everleigh swept from the room, leaving Brandon to call his two daughters into the library to hear his pronouncement… Chapter One “This is a punishment!” Miss Charlotte Drew winced at her sister’s loud, indignant cry. Their father had just finished sharing with them his latest edict, and Bianca was, understandably, shrill in her outrage. Her blue eyes misted prettily with tears, a fact that Charlotte noted with absent admiration.

To be beautiful, even when crying, was quite the accomplishment; Charlotte’s own face became red and blotchy the moment she even thought about shedding a tear. “It’s not a punishment, it’s a bribe,” Charlotte interrupted Bianca’s sniffs, casting a shrewd, calculated look to her father. “Grandmama has a bee in her bonnet about me remaining unmarried and has decided to recruit Papa to her cause.” “She has done no such thing,” her father blustered, affecting an aggrieved air, “I am perfectly capable of making parental decisions by myself.” “So, that was not grandmama’s carriage I saw leaving just now?” Charlotte queried sweetly, not willing to allow her father off the hook so easily. “That is neither here nor there,” Brandon, who detested being caught out, was now red-faced with indignation, “What matters is that your determination to remain the most opinionated bluestocking who ever lived is putting your sister’s future happiness in jeopardy. Your grandmama fears that your posturing and pontificating will get you ejected from Almack’s, and then where will we be?” “Oh,” Bianca wrung her hands together, nervously, “You cannot have your Almack’s voucher revoked, Cat! If you do, you might as well be dead.” Charlotte was wont to argue that the revoking of an Almack’s voucher was far less fatal than her sister believed, but seeing the look of despair on Bianca’s face, and the grim determination on her father’s, Charlotte held her tongue. The silence, as her two family members waited for her response, gave Charlotte a brief moment to think. She did not wish to marry, especially not any of the puffed-up popinjays of the ton, who were only interested in her fortune, but Bianca did.

Her little sister had, for years, dreamed of making her come-out and finding a dashing husband with whom she might start a family. Who was Charlotte to stand in the way of a beloved sister’s happiness? Even if she could not fathom her wishes for babies and beaus. Besides, if her father was willing to stoop to bribery for Bianca’s cause, it meant that Charlotte did, in fact, have the upper hand over him. Something which rarely happened, and something she intended to exploit to her own gain. “Very well,” Charlotte said, raising her chin proudly, “I shall submit to your wishes, Papa.” “So, you will quit your sermon giving and find yourself a husband?” Brandon asked, his surprise at having been so readily obeyed evident in his tone. “Ah,” Charlotte smiled her objection, “You did not say that you actually wished me to be wed, Papa. You said that I was to prove myself capable of securing a husband, which is an entirely different thing altogether. Shall we agree that if I tone down my radical views and engage the attentions of a suitable, titled male, that you will allow Bianca to make her come out and me to continue on my path toward spinsterhood?” “If you attract the attentions of a suitable male, I see no reason why you should not marry him,” Brandon countered. “I should not, because that was not the deal that you originally proposed,” Charlotte shrugged, “And if you are to change the terms of the deal before it is even agreed to, then how am I to be confident that you will abide by your side of the bargain?” Though Charlotte’s looks differed significantly from her father’s, she did share his keen mind.

She knew that Brandon, as a man of business, would understand, and even respect, her argument on the semantics of their contract. And, as his end goal was simply to ensure that Charlotte would not muddy the waters for Bianca, she knew that his will would easily bend in pursuit of his greater objective. “Oh, all right,” Brandon growled, painfully aware that he had both won and lost at the same time, “But you must demonstrate that you are capable of securing a beau, and not just any beau. I won’t fall for you prancing about in Hyde Park with Miss Havisham’s brother; I want to see dukes dancing attendance upon you. Do you understand me? Dukes!” “Perfectly,” Charlotte replied calmly, though inside she fretted. Employing Sebastian Havisham, her friend’s brother, who was always game for a lark, had been her very plan. Where on earth was she going to find a duke, let alone one who might be persuaded take an interest in her? With a grunt of annoyance, Brandon exited the room, leaving the two Drew sisters alone. “Oh, thank you, Cat,” Bianca cried, as the door slammed shut behind their father, “I knew you wouldn’t let me down. Tell me, do you wish to spend the evening with me studying Debrett’s? Grandmama says that you mistook the Countess of Burton for a mere baroness at Lady Eglinton’s ball. I know you didn’t mean to, but one must be so careful not to offend.

Upsetting the wrong person can mean the difference between a wonderful season and a perfect disaster.” “The introduction of the Corn Laws was a perfect disaster, I hardly think confusing a selfimportant countess with an equally insufferable baroness can compare,” Charlotte replied, aggrieved, as ever, that her sister cared more about social strictures than the suffering of the poor. “Do you always have to be so portentous?” Bianca asked with a sigh. “Do you always have to be so frivolous?” Charlotte retorted, though there was affection in her tone. The two Drew girls were as different as night and day, but despite their contrasting interests, they held a deep affection for each other. Charlotte could not claim to understand her sister’s devotion to fashion and gossip, nor could Bianca fathom Charlotte’s political views. However, despite this, they were as close as two sisters could be. “Where are we going to find a duke who will take an interest in you?” Bianca continued, her blunt words having little effect on the feelings of a sister who had been thinking the very same thing. It was not that Bianca was being cruel, she was being practical. Even Charlotte knew that in terms of the marriage mart, a duke was seen as the holy grail—or a prize pig if one wanted to be crude.

As such, they had their pick of eligible misses the length and breadth of the country; pretty girls, with perfect manners, excellent lineage, and hair that did as it was told. Charlotte, while passably pretty—in her grandmother’s words—lacked the finesse required of a young lady; she was far too loud, far too opinionated, and her red mane of curls refused to be tamed into any type of fashionable hairstyle. In short, she was the exact opposite of what an entitled duke would think himself attracted to. “Lud knows,” Charlotte replied with a sigh of her own, “Though I’m certain we will find a way, Bee, don’t fret.” “We shall pour through Debrett’s later,” Bianca decided, her rosebud mouth resolute, “After my piano lesson with Mr Dubarry.” Charlotte did not miss her sister’s hand, which nervously patted her hair at the mention of Mr Dubarry. The young man had been employed, at their grandmama’s behest, to encourage Bianca’s burgeoning talent on the pianoforte. Though, the only thing that Mr Dubarry was encouraging, as far as Charlotte could see, was a case of love-sickness in her little sister. Still, Bianca’s sudden distraction allowed Charlotte an opening for her own escape. “Might I borrow Ethel?” she asked, resisting the urge to sugar-coat her tone, for that would undoubtedly arouse Bianca’s suspicions.

“Is Helga indisposed?” Helga was Charlotte’s lady’s maid, a fierce, tall Swedish woman, whom Lady Everleigh had personally employed to try control her eldest granddaughter. Helga was a firm believer in rules and saw it as her moral duty to keep Charlotte from doing anything that society might frown upon. Unfortunately for Charlotte, that meant everything that she actually enjoyed, like today’s planned outing to a political lecture at Hyde Park Corner. “She is unwell, poor dear,” Charlotte fibbed, feigning a note of concern for the Swedish woman, who in actuality was so robustly healthy, it was almost offensive. “I would rather take Ethel than drag dear Helga out into the cold.” “You’re not planning on doing anything untoward, are you?” Bianca glanced at her sister suspiciously, unconvinced by Charlotte’s apparent concern for the lady’s maid whom she usually despised. “When have you ever known me to misbehave?” Charlotte affected an air of one who had been grievously insulted. Her theatrics, however, only seemed to confirm her sister’s suspicions. “Cat, you made a bargain with Papa,” Bianca cried, folding her arms stubbornly across her chest. “Yes, but we did not set a date for when the deal would begin,” Charlotte argued, equally as capable of stubbornness as her younger sister.

“So, I have decided that I shall start tomorrow. Just one last adventure, Bee, before I submit myself to a life of smiling politely whilst biting my tongue.” It looked for a moment as though Bianca might argue, but the appearance of the butler, Doyle, to announce that Mr Dubarry had arrived for his lesson, set Bianca into a tizz. “Oh,” she cried, running a nervous hand over her hair, to check that it was still perfectly in place—which, of course, it was. “He’s early—I had wanted to wear my blue ribbon today.” “I did not realise that blue ribbons were so integral to the learning of music,” Charlotte teased, earning herself a scowl from Bianca. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look one’s best,” Bianca huffed, “Not that you would understand. You may borrow Ethel if you wish, but have her brush your hair out before you leave. You seem to have brought some shrubbery back with you from your morning walk.” Bianca turned on the heel of her satin slipper and flounced from the room with an irritable sniff.

Her sister might portray herself as fashionably meek and placid, but she was anything but, Charlotte thought. Bianca’s tongue was just as sharp as Charlotte’s own, though her sister was far more discerning of whom she decided to unleash it upon. Perhaps that was the difference between a real lady and one just playing the part, Charlotte thought mournfully, an innate sense of discernment… Resignedly, Charlotte tripped across the oriental rug to the mirror, which hung above the fireplace. Just as her sister had noted, several twigs had entangled themselves into her wiry mane during her morning perambulation around the garden square. She yanked them free with an impatient hand, pulling out clumps of hair in the process

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