Taming a Defiant Duke – Tammy Andresen

Lord Barrett Maddox, Marquess of Devon sat behind his father’s desk in his London townhome, surveying the endless stack of papers in front of him. Reports from architects, stewards, complaints from land owners, and who knew what else piled atop the desk, barely allowing him to see over the confounded litter. To his right, stood the stack of ledgers in desperate need of balancing. He ran his hands through his hair and then dropped them to his lap, his head bowing. His parents had sailed for the Americas three months prior, leaving Bar to manage the vast dukedom all on his own. While it was a duty he’d always known he would inherit, he hadn’t expected to take on the position quite so soon. There was nothing to be done for it, however. His American grandmother had fallen ill, and his parents had left to see to her care—in a hurry and with little direction as to how Bar should proceed. Bloody poor timing, if they’d asked him. He’d been about to propose to Lady Elizabeth Anders. Resolve made his spine straighten. She was a lovely creature with dark hair and brown eyes and a tiny little nose. Actually all of her was quite small but she held herself with a reserved nature that suited the role of duchess exceptionally well. Elizabeth’s size and disposition had caused his sister, Madeline, to refer to her as Mouse. Actually, her more precise words had been something akin to, “She’s a frightened little twitching mouse always looking this way and that to see which cat might pounce.

” He’d informed Madeline the only cat currently with its claws out was herself. Madeline had shrugged. “If she’s going to be in this family, she’ll need claws and not just nervously twitching whiskers. We are not the most sedate people. Just look at father. He’s an English duke who spent half his life stomping around the wilds of America.” Bar didn’t give a wit what his sister thought nor was her opinion a factor in choosing his duchess. But even he had to admit her reasoning was sound. Still, his father had raised him to be responsible and steadfast and Bar’s own sense of duty demanded that he marry the best woman for the role and not necessarily his heart’s choice. Either way, he would not marry with his parents gone so he’d put the progression of their relationship on hold.

Nor had he much time for proper courting as he learned what it truly meant to be the Duke of Manchfield. Though the only thing he learned thus far was how to fail. His father would be disappointed when he returned. Bar wasn’t managing their affairs, he wasn’t courting a proper duchess to secure the dukedom’s future, and he wasn’t even handling his siblings all that well. With a rumble of dissatisfaction, he swiped at the pile, sending a shower of envelopes tumbling across the desk. A simple envelope skittered across the top and landed in his lap. He picked up the cardstock, noting the clean feminine handwriting that graced the envelope. Flipping it over, he saw the seal of Dover estate’s vicar. Odd. Grabbing his letter opener, he sliced open the seal and pulled out the page of parchment, then flipped it over to read.

The same sweeping pen graced the page. He noted first the date, some three months prior. Damn. Had it really taken that long to work his way through the stack? The door to his office banged open and his younger brother strode in. At twenty and four, Harry was a picture of youthful swagger. Harry could walk around without a care in the world because he had so few responsibilities. Envy stabbed at Bar, and he glared at his brother. But Harry paid no heed to his brother’s displeasure and tossed himself into the chair across from Bar, legs sprawling in front of him while his arms dangled over the sides. “I beg you, release me from this hell.” Bar glowered at his brother, knowing exactly the hell to which Harry referred.

He also knew exactly how to quiet his brother. “We can switch jobs if you’d like. I will take on the responsibility of seeing Madeline through the season and you can take on the dukedom.” His brother waved him off. “Bah. I am not the future duke.” “You never know. I could perish of a multitude of diseases or be called out in duel, or —” “Bar.” His brother steepled his hands in front of him. “Pray stop.

If you’re called out in a duel, I shall take your place. I am, after all, the expendable son.” Bar leaned across the desk. “What if you’re unavailable? Besides my point stands. There are a multitude of things that could happen to me. You should also be prepared for this.” He gestured to the pile in front of him. Harry gave him a long stare. “First of all, why must you reason everything out all the time? I’ll face being duke if it ever comes to pass. I doubt it will.

And if it does, I may very well pass it on to Andrew.” “Our youngest brother is a child yet.” Bar leaned forward. “You’ll do your duties, all of them. Starting with our sister.” Handling Madeline was no easy task, he knew that, but right now he’d take his beautiful, temperamental sister over this stack of dreadful paper. “But it wouldn’t hurt you to learn some of the ducal tasks. One can never be too prepared. I wish I’d taken over duty while father was here. It might have helped.

” Harry grunted at the scattered pile of paper, scowling. “I don’t want to trade one dreadful job for another. Our dear sister needs to find a husband now so I can cease following her about to the endless parade of social events she insists on attending.” Harry sat forward, his elbows coming to his knees. “At twenty and two, she should be wed already. You’re the duke, at least while father is gone, just order her to marry one of them. If her dowry wasn’t so large, she’d be long wed by now.” His voice took on a note of pleading. “She likes the attention, and she doesn’t care that she is torturing all of us.” Bar lifted a brow.

Madeline was a handful. There wasn’t a doubt about that. Moreover, few women made it to her age unwed but still sought after. She only seemed to whip up more frenzy with every passing season. The paperwork was Bar’s duty, he knew that of course, and he never left a duty unfinished. But he could needle Harry for not being more helpful. “Should I pick a bride for you while I am at it?” Harry’s brows drew together, his face growing dark. “Don’t you start. I have other plans once my duty here is done.” Bar didn’t bother to reply.

He had work to do and enough of his brother’s grumbling. The sod was complaining about going to parties, for Lucifer’s sake. “You’ll see our sister through the season, and don’t you allow anything to happen to her. That is one duel you will be representing the family in if you do. Whatever plans you have will have to wait.” Harry rose, a noise of disgust rumbling from his throat. “You sound more like father every day.” “It’s the correspondence.” Bar gestured at the pile of papers in front of him. “It rips out a man’s soul.

” Harry chuckled as he headed for the door. “I’ve made the right choice in not accepting the job then.” Looking back down at the parchment he’d opened as Harry entered, he saw his father’s formal address on the letter. Not unusual. But as he scanned the contents of the note, he stood, his mouth turning down. Then, he read it through again. Vicar Mayweather had perished over the winter. The letter was from his daughter, Miss Emily Mayweather. His gut clenched as he gripped the paper. Why hadn’t the steward notified him? The vicar was his father’s distant cousin, after all.

Rifling through the pile, he found another letter dated one month prior from the steward, detailing the very same information. The steward added several details. Debts from gambling had plagued the vicar, including notes that had been leveraged against the cottage where the vicar had resided. Bar crumpled the letter. He’d known Vicar Mayweather all his life. He couldn’t imagine the man engaging in such behavior. And what would happen to Emily? He remembered her, of course, from the family trips to the country. Nearly seven years younger than him, she’d been a beautiful girl who’d grown into an even more beautiful young woman the entire congregation had agreed was as close to an angel as they’d ever see on Earth. How fitting she be a vicar’s daughter. Did that make her twenty now? As a man Harry’s age, he couldn’t help but agree with their assessment.

She was as stunning as a sunset over the ocean. She was also just as untouchable. At least in his mind. Even then, Bar was not one for idle relations. His world was of duty and honor, and a vicar’s daughter, no matter how beautiful, did not fit into his vision of the future. But somehow, he ran into her every day nonetheless until his control was near breaking. Her clear blue eyes would stare up at him in the most tempting way, her full pink mouth, turned in a smile for him. After two incessant weeks, he’d finally snapped. He didn’t touch her. He would never defile a woman such as that.

But he had turned and yelled, rather loudly, that she might be the most annoying person in all of Dover. Even now, the memory filled him with shame. He hadn’t discouraged their relationship and she hadn’t deserved his ire. Emily had stumbled back and promptly landed in the fish pond. To which, he’d been obliged to wade in after her and fish her out, pulling her soaking body against his own as she shivered in his arms. Any tension that had released from his explosion had slammed back into him with a force that had left him breathless. Not knowing what else to say, he’d loudly declared that she’d ruined his favorite pair of Hessians while pulling her out. They hadn’t spoken since. And it appeared she was in trouble once again. Real trouble this time and not a problem he had caused.

He set the letter down and crossed to the fire. The stack of papers taunted him as he leaned against the mantle. He could write to the steward. The most prudent choice. Give the man instructions to purchase the debt owed against the cottage so that Emily wouldn’t lose her home. He could send Harry. His brother was a handsome devil and the thought of him being alone with Emily filled Bar with a simmering anger he scarcely understood. He hadn’t even seen the woman in five years. Besides, that was a crush, nothing more. He’d grown into a man and made a man’s choice for a future wife.

He glanced through the window. He hadn’t been out and about for such a long time. He’d already rescued the girl once, if he could call it that. He’d like to, for argument’s sake. Why not do it again? Decision made, he rang the bell to call for a servant. He’d leave London to head to Dover at first light. And unfortunately, the bloody correspondence would be travelling with him. * * * Emily walked through her nearly empty cottage, surveying her surroundings one last time. She was intimately acquainted with every chip in the horsehair plaster, every dip in the creaking hardwood floors. She’d grown up here.

Known more happy memories than she could count within these walls. She trailed her fingers across the mantle. Tomorrow, she’d leave this place forever. Her spine straightened. These musings were that of a girl. She was a woman now, and she needed to be smart. Once she cleared the debts, she had a future for which she needed to prepare. The steward had given her a recommendation. She’d hoped for one from the duke, but she’d have to do the best she could with what she had. The Duke of Manchfield never responded to her letter.

Her gut clenched at the memory of the duke’s family. Well, one member in particular. Bar, pronounced like the great beasts that roamed the Americas, had been her first childhood crush. And in true form, he’d crushed her as certainly as he’d rescued her from the water. To this day, she didn’t understand why he’d been so angry. She supposed he was about to be a duke. Heaven forbid anyone disagree with him or nuisance him in anyway. But she’d only sought him out to talk with him, gaze upon his handsome features, and up until that day, she’d thought he’d enjoyed her company too. Reflecting back, she should have seen the signs. He’d grown more tense, more quiet with each passing day.

She hadn’t expected anything from him. She just liked being with him. No man before or since had ever stirred such…raw emotion within her. Brushing her hand through the air, she tried to sweep these thoughts aside too. They were of no consequence now. Both of her parents were gone, and with no dowry, she had to find employment as soon as possible. She had little time for feelings. A long sigh escaped her lips. The larder was near empty. Her neighbors would help her, of course, but she’d relied on their charity enough.

It was time to provide for herself. A knock at the door startled her from her thoughts. Who would possibly be calling? It was nearing dark and most of her neighbors were tucked safely into their own cottages. A shiver raced down her spine. After opening the peek window, she looked out to see a large carriage parked in front of her home. “Yes?” “Miss Mayweather?” A deep voice rumbled from the other side of the door. She squinted her eyes but all she could make out was the dark sweep of his hair that brushed over one distinctly male ear. She’d never thought about that before but even ears could look male or female. “Yes?” He let out a long breath. “Are you going to open the door?” “That depends on who stands on the other side of it,” she replied, thoroughly confused by the haughty male but equally determined to not allow his gruff voice to intimidate her.

He paused as his head snapped back. “My apologies.” A card slid through the iron bars that covered the small window. “The Marquess of Devon. My father is away on family business. I received your letter and have come to provide you aid.” A little cry escaped her lips as she ignored the card and twisted the lock to open the door. Bar was here? Now? Little thrills of surprise rippled through her. Opening the door, he stood before her, tall and straight, his features had that same rough handsomeness he’d always possessed. More so.

He had the same dark, glittering eyes of course. Same square jaw and full lush lips. He was even broader now, more masculine. She supposed that manly visage was what had caused her to be smitten in the first place. He looked like the sort that would rescue a girl from dastardly villains and then kiss her until she could hardly breathe. He squared his broad shoulders as he looked down at her. He wore that same impenetrable expression she remembered. Unreadable. As a young woman she’d imagined it hid the soft heart of a tender man. Her shoulders squared.

She wasn’t a girl anymore and she had no time for fantasies. He’d proven already they were foolish little traps a girl might get herself caught in if she weren’t careful. She straightened her spine and notched her chin to look him in the eyes. “Thank you ever so much for coming. I do appreciate your effort but I’m happy to report I no longer need your assistance. I’ve already saved myself.”

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