The Beast’s Bride – Eva Devon, Mire Claremont

A shuddering breath tore through Adam, the future Duke of Blacktower. The small shoes barely filled his single palm. He held them carefully, desperately trying not to let tears slide down his face. He sucked in another sharp breath, but nothing seemed to help. His shoulders bowed as they’d never bowed before. In all his life, he’d never known true suffering. As the son of a duke, the heir, everything had been done for him, laid out before him. Yes, he’d had to strive to meet the expectations of a strict, demanding father, but nothing had prepared him for this moment. She was gone and so was his future. The baby was also gone. His father had won. My God, how was he going to survive this? Carefully, he stood from his ornate Italian desk, walking away from the missive that had changed his entire world. He held the small knit shoes in his hands as if they were made of glass. He had not even been able to be there in the final moment. No, he’d been doing some damned pointless duty for his father, some errand that had made it imperative for him to go to the ducal estate.

Instead, he should have been with his young wife. But his young wife was a scandal to everyone that knew, and only two or three people did know—his father, his aunt, his uncle. He’d not been able to keep it from them, but now no one else would likely ever know the truth. Anna was gone. Sweet, kind, the dearest person he’d ever known. and their child too. His life was over before it had truly begun. As was hers. Holding those small, empty knitted shoes made that terribly clear. The letter had nearly crushed him.

She had died alone and that was because of him, and their child had never truly opened its eyes to this world. The pain tore through him and he let out a roar of raw agony. He felt as if life had been completely stolen from him. He stormed out of his chamber in the great mausoleum of a house and strode down the wide Tudor hall towards his father’s study. Whilst he was a man, Adam was still under the auspices of his father. A great duke, a man who ruled almost a quarter of the country and everyone within his vicinity with an iron fist. Fury burned through Adam. He clung to it, allowing it to fill him with the courage to confront the old man. He did not bother to knock. He threw the door open.

The duke, his silver hair glinting in the candlelight, leaned back in the carved mahogany chair before his mammoth desk. “What is it, Adam?” “She’s dead,” he said, his voice hard. “Who?” His father arched a silvery brow, his palms relaxed on the chair’s arms as if they were discussing tea. “Who is this she? The cat?” “My wife,” Adam gritted, hating that his father seemed to feel nothing but disdain and superiority for anyone who ventured into his presence. “You have no wife,” his father stated with cold simplicity. “Your marriage was illegal. You know it, and I know it.” Adam swallowed back a host of insults and protested, “Just because it was a secret marriage and a Catholic one doesn’t make it illegal. It merely makes it unacceptable to you.” His father scoffed.

“She was no one. She was a village girl. I’m sorry for your loss, but it is for the best.” “For the best?” Adam choked out as he assessed his father sitting in all his splendor like a king upon his throne. Swallowing, Adam forced himself to ask, “Did you know she was unwell?” His father’s blank stare told him everything. Of course his father knew. His father knew if there was a mouse in the corner or a spider on the window. His reach stretched far beyond England. Certainly he knew what was transpiring a few villages away. Adam fisted and unfisted his hands.

“I shall never forgive you this.” “The comment of a boy.” His father sighed. “When you grow and you understand the importance of your position as you should already at this age, then you will absolutely forgive me. ” His father leaned forward, his lined, regal face unyielding. “And not only will you forgive me for taking you away from them, you will thank me.” “The child is dead,” Adam whispered, his voice nearly breaking as he witnessed his father’s callous cruelty. The duke grimaced. “For that I am truly sorry. Someone of our bloodline will always be mourned.

” “Can you hear yourself?” Adam demanded. “I hear myself just fine, as should you.” His father shrugged his elegantly clad shoulders. “She’s dead. I am sorry for your pain, my son, but you will move on and you will now follow your duty as you always should have done.” Adam recoiled, wondering how he could be a product of this man. “You’re glad she’s dead, aren’t you?” “Glad is not the word.” His father hesitated before he leaned his elbows on his polished desk. “Relieved. I am relieved for our entire family that you will not try to instate some village miss as the Duchess of Blacktower.

The catastrophe would have rocked the nation. She never would have survived and you know it.” There was a dangerous whisper of truth in what his father claimed. There had been times in the country where great men had married very young women who were not prepared for such a station. It had not gone well, but Adam did not care. He would have given up so much for Anna. She had been so kind to him when no one else had, and now, now he had repaid her kindness with death. He’d never forgive himself and he would never forgive his father. “Well, Father, it is you who are the one who is the fool in this. I shall never forget the child that should have been born.

And I will never betray Anna’s memory with another wife. I will never marry, and I will never bear another child.” For once, his father stilled. His jaw tightened as he leveled Adam with a hard stare. “You will,” his father stated. “You will not be able to escape it. You’re a man, my son, who has needs and you will find a woman and you will have an heir.” “Oh, I’ll be the greatest rake that England has ever seen, if necessary, but I will never marry. Anna will never be replaced.” His father’s face purpled with rage.

“Damnation, boy, can you not see sense?” “I see sense far more than you do,” Adam said with dangerous quiet. “It is you who is cold and alone and isolated. You’ve never let anyone into your heart and you could not accept love when you saw it.” “Love,” his father sneered. “That was not love, boy. That was some foolish, childish affection which you would have gotten over if you had but waited a summer.” It wouldn’t have mattered if he had waited for a summer. She had been the one that he wanted to marry and when he’d found that she was bearing his child, he had done the right thing. He knew that he would always do the right thing, unlike his father, who cared only about duty and wealth and titles. In the end, Adam would always do what was right.

It didn’t matter what it took, it didn’t matter if all society thought him a beast and a rake. To him what was right, was not mere duty. What was right was the hearts of other people and not crushing them into the earth. Yes, he would be the greatest beast that England had seen, if need be, but he’d make sure that no hearts were broken. No one was destroyed in his wake and he would never take the chance of marrying again. He would not satisfy his father, but more than that, he was never going to risk this feeling ever again. He kept his hands softly curled around the small shoes. He then held them to his chest and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, Adam vowed, “You’re never going to see me again.” “Don’t be absurd, boy,” his father said with suddenly doubtful grandeur.

“Of course I’ll see you again. You’re the heir to my dukedom.” “I mean it.” Adam narrowed his gaze. “I know that sounds like a child and a boast, but you shall not see me again. I will not return to England until you are dead.” And with that, he turned and strode from the room. He did not care what country he went to now. France, Italy, Egypt, anywhere. As long as it was far away from this hellish house and the pain of his loss.

Chapter 1 London 1805 Lady Augusta, eldest and firmly on the shelf daughter of the Earl of Harrowton, tossed her quill down. Ink spattered on the otherwise immaculate ledger. She let out a sigh. Blast! The accounts would not tot up no matter how hard she tried and as all her sisters knew, when such a thing occurred, she needed at least three cups of tea to sustain her. In fact, the accounts were so bad, she was on her fourth of said beverage. The leaves had been brewed multiple times due to the extent of their pecuniary disaster. Even so, the imbibing was a strong indicator of her mood. Pointedly, she sipped the slightly watered-down liquid, desperately trying to make the ends meet. It was impossible, of course. Augusta stared down at the perfectly written sums.

Usually, numbers were her friends, for she got a great deal of satisfaction in bringing order out of chaos with them. This night of the London Season, the columns stared up at her like enemies refusing to surrender. She worried her lower lip, something she almost never permitted herself to do. Augusta always did the best to present a face of calm, especially for her sisters. They had known enough unrest their entire lives without their eldest sister going off like a chicken without her head. No. Augusta was not a peahen. Augusta was a rock and she had done everything that she could to make certain that her sisters knew that and always would know that. And so as she stared at the forthcoming disaster of their financial ruin, she forced herself not to throw up her hands and start cursing the heavens. Truly, she wished she could have brandy, but young ladies did not drink brandy in the afternoon.

In fact, they did not drink brandy at all. It was not a done thing. Perhaps when her spinsterhood had truly taken hold and she was no longer eligible at all, she would be able to do it. But today was not quite that day. Holding tightly to her spinsterhood was also proving difficult. Her father would insist on trying to marry her off to anyone, to everyone, and especially to his old crony friends that he had gambling debts to. It was most disheartening for she had seen the way a poor marriage could go, and she would not suffer the fate of her mother. Not for anything would she risk being ruined to a rake, a rogue, or a gambling lecher. Nor would she allow such a fate to befall her sisters. She did not care if it made her seem as if she was a boring prude to the entirety of society.

In fact, Augusta made certain that her sisters did not engage with gentlemen who were too much fun. In her opinion, too much fun was what led to ruin. All she had to do was walk down the hall and look at her father, who was currently in a stupor, having drunk a whole decanter of wine before supper. He would order his evening coffee soon, which would waken him and allow him to go out for a night’s revels. Yes, too much fun led to disaster. She drew herself up and let her eyes wander to the newspaper. It was one of the few luxuries that they were allowed, but she felt it was necessary. It was a secondhand paper after all that they got from the shops in the afternoon. It was important to stay abreast of the news. Her eyes hit Snodgrass’s column.

The words stood up and stared at her like laughing little gremlins. The Duke of Blacktower, known to all London as The Beast for his mercilessly gruff nature, had once again gambled away and won an entire fortune in one evening. She let out a curse. “You’re reading it, aren’t you?” said Phillipa from her rather spindly chair beside the window. “Reading what?” Augusta declared defensively. “About The Beast. She grumbled. It was legend in their household, her loathing of The Beast. What a foolish appellation! He was a duke, after all. Surely, he could act with a bit of decorum.

How could a man born to such privilege waste so much, she didn’t know, but he did every day and she wished that she could shake him. Which would be actually quite impossible for he was over six feet tall, and she doubted that she could cause him to move any more than she could cause a granite boulder to tremble. But there it was. “The glint of your eye tells me so,” Phillipa said. “You cannot stand him, and you must be reading about his latest exploits.” Exploits indeed. The man was a wastrel and rake. Well, perhaps not a wastrel. He was not completely lost, she supposed. But she doubted that he would ever account for himself.

No, likely he was headed down her father’s path. It was the only thing one could say of such a man. He drank. He gambled. He enjoyed his women. He went to the opera. He went to the theater, and every day there was a report of his latest exploits in Hyde Park or St. James Park. She had no patience for such a man. Felicity leaned back on the slightly worn chaise lounge.

“I think you envy him,” she said. “Envy!” Augusta scoffed. “How can you say such a thing? I can’t stand the man. He drives me positively mad. What a waste of gifts. I can only imagine if I had—” Felicity grinned. “You see. You do envy him.” “Well, I suppose anyone with any sense might envy him a little bit,” Augusta defended, shifting on her rickety wood chair. “The amount of wealth he has, the power, the position.

Can you imagine what you could do with what that man has? Instead, he plays dice!”

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