Will she be able to save him from himself?
Grace finds herself wed to a man who loathes her. She is shunned and exiled to the farthest corner of the land. It wouldn’t hurt so much if he hadn’t once been her best friend.
Thomas became a duke long before he was ready. Now he can’t go anywhere without women trying to entrap him into marriage. He expected better from his childhood friend.
How can friendship, let alone marriage, thrive in the face of bitterness, suspicion, and misunderstanding? What’s to be done when the hurtful choices made in anger have lasting consequences?
It takes a special kind of person to see past the pain to the beauty that lies beyond…
Grace soaked in Thomas’s warmth. She sighed into his waistcoat and said, “I appreciate the kind words, Thomas, but you shouldn’t be in here alone with me. We both know that.”
Thomas, his voice light, said, “It was in here with you or out there with the barracudas. I think I’m safer right where I am.”
Grace didn’t pull out of his comforting hug as she knew she ought to. Instead she said, “I’ve spent my whole life in Stafford Shire and have never even been to London before. All I’m asking for is one season. If I wait much longer, I’ll be completely on the shelf, and no decent man will even consider marrying me. My father has doomed me to the life of being some man’s courtesan!”
“You’ve been reading the newspaper again, haven’t you?” She felt the warm rumble of his chuckle against her cheek. “You shouldn’t even know words like that. If your parents knew you were reading those rags, they’d have your hide.”
Grace’s tears had quieted and were slowly being replaced by hiccups. Just as Thomas began to release her from his friendly hold, the library door opened with a loud bang.
“What the devil is going on in here?” demanded Lady Appleton.
Grace jumped out of Thomas’s arms and said, “It’s not what you th—ink.” The hiccups were gaining momentum. “I was up—set. Thomas found me, and I was—crying. He was simply be—ing kind.”
The skin on Lady Appleton’s florid face jiggled as she shouted, “Not only are you in a room with a man unchaperoned, but you were in an embrace!” Her gown truly was the most awful color. It was somewhere between green and brown, like a plant that had withered and died. To make the ensemble worse, she looked as if she were wearing an entire peacock atop her piled hair.
Seeming to thrive on spectacle, Lady Appleton continued to bombast them with accusation, her voice growing toward a crescendo. “You’ve been ruined, young lady! There will have to be a wedding at once!” If volume were the stick by which such things were measured, Lady Appleton’s screeching voice ensured that Grace would feel maximum shame.
“Th—at wasn’t an embrace!”
By this time, several people had gathered in the hallway outside the library door. When Grace’s father came on the scene, Thomas spoke directly to him, ignoring Lady Appleton. “I apologize for any misunderstanding. Gracie was crying. She was upset, might I add, by the cruel things you said to her. I’m nothing more than a childhood friend offering a bit of encouragement and reassuring her that her father is not the ogre he appears to be at present.”
Grace had never heard Thomas’s voice quite like this. The sharp edge of strong metal in it was unmistakable. This voice belonged to the Duke of Stafford, not her childhood friend Thomas.