Title: Lady Delilah Dares a Duke
Series: Windermeres in Love #4
Genre: ,
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Delilah is following her dreams…

Every woman needs a nemesis, and for Lady Delilah Windermere there’s no more perfect villain than His Grace Sebastian Crewe, Duke of Ravensworth. He ruined everything three years ago, but this time she won’t let him stop her from living her dreams.

The Duke is following Delilah…

Seb has no desire to clip Delilah’s wings. But when he finds her (a lady!) traveling with a troupe of actors, he can’t just let her go on this adventure alone. When Delilah refuses to return to her family, Seb knows it’s up to him to keep her safe... again.

Will they find true love… together?

As a magical summer unfolds, the Duke and Delilah see their country—and each other—with new eyes.  Reveling in their freedom, they can’t resist indulging in a forbidden passion. But Seb knows that winning Delilah’s heart won’t guarantee their happily ever after, unless he can convince his Wild Windermere that true freedom lies in his arms.

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Excerpt:

Prologue

Eton College, England

Summer 1819

The first few steps Delilah took onto the stage stuttered with hesitation. A surprise, that. After all, this moment was all she’d ever wanted.

Then one step gained momentum after another and she was standing in the center, lights bright upon her, awareness of the audience’s rapt attention skittering across her skin, fizzing through every last nerve ending.

Alive.

That was how she felt in this moment.

Utterly and entirely alive with a joy she’d never before experienced.

She was here, upon a real stage, acting in front of a real audience.

She opened her mouth to speak her first line.

“Lady Delilah?” rang out into the silence.

Delilah blinked and immediately shook off the notion that the question had been intended for her. There could be any number of Lady Delilah’s in the audience.

Ignoring it, she opened her mouth again.

“Why,” came the voice again—louder, clearer…certain.

Delilah’s ear picked up a note in that voice, too. Familiar.

“I do believe it truly is Lady Delilah Windermere.”

All eyes widened on her—and something happened within those eyes. They saw her—Lady Delilah Windermere. A lady who had no business being on this stage or anywhere near it.

In an instant, three available options came to her.

She could collapse to the stage boards in tears, a sniveling cowardly mess.

She could laugh it off and say the joke was on them.

She could sink to her knees in shame and offer her most abject apologies.

So many options…

None of them tolerable.

Instead, she squared up to the audience, who were growing unsettled in their seats and louder in their murmurings, and pulled herself up to her full five-foot, ten-inch height before lowering into a deep curtsey. When she rose, she wore the broadest—and falsest—smile of her life. She even received a thin, uncertain scattering of applause.

But she didn’t budge from her patch of stage. Instead, she stood there, immovable, silent, her eyes slowly, carefully raking across the crowd until…

They landed on the owner of that voice—a voice she’d known since her brother Archie had brought him home on school break years ago—with his tousled dark blond hair and golden eyes that held the power to mesmerize. Not her, of course, but she’d overheard more than a few young ladies rhapsodize about those eyes.

His Grace Sebastian Crewe, the Duke of Ravensworth.

His usual air of sardonic gravity hung about him like a dense cloak, vibrating with the energy specific to him. For a mad moment, she entertained the possibility that Archie had sent this duke to cheat her out of her triumph—for it was clear she’d been on the verge of winning their bet. He’d posited she couldn’t make it through the short summer term at Eton as a boy. Delilah had posited that she could. A bet had been made.

She shook off the idea. Archie was a lot of things, but he was no cheat. No, this was all Ravensworth with his cool, assessing gaze that didn’t flinch or shift away from her unrelenting glare.

Delilah had never had an enemy—not before this moment.

And now she had one for life.

He’d had a choice.

He could’ve kept quiet and allowed her this moment.

Instead, he’d swept in and ruined everything—and for no better reason than to amuse a crowd or…

Himself.

In truth, his motivation didn’t matter. He’d tried to humiliate her and destroy her dream. While he’d succeeded in the latter, he wouldn’t in the former. It was up to her to scramble out from under this mess.

“Blow, winds, crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!” her voice rang out, quieting the increasingly restive crowd with her favorite speech from King Lear. As Shakespeare’s words flowed from her mouth, the entrancement specific to live performance took over the theater. For these precious few seconds, the audience saw not Lady Delilah Windermere, but a half-mad, wandering king. Yet her gaze remained steadily fixed on one man as she spoke the words, “You owe me no subscription. Then let fall your horrible pleasure.”

Ravensworth didn’t shrink from her scorn. Instead, his usual sardonic smile curled about his mouth.

“O! O! Tis foul!” she finished on a howl and collapsed onto the stage.

Dead silence filled the theater, the audience transfixed…

By her.

She pushed herself to a stand and curtseyed for the second time tonight.

Off stage left, the headmaster recovered his surely overwhelmed nerves—a lady at Eton College!—and made straight for her, sputtering with great indignation. “You…you…you!” was all he could get out.

Delilah decided it best she hitch her robes to her knees, exit stage right, and leg it—all the way back to London.

Her time at Eton College was quite finished.

As she streaked across the campus dusky with encroaching night, taking the snickets and alleyways used mostly by servants and delinquent students—the latter of which described her, at the moment—unreleased emotion formed a tight knot in the center of her chest. So, this was what heartbreak felt like. The feeling that she’d had all she ever wanted sitting in the palm of her hand, only to have it snatched away.

Once she reached her rooms, she didn’t bother changing out of her costume as she collected the coin pouch she’d stuffed into her mattress for this exact emergency. She left her other belongings behind—after all, they belonged to a boy who didn’t actually exist—and again raced through the snickets and alleyways that would avoid the night watch as she made her way off the grounds and down the road.

She passed one, then another, coaching inn. They were simply too close, and Ravensworth might be in pursuit.

So he could gloat.

Which simply could not be borne.

The muted, relentless thud-thud-thud of approaching horse hooves sounded behind her, growing louder. Instinctively, she sidestepped off the road and sank down into a boggy ditch that had her feet soaked in cold mud up to her ankles. She folded herself into a tight crouch and soaked her bottom, too.

What a night.

She counted rapid heart and hoof beats until horse and rider galloped past.

Ravensworth.

She knew it with a certainty absolute and sickening. He wasn’t the sort of man to let pass an opportunity to bask in his superiority.

Well, that bloody superior man wouldn’t be finding her tonight.

Pent-up tears sprang forward, blurring her vision. All sorts of tears—tears of sadness…tears of frustration…tears of anger.

It was that last emotion she would hang onto once the others had worn themselves out.

But she wouldn’t shed those tears—not yet.

Not until she reached the safety of her bedroom at Casa Windermere and turned the lock behind her.

Then enough tears to fill the Thames would burst the dam and flow.

And there was but one man to blame for tonight’s triumph turned to ashes.

Ravensworth.

She wouldn’t soon forget...


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