Duchess of His Heart
Seductive Scoundrels Book 6
He once loved her beyond all reason. Dare he risk heartbreak again?
Leaving her first love behind was the hardest thing Regine, Duchess of Heartwaite, had ever done. Her marriage of convenience to another man saved her family, even as it laid waste to her heart. That was years ago, however. Now widowed, she’s ready to begin her life anew. But all it takes is one glimpse of her former sweetheart to realize the feelings she buried so long ago are still there, stronger than ever. Unfortunately, his feelings for her are decidedly colder…
Solicitor James Brentwood has only one mistress these days—his work. Being jilted by his betrothed taught him love simply wasn’t worth the cost. But Regine is back in England now, more beautiful and alluring than ever. And it’s not long before he begins to feel things he has no business feeling. Especially not for her. Not again.
But when a nemesis intent on destroying Regine emerges, it’s James who must come to her rescue. Can they overcome their differences and painful past to claim their happily ever after? Or will their second chance at love end as disastrously as their first?
This reunited lovers, second chance historical by a USA Today bestselling author, will have you sighing and reaching for the tissues as you wait to see what James and Regine will do.
If you enjoy reading class differences, lovable rogue, duchess, and intrepid heroine love stories with a pinch of mystery, a dash of humor, and gripping emotion, then you’ll adore Collette Cameron’s enthralling SEDUCTIVE SCOUNDRELS SERIES. Buy DUCHESS OF HIS HEART and settle into your favorite reading nook for a page-turning, entertaining Regency world adventure you can’t put down.
Though this book can easily be read as a stand-alone, most readers prefer to read the series in order.
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“A second chance for two people who have loved each other for many years. A novella that will make your heart ache.” ★★★★★~~Margaret
“Collette comes up with the most original and beautiful stories and this one will not disappoint. ” ★★★★★~Kat Wiley
“This Novella is pure entertainment on a lost love…” ★★★★★~Maxine Wilson
“Another “couldn’t put it down” from Ms Cameron.” ★★★★★~Lisa C
“Collette Cameron has outdone herself” ★★★★★~Diane D.
“This is a spectacular, quick moving story that captivates the reader and makes it impossible to stop reading.” ★★★★★~~Ghazal
“Collette Cameron writes in a way you feel and understand all the emotions the characters are going through.” ★★★★★~Rosemary
“Sweet but engaging from beginning to end. ” ★★★★★~Alyl02
Standing in the apple orchard, a short walking distance from the village of Colchester and All Saint’s Priory—his father’s parish—James Brentwood gazed overhead. Ribbons of sunlight threaded through the thick, verdant foliage heavily laden with crisp, crimson fruit.
Closing his eyes, he inhaled the familiar scents from his childhood: rich, warm earth, ripe apples, freshly cut hay, and an occasional whiff of honeysuckle drifting by on the capricious fall breeze.
Nearby, industrious bees hummed as they went about their work, and songbirds trilled while flitting from branch to branch. In the distance, his sister’s chickens cackled, and a horse neighed in the adjacent pasture. He missed the peace and freshness of the English countryside when in London.
Before letting his mind wander once more, he cast a puzzled glance down the dusty, rutted lane. Regine was several minutes late. Unusual for her. Typically, she was as eager for their clandestine meetings as he, and she often beat him to their rendezvous.
Regine. Just thinking of his beloved tightened James’s chest as overwhelming emotion tunneled through his veins. God, how he loved her. Since she’d been a toddler and he a young lad, he’d adored the raven-haired beauty with eyes so blue, they put the summer sky to shame.
If not for her father’s recent and unexpected death, he would’ve asked for her hand in marriage this visit even though two years of his solicitor’s training remained. He’d have to bide his time a jot longer, blast it all.
Scratching his temple, he grinned with unchecked happiness. Regine had agreed to become his wife over a year ago. They kept the agreement a secret but often spoke of their future residing together in London—him a successful solicitor and she, the mother of his four—no five—children.
Neither aspired to wealth or position nor coveted possessions. Each only needed the other, and they would be happy and content for the rest of their lives. Or so they’d vowed between passionate kisses and promises of eternal love.
Tomorrow, he’d return to London, but he’d savor these last few hours with Regine before bidding her farewell—after tasting her sweet mouth and breathing in her apple and spices fragrance one final time. Finances wouldn’t permit him to return for at least a fortnight, and he craved memories to savor until her lush form was wrapped in his embrace once more.
At last, he heard muffled footsteps approaching, and he turned, excitement and expectation vying for supremacy. At eighteen, Regine Edenshaw was a vision, even in her somber, black gown. Her unbound silky, ebony hair swayed as she walked, her eyes downcast and neck bent as if deep in thought.
She was his. His. Or would be as soon as her mourning period ended. James would have to harness his impatience for a few more months before asking Mrs. Edenshaw for her daughter’s hand. Pray God Regine’s mother wouldn’t require them to wait an entire year to wed as mourning protocol dictated.
Regine stopped a few feet away and reluctantly brought her gaze up to meet his.
His heart stalled at the intense sorrow and regret pooled in her eyes. Eyes sparkling with unshed tears.
Her lips parted, but no words came forth.
“Darling, what is it?” He moved to gather her into his arms, to soothe away whatever had distressed her, but she shook her head and held a palm up to ward him off. Torment ravaged her delicate features.
Alarm took root, spiraling outward from James’s stomach and sending a chill washing over him. By God, if someone had dared to harm her.
“Sweetheart?” He brushed a fingertip across her satiny cheek. “What has you so distressed? Tell me.” Somehow, he’d make whatever troubled her right—anything to put a smile on her bowed mouth and erase the sadness shadowing her azure eyes.
“James…” Shoulders slumping, she clamped her lower lip between her teeth, and her lashes fluttered downward to caress her pale cheeks.
His trepidation kicked up several notches, and dread engulfed him. The instinct that made him a damn good solicitor fairly shrieked. He wasn’t going to like what she said. Not at all.
“James,” she murmured again, her voice a mere thread of sound—a soft, spine-tingling entreaty in the now eerily silent orchard. Then she opened her mouth, gulped in a deep breath, and thrust her chin upward as if bracing herself.
Against what, for God’s sake?
He swept the area with a swift, apprehensive glance, before settling his attention uneasily upon her once more. Something akin to terror knotted in his throat at the defeat and devastation he detected in her startlingly blue eyes. It stripped the air from his lungs and squeezed his heart in a ruthless, unyielding vise.
“I…” she drew in a ragged breath. “I am to be married,” she finally said in a rush, dropping her focus to her hands, repeatedly wadding her black skirts.
What? Married? No. No. You’re mine. Mine! My dearest, most precious love.
“Pardon?” he whispered stupidly, his lips stiff and voice gravelly with disbelief and pain. “Married?” He shook his head. He couldn’t have heard her correctly. But he had. Her tense posture and waxen pallor revealed the truth.
“To who?” Or was it whom? What the hell did it matter? His thoughts raced, pell-mell, around his befuddled mind, all ability to reason calmly having flown. You cannot marry another. You cannot! You said you’d be my wife.
“To the Duke of Heartwaite,” she replied, her voice flat and devoid of emotion.
A bloody duke? He fisted his hands until the nails cut deeply into his palms.
How could he, a poor vicar’s son with scarcely two coins to rub together and in training to become a solicitor, compete with a sodding duke? Moisture blurring his vision, he choked out a single, strangled syllable, “When?”
“Next week.” Her throat working and her hand trembling, she touched a bent knuckle to the corner of one eye. “I’m so sorry, James.”
“Why?” He tenderly grasped her slender arms, peering into her anguished eyes awash with tears. “Why, Regine? I love you. You love me, too.” Didn’t she? Yes, else why would she be this miserable? “Please, I beg you, don’t do this to us.”
Eyes wide and tortured, she silently gazed at him, and the truth slammed into James with the force of an over-loaded grain wagon. A duke could offer her everything he couldn’t: position, power, prestige, and wealth.
Evidently, love was a trifling insignificance compared to those necessities.
James stumbled backward, shaking his head, the pain eviscerating him so excruciating, he almost doubled over. Almost roared aloud against the knives carving and cleaving unmercifully into his heart and soul. And he did what any animal mortally wounded did. Reacted with primal rage and the urge to protect itself.
Curling his upper lip into a sneer, he raked his contemptuous gaze over her. “I’ve been so damned stupid.” A complete and utter idiot. “I believed you were different. That money and position didn’t matter—”
“They don’t, James. Not in the way you think.” She held a delicate palm out to him, beseechingly. “Please let me explain. I owe you that much.” Her voice broke, and when he didn’t take her outstretched hand, she let it drop to her side. “I am sorry,” she murmured again, her face ashen, and her eyes wounded pools.
Sorry? Sorry? He didn’t want her God-damned apology. He wanted her!
Something inside him splintered, fracturing into a million pieces, and where his heart had once been, an unfeeling stone replaced the mangled organ.
He threw his head back and laughed, harsh and cynical. “You don’t owe me anything, Regine.” With that, he turned his back and stalked away, resolutely disregarding her sobs, her vows that she loved him, and her pleas for him to listen to her.
Never again would he be taken in by a beautiful face or pledges of love and promises of forever.