How to Win a Duke’s Heart
Seductive Scoundrels Book 14
Some fairy tales begin with love at first sight. This is not one of those tales…
Sophronie Slater had no interest in getting married. Even if she did, the Duke of Waycross would not be her choice. She would, however, do anything for her father. So, in honor of his dying wish to see her legally bound to the contrary, annoyingly handsome Scot who drives her mad, she agrees to a very temporary marriage. She’ll never love him, though. At least, that was the plan…
Evan Gordonstone has no interest in romance. Caring for his relatives and restoring his duchy to profitability is about all he can manage. But if he has any hope of one day realizing his dream of breeding and racing horses, he needs Sophronie. Their arranged marriage will fix all his problems. Assuming he doesn’t fall for his lovely new wife and ruin everything…
Sophronie and Evan are about to find out that opposites can attract in the most unexpected—and sensual—ways. But when all is said and done, can they win each other’s hearts and turn their fake marriage into a real happily ever after?
Free to Kindle Unlimited Subscribers
See what readers are saying!
“Another highly recommended, engrossing read which I devoured in a sitting, I just loved it” ★★★★★ ~ Janet
“Loved these characters and their families, and became so invested in their story I couldn’t put it down.” ★★★★★ ~ Lisa C
Fun Fact About Collette: Collette’s publishing company is called Blue Rose Romance® LLC. If you’ve seen her author branding, you’ll understand why. Roses and blue everywhere!
“This was a beautiful hate-to-love story with great characters, some moments that had me choked up, some humor, and a great ending.” ★★★★★ ~ Kristi Hudecek-Ashwill
“This wonderful enemies-to-lovers story captured my attention from page one. So much so that I finished the book in one sitting. It was that good!” ★★★★★ ~ Terrie Norris
“This is a beautiful love stor of enemies to friends to so much more. I absolutely adored Evan and his commitment to be committed.” ★★★★★ ~ Ghazal
“I was hooked on this book in the first few pages…” ★★★★★ ~ Lana Birky
“With her signature style, infinite humor and unforgettable characters, Collette Cameron has crafted a story that continues to make her one of my favorite authors.” ★★★★★ ~ Lori Dykes
“The story was original, had the true feeling of the regency era and Roni & Evan just sizzled. What a great read.” ★★★★★ ~ Kat Tolle
“This is a wonderful enemies to lovers story that will keep you entertained and unable to put it down.” ★★★★★ ~ Debbie W
“This book is a delightful addition to the author’s Seductive Scoundrel series. It is a very charming enemies-to-lovers tale that has been woven by Ms. Cameron.” ★★★★★ ~ Diana A
Chapter One Excerpt
7 August 1810—half past ten in the morning
Eager for any sight of the sleek racehorses, Sophronie Slater leaned forward on the luxurious gold velvet seat until her nose practically touched the glass. As she peered out the coach’s dusty windows, butterflies giddily flitted around her tummy.
How she loved the races. Ever so much more than stuffy, pompous balls, routs, and soirees.
Only Scottish-bred horses were permitted to run the Belleisle track, and she was curious to learn how the horseflesh would measure up against the thoroughbreds she and her father raised in America. Or against the impressive high steppers Papa had purchased while they’d been in England these past months.
Remorse prodded her conscience when she considered the ocean voyage the poor beasts would have to endure, secured in the ship’s bowels for weeks on the return journey to Virginia. Papa had cautioned her against purchasing too many horses for that very reason.
So far, Sophronie had only bought a lovely broodmare at Tattersall’s a few weeks ago. On the other hand, Father had made several purchases, including a trio of sinewy racehorses: two colts and a filly.
However, she was too excited about today’s race to remain downcast for more than a passing moment. Unlike some breeders or racehorse owners, the Slaters prided themselves on taking the very best care of their animals.
Sophronie scrutinized the scenery as the coach slowly trundled along. The coachmen called out harsh warnings to anyone or anything in the path of the brilliant matched black team. Other drivers cursed and shouted as they too maneuvered wagons, carriages, dog carts, and all manner of other conveyances through the growing throng.
A man hurried past with a boy on his shoulders of perhaps five or six years and clutching a bright red and blue top. Two grinning older lads trotted behind them, each waving a cup and ball toy. A woman who might’ve been their mother, carrying a toddler with glossy raven curls and her thumb stuck in her mouth, followed at a more sedate pace. From their tidy but plain attire, Sophronie guessed them to be local villagers on an outing.
Farther along, two couples dressed in the first stare of fashion strolled along, preening in the attention they received. The ladies twirled their lacy parasols as their menfolk strutted behind them like proud peacocks.
Racecourses brought all manner of people together. For a few hours, social class and position were forgotten and spectators, rich and poor alike, cheered for their favorite horse.
Would the surly Duke of Waycross be there today?
Did hungry piglets squeal?
Sophronie released a forceful, indelicate snort, and Papa issued a warning. “Ahem.”
“Pardon me, Papa.”
Sending him a contrite smile, she adjusted her position on the seat to better see out the small window. A fly landed on the glass, crawling a convoluted path until a wheel sank into a rut, jarred the conveyance, and sent the insect on its way. Fine dust particles crept into the well-made coach, and the promise of a warm day and the large crowd might’ve put a less robust woman off.
Sophronie searched the cottony cloud-ridden azure sky.
It was a perfect day for a horse race.
She lived for events like these. No, she thrived on activities of this nature; outdoors, away from the rigid strictures of Society, and in the proximity of horses.
What could be better?
What more could she desire?
Only one thing.
The day would be far more enjoyable if she didn’t have to worry about encountering the disagreeable Duke of Waycross.
Of course the craggy-faced, imposing Scot would be here, stomping around and scowling at everyone and everything. Waycross also raised and raced horses, and usually that would’ve exalted him to a lofty status in her estimation. Nevertheless, a more unpleasant man Sophronie had never met. His love of horseflesh couldn’t compensate for his gruff temperament and severe presence.
In truth, she’d never seen the duke smile.
Scowl, frown, smirk, sneer, deride, mock, curse, and grimace?
Oh, aye. Many, many times. But a genuine smile of warmth or humor? Not once. Not even a nascent upward tip of his firm lips.
What caused a man to be that grim and humorless?
“We’re only here to observe the race today, my girl,” Papa said by way of warning for at least the third time. They were to return home at the end of August, and securing accommodations for any more horseflesh aboard a ship bound for Virginia might prove difficult.
“I know, Papa,” Sophronie responded, her attention still fixed on the teeming grounds.
A stunning raven-haired woman atop a sidesaddle, and wearing an elegant empire-style raspberry-red riding habit adorned with black and silver accents, expertly guided her dun-colored mare toward the racetrack. The black scarf secured around the lady’s jaunty top hat flowed behind her in the breeze like a banner as she rode.
A delicate black lace veil concealed her features, but there could be no doubting she was quality. Likely an aristocrat, given the alert and identically navy-blue and saffron-yellow-liveried footmen riding in her wake like soldiers guarding their queen.
Sophronie glanced down at her bottle-green and peony-pink striped traveling costume. A slight frown tugged her eyebrows together. The bright pink silk of her spencer was more appropriate for a walk in Hyde Park than a racecourse. Perhaps she ought to have worn a gown in a more subdued hue.
Giving a mental shrug, she turned her attention outdoors once more. It was too late to worry about her ensemble now. At least her fawn-colored half boots would serve her well. If she’d had her way, she’d have worn her boys’ attire—including sensible boots that came to her knees. Skirts were so cumbersome. Men had no idea the freedom something as trivial as trousers provided them.
A race never failed to stir her blood, and today was no exception. Fortunately, the sport was widely admired by both males and females, and for a change, Sophronie’s presence wouldn’t be remarked upon. No male would level her an affronted glare, mutter grievances beneath his breath, or declare a woman’s attendance wasn’t de rigueur.
Sophronie doubted she was capable of being de rigueur, and if that truth offended le beau monde’s stodgy sensibilities, she didn’t give two farthings. She wasn’t English, and the approval of the upper ten thousand meant nothing to her. However, her father was of a different opinion.
She cast him a swift glance only to find him studying her again as he relaxed against the posh squabs. He’d done that often of late, particularly since they’d come to England. Fiddling with the silk cord of her pink crocheted and beaded reticule, she speculated for the umpteenth time whether he’d anticipated she’d find a husband on this trip. After all, she was nearly three and twenty.
Surely Papa understood she couldn’t marry an Englishman and live far away from her beloved father. She’d never entertained the notion finding a husband in England, not even for half a second. Her home was in Virginia and her husband, should there ever be one, would be an American.
She’d met plenty of pleasant, friendly people in England. Indeed, she’d made a few dear friends she would write to for the rest of her life. But the truth of it was, Sophronie was too different, too untamed, too unrefined to truly fit into English society. What was more, she didn’t want to. The strictures, rules, and expectations were suffocating at best and hypocritical at worst.
As George Slater’s only surviving child, Papa had cosseted her. They both knew he had. There’d been a boy and girl born to Sophronie’s parents before her birth. Elias and Molly had died from a fever, as had Mama a week later when Sophronie had been a toddler.
If it weren’t for the family portrait, painted shortly before her mother, sister, and brother had fallen ill, she’d not know what they looked like. Her memories of them had faded with time until barely any details remained. Regret filled her as they’d become hazy images she couldn’t see clearly. It grieved and frightened her that she could forget people she’d loved so very much.
It was unfair—no, cruel.
Time had robbed her of those precious memories. Some people claimed the passing of time was a blessing—time heals all wounds—but time also stole irreplaceable recollections. In truth, Sophronie believed she would rather feel the pain if it meant her memories remained intact.
Well aware of how often Papa indulged her whims, she tried not to take advantage of his affection. After the death of her siblings and Mama, Sophronie and Papa had grown ever closer.
As he had no sons, George Slater permitted her to learn the intricate business of raising and breeding horseflesh. An uncommon practice which offended the genteel sensibilities of their neighbors, his pompous cronies, and nearly everyone in New England in any way associated with horse breeding or racing, but which made her adore him all the more.
She’d excelled at both equine breeding and racing and had become an accomplished jockey to boot. That was a source of pride for Sophronie and her father but a pebble in the shoe of many other men. Particularly a rugged Scotsman’s large, scuffed boots. Men didn’t take kindly to a woman besting them at anything, and most especially not a sport generally reserved for males.
George Octavius Slater was a fair man—an honest man. A man of faith, integrity, and honor. He didn’t boast about his self-made wealth, nor did he look down upon those who were less fortunate.
In point of fact, he was somewhat of a champion for the underdog, and he expected his hoyden of a daughter to act with kindheartedness and graciousness at all times. Papa might excuse Sophronie’s lack of decorum, but ill humor or meanness was unacceptable.
Papa had long ago given up shaping her into a respectable young woman of high station, although Sophronie could pass for a polished lady when circumstances required it. He might disapprove of her riding astride in breeches, participating in horse races, bidding at Tattersall’s, and any number of other unladylike pursuits, but still he loved her and tolerated her wild nature.
Only so far as it came to her love of horses, however.
A wicked grin twitched the corners of Sophronie’s mouth, and she angled her head so that her bonnet’s brim hid her smirk from her father.
She’d outbid that brusque Scotsman, Evan Gordonstone, Duke of Waycross, at Tattersall’s, and he had yet to forgive her. Even after he’d secured that magnificent Friesian from the Gypsy travelers in June, despite Sophronie’s best efforts to buy the stallion.
In truth, she hadn’t intended to use the horse for breeding stock but rather her own mount. Nevertheless, common sense had eventually prevailed because not only was the stallion too large for her small frame, she couldn’t bear the notion of him being confined below a ship’s deck for weeks.
An animal as powerful and regal as the Friesian ought to be running free in verdant pastures, his glossy ebony mane and tail waving in the wind. Her smug smile faded, replaced by an almost peeved frown. Almost, except she wouldn’t give Waycross the satisfaction, even if the boor wasn’t present to see her peevishness.
The triumphant glint in his blue-gray eyes when she’d finally conceded the horse to him had almost been enough to change her mind about allowing the duke the stallion. She possessed the funds to outbid Waycross. The ornery man certainly didn’t deserve any leniency or sympathy from her after the impolite, disdainful manner in which he’d treated her these many weeks.
Regardless, Sophronie had recognized the immediate bond between Waycross and the stallion. A melding together of majestic animal and a man more feral beast than sophisticated duke. That type of unity was rare and heartwarming.
Truth be told, she hadn’t believed Waycross capable of the gentler emotions she’d witnessed playing across his angular face that June afternoon when he haggled with the Gypsy over the stallion’s price.
The duke had never been anything but icily civil to her—just barely at that. No, he’d been downright hostile at the Gypsy encampment when he’d bought the Friesian.
Regardless, she would not permit him to ruin this glorious day.
Little dust clouds kicked up here and there as all manner of vehicles lumbered about, searching for a place to deposit their occupants or to park. Hawkers called their wares from crude, temporary booths set up along the perimeter of the makeshift lane.
She perked up and squinted at a stand.
Was that toffee?
Sophronie made a mental note to purchase the delicious confection before she left. She readily admitted she had a sweet tooth, but only for specific treats. Topping the list were toffee, pralines, and sweet potato pie. Just thinking about the desserts made her mouth water, despite her hearty breakfast.
Perhaps she’d purchase the toffee straightaway, lest the merchant sell out quickly.
A quartet of lads ran by, laughing and hollering. A brown dog of indeterminable breeding yapped at their heels.
The air fairly tingled with excitement and expectation.
After a rather tipsy gentleman doffed his hat at her, Sophronie drew back into the shadow of the coach’s interior. Even she wasn’t unwise enough to encourage a tippler’s foxed attention.
Unsurprisingly, none of the racehorses were visible amid the congestion of conveyances and crowd of spectators. She slid a glance to her father, tranquil with ankles crossed and hands folded upon his stomach.
His gray-peppered mustache quivered as he attempted to appear solemn.
“We’re not here to buy horses, Roni,” Papa reminded her again, using his pet name for her.
Grinning, she cocked her head as she pulled her gloves up. “Unless, of course, you see an animal you cannot resist.”
“No. Not this time, my dear.” Shaking his head, he chuckled. “I came at Waycross’s behest.”
That brought Sophronie up short. She paused in adjusting her embroidered green satin gloves. “The Duke of Waycross?”
Why hadn’t he said as much before?
Probably because he knew she’d object.
Papa merely lifted a satirical eyebrow. “I’m not acquainted with any other gentleman of that name. Are you?”
He well knew she wasn’t.
She tried not to sound as flummoxed as she felt. “He sought your opinion?”
And not hers?
Well, why should he have done? After all. She was a woman, and “women have nae place raisin’ horseflesh or imposin’ themselves upon male pursuits.”
She’d heard Waycross angrily mutter those very words and hadn’t a doubt he’d meant for her to overhear him.
The coach groaned to a rocking halt.
“Yes, he did.” Papa straightened and adjusted his hat. He looked rather dapper. He was still a handsome man, but he’d shown no interest in remarrying after Mama’s death. “He has his eye on two horses and wanted my opinion as to which would be the better stud.”
Disappointment engulfed the coach, muting Sophronie’s earlier exuberance.
That meant she would indeed see Waycross today.
They would quarrel.
It was inevitable as water running downhill toward the sea.
Sophronie and Waycross always did. No matter how determined she was to not react to the duke’s deliberate goading, as predictably as a match touched to tinder burst into flames, she lost her temper. What was more, she couldn’t deny a surge of triumph when irritation sparked in his stormy eyes. There was something most satisfying about getting beneath the severe duke’s sun-browned skin.
The coach bounced and squeaked as one of the stocky drivers descended to open the conveyance’s door.
“Pet, I know you and the duke have been at cross purposes. But I believe Waycross is a decent man. An upstanding and honorable man.” Papa winked. “You won’t like hearing it, Roni, but the pair of you are very much alike in many ways.”
The door swung open.
“Are you daft, Papa?” Sophronie couldn’t help her disrespect or raised pitch. Shock and surprise had a way of sending one’s voice to the ceiling and making one forget one’s manners. “I am nothing like the Duke of Waycross. He’s a growly, cantankerous bear. His teeth and claws are always bared and ready to draw blood. Usually mine.”
“Sophronie.” Papa’s tone turned stern, a warning in his tenor. “That is beneath you.”
It was true nonetheless.
“Never fear, Papa. I shall behave today. I give my word.”
The irascible Duke of Waycross would find no fault with her comportment this day. For her father’s sake, Sophronie fully intended to be the quintessence of serene decorum in the duke’s presence. She would staunchly refuse to be drawn into a verbal sparring match. Even if it meant she had to bite her tongue. Literally.
She angled toward the exit and froze, a groan lodging in her throat.
No, not fiddlesticks. That was far, far too tame an expletive.
Bloody, bloody hell.
Papa hadn’t been warning her to behave today but rather cautioning her to hold her tongue now.
In all of his imposing ruggedness, Evan Gordonstone, Duke of Waycross, had opened the coach door. But of course he had. The man had the most exasperating habit of appearing wherever Sophronie least wanted him to be.
She summoned a smile so disingenuous, her facial muscles twitched in betrayal.
Perchance he hadn’t heard her unflattering outburst.
His features granite hard and just as inflexible, Waycross raised an imperial, slashing black eyebrow.
“Sorry to disappoint ye, but there havena been bears in Scotland since the fifth century or thereabouts, Miss Slater.”