Never Dance with a Duke
Seductive Scoundrels Book 7
The cost of trust is more than she’s willing to pay. But he’ll do everything he can to change her mind…
A scandal ruined her future…
Nicolette Twistleton delights in thumbing her nose at Society. After all, becoming the Spiteful Spinster was what helped her through being jilted by her betrothed. Putting her faith in another man? Impossible. But there’s something about the entirely too handsome and charming Mathias Pembroke that makes her wish she was the kind of woman who could learn to trust again.
A secret can destroy his…
Mathias, Duke of Westfall, wants nothing to do with his inherited title and all the public scrutiny it brings. He has dark secrets to protect, and can’t afford to be distracted by the trappings of Society. What he apparently can be distracted by, however, is the lovely Nicolette. He understands her pain and knows he could help her heal…if only she were willing to open her heart to him.
Can love save them both?
When ghosts from the past emerge and threaten the fragile bonds they’ve begun to build, Nicolette and Mathias find themselves caught between their feelings for each other and devastating scandal. Will love be enough to protect them—or was their happily ever after doomed from the very start?
This friends-to-lovers, second chance historical romance by a USA Today bestselling author, will have you flipping the pages to find out if Mathias and Nicolette trust themselves to love again.
If you enjoy reading witty, lovable rogue and duke love stories with a pinch of mystery, a dash of humor, and soul-searing emotion, then you’ll adore Collette Cameron’s enthralling SEDUCTIVE SCOUNDRELS SERIES. Buy NEVER DANCE WITH A DUKE 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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See what readers are saying!
“Never Dance with a Duke is a wonderfully written historical romance novel with the emphasis on romance. This is a lovely and delightfully romantic read from beginning to end.” ★★★★★ ~Georgianna Simpson, The Reading Café
“The characters were vivid, the descriptions crisp and the author’s writing style draws you in.” ★★★★★~ Louise
“A lovely story of romance with wonderful characters and witty dialogue.” ★★★★★ ~ Teresa Reitnauer
“…superbly written with the story pulling you in for an intoxicating ride.” ★★★★★~ Brown2
“Well-written, witty dialogue, romance, heartwarming and is joy to read.” ★★★★★~ Diane Spigonardo
“The story is very well-written and well-executed with just enough humor to keep you smiling throughout.” ~ Barbara Rogers
“How I loved this book. It was the literary embodiment of what a good romance should be.” ~ Kristi Hudecek-Ashwill
“I read this book in a sitting as I couldn’t / wouldn’t put it down, I just loved it.” ~ Janet
“Once again Ms Cameron takes us on a journey of the heart and how to trust in its power.” ★★★★★~ Lisa C
Chapter One Excerpt
Hyde Park, London
Morning, 15 May 1810
Nicolette Twistleton puffed out a soft, poignant sigh as she strolled the sun-dappled footpath along the southern bank of the Serpentine in Hyde Park.
Bella, her pug puppy, frolicked about, yanking on her leash in an energetic attempt to investigate every single thing she happened upon: leaves, sticks, insects, rocks, worms, people— and their shoes. She had a particular penchant for the latter, which she thoroughly enjoyed ruining with her needle-like teeth.
Thus far, a trio of Nicolette’s slippers and a pair of half-boots had met a gruesome end.
A pair of brownish-gray mourning doves swooped across the pathway, landing beneath a flowering cherry tree’s heavily laden branches. Cooing softly, they touched bills, in what almost appeared to be an avian kiss.
Several feet behind Nicolette—enough to permit a bit of privacy but not so much as to cause raised eyebrows—her maid, Jane, carried Nicolette’s parasol and hummed softly to herself.
A distracted half-smile curving her mouth, Jane twirled the plump pink peony she’d plucked from the front flower bed when they left the house an hour ago.
Jane was madly in love.
She and Jack, one of the Twistleton grooms, were to wed next month. Her dreamy expression and wistful sighs were beginning to wear on Nicolette’s tattered nerves, however. As happy as she was for the loyal servant, she couldn’t prevent the reoccurring twinge in the region of her heart.
Oh, the pang most assuredly was not envy.
No indeed—God forbid such a wholly ludicrous idea.
The familiar ache was a bitter reminder of Nicolette’s absolute humiliation and devastation two years ago. Her then betrothed, Alfonse Bremerton, the Duke of Kilbourne, had jilted her a mere four hours before they were to have exchanged vows at St. George’s Church. After the odious churl had danced with her thrice at a ball the night before, pretending to be the doting soon-to-be groom.
When his note had arrived the morn of their wedding day, she’d eagerly opened it, expecting a love note.
I cannot marry you.
Kilbourne hadn’t even deemed her worthy of an endearment.
Twelve short syllables.
Thirteen if you counted Alfonse’s initial, which she did not.
That was all it took to destroy Nicolette’s life, her plans for the future, and make her determined never to trust a rogue again. Or even marry for that matter.
How could she possibly ever trust her gullible heart again?
By the time she’d received her former betrothed cryptic note calling off their wedding, the cowardly cur was already half-way to Gretna Green with Maribelle Grosenick—a vulgarly rich heiress hailing from America.
Even more mortifying—salt in an already festering wound—Kilbourne’s heir, a healthy male child, had entered the world a mere six-and one-half months later. Irrefutable proof that the blackguard had been playing Nicolette false during their courtship.
And he’d dared—dared, by God!—to plead with her to consummate their vows the eve of their wedding. After all, they were to exchange vows on the morrow, he’d cajoled, and all the while, Kilbourne been plotting to scorn her.
Scapegrace. Hog-grubber. Jackanape.
Typical man—controlled by that thing between his legs and not the brain in the head atop his shoulders. And most assuredly not governed by any sense of decency, honor, or chivalry.
“Contemptible, maggot-patted bounder.” She snorted, loudly and most indelicately, earning her a curious look from Bella’s big brown eyes and also sending the cooing doves to wing.
“No, I wasn’t talking to you, my precious darling,” Nicolette told the sweet little dog, she acquired the purebred pug in Colechester two months ago. Bending, she patted Bella’s soft head, earning a doggy grin in return. “Are you having fun?”
Tongue lolling, Bella gazed at her adoringly and promptly tried to nip Nicolette’s gloved fingers in an attempt to play. Everything was a chew toy for the teething pup.
Thank goodness for this little dog who’d helped ease the sadness and loneliness Nicolette hid from the world behind a carefully constructed contradictory facade: part carefree flirt and part coldly aloof spinster.
She donned her mask of gay coquette and pretended to all of the world that she didn’t have a single care. That being jilted hadn’t affected her in the least. Until a man became too familiar or forward, then she retreated into an icy shell.
Men never knew which she’d be, on any given occasion, and she preferred it that way. It kept them slightly off-balance, which meant they couldn’t ever get close to her. And if they couldn’t get close, she ran no risk of heartbreak again.
It also kept the gentlemen from presuming too much. And Nicolette’s caustic tongue deterred even the more daring of the bucks from over boldness. She’d once overheard two matrons declaring Nicolette’s tongue was sharp enough to scrape barnacles from a ship.
Bah, she scolded herself for allowing her mind to wander down these melancholy paths on such a lovely day.
She was better off without Kilbourne.
That, she now knew to be an unqualified fact. For a man who’d stray while betrothed would assuredly do so once vows had been exchanged.
Had Maribelle considered that when she’d dallied with another’s affianced?
She ought to have.
For if the rumors were accurate—and there was generally a tidbit of truth in all tattle if one dug around enough to find the nugget—he’d recently become romantically entangled with an Italian opera singer.
Another sound of disgust echoed in Nicolette’s throat.
That made his fifth mistress since marrying.
Perchance, the lure of a title had sufficed for Maribelle, and after providing the requisite heir, she was content with her lot. Gossip also had it that the Duchess of Kilbourne was in the Americas for an extensive visit.
So perhaps, she’d come to her senses, after all.
Nevertheless, from that fateful day onward, at twenty years old, Nicolette had relegated love and all of the other flimflam associated with the useless emotion to a fusty, secluded corner of her heart. Where, in time, she hoped to forget she’d ever entertained such foolish, fanciful notions.
Pragmatism had replaced romanticism—reality instead of girlish daydreams.
Her desire for love had been exchanged with a passion for adventure. At least that’s what she believed this restlessness besetting her was. She’d approached Mama and Ansley about the possibility of traveling to exotic foreign destinations. But both had looked at her with such incredulity, she might’ve sprouted a pair of wings upon her shoulders or feathers in her hair.
Her mother and brother did not share her enthusiasm for exploring other cultures and places. They were perfectly content dividing their time between London during the Season and Fawtonbrooke Hall the rest of the time.
Oh, an occasional short holiday to Bath or Bristol, or even a jaunt to France or Scotland for a few days, might be acceptable. But nothing so dramatic or distant as exploring ancient cities or other antiquities.
However, for a spinster facing a boring, lonely future, the notion of visiting faraway, mystical places had taken the place of her desire for love, marriage, and children.
Or so Nicolette told herself. Repeatedly. Daily.
However, as contradictory as it might be, she was sincerely glad for her married friends. Several had recently fallen in love and were happy as grigs with their very own dukes. Just because love hadn’t worked out well for her, didn’t mean she begrudged them their happily ever afters.
She, alone, seemed to have been Cupid’s failure.
Puzzling her forehead, she bit her lower lip and skirted a fallen branch, a remnant from last night’s windstorm.
The whole being jilted ordeal still hurt. Awfully. Encompassed Nicolette with a desolation, she only acknowledged when lying in her lonely bed at night. When all of the day’s activities were behind her, and her mind was, at last, permitted to contemplate the reality she stoically ignored otherwise.
Nicolette faced a solitary and purposeless future, and when she’d grown tired of proving to le beau monde that she didn’t care about being tossed aside, what would she do?
Upon spying a twig on the path, Bella yipped and tugged upon her leash. She pounced on her unwitting prey before clamping her little jaws around the eight-inch long stick and marching along proudly for a few steps, her curled tail in the air.
Only in the last couple of weeks had Nicolette’s training Bella to walk on a leash met with enough success that the puppy could accompany her the entire length of her morning walks.
When an immense long-haired black dog loped by on the adjacent green, she promptly deserted her toy, dropping it to the pathway and trying with all of her might to chase the dog. The runt of her litter, Bella had no notion of her extra small size, even at almost four months old.
In the distance, an impatient male voice called after the large dog. “Sampson! Stop.”
Oh, dear. Had he escaped his owner?
Undoubtedly, and one snap of his big jaws would severely injure Bella.
“No, Bella,” Nicolette gently admonished.
The biscuit-colored pup was still learning appropriate leash behavior. She strained against her restraint, her sturdy little body visibly quivering for another moment before Bella reluctantly resumed her version of strolling.
These early morning promenades, when Mama was still abed, were the only times Nicolette claimed for herself. She raised her face to catch a ray of sun feathering through the bright green foliage.
Its warmth soothed and rejuvenated her.
It was a glorious spring morning, and she breathed out a deep, cleansing breath.
Typically, the weather would’ve invigorated Nicolette and helped prepare her to face whatever social fracas Mama had decided she must endure for the day and evening.
Always—always, dash it all—with the ultimate goal of seeing her happily wed. Mama wasn’t ready to quit the field just yet regarding Nicolette’s nuptials—more’s the pity. She still dreamed her only daughter would find a suitable husband and eventual contentment.
And live happily ever after.
Pshaw. Nicolette wrinkled her nose.
As if that was ever going to happen now.
She’d given love a chance once, and with a few exceptions—her brother Ansley, Earl of Scarborough, being one—she’d henceforth concluded men were toads. No, toads could be cute, intriguing creatures, and it was unfair to make the comparison.
Surely she could do better than that.
Yes, men were cockroaches—the lot of them.
Most especially handsome dukes.
Well, excluding her friends’ husbands—the Dukes of Sheffield, Sutcliffe, Bainbridge, and Pennington—who were decent enough chaps, she supposed.
Fine then, not all lords were devil’s spawns. Just most.
Mindful of her propensity to freckle, Nicolette lowered her face, and her pink bonnet’s brim blocked the soothing sunshine once more. A smile tipped her mouth as Bella spotted a squirrel and made to charge after the small creature.
However, this particular squirrel, nearly as big as the pug, wasn’t having any of Bella’s bravado. It sat upon its haunches, scolding the puppy soundly for her impudence.
“Ruff.” Bella hopped on all fours. “Ruff. Ruff. Ruff.”
Hop. Hop. Hop.
She bounced on her sturdy little legs again, whining fretfully in her attempts to reach the taunting rodent.
Why, the little gray wretch appeared to grin tauntingly at Bella. It’s small, sharp, yellow teeth clearly showing, it even made little chirping noises, which sounded distinctly like squirrely chuckles.
The dog that had raced by earlier must’ve heard Bella’s frantic barks for it came tearing across the green straight toward them. Nicolette’s heart faltered before kicking into double time.
A liveried footman charged after the creature, but he couldn’t possibly catch the animal before he was upon Nicolette.
Was the enormous beast friendly?
She wasn’t waiting to find out.
She’d just scooped Bella into her arms when the rambunctious, hairy dog plowed into her. Panting and drooling, it reared onto its hind legs.
Releasing a startled squeak, Nicolette staggered under the creature’s weight. Resting his enormous paws on Nicolette’s arms, all the while rooting about with his broad muzzle, the brute tried to sniff Bella.
“Miss Nicolette!” Jane screamed, dropping her flower and rushing forward, wielding the parasol like a saber. She whacked the mongrel on his haunches, but she might as well have used a feather for all the good it did.
“Get away from them!” she cried.
“Leave her be, you great, hairy brute!” Jane ordered.
Nicolette well knew Jane didn’t possess the gumption to strike the dog hard enough to hurt it. Not that it would feel much through the thick pelt covering its large frame.
Her heart stampeding and Bella growling a warning low in her throat, Nicolette wrapped her arms more securely about the outraged, wriggling puppy. Shoulders hunched, she turned her back to the other dog, still persisting in trying to snuffle Bella.
Why must dogs always greet one another with intrusive, and sometimes rather embarrassing, sniffing?
Nicolette feared that at any moment, she’d feel sharp teeth shredding her flesh or hear Bella shriek in pain.
What manner of owner permitted their dog—a dog this large and intimidating—to run wild in Hyde Park for pity’s sake? In truth, the circumstance might send a woman with a less robust constitution into histrionics or a swoon.
Nicolette wasn’t prone to either. She wasn’t that sort of woman and didn’t plan on becoming one.
The dog hadn’t growled or bared its teeth, and therefore, she deduced it wasn’t vicious. But the sheer size of the beast made standing upright almost impossible. Under the creature’s weight, Nicolette stumbled forward a pair of steps. It certainly felt as if the dog weighed almost as much as she.
A shrill whistle rent the air a fraction before a stern male voice ordered, “Sampson. Down.”
Sniffing loudly and giving one last determined lunge toward Bella cradled in Nicolette’s embrace, the dog succeeded in knocking her off balance. She didn’t even have time to cry out before she tumbled forward.