April 12th see’s the release of DUKES BY THE DOZEN. What’s better than a dashing duke? A dozen of them! In this case, a baker’s dozen—thirteen of your favorite historical romance authors have come together to bring you more than a dozen tantalizing novellas, with one per month, for a year’s worth of never-before-released romances.
For the next 13 days I shall be sharing excerpts from each of the stories in this fabulous Boxed Set from the following amazing historical authors, Alyssa Alexander, Jennifer Ashley, Grace Burrowes, Gina Conkle, Eileen Dreyer, Elizabeth Essex, Bronwen Evans, Anna Harrington, Madeline Martin, May McGoldrick, Ella Quinn, Heather Snow, Sabrina York.
The Difference One Duke Makes
By Elizabeth Essex
The last thing Commander Marcus Beecham ever wanted was his late brother’s dukedom. But after ten years of dodging French cannonballs, he now faces a tougher enemy‚ the Ton’s matchmaking mamas. So he hides himself away in a library where he hopes to find some peace and quiet, but instead of solitude, he finds his fate.
Across the room, a tiny, dark-haired young woman in claret-colored velvet was attempting to shove a large chest of drawers across the door.
Marcus had to ask, even though he could plainly see the answer. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The young lady in question let out an oath so old, so Anglo-Saxon and so familiar that Marcus feared he must have misheard her, for he had never heard it uttered anywhere but between the decks of a ship. But then she added, “Oh, good Lord. Beech? Is that you behind that beard?”
Everything within him eased. “It is.” Only one female of his acquaintance had ever called him Beech—Miss Penelope Pease. And Marcus, in his oh-so-tedious and unimaginative youth, had called her, “Pease Porridge?”
“Dear Beech!” She came forward with her hand extended, all astonished happiness. “What an unexpected pleasure! If you aren’t a welcome sight for sore eyes.”
And here he had been thinking that he was a sore sight for her welcome blue eyes. Devil take him, but she had grown into a beautiful young woman, whose hand he gladly took. He felt the warmth of her grasp all the way from his fingertips to places better left unmentioned. “Why Pease Porridge Hot—how is it possible you are no longer ten and three years old?”
Her mischievous smile lit up her heart-shaped face. “More like Pease Porridge Cold these days, my friend. And you are no longer the gangly lad of our gloriously mis-spent youth, either. Gracious, but you’re a long drink of water.”
Marcus felt his mouth curve into his first real smile in days. “Well, the passing decade has clearly not dimmed your hoydenish tendencies one bit.”
“It’s not as if I haven’t tried, but—” Behind her, the door latch rattled, and she sprang into action, lowering her voice to an urgent whisper. “Help me!” She motioned for him to join her as she laid a determined shoulder to the chest of drawers.
“I don’t think I should.” Even he knew barricading them in alone was definitely not the done thing.
“I’ll explain if you’ll only help,” she promised. “You’re supposed to be a bloody hero, Beech. Come act like one.”
“My dear Pease Porridge,” he murmured. “Whatever have you been doing with yourself these many years?” His question went unanswered while he snugged in beside her—minful not to spill his drink—to shove the heavy piece of furniture the necessary remaining inches to bar the door.
“Thank you.” She smiled up at him and patted his lapel in an absent gesture of casual intimacy that nearly rocked him back on his heels. “Good Lord, Beech, you smell divine. What are you drinking?” She swiped the snifter of brandy from his hand and took a hearty sip. “Mmm. Thanks.” She kept possession of the glass as she all but flung herself into the other armchair opposite the hearth. “I’m meant to be good and stay well clear of trouble, but to do so I’m in need of some fortification. You?”
“As you see.” Marcus decided he rather liked the offhand, ordinary way she treated him, much like his brother officers had—as if there were nothing wrong with him.
He fetched himself another drink. “Well clear of trouble? But wasn’t there some stupid talk of you marrying my late, unlamented brother?”
She nearly choked on the brandy, but when she recovered her aplomb, she shot him what he could only describe as a sharp, cutty-eyed glance. “Dear Beech, you have been away.”
“Aye.” He distinctly remembered his mother had written about an engagement between Pease Porridge and his older brother Caius, if only because the news had given him such an awful, riveting pang that had stayed with him, lodged deep in his chest like a broken rib.
“There was talk, but it was quickly dismissed.”
And just like that, the pain was healed, and he could breathe again. “Glad to hear it.”
“Ha!” she scoffed. “You’d be the first of your family to feel so.”
Something in her tone told Marcus he was clearly not in possession of all the facts. “Enlighten me, Pease Porridge.”
She laughed, but by the time she answered, the twinkling warmth in her eyes had hardened into studied nonchalance. “Did no one write to tell you all the gory details? That I made the unforgivable mistake of daring to decline the engagement that was so thoughtfully and hastily arranged for the Duke of Warwick and me? That I refused to marry your brother, and was that instant and forevermore declared entirely unsuitable?”
The flush of satisfaction—she had refused Caius!—quickly burned itself out. Such childish triumph was beneath him with his brother cold in his grave. Still. “Unsuitable for being smart enough to say no to my blaggard of a brother?” Such a choice only raised her up in his estimation. “Hardly.”
“Kind Beech. You have been away a very long time, haven’t you?” Penelope Pease took another deep drink, before she met his eye. “It’s like this, Beech. I’m ruined, you see. Utterly and completely ruined.”
All it will take is one frosty night for two imperfect people to make the perfect February valentine!
Thank you so much for stopping by to read Elizabeth’s excerpt today.
Wishing you all HAPPY READING!