A Duke’s Unexpected Match (Preview)


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Chapter One

“Oh, rubbish.” Hannah Ballard leapt backwards from the spilled water glass, but not before muddy liquid caught the front and hem of her white muslin. She’d been warned about this by the shopkeeper: watercolors are not as predictable as oils. They require speed, and when you rush, you make mistakes. 

She set her jaw and propped the jar back on the nearby ledge. It nestled safely back into the cheesecloth she was using to dab her brushes dry, with only a few drops of muddy blue-green water remaining in the bottom. Her painting, at least, was faring better than her gown. 

She had undertaken to recreate a landscape of the roses in her family’s country manor garden that morning, but when the golden light had deserted her the picture undertook a more sinister and, Hannah decided, more interesting aspect. She abandoned the careful, pale pastel tones she had been layering painstakingly one atop the other and pulled out a rough emerald green and a deep ochre to lend depth and intrigue to the tangled brush around the roses. Somehow, lost in the magic of it all, she had created a landscape of dangerous beauty that did not seem at all to have originated in her parents’ flower garden. This hedge looks as though it hides a hidden princess and a wicked beast, she thought pleasantly, tucking her paintbrush behind one ear and leaning back to look at it critically. 

It would be time for luncheon soon, she knew. Her parents were kind enough about her little hobbies and interests, but they prized timeliness and, if she was late, her painting would take the brunt of their scorn. Painting was a ladylike occupation…to a point. One should be able to sit down and sketch a boring landscape or the outline of a lover’s smile, of course, but beyond that any interest in art or painting bordered on scandalous. And Hannah was beyond bordering—far beyond it. She never felt so alive as she did when capturing the essence of something in a new and surprising way, her fingers stained with pigment, her skirts as splotched and disarrayed as they were now. 

Ever since she could remember, the world around her had been a place of line, texture, and shadow. She remembered her first time in an art gallery. She was at some polite social event her mother had arranged to introduce her to a few friends in Bath. She had abandoned the friends almost at once, surrounded by the work of artists she had never seen before. It filled her with curiosity and a desire to recreate the intricacies of their efforts. Her nights lengthened; long after her parents went to bed, and she would stay up scribbling and shading and obsessing over her figures in an effort to improve. 

For a time, her skill had all been pleasantly received by her family and friends. She’s taking to the womanly arts so well. Did you see her likeness of her father? So lifelike. But, the more they realized that her interest was in fact an obsession, the more they frowned upon her work. Hannah learned to keep her late-night scribbling sessions to herself, and to hide, as much as possible, the passion that drove her to excel in her field. 

Now she walked inside, leaving her masterpiece to dry in the cool spring breeze, and paused just inside the terrace door to check her appearance in the mirror. She was nothing special to look at, not like the stunning beauties she’d glimpsed in London tearooms and Hyde Park strolls during her stays with Father in the city. No, she was overwhelmingly ordinary. She was of ordinary height, with pale strawberry hair in uncomely wisps around her face, brown eyes, and a slender build. No, the most beautiful thing about me has always been my father’s fortune, she thought, and smiled in dry amusement. 

Her lack of stunning qualities did not bother her. In fact, the more beautiful she was, the more suitors she would have to hold at bay. Suitors always said lovely things and brought lovely gifts, but in truth, all their poetry meant only one thing: I want to own you, and I want to steal your freedom. Hannah wasn’t keen on either. 

She adjusted the paintbrush cheekily behind her ear and strode confidently into the drawing room where her parents were just sitting down to a spread of cold meats, chicken salad, and fresh rolls. 

“Hannah!” her mother said, looking up with a smile on her face. “We were just talking about you. Do you think…” her voice trailed off as her eyes fell to the grey-green stain on Hannah’s hem. “Ah. You were painting again.”

“A fact we could have safely deduced from the clue she left so obviously behind her right ear, dear,” Cecil Ballard grinned at his wife, then winked at Hannah. “Is that the sort of ornament all young ladies are wearing now, Hannah?”

“It is the height of fashion,” she said with a returning smile, sinking down in a chair next to her mother. “And yes, Mama. I know I stained my dress terribly, but these are watercolor pigments, and they wash out. I’ll soak it myself to save Nellie the trouble.”

Elizabeth Ballard was the furthest thing in Hannah’s mind from a snob, and yet she still gave a little gasp of astonishment at this pronouncement on her daughter’s part. “My dear. Nellie is your lady’s maid. It is for her to tend to her duties, and for you to tend to your own responsibilities. Laundry is not one of your duties.”

“But poor Nellie already has a good deal more duties than a lady’s maid deserves,” Hannah laughed lightly, “since she has me for a mistress.”

“Perhaps you should think of that before splashing paint all over yourself,” Elizabeth said firmly, though there was kindness in her tone.

“Mama,” Hannah countered, hiding a smile, “you cannot think the spilling of paint involved any thought whatsoever? It happened entirely on accident and was not premeditated to annoy either you or Nellie, I assure you.”

“You are a wild lass,” Cecil interjected, popping open a roll with his bread knife and filling it with chicken salad. “I tell your Mama at every opportunity that we should have introduced you to embroidery instead of painting.”

“And I tell him that if we had introduced you to needlepoint, you would have developed such a fascination with sharp objects that you would have been sword fighting by the end,” Elizabeth said wryly, amusement dancing in her dark brown eyes. 

Hannah pretended astonishment. “Swordcraft was on the table? I would have infinitely preferred that to painting.”

Her parents laughed, the sound accompanying the butler’s appearance in the well-lit drawing room. Mr. Graves had a silver platter in his hand and upon it, a sealed letter. 

“Mr. Ballard,” he said, bowing soberly. “A letter from Rutherford Court.”

Hannah saw a flash of sadness in her father’s eyes. There was a time, before the Duke of Rutherford had died, when her father would regularly visit Rutherford Court, and letters to and from it were no real surprise. Her father’s friendship with the man had always amused her. The late duke was entitled and snobbish, but seemed won over at last by her father’s stubborn insistence on ignoring all his rude slights against miners, businessmen, and “new money.” The two had been an unlikely pairing, but they were fast friends, nonetheless.

“I have not had a letter from there in some time,” he said at last, taking the letter in hand and waving Mr. Graves away. 

“Open it,” Elizabeth said, excitement sparkling in her eyes. 

Cecil did so, reading the letter all the way through to himself while his wife and daughter looked on excitedly. The only sound was the clock ticking by on the wall. At last, Hannah said, “Father, don’t worry about telling us the contents of the letter. It is not as though we are anticipating your explanation with absurd interest…”

Cecil looked up, raising his eyebrows at her sarcasm. “Ah, you two are still waiting?”

“Heavens!” Elizabeth laughed, throwing her hands into the air. 

“It is an invitation,” Cecil said simply. “The new Duke of Rutherford, Simon Maddox, has invited us to a house party at the Rutherford estate. From the manner of the letter, I would guess it has been extended to the surrounding countryside. It appears that the young man wishes to make a good impression on his neighbors.”

Hannah raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know anything about the new Duke of Rutherford. What is he like?”

“I’ve never met him,” Cecil said. “And as this letter appears to have been penned with a woman’s hand, I cannot guess much of his character from the invitation either.”

“A woman’s hand?” Elizabeth snatched the letter and then handed it back, laughing. “Indeed, the accents on the downstrokes are far too feminine. His mother, Mrs. Maddox, must be to thank for all this. I hear she arrived only a fortnight ago and has quite taken over the running of the house on behalf of her son.”

“I think we shall attend,” Cecil said, setting the letter aside and resuming his luncheon. “It would be good for us to know our neighbor better, and beyond that, we might find an opportunity for dear Hannah to meet a potential suitor. She is not well acquainted with the young men of the county.” 

Hannah ignored his wink. “Father, there is a reason I am not well-acquainted with the young men of the county. I don’t care to know them better.”

“My dear,” Elizabeth interjected on her husband’s behalf, “your father only wants you to be happy. He has your best interest in mind, and if you don’t marry well you may end up alone for the rest of your life.”

Bliss, Hannah thought with a smile. “I know you both mean well,” she said, “but I don’t wish to marry. I am not afraid of being alone, thanks to the effort Father has put into his business and my inheritance.” She softened her gaze in her father’s direction. “I don’t take that lightly, Father. There are many women in my position who have no choice but to marry some strange man and ask him to provide them safety and security, but you have already provided both for me. I can live as an independent woman.”

Cecil nodded, washing down a bit of chicken salad with a bit of tea. “And I’m glad of that for you, but marriage is not just a matter of convenience. It may be that one day you find yourself falling for some handsome man and wanting to spend the rest of your life with him. Perhaps even a man with a title who could afford you a secure standing in society.”

Hannah struggled to keep her good temper. This was a topic that had remained on the fringes of her family conversation for a few years now; ever since she was officially out in society. Her parents were too lenient to absolutely demand she marry, but they made it clear nonetheless that they would prefer to see their only daughter settled down with a young man. 

“Perhaps,” she said, noncommittally, “but until such an unusual occurrence presents itself, I shall not make plans for such a thing. I look forward to the house party as a party alone, without any husband-hunting strings attached.”

Cecil and Elizabeth exchanged a glance, and for a moment Hannah thought a second round of convincing was due. In the end, though, Elizabeth shifted the conversation to a lighter topic and let the matter lie. Hannah was relieved. She looked down at the stain on her hem and smiled to herself. She could not imagine any man, titled or not, who would be keen on having a wife so entranced in her own artistic passion that she would appear to luncheon stained from head to toe. 

Chapter Two

The papers stacked atop his desk taunted him. So much to do, and so little time. Simon Maddox, the newly inherited Duke of Rutherford, took a seat in the leather chair of his predecessor and pulled the ledger for Rutherford Court dealings out from under the pile. A few stray pages of business were disrupted in the process, but he paid them no mind. Just add it to the list of things I must set to rights around here. 

The ledger was full of scribbles in a hand that was at first steady, and then gradually thinner and more uncertain. It told the tale of the decline of a man Simon had never known. The man to whom he owed his shiny title and the decrepit house and lands that accompanied it. The former Duke of Rutherford had been a distant cousin, so removed that he had not even deigned to interact with the Maddox family before his death. After all, he was a duke, and while the late Mr. Maddox had been a respectable enough gentleman in his life, he was only a man of trade in aristocratic eyes. 

Then, only a few short months ago, the ailing Duke of Rutherford had at last given up the ghost. In the scramble after his passing, lawyers found it impossible to track down an heir. He had never married, and his nephews seemed intent on throwing themselves into scandalous trips across the sea that inevitably claimed all the most likely candidates. In the end, the title skipped past a few well-deserving ladies and landed, as all such titles did, on an obscure cousin that no one knew or trusted, Simon Maddox. And a more undeserving fellow, they could not have found, he mused drily to himself, flipping to the most recent page of the ledger and tracing the column of numbers with a finger. 

A knock rapped sharply against the door, and it opened to admit Patrick, the late duke’s steward, who had announced his intention to stay with the estate until advised by the new owner that he would no longer be wanted. Simon liked him. The man seemed to have all the practical knowledge that the former Duke of Rutherford had clearly lacked. 

“Usually, a knock is followed by an invitation to enter,” Simon said with a smile at the other man. Patrick looked to be only a few years older than him, perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s. “What if I had been entertaining?”

Patrick grinned. In the month since Simon had moved into Rutherford Court, the two had developed an easy camaraderie. “Unless you’ve taken to hosting garden parties with quill and ink as the guest of honor, I do not think I have intruded on anything you did not want interrupted. How are you getting on with the ledger?”

“I have no knowledge of how to run an estate,” Simon sighed. “Only an understanding of business as taught to me by the merchant trade. My father knew how to turn one shilling into two, but not how to attend to tenants and loans and what appears to be an unusual amount of money devoted to the stables.”

Patrick sat down across from him in a high-backed chair and sighed. “If your predecessor had paid a bit more attention to the business side of things and a bit less to the trappings of lordship, you might be inheriting a more charming situation. Do not discredit your merchant knowledge, your grace.”

Simon winced. “I am still not used to hearing that title.”

“You shall have to get used to it soon.” Patrick grinned. “I heard your mother in the drawing room, speaking to the maids. She seems to be adjusting to life at Rutherford Court without great difficulty. One would think she was raised to run a household of this size.”

“Yes,” Simon admitted, smiling in response. “She was made to manage the lives of others.” He thought again how different this would all be if his father were still alive. Then it would be Mr. Edward Maddox who had inherited the title, and Simon would have a few years to watch and learn as his father tackled the reformation of Rutherford Court. 

“She mentioned a house party?” Patrick asked. 

“Indeed. She has arranged an elaborate affair to introduce us to the county. I’m concerned about the cost, but I see the benefit of making good connections.” Simon set the ledger down. “I suppose you are here to take me on a tour of the grounds, as we agreed?”

“Indeed,” Patrick said. “Our horses are saddled and ready outside.”

“Horses, yes…” Simon walked with his companion down the long hall outside his study, through the marble entry, and beyond it to the pebbled courtyard and horses tethered outside. “Perhaps you can explain why the stables are requiring so much of our income? I know roughly what a horse takes to board, and the figure I saw in the ledger feels exorbitant, even if we housed 20 horses.”

“You’re right not to notice it. The late duke spent most of his fortune at Tattersall’s, buying and selling, almost always for a loss,” Patrick said, swinging himself into the saddles. “For someone that doesn’t know much about running an estate, you certainly talk as though you do.” 

Simon climbed onto the back of his own dark-brown mare, and adjusted for a more comfortable seat before taking the reins in hand and bidding the animal walk. “Confidence covers a world of ignorance,” he said, summarizing a lesson his father had drilled into him as a child. Simon had to make his own way in the world after his father’s death, but that idea alone helped him achieve success on more than one occasion. People took advantage of weakness. Show them your underbelly, and they will tear you to pieces. 

They rode up the western side of the property, along a fence line that looked as though it had not been tended to in years. Simon was familiar with the house and grounds, both of which had been understaffed and in disrepair, but today they were venturing beyond that to the tenant farmers who lived and worked for the Rutherford estate. 

The road dipped down through a small wood, winding back and forth until it came out in a glen beside a winding rill. The space looked idyllic enough, if you ignored the tenant housing that had been erected in the clearing. It looked ancient, as though it had been thrown up in the Middle Ages and left to rot since then. The building was divided into six homes, signified by six doorways, with thatched roofs and crumbling stone walls. Outside in the yard, a child was scratching in the dirt with a pair of skinny chickens. Whether the little one was a boy or a girl, Simon could not ascertain before the child saw the visitors and fled inside. 

In a moment, a ruddy woman with a baby on her hip appeared in the doorway, shielding her eyes against the late morning sun. 

“G’day, your grace,” she said, curtsying. “A pleasant day for a ride.”

Simon looked at Patrick, who nodded. He stopped his horse and slipped off. “Actually, I was hoping for a visit instead. I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.”

Patrick slid from his horse as well and gestured to Simon. “This is the new Duke of Rutherford, Mrs. Cairn. He wondered if he might come by to meet your husband for a bit, and any of the other gentlemen who might be about.”

“My Jeb’s out back with the pigs,” Mrs. Cairn said, dropping her hand to her tousled hair and patting it back self-consciously. “I’ll go put a kettle on and fetch him. You won’t have much luck with the other lads, though. Gary Elliot is gone with the sheep today, Mr. Brown went into town to see to some personal business, and Old Will Carnsworth is down with the flux. You shouldn’t call on ‘em until ‘e’s up and feeling better, if you know what I mean.”

“We stopped by unannounced,” Simon said, trying desperately to commit the names to memory. “It is understandable that we missed them.”

Mrs. Cairn nodded and disappeared into the house. When she was out of earshot, Patrick said quietly, “Mr. Brown’s personal business is likely of an unsavory sort. He has a penchant for the card tables at the pub in town. It threatens to put his family out of house and home, if he continues.” He nodded at the building. “You see that repairs need to be made. The late duke did not see the point. He said that farmers and their families were used to harsh conditions.”

Simon’s jaw twitched with annoyance. He had the benefit of looking at these people without the colored glasses of a man raised on wealth and luxury. This was entirely unacceptable, farmers or not, and reflected badly on the estate. “These people work for us,” he said in a similarly low voice. “Yet the state of their homes is poorer than the sheep shed out back.” He nodded towards the road. “How many other stops do we have along the way?”

“Three, and then a cottage in the woods where the herd over-winters. No one lives there now, and the farmers make a trip there every day to care for the animals,” he clarified, “but it would be better if we hired someone to manage the pens year-around so our tenants could tend to other duties. It takes up too much of their time travelling back and forth, and almost all on foot.”

Simon nodded, taking mental notes. The door to the tenant housing swung open again, and Mrs. Cairn came out with two cups of tea and her husband in tow. The baby had disappeared from her hip. 

“Here’s my Jeb,” she said, stepping aside to let a hale and hearty man of about 40 years of age come forward to shake hands. 

Simon liked the look of him at once. The man had a thick black beard and twinkling blue eyes. He wore a homespun jacket that strained over broad shoulders, and his boots were caked with mud. “Good to meet you, your grace,” he said. “I can’t say as I was expecting you to come about so soon after taking over the grounds, or I would have had the place looking a little prettier.”

Simon raised his eyebrows, surprised. He thought he’d been late to the visit, not early. “Did my predecessor visit often?” he asked. 

Mrs. Cairn snorted derisively and handed the teacup over. “I think I met him once,” she said. 

Simon nodded gravely, his heart aching at the way these people had been neglected. “That explains the state of this house,” he said. “The roof should never have been allowed to continue in such a state, nor the walls. Are your windows proof against the weather?”

Mr. Cairn silenced his wife with a glance. “We are grateful for a place to raise our children, and the wages the estate gives. We have no complaints.”

Simon appreciated the man’s pride, but could not allow such an injustice to continue. “I appreciate that, but as the new owner of the estate I must allow for changes to be made. Thatch is outdated. How do you feel about a split wood shingle instead? I think we should be able to get it on before the autumn rains, especially with the dry summer.”

He saw the delight in Mrs. Cairn’s eyes, and even though her husband didn’t smile, his eyes twinkled merrily. “I suppose we can stomach a few changes here and there,” Mr. Cairn admitted at last. 

They finished their tea and walked around back, examining the pig shed and surrounding pens briefly before setting out on their way. Patrick had assured Simon that this was an exploratory venture only. They would return regularly to build trust with the tenants and ensure their welfare, but there was too much to do in one journey to spend all morning at a single home. 

He was right. Simon’s mind was reeling by the time they turned back towards Rutherford Court. The housing had not been better at the other three locations they’d visited, nor had the cottage and pens been appropriately situated to house either humans or animals. It looked as though the sheds had not been roofed in ages, and Patrick pointed out how the erosion of the land turned the animal’s winter housing into mud pits. 

“I have to change all this,” Simon said, more to himself than to Patrick. “I hate to see something not live up to its full potential, and the neglect of this property and its tenants is grotesque. I want to improve the duchy.”

“I’m glad to hear it, your grace,” Patrick said, unable to hide the grin from his face. “I confess I was hopeful our tour today would set such a desire in motion, but as your steward, I must remind you of the ledger you were examining today. Changes of the sort you describe require funds.”

Simon sighed. “And we have none.”

“We have…less than we need,” Patrick corrected. 

“If we can make Rutherford prosperous again, it will pay for itself,” Simon said, biting his lip. “But I cannot think how we will manage such a thing. At present, it is a pit into which all our spare funds will continue disappearing.”

“I have some thoughts about the way the livestock are being managed that may free up a few hundred pounds,” Patrick said, “and some ideas about the outbuildings we no longer need, but these are only the beginning. We need something more substantial to get your plans off the ground.”

“Something like an influx of new money,” Simon said drily. “Would that my merchant ships had stumbled upon some insanely fashionable new invention that could serve to prop up this aging enterprise.”

He looked over at Patrick. The man had fallen silent after his first sentence, and a queer smile was playing on his lips. 

“What are you thinking?” Simon asked. “You’ve had an idea.”

“I was thinking about…new money,” Patrick said at last. “Although not the sort you get from an invention. Rather the sort you get from an institution.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

Patrick waved towards the south. “That way, several miles, lies Eagleton Manor, the home of the late duke’s very good friend, Mr. Ballard.”


“Mr. Ballard is obscenely wealthy,” Patrick said. “He has a keen interest in Rutherford Court because of his friend, and might be willing to invest some funds in the farming community. He made his fortune in mining, and has no pretensions about his position. If I remember correctly, he is a much more reasonable man than the late duke, and would even entertain some new ideas if they were presented to him in a worthy way.”

“An investor?” Simon nodded, liking the idea. “And a local one at that. It could work.”

“Mr. Ballard also has a daughter,” Patrick said, keeping his eyes fixed on the road ahead. “A young heiress to the family’s vast fortune.”

It took Simon a moment to realize this was a hint. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “Are you implying that I marry this Miss Ballard, for the sole sake of securing her fortune? Is marriage the ‘institution’ to which you referred earlier?”

“I would never attempt to advise your grace on such matters,” Patrick said quickly. “It wouldn’t be proper.”

“Indeed, it would not,” Simon said firmly. He felt an edge of annoyance at the thought of marrying an heiress for the sole sake of propping up a failing estate. He had always meant to marry for love. 

He despised the way the ton leveraged their wealth and status to secure marriages, as though their sons and daughters were merely chattel to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. He thought of her, the woman who always came into his mind when marriage was the topic, the only woman he’d ever wanted to marry, the impossible love he could never have and never escape. Georgiana.

“I have enough tasks to undertake at present without attempting to woo a woman,” he said after a few moments of silence had passed between them. 

Patrick brooked no further argument, and the two rode on in silence, but Simon could not easily shake the thought of Mr. Ballard’s investment. He walked into the study at home and opened the ledger again, scanning the disappointing numbers. It would be a solution, he mused. And I’m in dire need of solutions. 

“A Duke’s Unexpected Match” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Miss Hannah Ballard is not looking for love. She has a fortune at her disposal and a passion for painting that outstrips the ladylike conventions of the day, and a man will only slow her down. However, when an intriguing invitation from the new Duke of Rutherford disrupts her quiet existence, Hannah finds herself torn.

Will she give this mysterious man a chance, or let her preconceptions stand in the way?

The newly appointed Duke of Rutherford, Simon Maddox, faces the challenge of restoring his dilapidated estate while grappling with his reluctance to embrace the responsibilities of his station. Determined to uphold his family’s honor, Simon’s plans are disrupted when he encounters Hannah, a woman whose spirit and independence captivate him.

Could the nearby heiress hold the key to not only his financial woes, but most importantly, his heart?

Hannah and Simon begin to grow closer despite their differences, but a woman from Simon’s past enters the picture just as their romance blossoms. Lady Georgiana Carrington is everything Simon ever wanted in a wife, but Hannah is what makes his heart feel more alive than ever. Will Simon’s loyalty to an old love threaten the much more fulfilling romance with Hannah, or will their love overcome past obstacles and temptations?

“A Duke’s Unexpected Match” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Regency Hearts Entwined", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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