Why Dukes Say I Do

By: Manda Collins

Acknowledgments



As always I’d like to thank my fabulous and insightful editor, Holly Blanck, for her continued awesomeness and patience with my absent-minded artistic ways; my lovely and talented agent extraordinaire, Holly Root; everyone at St. Martin’s Press who works behind the scenes to ensure that my books come out looking gorgeous; my Kiss and Thrill sisters, Amy, Sarah, Diana, Krista, Lena, Gwen, Sharon, and Rachel; Janga, Julianne, Santa, Lindsey, Terri, and the Vano group for continued support; my family; and last but not least, my readers, without whom none of this would be worth it.




Prologue



“Your Grace,” Lady Isabella Wharton coaxed, from the other side of the Ormonde library, “really, you must put the knife down. Whatever will your grandmama think?”

But the Duke of Ormonde, accustomed to ignoring his family’s dictates, didn’t lower the knife at his wife’s throat. “Who gives a hang what that old bat thinks?” he demanded, his red-rimmed eyes devoid of conscience, his normally handsome visage turned ugly with anger. “She’s the one who made me marry this miserable bitch. And look where that’s gotten me.”

As the miserable bitch in question was Isabella’s younger sister, she could hardly be expected to agree with him. Perdita, the younger daughter of the Earl of Ramsden, had married the young Duke of Ormonde in a ceremony that had rivaled the royal wedding a decade before. Isabella had been hopeful that her sister’s marriage would be successful where hers had failed. Yet here they were now, a few years later, and the groom was threatening the bride with a knife. Hardly the stuff dreams were made of.

“Won’t you let me go, dearest?” Perdita asked, her voice surprisingly calm as she held her chin up higher to escape the prick of the blade. A ringlet of her auburn curls brushed the knife’s edge as she trembled in her husband’s arms. “You know you don’t mean me any harm.”

“Put the knife down, Your Grace,” the fourth member of their mad party, Mrs. Georgina Mowbray, whose husband had also been less than ideal, said, her brisk tone honed through years following the drum. Her petite stature suggested a daintiness that the blonde’s determination belied. “Killing your wife will not make you feel any better.”

The sisters had befriended the army widow when they’d all three been on the same committee for the Ladies Charitable Society to which they belonged. Perdita had come to the meeting with a bruise on her face and a nonsensical story about falling into a door, and Georgie had guessed the truth of the situation at once. When she’d revealed her own history with the celebrated war hero who had been her husband—a history in which the hero had battered his own wife in every possible way before dying in glory on the battlefield—the three women had forged an unshakeable bond.

“She wouldn’t be able to leave me,” the duke said with the twisted logic that only madmen and drunkards could understand. “She was fine before the two of you got hold of her with your lies about me.”

Isabella nearly screamed in frustration. This was her fault. All her fault. Because Perdita could hardly leave her husband—the laws were made by men and, as such, stacked in their own favor when it came to things like wives, who were little more than property in the eyes of the law—the three ladies had thought they might be able to approach the duke in such a way that he would agree to treat Perdita with the dignity she deserved as his wife. The idea was laughable now, of course, but Isabella had not known the extent of the duke’s madness at the time. Her own husband had been a brute, but he’d been fairly easy to understand. Ormonde’s possessive nature coupled with his brutality was far more dangerous than Wharton had ever been, she saw now.

“I would never leave you,” Perdita said, her voice trembling a little as her strength began to flag. “You know I love you.”

Isabella could see her sister was nearing the breaking point. She exchanged a look with Georgie to see if she’d noticed.

She had.

Wordlessly Georgie glanced down at her left hand, which held her reticule. With her other hand she formed a pistol with her thumb and forefinger. Oh god, Isabella thought. She’s brought her gun.

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