Her Favorite Duke (1797 Club #2)

By: Jess Michaels

(The 1797 Club Book 2)



Dedication




A special thank you to Mackenzie Walton

for all the extra help and support with this book.

A good editor is worth her weight in gold. You are platinum.



And for Michael who is and always will be my favorite duke, my favorite person and my best friend.





Prologue





1803

Margaret Rylon stood in her chamber wearing full black, a symbol of mourning. And she should be mourning, for her father had been put in the ground just a few hours before.

And yet, as she looked at herself in the glass, she did not see sadness in her eyes. She didn’t feel it either. As much as his death should grieve her, she felt nothing in her heart for the late Duke of Abernathe. Why should she? The man had not actually spoken directly to her in three years, despite their living under the same roof. To him she had been nothing, a failure at an attempt at a spare.

To her he had been a cruel bastard. In truth, she was happy he was dead. Her brother James was duke now. And she adored James with all her heart.

It had always been the two of them against the world, really. Against a father who despised them, against a mother who dove headlong into a bottle to escape the fact that her husband despised her, too. Right now Meg was certain the duchess was fully lost in a drunken stupor and would probably remain that way for weeks, using the death of a husband she did not love as an excuse to spiral into darkness.

Meg sighed as she looked away from her reflection and paced to the window. Down below she saw the servants walking two horses toward the stables and her heart leapt, pushing away her troubled thoughts in an instant. The mounts could only mean one thing: Simon and Graham were here.

It had been six years since she’d met James’s best friends, on a holiday from school when he’d been allowed to bring them home for a short stay. Although James had a whole club’s worth of friends, it was Graham and Simon he spent the most time with. They were his best friends and she liked both of them.

But it wasn’t both of them she thought about as she grinned down at the servants leading the mounts away. No, only one of those two men truly made her heart flutter. That was Simon Greene.

She closed her eyes and conjured an image of him without even trying. He was unbearably handsome, with a gorgeously angled face, thick dark hair and bright, expressive pale blue eyes. He was always smiling. Even when he wasn’t smiling, the ghost of that expression was there. Like he was constantly thinking of a private joke.

When he looked at her, her heart skipped a beat. And he often looked at her. Across rooms, across tables, when they were walking. She might only be sixteen, but she knew when a man liked her.

A good thing, since she had accepted that she was in love with him a year ago. But it wasn’t for a lady to take the first step. Her mother hardly ever gave her advice, but she’d slurred that out at some point when she caught Meg staring at Simon one night. The duchess wasn’t wrong. A gentleman was to begin the courtship. One day he would. They had time, after all. She wasn’t even out in Society officially yet. He was but nineteen, himself. They had all the time in the world.

She smoothed her skirts and went to the door. She walked down the hall and the stairs, smiling as she encountered the butler, Grimble, in the hall.

“Good afternoon. Where are my brother and his friends?”

Grimble inclined his head and straightened his black mourning band slightly. “His Grace is in his office with the Duke of Northfield. The Marquess Whitehall is in the west parlor, Lady Margaret.”

Margaret flinched as she realized Grimble was referring to her brother as His Grace. That would take some getting used to. Of course, one day Simon would be “Your Graced” as well. He would be the Duke of Crestwood.

And to her, he would always be Simon.

She smiled at the butler. “Thank you, Grimble. As hostess, I’ll seek out the marquess until my brother’s business with Northfield is complete.”

Grimble didn’t really seem to care, but executed a sharp nod as she left him. Her heart began to pound as she opened the west parlor door. Simon didn’t hear her as she entered, but remained in his place by the fire. He had one boot up on the hearth, his arm resting on the mantel. For a moment she couldn’t see what he was looking at so intently, but when he moved his head, she caught her breath.

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