Yours Truly, the Duke by Amelia Grey (Excerpt)

Chapter 1

Bold lettering on the stiff paper in his hand blurred as the Duke of Wyatthaven tried to concentrate on the infuriating matter before him. Proposing marriage.

To a lady he’d never met.

That prospect, and sharing an overindulgence of brandy throughout the evening with his two friends, had him inwardly shuddering with indecision. A feeling that was new to him. In his defense, he had more than adequate reason for the hesitancy. After all, tying himself to a woman for the rest of his life was something he hadn’t expected to do for many years to come.

Flames from the recently tended fire had the finely appointed library of his London town house teeming with excessive heat, making the back of his neck damp. With its tall ceiling, packed tight with thousands of books, old family treasures of porcelains and silver, and some of his father’s cherished inscribed marble tablets scattered about, the large chamber had always been a sanctuary for him. Until tonight.

But he’d get on with reading the letter to them.

“Dear Miss Fredericka Hale,” he read aloud.
“It has not been my pleasure to be acquainted with you as of this writing; nonetheless, I am compelled to contact you. I am in need of a wife. Posthaste. You come with high recommendations from your esteemed solicitor to fill that position. I am assured you’d be agreeable to an offer of marriage from me and—”

“Wait, stop.” Rick shook his head in earnest while holding up his hand. “That won’t do at all.”

“It’s bloody awful, Wyatt,” Hurst mumbled in agreement while shifting his weight to rest an elbow on the arm of his black velvet chair. “That’s no way to start a proposal to the lady you want to marry.”

That was the problem. He wasn’t ready to marry. Wyatt let the sheet of his official engraved stationery drop from his hand and fall soundlessly to the leather mat on top of the Louis XIV desk. His temples throbbed, and the room dimmed for an instant when he looked away from the thick parchment.

Muttering a curse, he cast a long glance from one friend to the other. Their dour expressions said it all, making him glad he hadn’t mentioned he’d already spent hours on the letter.

Wyatt leaned away from the grand heirloom his grandfather and father once sat behind, picked up his glass, and gave the amber liquid a swirl before throwing down a swallow. Proposing marriage was no easy task.

He looked at Rick and Hurst and listened as early spring rain fell against the windowpanes. The fire crackled. He didn’t like being pushed into a corner, as was the case this night. Which was why he’d summoned his long-time friends to come to his town house for an urgent matter. Sequestered in his library, he’d hoped the two dukes, along with an expensive bottle of fortified wine that was now nearing empty, would help ease his mind concerning the dreaded task of how to ask a lady for her hand. So far, neither was working.

It wasn’t so much Wyatt minded marrying or being married. He had to take a wife one day. It was the thought of being a husband that had him twitching like a fly-bitten horse in the height of summer. By his father’s own admission, the man had never been any good at being a husband. Wyatt had no reason to think he would be either, given that everyone always said he was just like his father in many ways. Wyatt accepted that assessment and lived by it.

The Duke of Stonerick, called Rick by only a handful of people, was the first to break the silence. “Staring us down isn’t going to make drivel better.”

A muscle in Wyatt’s cheek twitched. Rick had always known how to rile him. Or anyone else for that matter. He reached over and slowly pushed the letter toward his friend. “What would you say?”

“That you bloody well leave out ‘posthaste’ and ‘high recommendations.’ Women are looking for . . . something more.”

“Exactly.” Hurst cleared his throat and frowned. “They want to hear things that make them swoon. Start with a gentler nature, as in calling her My dearest, Miss Hale.”

Wyatt grunted ruefully and grimaced in earnest. “She’s not my dearest,” he stated impatiently, and then proceeded to drain the last sip of his drink before plunking the heavy crystal back onto his desk.

“And she’ll never be if you send that rubbish.” Rick pointed to the paper with the hand that held his glass. “That’s no way to ask for a lady’s hand. It sounds like a blasted demand.”

Hurst shrugged and brushed his pale-blond hair away from his forehead. “To be fair, it reads more like a business correspondence.”

“It is,” Wyatt said, dismissing the comments. Perhaps they were too deep in their cups to be of much help. He wasn’t going to pretend he liked this intrusion of marriage into his life. “I’m trying to enter a contract with her, not a romance.”

“You best think twice about romance,” Hurst encouraged in his usual patient tone. “No doubt you’ll need to consider it one day if you plan on having an heir to carry on the title.”

An heir. That would mean being a father.

And that scared the hell out of him too.

Wyatt settled deeper into the back of his soft leather chair. This entire process was a damned nuisance. He didn’t want to think about having a son. That was like marriage. Something he always thought he’d prepare for much later.

His father hadn’t married until he was near forty and had managed to produce a healthy heir. Wyatt was living proof of that, so why had his grandmother taken it upon herself to rush him to the altar by leaving the codicil in her will?

Damnation, he was only twenty-eight. He’d want a son—an heir—one day. Maybe even three or four of them for good measure. And a daughter or two, as well. Wyatt scoffed and pressed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and middle finger, trying to ward off the throbbing ache that was beginning to pound at the back of his head. He knew better than to drink too much brandy and seldom did anymore, but it had been a difficult day.

His solicitor, who had been his father’s solicitor, had blindsided him with news the codicil had to be read today. Twenty years after his grandmother’s death. When Wyatt questioned why he wasn’t notified earlier, Epworth replied that he’d been duty bound to do everything per the instructions of her last will and testament. She’d made these peculiar changes shortly before her death. In the addendum, she’d stipulated that if Wyatt wasn’t married by that date, he’d have to marry within seven days or lose his inheritance from her.

Which was considerable. But it wouldn’t matter, if only it were going to a worthy cause.

It wasn’t the possibility of losing the property that had spurred his need to marry—it was the fact that his forfeiture would mean the four square blocks of land and buildings in London’s fashionable downtown would go to The London Society of Poetry.


The most useless of skills he’d ever been taught. He would rather rot in Newgate than see the valuable assets fall into the hands of those stuffy old snoots. And worse, watch it be mismanaged and gutted by men who had eagerly accepted into their elite society and lavished praise on Wyatt’s old professor from Eton, Mr. Percival Buslingthorpe. The man who’d given him his only failing marks in all his studies. That wasn’t the main reason Wyatt detested the man. He’d force shy, nervous boys to stand up and recite a selected amount of lyrics day after day. If he didn’t like the way they performed he’d ridicule them without mercy in front of everyone. Should one dare make a stutter, he’d cruelly rap the boy’s knuckles until they bled as he muttered, “Discipline, son, discipline.”

Writing verse had never come easy to Wyatt—nor did it for most lads. But being a duke’s son gave Wyatt privileges others didn’t receive. Buslingthorpe would never have dared lay his thick stick to the son of a duke. But he’d certainly put the strength of his beefy arm onto the hands of many students, causing them to whimper from pain for days, and sometimes longer.

Wyatt stared into the glow of lamplight on the edge of his desk as memories swirled before him. He would never forget the sound of the crack of wood on bone or the sniffle of agony in the cold dark of night when boys thought no one would hear. Discipline should never make anyone cry in pain.

Brushing the haunting memories aside, Wyatt murmured lowly, “This whole idea of forcing a man into marriage is archaic.” Wyatt sent a sidelong glance to both men. “Especially when it comes from the grave.”

“Your grandmother isn’t forcing you to do anything—from the grave or otherwise,” Hurst assured him. “It’s your choice to remain a bachelor for as long as you want—even unto death.”

“Just forfeit your grandmother’s fortune, and the high-nose poetry gents get to spend its rich rewards any way they choose,” Rick added under his breath before sipping his drink.

Hurst grunted and seemed to study on that before saying, “It would be easier than trying to find a bride in a few days.”

“Good point,” Rick admitted candidly as he rose and leaned a hip against the desk.

Wyatt would marry the devil himself before he’d allow poets to gain control of his grandmother’s fortune.

“No,” he said emphatically, once more giving in to the inevitability of what had to be done. “You both know how I feel about poetry. I’d rather take a wife.” The words rang hollow in his roaring ears as he grabbed hold of the brass caps at the ends of his chair. “And there’s little time to do it. I must dispatch a messenger to Miss Hale with an offer by morning.”

“Why Miss Hale?” Hurst asked, extending his long legs out and making himself comfortable by crossing his booted feet at the ankles. “Why not ask Miss Delamere? Her voice is so soft she makes everything sound heavenly. Or Lady Betina? There’s a wildness about her that might keep you interested in her long after nuptials are said. Both are lovely and in London now. I daresay either of them would marry you before sunup.”

“With a host of others waiting by the garden wall should either one be stricken with a fit of the vapors and not be able to say, ‘I do,’” Rick offered with a laugh as he picked up the decanter and added another splash to Wyatt’s glass.

“Both ladies are enticing to be sure,” Wyatt answered with all honesty. “As are most suitable misses, but they would be expecting a long wedding journey after the ceremony which would cause me to miss our upcoming Brass Deck tournaments. Upon return, they’d want to stay in London with me and be escorted to parties, Vauxhall, parks, and the like during the week and no doubt church on Sunday morning.”

Rick nodded in agreement as he added brandy to Hurst’s glass and then his own. “I’m told wives do expect a lot from husbands.”

The thought of a lady depending on him for a commitment that would last longer than an afternoon ride in the park or an evening enjoying the theatre or opera made his head pound all the harder. His father had drilled that into him about his mother often enough, declaring he could never do enough to please her. She always wanted more from him than he was capable of giving. More of his time. More appreciation for her feelings. More of his love.

She insisted her happiness depended on her husband. Wyatt couldn’t refute anything his father had said. His mother died in her sleep before he took his first step. All Wyatt knew was that he didn’t want to shoulder that kind of responsibility for another person.

“I need a duchess who will be little, if any, bother to me,” he explained further. “Epworth swears Miss Hale is not only suitable but ideal in every aspect that would be of importance. Her family lineage is good. She’s lovely in countenance, intelligence, and disposition.”

Rick cleared his throat rather loudly and left a long pause before saying, “So, you think she’ll be manageable, grateful, and dutiful because you chose her?”

Wyatt hadn’t thought of it that way. “I do. More so, though, I’m told she prefers country life to London, which suits me perfectly as I have no plans to be a doting husband.”

Nodding in agreement, his friends continued to enjoy their drink.

“Epworth says the letter will be a mere formality,” Wyatt added after a few moments of silence among the three.

Rick gave a knowing chuckle as he poured the last of the brandy into his own glass and set the empty container on the table between his and Hurst’s chair before retaking his seat. “I’m sure that’s true. What lady declines an offer of marriage from a duke?”

“Indeed,” Hurst agreed. “Country girl or city lass, she’d be insane to do so.”

The throb at the back of Wyatt’s head and neck continued. “Apparently, Miss Hale is in need of a husband quickly too.”

Rick and Hurst looked questioningly at each other.

“Not for indiscreet reasons, I’ve been assured,” Wyatt hastened to add.

“Glad you clarified that for us,” Rick added as he threw another glance Hurst’s way.

Wyatt could always count on Rick to jump to conclusions. He was usually fast acting in any situation and reckless to a fault.

“She has a young nephew and two nieces she’s in charge of. Apparently, she’s quite attached to the children. An older relative who has remained childless in her marriage recently went to Chancery Court with an appeal to take the children from Miss Hale. With only a modest allowance, she has little chance of winning her petition to keep them from her wealthier cousin unless she marries.”

“The two of you should suit adequately then,” Rick offered in a tone that seemed to suggest the matter was settled. “Since she’s well-appointed with beauty, a pliant disposition, and has children to occupy her in the country, what more could either of you want?”

Hurst drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair in a thoughtful manner. “I agree. As much as you loathe the thought, I think you’ve found the ideal wife.”

“Does Miss Hale have others seeking her hand?” Rick suddenly asked.

“Not that Epworth mentioned. Her reason for needing to marry isn’t as pressing as mine. Courts aren’t usually in a hurry to settle these matters unless a child’s welfare is at stake. They’d rather see families have time to work them out if possible. I, on the other hand, only have a few days.”

“Which brings us back to—” Hurst rose and thumped the letter with his middle finger.

The men were silent for a moment as they looked at one another.

“You can’t win a lady’s hand with simple persuasion of the facts,” Hurst stated as if no other argument were necessary. “Ladies aren’t sensible when it comes to matters such as marriage, romance, and the rest of it. They want to be wooed, even if they know false intentions are behind the excitement of it all. Swallow your distaste for such things and say them in your letter to her.”

“He’s right. Working on borrowed time as you are, you must romanticize your proposal with things a lady wants to hear.”

“Please.” Wyatt puffed out a laugh and sipped from his newly refreshed drink. “This will be an arrangement of convenience for both of us. You can’t be serious about romancing.”

“We are.” Hurst leaned forward, resting both hands down on the desk. “We’ll put our heads together and write a proper proposal asking for her hand. Ladies are fond of moonlight, flowers, flowing brooks—that sort of thing. Between the three of us, we should be able to come up with something romantic.”

Stifling a groan of frustration, Wyatt picked up his glass again and downed a hefty swallow while he shoved aside the letter he’d written. “I can’t babble on about moonlight and roses. She doesn’t have long to make up her mind. She’ll have to send a response immediately. I need to wed by Friday.”

Rick shook his head. “Impossible. The Brass Deck is scheduled for a card tournament Friday evening. We’ll have no chance of winning without you. We’ve already committed. Other groups have too.”

“Let’s think about this.” Hurst rubbed his forehead as if it were pounding as hard as Wyatt’s. “You could marry by noon, have the afternoon to accept congratulations, and still be at Lord Tartanville’s for the tournament Friday evening.”

“And no reason you can’t make the fencing match on Saturday, as it isn’t until two in the afternoon.”

“Both of you are forgetting that I must first get her to accept my offer.” Now that he’d decided to go through with this, he wanted to get the job done.

Hurst held up his hand. “In the letter, say you’ll be arriving late on the morrow to hear her answer.”

“Excellent idea,” Rick praised. “All ladies want to think a man can’t wait to marry them.”

“Epworth can take care of posting banns, getting necessary documents ready to sign, and speaking to her trustee,” Hurst added, brushing his too-long hair from his forehead again.

“Did you get more details about her?” Rick asked. “The color of her eyes? Are they icy blue, summer green, or golden brown?”

Wyatt’s sight blurred again. His head had begun to spin and his ears were ringing louder than church bells on Christmas morning. He felt like a wolf caught in a hidden snare.

“Brown, I think,” Wyatt answered in an offhand manner. “Dark-blond hair.” “That’s a start.” Hurst walked behind the desk. Patting Wyatt on the shoulder, he plunked down his glass. “Let me have your chair. I’ll do the honors. My hand is better than yours.”

Wyatt willingly gave up his seat and Hurst grabbed a clean sheet of fine parchment and dipped the quill into ink. Hurst was the clear, levelheaded one of the trio of dukes. He’d kept them from participating in outright foolish endeavors that would have surely gotten them killed during the daring days of their youth.

My dearest and lovely Miss Hale,” he wrote quickly as he said the words aloud. “The thought of meeting you brings fondest remembrances of starlit spring evenings in London when night birds chirp from their nests in the budding trees and velvety flowers, newly opened, bow their blossoms to await morning’s first ray of light.” Hurst stopped and looked up at them. His green eyes narrowed as if he were looking into the sun. “Is that poetic enough?”

“Damned good.” Rick inclined his head and tipped his glass toward his friend before taking a swallow. “How about adding ‘the scent of lilacs danced on the air’?”

“Excellent.” Hurst hastily plunged the quill into the inkpot again and continued to write. “I’ve never met a lady who didn’t adore the smell of lilacs. And we should add something about a rose among the thistles.”

“And moonlight sparkling in her blue eyes.”

“They are brown,” Wyatt corrected.

“Even better. And she must have enchantingly dewy lips with blushing cheeks.”

“Wait.” Hurst held up the quill and blinked quickly several times as if trying to clear his muddled thoughts. “Best we don’t mention the color of her eyes or hair. We can’t afford to get the particulars wrong.”

Did Wyatt really need to put all this frippery into the letter? It sounded much like the poetic verse he’d been forced to recite while at Eton. He rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his shoulders restlessly, trying to loosen the tight knot of tension that had gathered at the top of his spine.

“You best have another bottle of your finest opened for us, Wyatt,” Hurst said without looking up from his writing. “This might take all night.”

And it almost did. There were many starts, stops, and arguing about the use of words and the true way to actually romance a lady into saying yes until the entire process of writing a proposal of marriage felt wrong and ridiculous.

The next morning, Wyatt woke seated at his desk. He blinked dry, grainy eyes and tried to ignore the fierce headache his overindulgence had gifted him. Regardless of his condition, he was thinking a little clearer. He read the pages of garbled words and winced.

How the hell had they come up with such blather in their drunken state? It was pure rubbish!

Without questioning himself, he tore up the final draft his friends had proclaimed as the perfect letter to woo a lady and plucked the quill from its cradle. On a fresh sheet of paper, he wrote:

Dear Miss Hale,

I will arrive late in the afternoon with an offer of marriage.

Yours truly,
The Duke