Home > No Dukes Allowed

No Dukes Allowed
Author: Jess Michaels





Summer 1814



Valaria St. Clare, Duchess of Gooding, had to believe that if one was given a rulebook to marriage, hating one’s husband would have been at the top of a list of what not to do.

And yet, as she stared across their ballroom at him, surrounded by his cronies, hate was what she felt. Silas was drinking heavily, laughing and crowing and telling boisterous and embarrassing stories that echoed in the room so everyone could hear.

If she had found the nerve to go to his side and gently suggest he lower his tone, she knew what his response would have been. To tell her it was his birthday and he would do what he pleased. And everyone would laugh and she would fake a smile and no one would know that Silas always did as he pleased.

Certainly tonight would be no different.

Her stomach turned and she dropped her gaze a moment. When she lifted it again, she found one of Silas’s best mates stepping up to her side. The Duke of Blackvale. He was tall and very handsome and of course rich and powerful. Silas didn’t waste his time on anyone who wasn’t. He boasted of his influential circle of friends often enough.

But unlike those others in her husband’s group, she didn’t despise Blackvale. He was…different from the rest. And so she forced a smile in welcome.

“Blackvale,” she said. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“It seems Si is,” Blackvale said with a long look across the room. His expression was something settled between concern and humor at Silas’s increasingly boorish behavior.

“Hmm,” Valaria returned, noncommittal. She was very good, after all, at hiding what she felt. “We have not seen you around as much lately. Have you been busy?”

“Yes,” he said with a sigh. “My brother has been managing one of the estates and had some issue, so I had to ride to the rescue. But it’s resolved now and I should be in London more for the next few months.”

There was a little flutter in Valaria’s chest. If Blackvale was in town, he was with Silas. They had been friends a very long time despite their different personalities. She sometimes looked at Blackvale, who seemed to have a deep sense of responsibility to duty, friends and family, and wondered how in the world they were friends. But then again, they had become chums when they were very young.

“I’m sure Silas will be pleased,” she said.

He held her stare for a moment. Perhaps a moment too long, and she ducked her head, uncertain what he was looking for as those light brown eyes moved slowly over her face. He cleared his throat and his voice was suddenly a little thick. “Yes.”

She glanced back up at him and she found he was now focused on Silas, who had slugged back yet another drink. She shivered at the state he would be in by the time they retired to bed. Her stomach turned at the thought.

“He’s getting a bit sloppy there, isn’t he?” Blackvale mused, almost to himself.

She shrugged. “Perhaps he’ll pass out and limit any damage he might do to his reputation by—” She cut herself off with a sigh as she watched Silas stagger toward the back of the ballroom, muttering something she couldn’t hear as he mounted the table. She sighed. “By dancing on the table.”

Blackvale shook his head. “He really needs to be more careful what he allows. Excuse me, Your Grace, I will take care of this. Perhaps I can get him tucked into bed.”

Valaria fought to keep her excitement from her face at the idea. If Silas went to his bed, it kept him out of hers. Blackvale didn’t know the gift he offered with his suggestion and offer of help.

“That might be best,” Valaria said lightly. He executed a small nod, but before he left she said, “B-Blackvale?”

He turned back. “Your Grace?”

“You are a good friend,” she said softly.

His lips parted as if he hadn’t expected the compliment, then he smiled. “And you are a good wife.”

He left her then and she blinked back tears. The man had no idea how wrong he was. And she hoped he never would.






Spring 1815



It was a well-known fact that when one wanted to put a dowager duchess out to pasture, one placed her on Kent’s Row.

It was a fine street, of course, with tree-lined walkways and brightly colored doors to welcome those who came to call at the neatly kept townhouses. Still, there was no denying its purpose, which Valaria felt keenly as her carriage rumbled to a stop in front of one of the tall homes, sunlight dancing off the bright Roman cement walls.

Number 106. That was hers now, her home after two years of living at a far finer residence of her late husband, Silas St. Clare, Duke of Gooding. For some women, especially of her tender years, the switch to the smaller abode might have been a little shocking. After all, most of the duchesses on the Row were in their sixties or even older. They were not expected to dance or twirl or laugh too loudly anymore.

And yet as the carriage door was opened and her footman helped her out, Valaria tilted back her fine bonnet and breathed a sigh of…relief…at this new home. A place where she could hide.

Being put out to pasture sounded perfectly fine to her.

Of course she told herself that, but then the grief washed over her and she gripped the edge of the carriage door briefly before it passed. Then she forced a smile as her new butler, Higgins, came down the short set of stairs to greet her.

“Your Grace,” he said, executing a small bow. “Welcome home.”

Her smile wavered slightly but she managed to maintain the mask as she inclined her head toward this man she had met but once before today. Her old butler had remained at the duke’s residence, after all. Along with almost all her familiar servants, save for her personal maid, Fanny.

“Thank you so much, Higgins,” she said. “I’m sure the new staff has done a wonderful job preparing the home for me. I look forward to seeing it now that it is filled with furniture and life.”

“Indeed, Your Grace,” he said, and motioned toward the door. “I shall give you a tour straight away if you are not too tired from your journey.”

She gave a small laugh. “The twenty minutes across London, you mean? Yes, I think I can manage.”

She was about to follow his gentle direction into the house when she saw two ladies coming up the street together at a rapid clip. It was evident by their focused stares in her direction that they were coming to her.

Her stomach turned a little at the attention, but she cast a quick glance toward Higgins. “Neighbors?” she asked softly.

“Yes, Your Grace.”

He drew a breath as if to identify her impending guests, but before he could, Valaria gasped, “Why, that is the Duchess of Turnbridge and the Duchess of Sidmouth. They are of an age with me—are they visiting someone here?”

Higgins shook his head. “No, madam. They both live on the Row. Two and three houses down, respectively, on the other side of the Dowager Duchess of Winchester, who is your direct neighbor to the north.”

Valaria’s eyes went wide at the mention of one of the most respected dowagers in London, but she could not ask more because the two ladies arrived at last, in a smiling cloud of perfume and perfectly coifed hair and beautiful gowns.

Hot Books
» House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
» A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
» From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
» A Million Kisses in Your Lifetime
» Deviant King (Royal Elite #1)
» Den of Vipers
» House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2)
» The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #
» Sweet Temptation
» The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
» Chasing Cassandra (The Ravenels #6)
» Wreck & Ruin
» Steel Princess (Royal Elite #2)
» Twisted Hate (Twisted #3)
» The Play (Briar U Book 3)