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A Duke's Guide To Romance
Author: Sophie Barnes





London, June 1817



Slouched in his favorite armchair, Anthony Gibbs, Duke of Westcliffe, balanced a glass of brandy between his fingers while doing his best to ignore the problem hanging over his head. His good friends, Brody Evans, the Duke of Corwin, and Callum Davis, the Duke of Stratton, kept him company.

Anthony was grateful for it. There was no one else with whom he’d rather share his woes than these two men. They’d grown up together, had attended Eton together, and had even been together when the tragic news of their fathers’ deaths had been delivered. Furthermore, they found themselves in similar straits and were able to relate.

The light from a nearby oil lamp illuminated Anthony’s drink. He peered through the crystal, allowing the amber liquid to fracture his view of the parlor. If only he could sit here forever, snubbing life and the endless duties stacked on his shoulders. If only he could find the answers to his problems in the numerous glasses of brandy he’d been enjoying these past five hours.

If only…

“I need a solution,” he muttered. Lord, he was tired. Perhaps he should tell his friends to go home so he could go find his bed.

“Don’t we all?” Brody asked. He was stretched out on the floor, arms folded behind his head while he stared at the ceiling. His dark blonde hair was as rumpled as his clothes. “Finn’s gambling addiction isn’t helping with my financial predicament.”

Finn was Brody’s younger brother and he was forever getting himself into worse trouble than Brody, which was saying something.

“My concern is for Peter’s future. His education will be costly.” Callum pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know what my cousin was thinking when he and his wife made me their son’s guardian.”

“You’re a duke,” Anthony pointed out. “As such, they probably expected you to provide their son with endless possibilities.”

Callum gave an unhappy laugh and went to refill his glass. His black hair was darker than Anthony’s and made him look slightly dangerous in the dim lighting. “The poor boy won’t have any unless I find a way to replenish the coffers. My investments haven’t made the returns I’d hoped for.”

“Neither have mine,” said Brody. “Quite the opposite.”

Anthony could only concur.

The truth was they were all in a terrible bind. Managing estates and securing their futures had not been their priorities when they inherited their titles. Shock and grief had strengthened their bond, but it had also made them reckless. Instead of embracing responsibility, they’d spent the last three years on roguish pursuits. The need to block out the pain of losing their fathers in that terrible accident had led to excessive spending and extreme negligence.

“Keeping up appearances is becoming a chore,” Anthony said. When he’d descended to breakfast that morning, his secretary had handed him an unpleasant stack of bills. Apparently, several shops had chosen to revoke his line of credit and were now demanding immediate payment. “With my sisters’ debuts next season, it’s time for me to stop being so damn irresponsible. I’ve got to do better. For their sakes.”

Hell, even White’s was threatening to cancel all of their memberships, which was why they’d gathered at Anthony’s home for a change. So they wouldn’t have to face the embarrassment of being publicly reminded of their outstanding payments.

If they weren’t careful, their servants would quit and they’d have to cook their own meals.

“What do you have in mind?” Brody asked. He sat up and flung one arm loosely over his bent knee.

Anthony set his glass on the small round table beside his chair. “We’re all in desperate need of incomes. So let’s try to find a solution. There must be some way for us to cover our expenses, some means by which to resolve our financial problems and start making a profit.”

“How?” Callum asked. “As members of the peerage we have limited options. We were our fathers’ heirs and as such, we were never expected to seek employment as barristers, solicitors, or members of the clergy. We have no useful skills.”

“True.” Brody reached for the bottle of wine he’d left on the floor nearby and sighed when he found it empty. A vacant pause followed before he told his friends, “We could marry.”

“What?” Anthony and Callum spoke in unison, their voices equally strained.

Brody shrugged. “You have to admit that it would solve the problem.”

The clock on the fireplace mantel decided to chime at that moment, the sound too reminiscent of wedding bells for Anthony’s liking.

“I for one am not prepared to tie the matrimonial knot just yet,” he said, already regretting the conversation he’d recently had with Viscount Ebberly. It made him feel sick just thinking about it.

“Nothing would compel me to spend the rest of my life shackled to any of the ladies currently available on the marriage mart.” Callum raised his glass in salute and gulped down a decent measure. “Least of all Miss Amanda Starling. Good lord. Can you imagine?”

The comment forced additional queasiness through Anthony’s veins. He didn’t care for Viscount Ebberly’s daughter at all, but during a moment of desperation, he’d still gone to speak with her father. His intention had merely been to discover whether or not Miss Starling might be willing to fill his coffers in exchange for a title. The answer to that had been a resounding yes.

Ebberly had even suggested they meet with his solicitor the very next day, which had caused an entirely different kind of panic to surge through Anthony. Apologizing profusely, he’d attempted to make a hasty retreat, insisting he’d merely been trying to weigh his options. Only to have the viscount suggest that he spend some time getting to know his daughter better. In exchange, she would befriend his sisters and help them prepare for their debuts.

The suggestion proved how shrewd Ebberly was. He’d taken Anthony’s measure and had concluded that such a bargain was too good for him to pass up. Ebberly hadn’t been wrong, but he had severely misjudged Anthony if he believed the arrangement would lead to courtship and marriage.

Intent on helping his sisters while avoiding a life sentence with Miss Starling, Anthony had determined to make sure they were never completely alone. They could perhaps meet for tea at a public venue or walk in the park with others present. But then, much to his relief, nothing more had come of the conversation. He’d not heard from Ebberly since and had permitted himself to dismiss his concerns regarding Miss Starling.

“I’ll admit it’s not ideal,” Brody said, breaking through Anthony’s thoughts, “but a large dowry might be precisely what I need.”

“I disagree. If anyone in your family ought to marry, it should be Finn.” Anthony leaned forward and, resting his forearms on his thighs, met Brody’s gaze. “He’s deliberately making things worse for you, and as such, it makes sense for him to take the fall.”

“Perhaps, but you know as well as I that it will take an impressive title to tempt a father into letting his daughter marry a man without a fortune. Finn is a second son and a renowned scoundrel with little besides his looks to commend him. He’s the exact opposite of what one might consider eligible.”

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