Monday, January 6, 2020

Showcase Forever my Duke by Olivia Drake

Ah what's better than starting out a brand new year with an old fashioned historical romance, Forever My Duke is book #2 in Olivia Drake's Unlikely Duchesses series.

Publisher: St Martin's Press

Release Date: 12/31//2019

Unlikely Duchesses #2



Forever My Duke is the second novel in a brand new Regency romance series from Olivia Drake about rakish dukes and the governesses who steal their hearts.

“I find Miss Fanshawe to be quite charming—for an American.”—The Prince Regent
Hadrian Ames, the Duke of Clayton, needs a bride. He even has the perfect one picked out. That is, until he meets the lovely, free-spirited Natalie Fanshawe. She’s the opposite of what a man of his high rank should desire in a wife—an outspoken American who has never even set foot in a London ballroom.
But Natalie doesn’t have time to be swept off her feet by a handsome duke who must be a spoiled scoundrel like every other British lord. And she couldn’t care less about Hadrian’s title. After all, it’s not as if he actually worked to attain his wealth and status. He surely can’t understand what it’s like to be a busy woman, planning to open a school while trying to reunite a six-year-old orphan with his English relatives. Nevertheless, Hadrian launches his campaign to win her heart. Can the utterly delightful American beauty ever find a way to love him…despite his being a duke?

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Hadrian Ames, the eighth Duke of Clayton, shut the door against the noise of the taproom. With a jaundiced eye, he surveyed the cramped confines of the private parlor. This delay had wreaked havoc with his schedule. He’d departed London at dawn in order to arrive in time to take dinner with the family of his prospective bride.
Instead, an ice storm had slowed his progress and forced him to stop overnight at this ramshackle inn. It would have been foolhardy to attempt the last dozen miles over the slippery hills of southern Warwickshire, drenching his postilions and outriders. Especially since the day had already been long with numerous changes of horses. The ping of freezing rain on the darkened windows of the parlor confirmed the necessity of the halt.
Hadrian stripped off his wet greatcoat and slung it onto a wall hook. Awaiting his supper, he sat down in a creaky, ladderback chair by the hearth. The air smelled musty and smoky. He stretched out his booted feet in hopes the meager blaze would thaw his chilly limbs.
To pass the time, he picked up a discarded newspaper from a table. The local journal was several weeks outdated, but even old news interested him since he’d spent his boyhood in these parts. He was perusing a report on the previous year’s corn yields when a knock sounded.
Before he could say enter, the door swung open. A prune-faced man garbed in funereal black stepped into the parlor, his sparse white hair combed over a balding skull. On one palm, he balanced a tray that held several covered dishes.
Hadrian peered over the newspaper. “Ah, Chumley. I trust you’ve brought my coffee.”
“There is none to be had in this inferior establishment, Your Grace. So, I took it upon myself to substitute a pitcher of hot mulled wine. It was prepared by my own hands, for the kitchen here is shockingly inadequate.”
“Don’t tell me you ruined one of the bottles of burgundy that I brought from my cellar.”
“It was necessary for medicinal purposes,” the valet said as he set down the tray. “Your Grace mustn’t risk catching cold in such foul weather. It only goes to prove one ought never to venture north before Eastertide.”
The peevish tone rolled off Hadrian’s back. Chumley had been in a snit ever since learning the purpose of this journey. In fact, Hadrian had a wry suspicion that the servant had doctored the wine in protest. But he made allowances for the man, who had been with the family since before Hadrian was born, having first served his sire, then Hadrian himself when he’d ascended to the dukedom as a lad of five. The old retainer wasn’t likely to change his fussbudget nature at this late date.
He accepted a goblet of mulled wine and gamely endured the herbal taste. “It’s the second week of March. No one could have predicted an ice storm.”
Chumley sniffed in lieu of a reply. He unfolded a length of white linen and draped it over the scarred wood table. The valet always packed items for unforeseen stops like this one, though apparently he’d neglected to bring coffee. With finicky precision, he laid out serviette and silver utensils, then uncovered several dishes, arranging them atop the tablecloth.
“Appalling!” he muttered.
“What is it now?” Hadrian said, looking up from his paper.
“The innkeeper’s wife had nary a roasted chicken nor even a beefsteak to offer. In all my years, I’ve never had to serve the Duke of Clayton slops fit for a pig’s trough.”
Allured by a delectable aroma, Hadrian arose to take his seat at the table. He glanced down at the bowl containing chunks of potatoes and meat in thick brown gravy. The fragrant wisps of steam made his stomach growl. “They must be pampered pigs,” he jested.
“Bah, this is hardly the sort of inn suitable to one of Your Grace’s stature. The servants here are slipshod, and the other guests might charitably be described as riffraff. Had you seen fit to heed the duchess’s wishes and remain in London—”
“My mother had no say in the matter.”
“One cannot dispute Your Grace’s authority as head of the family. Yet if I may be permitted to point out, the duchess only desires what is best for you.”
Sampling the tasty mutton stew, Hadrian reflected that his mother’s idea of best was derived from the silly romantic novels that she liked to read. She had reacted to the news of his marriage plans with pouting and pleading, accusing him of scorning love, of being cold-blooded like his father, and had even lapsed into a bout of weeping. The tears had almost been his undoing. He’d disliked having to wound her tender heart. But it had been necessary to speak firmly in order to convince her that his decision to wed Lady Ellen was final.
Now, though, it seemed she had gone behind his back to recruit Chumley as her advocate.
The hot savory meal put Hadrian into a mellower mood. Eyeing the valet’s puckered brow, he said, “Speak up, man. Vent your spleen and be done with it. I won’t have you suffering a bout of dyspepsia on my account.”
Chumley huffed out a breath. “It is merely that I find myself in agreement with the duchess. She believes Your Grace needn’t feel bound by that long-ago contract between your father and his cousin, Lord Godwin. Dynastic marriages may have once been common practice, but they are not in vogue in these modern times.”
“They are far more practical, though. It saves a man the trouble of wading through a sea of matchmaking mamas and their simpering daughters.”
The old retainer dolefully shook his head as he set out a plate of bread and cheese. “Be that as it may, the betrothal plan was agreed upon when you and Lord Godwin’s eldest daughter were mere babes in arms. When Lady Audrey eloped with that preacher a decade ago and fled the country, it nullified any obligation on your part.”
Hadrian had suffered no regrets over the loss of a marriage to his second cousin, Audrey. Though pretty, she’d been sober-minded, her nose either in a prayer book or in his face, scolding him for his lack of spiritual pursuits. At least she’d never known of the discreet liaisons that had occupied his time when he wasn’t studying at Oxford. At eighteen, he had not been ready to don the leg shackle.
Now was another matter. He had sown his wild oats and had gained the maturity to settle down.
Hadrian tore off a hunk of bread and buttered it. “One would think you’d be pleased that I would honor my father’s wishes. Anyway, it’s time I set up my nursery, and Lady Ellen will suffice to be my wife as much as any other well-bred girl.”
“Then there was no need for this long journey,” Chumley said mulishly. “Lord and Lady Godwin will be bringing their daughter to London for the season. There will be time aplenty to court her.”
“Ah, but it’s better for the courtship to take place away from the prying eyes of gossips. Having never been in society, Lady Ellen may feel nervous—especially as we’ve not seen one another since she was twelve.”
The valet refilled Hadrian’s goblet. “Your mother fears the girl still has chalk dust from the schoolroom on her fingers. She can hardly be prepared to step straight into the role of duchess.”
“Mama wed at eighteen, the same age as Lady Ellen.”
“Dare I suggest that is precisely why she would counsel Your Grace against the marriage … among other considerations?”
Wiping his mouth with the serviette, Hadrian aimed a shrewd glance up at the valet, who stood rigidly at attention before the table. “Ah, we arrive at the crux of the matter. Mama objects not to the age of my bride, but to Lady Ellen’s father. She still harbors a grudge against Cousin Godwin.”
“Can you blame Her Grace? She lost not only her husband but you, as well. At the tender age of five, you were torn from her loving embrace and given over to the guardianship of Lord Godwin. You spent your childhood exiled halfway across the country.”
“Ninety-four miles is hardly the ends of the earth. And I did visit her twice a year.”
For a week at Easter and one in August, Lord Godwin had permitted Chumley to escort Hadrian to London to see his mother. His fond memories of those times included many childish delights: outings to the circus, boat rides on the Thames, visits to the menagerie of lions and bears at the Tower. She had lavished toys and books and other gifts on him, too, so many that upon his return, Hadrian was allowed to keep only one item. The rest was donated to charity, for Godwin believed in the virtues of austerity and thrift.
Hadrian often had chafed against that strictness, though now he could appreciate the value of his stern upbringing. While other noblemen were losing fortunes at cards or fighting duels, he had acquired a reputation for cool deliberation. Accruing wealth meant more to him than frittering it away.
“Had I remained in my mother’s care,” Hadrian went on, “she would have coddled me, as she did Lady Elizabeth. I’d have grown up to be an indolent fribble, lacking any knowledge of how to manage my estates. Now, don’t look daggers at me, Chumley. You know as well as I that my sister is just as much a rattlebrain as my mother.”
“Rather, it seems that Your Grace would do well to heed the voice of experience. The duchess knows the difficulties of being a naïve young lady forced into a marriage arranged by her father.”
“You are mistaken to presume that Lord Godwin has forced his daughter,” Hadrian said rather testily. “I grew up in his household. Lady Ellen may have been ten years my junior, but she knows I’m no villain.”
“Nearly a dozen years, and she was only a child when you reached your majority and moved away.”
“Yes, well, I’ve seen her a time or two since then. Enough to assure me she possesses all of the qualities that I require.”
The valet fixed him with a doubtful stare. “All, Your Grace? Dare I say the duchess would prefer that love be your primary criterion. She believes that a strong bond of affection is vital for marital happiness—”
“Enough! It isn’t my mother’s choice to make—nor is it yours.” Having had his fill of the pointless conversation, Hadrian frowned up at the servant. “In time, she’ll see this is for the best. As will you. Now, I’m sure you’ve duties to attend to.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Chumley pursed his withered lips and bowed, then took Hadrian’s greatcoat from the wall hook. As the man shuffled out of the parlor, the door closing behind him, he didn’t appear so much peeved as troubled.
That look of concern on the servant’s face irked Hadrian. Why the devil did Chumley and the duchess think he would be swayed by their arguments? Marriage for a man of his stature was a grand alliance, not a fantasy out of the pages of a lady’s novel.
Love! What balderdash!
He assuaged his irritation by listing his standards for the ideal wife. She must be attractive, of course, and a blueblood of impeccable background. A modest young lady who wasn’t overly chatty. He had no intention of wedding a sharp-tongued shrew.
Lady Ellen appeared to perfectly suit his requirements. This journey would enable him to confirm that presumption before the start of the season. He was glad Lord Godwin had written to him and suggested the visit.
Hadrian finished his dinner, content to be alone with the snapping of the fire and the hissing of sleet against the window. He was looking forward to his nuptials. For years, he had been hunted as society’s biggest matrimonial prize. At balls and routs and parties, he was pursued by flocks of females who thought to win his heart with their inane coquetry. It had become tiresome to ward off all the eager debutantes who hoped to become the Duchess of Clayton.
Although he relished the sort of flirtation that would gain him entry to a beautiful woman’s bedchamber, he found society ladies in general to be shallow creatures who could speak only of fashion and gossip. That was why he had made up his mind to marry and be done with it. There was no point in holding out for a paragon who didn’t exist. Then, once the ring was on his finger, he would be free of the ambitious mamas who steered their insipid daughters into his path.
Satisfied with the plan, Hadrian returned his attention to the newspaper. He was deep into a piece about the training of the local militia when the rattling of the doorknob disturbed his concentration.
“Back so soon, Chumley? I’m in no humor for—”
He glanced up and stopped in mid-sentence. A young boy of perhaps five or six years darted into the room and shut the door. Garbed in homespun shirt and trousers, he had a thatch of messy, straw-colored hair and a smudge of dirt on one freckled cheek. A slingshot dangled from the pocket of his pants.
His blue eyes fastened on Hadrian at the table. “Hallo, mister.”
Hadrian cocked an eyebrow. Judging by the rough quality of the clothing, the lad appeared to belong to one of the servants. “You aren’t allowed in here,” he said, not ungently. “This is a private parlor.”
“Aw, I won’t bother you, promise I won’t! I only need somewhere to hide.”
Without invitation, the lad commenced to prowling around the small room, looking for a suitable spot. The sparse furnishings offered no convenient draperies to slip behind or chest in which to conceal himself. He made a complete circuit and then ended up by the table, eyeing it speculatively.
All of a sudden, he flashed a triumphant grin and ducked underneath the cloth to crouch at Hadrian’s feet. “Ahoy, mate!” came his muffled voice. “This is the best spot ever!”
What the devil—?
Flummoxed, Hadrian dropped his newspaper. He was accustomed to being obeyed. Instead, the urchin was huddled against his leg, no doubt leaving dirty pawprints on his polished Hessian boots.
He snatched up the edge of the cloth to frown at the boy. It was tight quarters under the small table, and the long drape of linen formed a tent that reached almost to the floor. From out of nowhere, a snippet of memory flitted through his mind of himself at that age hiding from his nurse.
An unexpected twist of humor stirred in Hadrian. But it wouldn’t do to chuckle when he needed to maintain authority. Summoning a stern tone, he stated, “You cannot be playing games in here. Now, run along.”
That freckled face held a look of tragic entreaty. “But it’s hide-and-seek. She’ll never find me here.”
“Who? I won’t have a throng of children dashing hither and yon.”
“That won’t happen, mister, I promise you!” He sketched an X over his scrawny chest. “Cross my heart and hope to die!”
“Don’t be absurd.” Though amused by the boy’s earnestness, Hadrian spoke firmly. “Now, this is my final warning. If you don’t leave of your own accord, I’ll be forced to—”
A tapping sounded on the door. Hadrian glanced up at the disturbance, then looked back down at the brat. His eyes had widened and his sturdy form quivered. He scrunched himself up into the smallest possible ball.
“Please, you mustn’t give me away! It’s only for a minute. Now, shh.”
Reaching up, the boy tugged the tablecloth back down to conceal himself. Hadrian was tempted to haul him out by his ear and frog-march him out of the room. But it was too late, for the door was already opening. A woman stepped into the parlor.
His heart rocked in his chest. The world faded as he stared at the vision standing before him.
Pretty seemed too tame a word to describe her. Appearing to be in her mid-twenties, she had a frank gaze and an aura of distinction that set her apart from the ladies of his acquaintance. She was tall and willowy, her chin held high, as if to take pride in her height. In the glow of the firelight, several curls of dark sable hair had escaped her chignon to frame her face with its pert nose and rosy lips. Her skin had a healthy glow as if she’d spent a good deal of time outdoors without a parasol. The cinnamon-hued gown with its long sleeves and plain scoop neckline would be considered pitifully drab by London standards, yet it skimmed her feminine curves in a way that lent her a natural flair.
Hadrian tried to put his finger on precisely why she fascinated him. He had seen plenty of other lovely women over the years, but none of those others had affected him on quite such a visceral level. Perhaps it was her eyes. They were a deep, vibrant green that lit up like sunlight on emeralds when she smiled.
As she did now. “Pardon me for intruding, sir. I’m looking for a little boy.”
Her melodious voice held a faintly foreign flavor which he tried to place. Not Welsh or Irish or Scottish or even Cornish. It was as mysterious and appealing as the woman herself.
As she gazed inquiringly at him, Hadrian realized he was still sitting and gawking like a dolt. He shot to his feet. If that scruffy imp belonged to her, he could not imagine she was one of the upper ten thousand, yet he felt compelled to show her the respect afforded a lady.
He bowed. “Ma’am.”
She gave him a distracted look and then ventured closer, gazing around the small parlor. “Leo? I know you’re in here. I saw you go through this door when I was coming down the stairs.”
Hadrian held an inward debate. As much as he admired this splendid creature, he had a gentleman’s distaste for tattling. It was an unwritten rule that males did not betray one another’s secrets. Especially not to the female of the species.
Or did that honor exclude disobedient cubs like Leo?
Fortunately the dilemma was resolved without any duplicity on his part. With a small cry, she sprang forward and lifted the edge of the tablecloth to peer underneath it.
“There you are, you naughty child!” she said on a trill of laughter. “That’s quite the clever hiding spot.”
“It wasn’t very clever since you found me,” Leo griped.
“Well, come out of there at once,” she said, watching as he scrambled to his feet. “And next time, mind that your toes don’t stick out. Now, pray make your apologies to the gentleman for disturbing his dinner.”
“Sorry, mister.”
“There’s no harm done,” Hadrian said, forgetting that he’d chastised the lad for that very thing only moments ago.
“Sometimes Leo doesn’t stop to think about his actions,” the woman said ruefully. “It is a trait we are working on modifying. In the meantime, I must thank you, sir, for being so understanding.”
Her mouth curved in that appealing smile, she leaned over the table and extended her hand to Hadrian.
Startled, he realized that she meant for him to shake it as a gentleman would do to his equal. Not even the grandest grande dame of society would commit such a faux pas with a man of his rank. A lady might offer the back of a gloved hand to be kissed, but only after having curtsied to him. Nevertheless, he found himself clasping her hand, keenly conscious of the warmth of her slim fingers.
“It was my pleasure,” he murmured.
The feel of her bare silken skin heightened the intensity of her effect on him. He felt as giddy as a schoolboy meeting his first pretty girl. It made no sense, for he prided himself on being a man in firm control of his emotions and somewhat jaded by the allures of the fairer sex.
She must have sensed his reaction, for her gaze widened slightly and a rosy blush tinted her cheeks. Her expression held a frank curiosity about him, as if she, too, were puzzled by the unseen energy of attraction. As they stared at each other for timeless moments, Hadrian felt as if he were drowning in those gorgeous eyes. He had the strongest urge to reach out and unpin her hair, to see those sable tresses tumble around her shoulders and bosom.
It was only when she gave a tug that he realized he was still gripping her hand. He loosened his hold, and she stepped back, the sparkle of warmth on her features dimming to a mask of politeness. She lowered her gaze to the boy, who had wandered to the hearth and picked up a stick of kindling to poke at the fire.
“Put that away, Leo, and come along. Your bath is growing cold.”
He abandoned the stick, but dug in his heels. “Don’t want no bath.”
“Proper grammar, please. And the bath is necessary, for tomorrow you are to meet your grandfather.” She took hold of Leo’s hand and guided him away, pausing only to toss a quick, heart-stopping smile over her shoulder. “Good evening, sir. Do pardon us again for the intrusion.”
A moment later, they disappeared out into the corridor and shut the door. The muffled grumble of Leo’s protests gradually died away.
It took a moment for Hadrian to feel like himself again. A trace of her alluring feminine scent lingered in the air. Now that she was gone, it seemed ludicrous that a stranger could affect his equilibrium to such a degree.
Her poised manner did not fit the lower orders, so he had been wrong about the boy being the offspring of servants. Rather, she must be an overnight lodger here, another traveler stranded by the freezing rain. He hadn’t noticed a wedding ring, yet it seemed reasonable to assume that a husband awaited her upstairs.
Logic dispelled the remainder of Hadrian’s undue reaction. She was the very opposite of his preferences, for he liked women who were dainty and sophisticated. Her appeal perhaps could be explained away by the fact that he’d discharged his latest mistress a fortnight ago and had been on the lookout for another to catch his interest. But he strictly confined his liaisons to willing widows and discreet courtesans.
Not mothers with young children.
He resumed his seat at the table and took up his newspaper, though the printed words failed to hold his attention. Instead, he frowned into the dying flames of the fire while his mind continued to mull over the intriguing encounter. Despite the faint accent, she had a refined mode of speech, possessed a natural grace, and displayed a charming blush.
Yet the handshake was curious behavior, indeed. She was clearly a rustic who was unfamiliar with the protocol of curtsying to a gentleman. Even if she was unaware that he was the Duke of Clayton, she ought to have recognized him as a man of consequence. He wasn’t offended, only baffled as to what it might reveal about her background.
Devil take it. She would have to remain a mystery. Tomorrow, they’d each set forth to different destinations, never to cross paths again. He wouldn’t waste another thought on a fleeting encounter with a nameless beauty.
Especially not when he was on his way to acquire the perfect bride.

Copyright © 2020 by Barbara Dawson Smith


"Sure to keep returning readers invested in the series." - Publishers Weekly on Forever My Duke

"Will appeal to fans of Julia Quinn and Eloisa James." - Booklist starred review on Forever My Duke

"American and English cultures clash in the parlor and the bedroom in Drake’s latest outing (after The Duke I Once Knew). Readers looking to cheer on two unlikely lovers will gravitate to this title." - Library Journal

About the author:
Olivia Drake is a New York Times bestselling author who lives in Texas. Her novels have won critical acclaim and numerous industry awards, including the prestigious RITA. Olivia is the author of Scandal of the Year, Never Trust a Rogue, and If the Slipper Fits among others.


  1. Just the blurb had me chuckling and smiling. I think this one would be fun. :)

  2. Thanks for showcasing this one Debbie. I definitely want to read more historical romance this year.

  3. That blub and excerpt makes me want to pick thus ine up!

  4. This sounds good. My father was Clayton and now my grandson is named after I already love the hero :)

    1. awe you know I also feel more in touch with the characters if the name is familiar. How nice the royal was named for your dad :)

  5. I am hoping to read some historical romances this year. I guess I can add this to my list. Thanks for sharing, Debbie.

  6. Sounds like a perfect historical romance with a little taste of USA!

  7. This sounds like a steamy historical romance! I love that the leading lady is outspoken, and that the leading man is going to try to win her heart! Thanks for sharing Debbie :)

    Lindy@ A Bookish Escape

    1. Yes I think it's important in historical romances to have a heroine who's not so vanilla