His Unlikely Duchess
Money can buy her marriage
But will it lead to love?
Miss Lily Wilkins hopes her American money will compensate for her lack of etiquette, as she needs a prestigious marriage to save her sisters’ prospects. Raised to believe wealth was her greatest attribute, she’s stunned when her unconventional ways catch the eye of the notorious Duke of Lennox. He’s far from the safe, sensible match she’d planned on—but Lily might just discover he’s the one she needs!
Author Bio –
Amanda wrote her first romance at the age of sixteen–a vast historical epic starring all her friends as the characters, written secretly during algebra class (and her parents wondered why math was not her strongest subject…)
She’s never since used algebra, but her books have been nominated for many awards, including the RITA Award, the Romantic Times BOOKReviews Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Booksellers Best, the National Readers Choice Award, and the Holt Medallion. She lives in Santa Fe with a Poodle, a cat, a wonderful husband, and a very and far too many books and royal memorabilia collections.
When not writing or reading, she loves taking dance classes, collecting cheesy travel souvenirs, and watching the Food Network–even though she doesn’t cook.
Social Media Links – http://ammandamccabe.com
“I wish it would either rain or shine,” Violet Wilkins muttered as she adjusted the silver nitrate plate of her camera. The indecisive gray-yellow light that trickled through the conservatory glass was all wrong. She glanced at her sister Lily, Duchess of Lennox, who sat posed amid the palm fronds with her baby son on her knee, the white, snowy lace folds of her dress and his creamy blankets bright against the dark green. But the murky light made the contrast blurry and hazy. “It’s not at all what I envisioned.”
Lily laughed, and bounced the baby, making him laugh, too. How lovely Lily looked since her marriage, Violet thought with a happy/envious pang, full of glow and contentment that softened the elegant edges of her always-dutiful, always-kind nature. She and Rose, Violet’s twin, who was already married despite their eighteen years, both had that smiling air all the time now.
It made Violet happy, because she loved her sisters so fiercely—the daughters of “Old King Cole” Wilkins had always stuck close together, in the face of their mother’s ambition and their father’s wealthy benign neglect, of societies that rejected and embraced them in turn, desires that turned and turned again all around them. Her sisters were always there, always loved her.
Even though Lily was a duchess now, and Rose was Lady James Emerson, sister-in-law to a duke, while Violet was still just Miss Violet Wilkins, that had never and would never change.
If only that wretched light would change…
“Oh, Vi, even you can’t control the weather,” Lily said. “We’re lucky to have any sunlight at all.”
“This wretched English weather,” Violet murmured. She’d been in England for many months now, staying behind with Lily after their mother saw two of her daughters married and then sailed back to Newport. England was wretched in some ways—the food, the damp chill of the air, the quiet whispers in stuffy ballrooms about “unfortunate” American manners. But there were her sisters, and nice strong tea, fascinating and picturesque history everywhere she turned, art and music, and lovely images she could turn into photographs. Here , no one cared if she wandered outside all day with her sketchbook, finding scenes to choreograph and photograph later. Her darling brother-in-law Aidan even let her set up a darkroom in an old potting shed so she didn’t have to rely on a London studio to develop her plates.
No—England was home now, for better or worse. She couldn’t envision going back to stifling New York or Newport now. For all its hierarchy and gossip, there was a strange freedom to England Violet had never known before.
If she could just find a way to hold onto it. Everyone expected her to marry now, with her sisters both wed and her fortune just waiting in a bank vault, but Violet couldn’t even begin to imagine wanting to marry. Running a vast house like Lily, helping a husband’s academic career like Rose with her Jamie and his classics studies. Her time, her energy, would be pulled away from her darkroom, bit by bit, until she had nothing left for her art. She had to work hard and steadily to master the complicated process of light and chemicals necessary to produce the images she saw in her mind. The sense of shadow that created the image of three-dimensionality, of life itself caught forever.
She was a long way from where she wanted to be, from bringing the images she imagined to reality. A long way from her great dream of being in the Photographic Society of London’s annual exhibit. She hadn’t yet found the perfect subject to capture their attention. It would take much practice. But she was determined. She dared not even think yet of the vaunted Solar Club, which admitted only twenty-five members and barely any women at all, but someday…
“I heard that the French use phosphorescent flashes to create light effects,” she said. “Perhaps if I…”
Lily laughed. “Oh, no, Vi! That would frighten poor babykins to bits, and possibly set fire to the castle.”
Violet smiled at her nephew, and went to adjust the edge of the long white wool blanket as she waited for the light to change. He gave her a precious, gummy grin and grabbed her finger. How she adored him! He had become her favorite photographic subject, his merry and patient little nature so perfect for her camera, such a joy to be around.
“I would never want to scare my little pumpkin,” she said. “And I doubt I could! He’s such an imperturbable little soul.”
“That he is, my wee angel,” Lily said with a Madonna-like smile. She bounced him in her arms, making him chortle. “My happy little soul.”
“Just like his sweet mama,” Violet told him, checking the light against Lily’s gold-red hair, lighter than Violet’s bright red, darker than the platinum curls sprouting on the baby’s egg-like head. “You’re the best boy in all the world, aren’t you, my darlingest nephew?”
He laughed and kicked, reaching his plump arms up to his auntie.
“How he adores you,” Lily said happily. “You must find someone nice, and give him some cousins soon, Vi!”
Startled, Violet reared back as if suddenly burned. Of course she was often asked about marital plans, in every letter from her mother, from Lily’s mother-in-law the formidable dowager duchess, even, very gently, from Rose, who thought every marriage must be as blissful as her own. From all the London mamas who were certain their sons would make the best use of her Wilkins money. But never from Lily.
Violet tried to laugh. “You will have to look to Rose for nieces and nephews, Lily.”
“But Rose lives so far away! They never leave London. And she and Jamie are so wrapped up in their books, and Rose’s beauty is becoming as admired. We never see them. He does need someone to be his friend.”
“What if I married someone far away?” Violet said lightly. She went back to her camera, trying to ignore the fidgety discomfort such conversations always gave her. “I might go off to India or Kenya or something.”
Lily gasped. “Did you accept Colonel Hastings, then?”
Violet laughed. She had many suitors, none of them quite right, none of them capturing her imagination, and Colonel Hastings was one of them. A widower in the colonial service, who made no secret of the fact that he needed a wife before he went back to the Punjab or wherever it was. He was rather dull, but he was better than Lord Anderbrook, who only talked about cricket, and that dour Mr. Frye, who lamented his falling-in Jacobean manor house. At least Colonel Hastings did have interesting tales of his travels, and India would make for some intriguing photographic studies. But he was quite thirty years older than her. If she had to marry, she wanted someone exciting, or at least very interesting.
“No, I’m not engaged to the colonel, or anyone else,” she said. “I’m much too busy right now.”
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