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EXCERPT
My Unfair Lady
London, 1885

Chapter One

Summer Wine Lee peeked through the drapery
covering the second-story window of their rented
London town house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the
man she intended to hire to change her life forever.
She’d sent an invitation to the impoverished Duke
of Monchester asking that he meet with her today
regarding an urgent business matter, but she wasn’t
quite sure if he’d come or not.
She started twisting the fringe that adorned the
dark green drapes. They’d been in London for over
a month, and nothing had happened. No invitations.
No visitors. Not even a nod from the elegantly clad
English people when they passed her by as she strolled
along Curzon Street. Her friend Maria had told her to
be patient, that she needed to gather all the information
she could before they implemented their plan.
But it was hard to be patient when she felt so lonesome.
Summer sighed. She’d been lonely her entire childhood;
why should she start feeling sorry for herself
now? Pa had been obsessed with that mine in Arizona,
and she’d foolishly thought that he’d spend more time
with her when he’d found that vein of silver. That the
huge strike would rid him of his obsession for wealth.
Instead, he’d uprooted her and Maria from the frontier
town of Tombstone and plunked them in New York
while he’d continued his obsession in other ways—
investing in railroads and banks and property.
Summer glanced around the room at the raisedpanel
walls, velvet upholstery, and plush rugs, all of
it a bit frayed and worn. Everything felt so old in
England—unlike the burgeoning newness of New
York—and yet neither city had welcomed her. New
York society had shunned both her and her friend,
until she’d met Monte. She smiled at the thought
of her intended, the man she’d come all the way to
England for… so that she could become a different
person, a real lady, that his family would accept.
She just wished that Pa had come with them, instead
of staying in New York. He claimed that his health
wouldn’t allow him to travel, and he did have a horrible
cough from working in the mine all those years, but
Summer still had a feeling that he simply didn’t want to
leave in the middle of business negotiations. The only
time she heard from him was when he sent more funds.
But she had her best friend, Maria, she reminded
herself. And although she couldn’t have brought all her
slobbery crew of pets with her on that terrible ocean
voyage, she did manage to bring her little Chihuahua,
Chi-chi. She wasn’t entirely alone.
“Maria, this had better work,” Summer muttered
to the empty drawing room. For this was her
friend’s plan, not her own. Summer had wanted to
hire one of the American heiresses who had already
married into a title, the ones who had gone through
money so quickly entertaining Prince Albert that
they sponsored young American girls looking for an
introduction into society.
“Not good enough,” Maria had responded, flipping
her long black hair over her shoulder. “Trust me when
I tell ya’, if ya’ want to be a lady, ya’ hire a man to
teach ya’ how to do it. And I finally discovered the
perfect fellow, a poor duke with two falling-down
castles, who’s feared by all in the social circle for his
quick wit and nasty tongue… but is also a particular
favorite of His Highness.”
Neither of them had ever met the duke, yet Maria
had been confident and told Summer it was her golden
opportunity. So Summer had sent her invitation and
didn’t know what scared her the most: the idea that
the duke might just show up out of curiosity, or that
he’d ignore the invitation entirely.
Feet pounded up the stairs. “He’s coming!” panted
Maria, her green eyes wild with excitement. Summer’s
stomach flew up into her throat, and she felt her entire
body tremble.
“How do you know?”
Maria put her hand over her heart. “’Cause one of
the chambermaids seen him before, and I set her up to
watch the street.”
Summer pressed her nose to the pane of glass, trying
to see around the edge of the window to the cobbled
street below. Several men strode toward the direction
of her house. “Which one is he?”
“The one without a hat,” answered Maria before
she spun back around.
Summer only heard her steps pounding downstairs,
for she couldn’t take her eyes off the man who strode
toward her home. All the other men wore bowler
hats, so he was easy to pick out. Even the feeble rays
of England’s sun reflected off his blond hair, making it
glow a golden yellow. He wore it unfashionably long
and bare of the pomade that slicked most other men’s
hair back. Summer liked it.
The duke had on a long coat of pale blue, narrow
trousers, and a deep blue cravat. He carried no umbrella
or cane, and as he passed a group of gentlemen going
in the opposite direction, she realized that he was also
not a particularly tall man. For some reason this made
her feel more at ease, so that when the bell jangled,
and Maria came in to announce that she had a visitor,
Summer felt almost quite calm.
Until he walked into the room.
She had arranged herself on the settee, folded her
hands in her lap, and then quickly covered Chi-chi
with her skirts, mentally scolding the chambermaid
who’d promised to keep the little critter from underfoot.
She felt the dog settle down beneath the warmth
of her petticoats—none of them had been prepared
for the coolness of England even in the summer—and
breathed a sigh of relief.
“Are you Miss Lee?” inquired the duke as he
ran his eyes from the top of her head to the tips of
her kidskin boots. “Miss Summer Wine Lee?” The
deep richness of his voice made her heart turn over
with what she could only assume was terror, and she
jumped to her feet, jostling Chi-chi and making her
growl. Tarnation, she didn’t need her dog to attack
this man’s ankles, so she quickly sat back down, lifting
one slippered foot beneath her skirts to rub the side of
the dog’s belly.
“How… how do you do?” she stammered, holding
out her hand but not attempting to get up again.
His golden brows rose in astonishment, but he came
to her anyway as if nothing were amiss, as only a true
gentleman would, and took her hand as if to kiss it. But
the moment their skin met he froze, staring at her with
the bluest eyes she’d ever seen, a mouth so perfect it
reminded her of a statue of Apollo, and above that masterpiece
a nose that seemed slightly crooked, saving him
from being extraordinarily handsome to just boyishly so.
Chi-chi started to growl again and broke the spell
that had fallen over them. The duke glanced around
looking for the source of the sound, while Summer
renewed her belly rub and the little dog quickly
quieted again. With more bravado than she felt, she
imperiously waved at a chair next to her, and with a
frown he took it, his compact frame settling elegantly
into the velvet upholstery.
The duke studied her, trying to believe what his
eyes told him. He’d met many an American heiress
intent on claiming a title and a position in society, but
they generally resembled Englishwomen, albeit sometimes
prettier and… healthier. But this one looked like
some elfin creature that had tumbled out of a fairy tale
from his childhood, with her hair and eyes and skin
all shades of golden brown. “You have an interesting
name. I presume that you’re an American?”
Summer’s eyes widened. He said it as if it were a
curse. “Yes.”
“And you have a business proposition for me?”
“Yes.” He sounded as if he should be the last person
in London she should approach for anything.
“Do you know who I am?”
Tarnation, his voice dripped with arrogance, thought
Summer. “Yes.”
His eyebrows rose again. “Including my reputation?”
She opened her mouth and closed it again. How
confident was she in Maria’s information? Was he
some kind of rake? Had inviting him into her home
already ruined her reputation and spoiled any chances
of her social success?
“I… I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Then, madam, let me enlighten you.” He leaned
forward, his masculine presence filling the room, his
eyes glittering with anger. “Before you present any
proposition to me, you must understand that I do not like
American women. I abhor this method of purchasing
titles. I use every opportunity I can to discredit these
social hunters to His Highness, who is a particular friend
of mine, as I’m sure you’re aware. Why else would you
seek me out? As a gentleman I feel it only fair to warn
you of this. My truthful comments entertain the prince,
which allows me to live in some of the comfort I’ve
been accustomed to, and I would use all information at
my disposal to continue to entertain him. Including any
proposals you wish to put forth… as well as information
about your person.”
Summer stared at him in utter astonishment,
unprepared for his speech. She’d been rehearsing her
own proposition and hadn’t considered he might have
something to say as well. She could only think to ask,
“My person?”
“Quite.”
“Such as?”
“Such as the quaint cut of your dress, several years
out of date, if I don’t miss my guess, and the appalling
way your hair continues to escape from your coiffure
and flop about your head. And what is wrong with
your voice? Unfortunately, I know several American
women, and none of them have that twangy accent
making them sound even more uncultured than they
already are.” The duke relaxed back into his chair and
crossed his arms over his broad chest. “And oh, please,
please enlighten me about this condition of yours that
makes your leg twitch.”
Maria had told her he wielded his tongue like a
sword; Summer just hadn’t thought it could cut so
deeply. She tried to remember that this was exactly
why she wanted his help. With his support she’d be
able to conquer society in half the time than with any
other sponsor.
He pierced her with his steady gaze, full of arrogance
and confidence, waiting for an answer, waiting
for her to burst into tears. Summer grinned and lifted
her skirts.
The duke’s mouth dropped open, those beautiful
lips that disguised such a wicked tongue forming
a complete “O” of surprise when Chi-chi popped
out—five pounds of snarling, snapping fur.
“I was trying to prevent her from biting your
ankles, but now I think I’ll let her have a go at it.”
Unfortunately, the duke wore tall boots, and
Chi-chi only managed to scuff the leather up a bit.
“Bloody hell, what is it?” he asked as he shook his leg
to make the animal let go.
“It’s a dog,” snapped Maria, who’d obviously been
listening at the door. She charged into the room and swept
the white bundle of fur up into her arms. “And she don’t
like ya’, and neither do I.” She spun and faced Summer.
“How can ya’ sit and smile at the man? Draw yore knife!
Poke him a good one and send him on his way! I’m sorry
I ever got this crazy notion to invite him here.”
“You have a knife on your person? Is it beneath your
skirts as well?” inquired the Duke of Monchester, staring
at the ruffles in alarm. He’d never met another woman
like her before. Boredom had become an almost constant
companion to him, yet the moment he’d walked into
her presence, the world had suddenly come alive, this
woman somehow making the very air sparkle.
Summer could feel laughter welling up inside. His
expression looked so funny! It was a good thing she’d
given up carrying her gun around her calf after they’d
left Arizona. But she’d never give up the knife her
Apache friend Chatto had given her. “Of course.”
The duke raised a golden brow. “May I inquire
what else might be under there?”
“No, ya’ may not,” Maria spat, her pale eyes
sparkling with anger, her black hair nearly lifting from
her head with the force of it as Chi-chi continued to
yip and growl and squirm to get out of her arms and
find a vulnerable place in the man’s clothing. “Ya’
ain’t no gentleman, and I suggest ya’ leave this house
at once!”
Summer didn’t know what it was, but the duke’s
attempts to insult her didn’t bother her in the least.
After all, she was used to this type of man, although
he used his prowess differently. And the laughter that
kept bubbling up inside her had to be released, first
in giggles and then outright guffaws, until the tears
ran down her cheeks and she slapped her leg to get
it all out.
Maria’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t see nothing
funny a’tall.”
“Neither do I,” said the almost-gentleman, but his
face was alight with humor and a grin kept twitching
at his lips, as if he didn’t smile very often and his
mouth wasn’t used to the configuration.
Summer wiped the tears from her eyes. “Don’t you
see, Maria? He only came to get some amusing gossip.
He’s got enough ammunition already to completely
destroy my hopes for entering polite society. At this
point, my only option is to try and buy his silence,
along with his sponsorship, if I can.”
Maria humphed.
The duke nodded his head at the black-haired
beauty, studying her exotic looks. Where had these
women come from, anyway? “Who are you?”
“Her friend,” spat Maria. “Although I’m sure ya’
wouldn’t know a thing about friends, now, would ya’?”
“Enough, Maria. Take Chi-chi and go now. Let me
see if his lordship’s silence can be bought.”
He leaned forward. “His Grace, not his lordship,
and it will have to be a great deal of money, madam.
This little tableau would keep the prince in stitches for
a week, at least.”
Summer leaned forward as well, startling him
enough with the move that he lunged back in his seat.
“Your feelings are obvious, sir, but it’s my understanding
that the prince does like American girls. And
the more unusual the better. So perhaps I’m doing
myself a disservice by hiring you, for I’m sure your
tales would only arouse his curiosity.” And ruin her
chances of being presented to the Queen, she thought
silently to herself. And that was her true goal—for
surely that conservative woman’s acceptance would
meet with the approval of New York’s own queen of
society, the formidable Mrs. Astor.
He digested her words for a moment, then nodded.
“I’m willing to listen to your business proposition.”
“Good.” Summer grinned at him and rang a little
bell on the table. Her footman entered with the tea
tray, face flushed and eyes averted. Maria had urged
Summer to hire him because he seemed to lack
the snobbishness of most of his kind, or so she said.
Summer felt sure his athletic build and charming face
had something to do with it as well.
“Thank you, Charles. That will be all.” She had a
suspicion Maria had set him up to spy on them, and
waited until he’d left the room before she continued.
“The proposition I have for you, sir, is a little unusual.”
She spoke and poured tea at the same time, unaware
that she spilled most of the liquid onto the white
lace covering the tray, too agitated over smoothing
out that “twang” in her voice. She’d taken voice
lessons in New York, but she still couldn’t achieve
that sophisticated smoothness. “I’d like to hire you to
introduce me into society.”
The duke snatched the cup from her hand before
the slopping tea could soil any more lace. “I believe
I’ve already expressed to you my views on this subject.
Do you honestly think I’d actually help an American
dupe one of my fellow countrymen into giving her
their title?”
“Oh, but you misunderstand. I’m not searching for
a husband.”
Those golden brows rose again in patent disbelief.
“Then you are in a class by yourself.”
Summer set down her own teacup before she was
tempted to toss it into his arrogant face. He obviously
didn’t believe her. “I’m already engaged with a man
back home. A wonderful man, whose family is highly
placed in society.”
“Aah.” He relaxed back into his chair. “And you
aren’t quite up to their standards, is that it?”
“What makes you think… No, never you mind.
Your brain is as quick as your tongue, and I won’t
set myself up for your insults so easily again.” She
glowered at him. “Yes, I need to be brought up to
their standards. I need to be presented to the Queen.
And then I assure you, I’ll leave your precious lords
alone and head straight back to America.”
“To your wonderful American man?” His face fell
as if something about that bothered him. Could he
actually be upset that she preferred an American over
one of his English lords?
“I told you, I don’t want a title.”
“I’m inclined to believe you, from that silly glaze
in your eyes when you mention this American.” An
odd feeling swelled inside the duke’s chest. Now why
would it bother him to learn that she already had an
intended? He refused to think about it any further.
“Does this paragon of virtue have a name?”
“Monte.” The girl sighed when she spoke his name.
His teacup clattered as he slapped it down on the
table. “How much?”
“How much—oh, money. Well, as I understand it,
your estate is rather sadly in disrepair…”
His blue eyes glittered. “That, madam, is none of
your business.”
His tone suggested that she pry no further into his
family matters, so he had to assume that it was her
faulty American upbringing that made her blurt out:
“But how do you support yourself?”
“You are an ignorant savage, aren’t you? Gentlemen
don’t work, madam. That is what makes them gentlemen.”
“You’re blunt with your words, sir,” she retorted as
she jumped up and began to pace the confines of the
drawing room. He made it obvious that he scrutinized
her every move.
For such an unpolished woman, he thought, she had
remarkable grace, as if she didn’t so much as walk but
flow across the room. “As you are with your questions.
Don’t they teach you American girls any manners?”
“I’m not like most American girls.”
“That is rather obvious. You pour tea as if you were
slopping hogs, yet you pace this room with such grace,
I’d swear you were walking on water. How does a
woman like you get made, anyway?”
Summer laughed. Didn’t he realize how funny the
looks on his face were whenever he watched her? But
perhaps only she created those puzzling frowns and
that’s why he wasn’t used to being laughed at, the way
his brows rose in astonishment when she did so. But
he took it well; it even seemed to amuse him that she
thought him funny when he wasn’t trying to be.
“If you let me hire you,” she proposed, “you’d get
to find out.”
He adjusted his cravat and smoothed back the hair
that kept falling elegantly over his ears. His face settled
into polite boredom. “I’m not that interested.”
“Would, let’s say… a third interest in a railroad be
enough to get you interested?” Summer had thought
long and hard about what to offer him, and the way
society in New York was about new money led her
to believe the English may have that prejudice as well.
Offering him cash might be something that wasn’t
done. The railroad was small, which was why Pa had
given it to her, but profitable enough that she thought
he wouldn’t be able to say no.
Although, any price would be worth gaining her
the man she loved. She’d be willing to give away the
entire investment, if needed.
The duke frowned, fighting surprise and interest at
the same time. He’d supported himself by entertaining
the prince and was welcomed into the finest houses
as a guest, all on the strength of that relationship. He
wondered what it would be like to be independent
again, to not have to seek out funny stories and
humiliate others? Although, he reminded himself,
those whom he exposed usually deserved it, but it’d
be a relief not to have to depend on anyone else’s
generosity. And what she proposed wasn’t exactly
work, so it wouldn’t betray his status as a gentleman.
Summer found his face quite easy to read and, as
long as she ignored what he said, found him almost
pleasant.
“I’d have to see the papers.”
She sauntered over to the sideboard, scooped the pile
up, and laid them in his lap. He shook his head, as if
she’d done something vulgar again, but began to peruse
the papers with eagerness while she paced the room. He
finally sat back with a sigh and studied her with such
intensity, she felt her dander rise. This man didn’t need
a sword or a gun to threaten anyone. He did it with the
look on his face and the cruelty of his words.
“You’re going to take a lot of work.”
Summer refused to rise to the bait and wondered
how a man like him had been made.
“That gown, for example—what is it, cotton? Give
it to your maid… better yet, just burn it. And those
eyebrows, don’t you know what tweezers are for?”
His voice lowered. “But your bones are good, I’ll give
you that, and your eyes…”
He caught her up in his gaze, and Summer couldn’t
breathe, her foot frozen in midpace. She’d never felt
anything like it before, as if he held her captive with
just that look and she couldn’t have fought away from
it even with her knife. The hair rose on the back of
her neck and she felt the warning of trouble—like the
time she’d shot that claim jumper, as if she were being
mortally threatened. And then she mentally cringed at
the thought, for she’d promised herself never to think
of that man’s death again.
The duke kept doing peculiar things to her. She
found herself internally chanting Monte’s name like
a mantra just to break the spell he had over her. “Do
your insults mean that you’ll sponsor me?”
He shook his head as if emerging from a trance.
“Bloody hell, I suppose it does. I’ll have to show the
papers to my solicitor, of course. But I warn you now,
I’ve never done anything like this, and I do not wish
anyone to know about it, understood?”
Summer nodded, brown curls flopping around her
face, heart skipping with joy. If she could raise herself
to this man’s standards, Mrs. Astor would be easy.
“And there’s some things I don’t know about
women’s fashion, like underwear and so forth.” His
eyes flashed back to hers, and Summer knew he
expected her to be shocked by his words. So, ladies
could not discuss underwear? See, he’d already taught
her something.
Summer nodded in feigned sympathy. “Of course. I
understand you may have to do a little research yourself.”
His face fell, as if disappointed by her reaction.
He looked at her hopefully again. “No matter. My
current mistress is Lady Windolm. The Marchioness
of Windolm. I’m sure she’d be able to enlighten me
about some of the more delicate matters.”
Summer shrugged. “Excellent. But I’d prefer no
one else knew of our arrangement as well. Can she be
trusted to keep our secret?”
The duke cocked his head at her, shoving back
the blond curl that spilled over his left ear. This crazy
woman, he thought, doesn’t even know that one didn’t
discuss one’s mistress with another woman. “Madam,
weren’t you listening? I’m bloody well sleeping with
her! If she can keep that a secret—”
“Good,” sighed Summer. “I’ll look forward to
meeting her, then.”
He stood, the gentleman in him hearing the tone
of dismissal in her voice and automatically reacting to
it. He smoothed the front of his blue coat, adjusted
his cravat, and stepped toward her. She barely had to
tilt up her face to look into his own, which confirmed
Summer’s first impression of his height. Yet he still
didn’t seem short to her. His presence negated any
such considerations. She noticed that the color of his
clothing brought out the blue in his eyes, making
them stand out even more.
He took her hand and brought it to his lips, the
breath from his words warming the tops of her fingers.
“You are a match for me, aren’t you?”
Summer snatched her tingling hand back. “What
do you mean?”
He shrugged. “One of these days, madam, I will
shock you.”
Just as he turned to leave, Chi-chi came running
into the room, Maria hard on her heels. “Give it
to me, ya’ little varmint!” she cried. The dog dived
beneath Summer’s skirts. “Don’t think that’ll save
ya’.” Maria sank to her knees and began lifting layers
of petticoats.
Summer didn’t move, afraid she’d step on the little
dog. “What’s the matter?”
“This is the stealingest dog I ever did know,”
muttered Maria beneath the lace. “She’s got something
and won’t give it up.”
The duke hadn’t moved, his eyes widening with each
passing moment. Summer thanked God that she’d paid
him to be on her side, ’cause it seemed that a day didn’t
pass in this house without some kind of shenanigans
going on, and if he was going to be a frequent visitor, it
was best to get him initiated anyway.
“Chi-chi,” she admonished. “Give it to Maria.”
The dog responded with a muffled growl. Maria
leaned back on her bustle and shook her head, black
hair flying.
“Chi-chi…” warned Summer.
The teacup-sized dog shot out from beneath her
petticoats, circled the room a few times, then hopped
into Maria’s lap and spat out the thing in her mouth.
Maria screamed and stood, tumbling dog and a very
dead rat onto the carpeted floor.
“Tarnation, it’s only a rat, Maria.” Summer picked
the thing up by its tail while Chi-chi jumped up and
down in excitement. “Here, take it.”
“I’ll do no such thing,” stammered Maria as she
backed out the door. “Don’t even know how ya’
could touch such a nasty thing.” Her pale green eyes
flicked from her to the duke, and her face reddened in
sudden embarrassment. “I forgot he was—oh, tarnation!
Ya’ll never be accepted—I plumb—”
Summer took the dead animal and wrapped it in a
doily from the back of the settee and handed it to Maria.
“Here, take this and the dog back downstairs.” Maria
made a hasty retreat with a whining Chi-chi in her arms.
When Summer turned back to the duke and saw the exasperation
written on his face, she couldn’t help giggling.
“I have shocked you, sir.”
“Any other woman would have been screaming
right along with Maria.”
“Oh, she’s just squeamish. There’s no reason to be
excited about a dead rat.”
He stood frozen, as if his feet were rooted to the
floor. “It makes me wonder what you’ve seen—that a
dead rat pales in comparison.”
Summer gave him back a perfect imitation of his
own shrug.
“And,” he continued, “it seems that you have more
activity beneath your skirts than all the whores in the
East End.”
Summer suppressed a grin. Wouldn’t he be surprised
if he knew the hours that she and Maria had spent in
the company of “light skirts” back in Tombstone,
Arizona. That Maria’s own mother had worked in
Hafford’s Saloon, and after she’d died, the other
women had all pitched in to care for Maria. Summer
knew that most of the ladies had been forced into
the business in order to eat, and had found them to
have kinder hearts and more honor than many of the
society people she’d met since.
Besides, if Maria’s tales were true, once a woman
became married and provided an heir and a spare, she
was free to pursue any number of dalliances. What
was the difference between them and the ladies at the
saloon? She couldn’t take offense at his remark; rather,
she thought it a very witty joke.
His face fell when he observed her reaction,
obviously downcast that he hadn’t shocked her with
his witticism. For some reason he was keeping score
on who shocked whom, and he kept losing. Summer
found the duke quite easy to read and wondered why
he had a reputation that frightened so many people.
Perhaps the prince took his comments seriously and
that’s what worried others.
The Duke of Monchester sighed and took her
hand, making a slight bow and murmuring that it was
time he took his leave. But when he turned to walk
out the door, he didn’t let go of her, and Summer was
forced to walk along with him, for a moment feeling
that it was the most natural thing in the world for her
to be alongside this man hand in hand. As soon as she
recognized that feeling, however, she quickly twisted
her fingers the way Chatto had taught her, and planted
her feet, dismayed that for a brief moment she’d actually
forgotten about Monte.
It was just that this stuffy lord made her laugh like
she hadn’t in ages, that was all.
He looked down at his suddenly empty hand and
turned toward her, his mouth parted in astonishment, as
if he hadn’t realized that he’d been holding on to her,
until she was no longer there. Then his lips quirked, and
those brilliant blue eyes clouded in confusion. “It seems
that I’m actually looking forward to our next meeting.”
“I predict,” said Summer, “that we shall become
great friends.”
He shook his head. “As your companion so
eloquently pointed out, madam, I have no friends.”
He strode out of the room, and the feeble sunlight
through the parted draperies seemed suddenly dimmer,
the air less buoyant, the very atmosphere lacking the
crackle of electricity. Summer sighed and went to find
Maria and Chi-chi.
The Duke of Monchester closed the door of her
home behind him and shook his head, feeling as if he’d
just survived a cyclone—dizzy, giddy, and relieved
that he was still in one piece.