Read an excerpt from
"A Wallflower to Love"
When a woman is desperate, she’ll do almost anything to escape her prison.
Alexandria Templeton’s sheltered world has been terribly shaken. Her brother-in-law insists she find a husband as soon as possible. Being a wallflower, the mere idea of talking to available men makes her sick. But then when she is kidnapped and mistaken for her older sister, the Duchess of Linden, Alexandria is forced to act as one of the characters in the books she loves to read. Life is easier to manage if she can put herself in a fictional character’s perspective. Soon, she realizes her kidnapper—who has become her hero—needs her help, and her murderous cousin—who is the villain in this scenario—needs to be stopped.
Julian Stratford has a plan. He will steal the duchess and make her confess that her husband tried to kill him for a title. Once that is accomplished, Julian can take back his rightful place as the duke. Everything goes smoothly until he steals the wrong sister. Now it’s time for a new strategy.
Disaster endangers his well-thought-out plan but also threatens to destroy his heart.
Julian Grey Stratford watched the Duchess of Linden and inwardly seethed. He had actually expected more from this woman. Why hadn’t she screamed louder? He’d expected her to kick or bite, but once he placed her on his horse, she ceased her fight. Their ride to the cottage was less than an hour, but he wanted to make the duchess think they had traveled farther, so he’d kept riding around the vicinity.
It hadn’t taken long for her body to relax against him, which was when havoc invaded all his senses. Not only did she smell like fresh-cut spring flowers, but her soft body pressed against him so intimately that his lonely mind couldn’t stop imagining what could possibly happen between them. Naturally, she was vulnerable, but he wouldn’t take advantage of that. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t held a woman this way for a very long time. He would never force a woman into submission.
Kidnapping her was entirely different. He wouldn’t hurt her, though. But he wanted revenge and needed answers.
At the cottage, as he untied her, he had expected her to spout words no respectable lady would say, or at least threaten him in some way, but again, the woman surprised him by doing none of that.
Her beauty also caught him off guard. His cousin, Martin, would have certainly found a lovely lady to claim as his wife, but Julian never figured her to be this beautiful.
The Duchess of Linden wore a light purple riding habit, and the outfit hugged her slender form quite nicely. Her hat had fallen off when he first grabbed her at the estate. Locks of blonde hair escaped a once well-coiffed bun to give her a disheveled appearance.
A few moments earlier, when she had studied him as if though he was nothing but sweetmeats she wanted to devour, he’d had to bite the side of his cheek to keep from grinning. Perhaps devour wasn’t quite the word, since she had looked stunned by her indecent thoughts only seconds afterward.
Her gaze stayed on the floor for several awkward moments. Gradually, the rhythm of her chest deeply rising and falling took on a faster motion. Clearing her throat, she lifted her attention to him and squared her shoulders.
“Do—do you intend to starve me, sir?”
He arched an eyebrow. What an odd thing to ask. “No.”
“Then would it be permissible to…eat something now?” Her voice squeaked.
He couldn’t understand why she wanted to eat when only two hours ago, he’d seen her through the dining room window eating breakfast. “You are hungry?”
She narrowed her eyes. “But of course! Would I have asked otherwise?”
The sudden snip in her tone startled him at first, only because she had been so shy thus far. Yet she was now beginning to resemble the duchess he had been told about.
Julian folded his arms over his chest and lifted his chin. “Well, Your Grace, if you will come with me into the kitchen—”
“Why can I not stay here by the fire?”
“I fear you will try to escape. Although I’m certain you won’t get very far before I catch you, I’m really not in the mood to run after you.”
She huffed and threw him a scowl. “I assure you, I’m very hungry.”
“Then please”—he swept his arm toward the kitchen—“let’s adjourn into the other room so I can prepare you something to eat.”
Her mouth tightened, and she stomped past him into the next room. Grinning, he followed. Soon, she would learn who was in command here, and it wasn’t the high and mighty Duchess of Linden, that was for certain.
She came to an abrupt stop. He sidestepped her quickly to keep from bumping into her. The hurried movement brought a twinge of pain to his right leg. He gritted his teeth and tried to rub the ache from his knee. His injury was still rather new, and he needed to remember to give the wound time to heal. Unfortunately, all he had planned to accomplish now wouldn’t allow him time to be patient. He would have to endure the agony from time to time and get used to it.
He studied her disgusted expression as her focus swept the room, and he tried to see this room as she was seeing it for the first time. So perhaps he should have cleaned a little better, but considering this cottage was on his friend’s estate, and it hadn’t been used for several years, it was no wonder the place was filthy.
Dented old pans hung on the walls, and the copper had faded many years ago. The shelves needed dusting, along with the canisters and bowls filling them, and the floor looked as if it hadn’t seen a broom or mop in months or even years. At least the two fireplaces worked properly. One held a large black kettle of boiling water, and the other the baking bread that smelled as if it might be done. The table near the only window in the room was as rickety as the three chairs surrounding it.
Julian moved to the fireplace to check on the baking bread. Earlier this morning, he had prepared the bread, hoping it would be ready by now, since he, too, was hungry. He used a cloth to lift the lid on the cast-iron pan slowly. The heavenly aroma filled the air, and he closed his eyes, breathing in the scent deeply. It smelled exactly the way he had made it while in the military.
In his early years, his regiment had praised him countless times for his excellent cooking. As he had climbed the ranks, there was little time to cook, and he had to rely on his men. Strange to think that none were as good as Major Stratford. Some couldn’t even boil water.
He glanced around the small space and toward the shelves, searching for some plates, but he was yet to see any.
“Is there something I can do to help?” she asked in a small voice.
He looked at her and crinkled his forehead. A duchess offering to help in a kitchen? How odd. “If you can find some plates for our bread and some cups for our tea, that would be most helpful.”
She moved past him, and the skirt of her riding habit brushed across his legs. Her sweet fragrance filled his head again. Now he recognized the flower. Lilacs. As much as he enjoyed a woman’s scent, he tried not to enjoy this particular woman’s smell. He didn’t want to like her. She was the enemy’s wife, and he only wanted one thing from her.
Julian was convinced Martin was the reason the original Duke of Linden, Julian’s father, and his brother, Forbes, had died so quickly. The physicians had written to Julian and explained that his family’s sickness was a form of the plague. What confused Julian was why this illness took Father and Forbes’ lives, and yet it hadn’t made anyone else on the estate sick.
Very curious—as was the suspicious accident that nearly took his own life shortly after his hearing of his father and brother’s deaths. Julian and a few of his men had been in town trying to locate a missing soldier. Julian hadn’t planned on being in this town for very long. Out of nowhere, a cannon hit near the tavern where Julian and his men had been, killing several of his soldiers. The blast had injured Julian along with many civilians.
He rubbed his right leg, grateful that the surgeon hadn’t removed the limb. By the grace of God, his leg had been saved as well as his own life. Of course, the flesh wounds were still very sore, and he had to take care not to get an infection. By this point, Julian realized none of these mishaps were accidental, especially since they only targeted the Stratford men.
“I can’t find any dishes,” the duchess said irritably. “It’s hard to believe you would plan a kidnapping and not have the supplies to take care of your prisoner.”
Julian studied the woman, not quite sure how to take her. Although her words were what he had expected from such a high and mighty woman, her tone still lacked confidence. And she kept her focus lowered, rarely looking at him.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty, but this cottage was supposed to have been stocked. I assure you, I’ll take care of the matter after I feed you.”
He turned back to the bread, took the pot from the fire, and slowly carried it to the cooking table. He used a knife to cut out chunks of the bread, careful not to burn his fingers.
He couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to his friend, Vincent Wallace, Earl of Trenton. The earl was supposed to have stocked the small cottage in preparation for the kidnapping. Where was he now? If it weren’t for Vincent, Julian would not have suspected Martin of killing his family—at least for a few months. The earl had watched Martin since he took over as duke, and Vincent had become suspicious of the new duke’s actions. Julian didn’t know what he would do without his friend and the assistance he had offered in catching the murderous cousin.
“We’ll make do without dishes,” he grumbled, keeping his attention on the bread. “Sit at the table, and I’ll serve you.”
Silence filled the room. He couldn’t even hear the duchess breathing. Panic gripped his chest, and he swung around, looking for her.
She was gone!