Having barely survived the fire that killed his family, Joshua Wainwright reluctantly begins his reign as the new Duke of Chichester. He is still recovering from his burns when he joins his best friend and estate manager Garrett McElliott at Wisborough Oaks, the family seat near Kirdford in Sussex where the fire occurred. With repairs and reconstruction underway and a backlog of estate business to complete, the very last thing Joshua can handle right now is the sudden appearance of Lady Charlotte, the daughter of the Earl of Ellsworth.
Once betrothed to Joshua’s older brother, Charlotte has spent her entire life training to be the Duchess of Chichester. Now that the man she was supposed to marry is dead and her twenty-first birthday is near, Charlotte is determined to marry Joshua, for despite the horrific scars that require him to wear a mask over one side of his face, she has secretly loved him since her coming-out.
The duke has no idea it was Charlotte who arranged for his medical care and transport to London after the fire. Given his scars and the gossip mongers in London who refer to him as “His Grace with half a face,” he is determined to spare Charlotte from having to marry him, even if she feels duty-bound to do so. But Charlotte, hiding hideous scars of her own, will do whatever it takes, including seduction, to secure a marriage to the man she loves.
“I went out to look at the oak tree,” Garrett said in a quiet voice, hoping no servants would be listening at the door. Joshua raised an eyebrow, surprised by the change in subject, but Garret continued before Joshua could interrupt. “Acted like I was sizing it up for a trip to the sawmill.” This comment was meant to suggest no one would find his perusal of the broken tree to be anything to wonder about. “The evidence is quite... evident,” he stated evenly, pulling several crisped papers from his pocket and placing them on the desk. “Someone did, indeed, blow up the tree,” he said with a nod. The nod changed to a shake of his head. “Josh, if the rain hadn’t started when it did, that tree would have become a huge fire bomb. I’m fairly sure there is a broken window in one of the bedchambers. I’m rather surprised the east wing of this place didn’t catch fire and... well, you know the rest from experience,” he finished with another shake of his head. “Was it a window in your room?”
Joshua’s eyebrow cocked up. “It was not.” In his haste to leave Lady Charlotte, he had neglected to inspect the window she had mentioned during their ride.
“It wasn’t one of mine. I just checked,” Garrett countered. “Which means it’s one of the windows in the guest bedchamber in which Lady Charlotte is staying.”
“It is, actually,” Joshua replied, nodding. He wondered if the window had broken before she had come running to his room or if it happened while she was in his bedchamber. “Lady Charlotte told me about it this morning when we went on our ride. She didn’t want to disturb the rest of the household and thought it better the broken glass be cleaned up by the light of day. The housekeeper saw to it this morning before Lady Charlotte could risk stepping on any shards.”
“How very ... polite of her,” Garrett offered, scrubbing his face with one hand. “I’ll see to its replacement immediately. There should still be a glazier around here somewhere.” He sighed and was about to say something else when Joshua beat him to it.
“Question is, who wants me dead?” Joshua asked. “Who did I offend so that my death would be their revenge?”
Furrowing his brows, Garret regarded the duke for a moment. “I think the real question is, who wanted your entire family dead?” he asked then. “Because they’ve just about managed to wipe out the Wainwright line.”