Book excerpt

The Duke Next Door

Celeste Bradley

St. Martin's Press

Prologue
Once upon a time, a rich, grumpy old man sat down with quill and paper and changed the lives of his female descendants forever. . . .
“I, Sir Hamish Pickering, being of sound mind but ailing body, do make my last will and testament.
“I’ve climbed as high as a man can, despite having twice the brains, wisdom and fortitude of the layabout aristocracy. Yet, a woman can wed as high as her looks will let her, up to a duchess if she may.
“There, my own daughters have failed me miserably. Morag and Finella, I spent money on you so that you could marry higher but you weren’t up to snuff. You expected the world to be handed to you. If any female of this family wants another farthing of my money, she’d best set herself to earn it.
“Therefore, I declare that the entirety of my fortune be kept back from my useless daughters and be held in trust for the granddaughter or great-granddaughter who weds a duke of England or weds a man who then becomes a duke through inheritance, at which time the trust will be released to her and only her.
“If she has any sisters or female cousins who fail, they may each have a lifetime income of fifteen pounds a year. If she has any brothers or male cousins, though the family does tend to run to daughters, more’s the pity, they will receive five pounds apiece, for that’s all I had in my pocket when I came to London. Any Scotsman worth his haggis can turn five pounds into five hundred in a few years’ time.
“A set amount will be given each girl as she makes her debut in Society, for gowns and whatnot.
“Should three generations of Pickering girls fail, I wash me hands of the lot of you. The entire fifteen thousand pounds will go to pay the fines and hardships of those who defy the excise man to export that fine Scots whisky which has been my only solace in this family of dolts. If your poor sainted mother could only see you now.
Signed,Sir Hamish PickeringWitnesses,B.R. Stickley, A.M. WolfeSolicitor’s firm of Stickley & Wolfe” 
So reads the will of Sir Pickering. Now his granddaughters Phoebe, Deirdre and Sophie have come to London to try their hand at winning the prize.
Phoebe, the kind-hearted vicar’s daughter with a past, has already lost—and won. By choosing the penniless bastard half-brother of the man who could have been her duke, she walked away from the Pickering fortune with a smile. Rafe, her once rakish, now devoted, husband, has taken her away on their honeymoon—a gift from Rafe’s jilted brother, the Marquis of Brookhaven. Their future is bright with love, if not with gold.
Now only the beautiful, Society-bred Deirdre and the plain, bookish Sophie remain in the game. The Marquis of Brookhaven, soon to be the Duke of Brookmoor, is still up for grabs . . . but not for long, if Miss Deirdre Cantor has anything to say about it.  Copyright © 2008 by Celeste Bradley. All rights reserved.
Celeste Bradley is the New York Times bestselling author of Scoundrel in My DreamsDesperately Seeking a Duke, and the Royal Four and Liars Club series, among many others. Prior to giving writing a try, Celeste was a professional artist. Believing that storytelling is as much of an art form, she applies those skills to writing. She is a two-time RITA Nominee and winner of the prestigious Historical Storyteller of the Year from Romantic Times Book Reviews. Mother of two teen divas, Southern-born Celeste lives in the Southwest. Her hobbies include gardening, jewelry making and collage. She feels very strongly that literacy can change lives.