Excerpt: Always a Gentleman, Never a Duke

Cover of Always a Gentleman, Never a Duke featuring a man and woman in a passionate embrace amid water lilies with a boat on a pond behind them

Always a Gentleman, Never a Duke

By Jessie Clever

Lady Eloise Bounds wanted to say something achingly romantic about the night they first met, something about how they were drawn together by moonlight. And while they did, in fact, meet under the moon, she was fairly certain at the time he was a ghoul come to steal her soul, and there was nothing at all romantic about that.

She grabbed a branch of the nearest bush, as if its beleaguered limbs held impenetrable power, and pulled it in front of her to shield her body.

“Stop!” Her voice was loud in the quiet of the night, and she cringed, her eyes going up to the empty and dark windows that surrounded the Mayfair courtyard into which she had slipped only minutes before, certain at any moment that light would appear in one of them and she would be caught. She had gone to so much trouble to escape the house without raising alarm, and now she had nearly given herself away with a cry of fright. For she was frightened.

The creature that stood in front of her appeared to have the qualities of a man, but his eyes glowed red like a demon. She was not of the spiritual sort and hardly of the religious sort, so for her mind to instantly assume the creature in front of her to be of demonic origin spoke to just how ghoulish he appeared.

He held up his hands then, hands that looked perfectly human. She could tell because he wasn’t wearing gloves, and the moonlight traced each curve of finger as an artist might use a brush against the canvas, highlighting just the right bits for maximum effect. Her heart thundered in her chest, and her arms shook so that the leaves of the limb she still held clenched in her hands rustled, and yet she felt the odd romantic stirring at the sight of his long fingers.

“I won’t hurt you.” His voice was soft, much calmer than hers had been, and he kept his hands pushed out in front of him as though to reassure her.

“That’s precisely what someone with nefarious intent would say.”

His hands faltered, and there was the suggestion of a smile in his voice, but the shadows around him were too thick for her to be certain if he did indeed smile. “Do you often encounter gentleman with nefarious intent at midnight in a Mayfair courtyard?”

“I don’t know that you’re a gentleman.” She pulled the limb closer to her chest, bracing it just beneath her chin.

His head tilted ever so much before he began to lower his hands. “If I may,” he said, but his hands kept moving before she gave permission, and she watched him carefully.

He took a step toward her, and she pushed the limb away from her like a sword. He stopped immediately, hands once more in the air, and silence vibrated between them. He didn’t advance though, and after a moment, his hands started to lower again.

Her heart pounded, but the limb had stopped shaking, and she wondered why. Why did this stranger with demon eyes cause such calm to wash over her?

She realized then that he wasn’t coming at her, but rather shifting so he was in moonlight instead of shadow, and finally she saw the truth of it.

“Oh.” The word was sad and hollow, and she felt just a little repulsed at her disappointment. Had she been hoping the man was a ghoul?

Instead he was incredibly ordinary, and the demon eyes were merely a pair of railway spectacles in which the lenses had been swapped for what appeared to be red glass.

She could see his smile now, and she found it to be absurdly boyish. Something hiccupped inside of her, and she pressed a hand to her stomach in surprise.

No. No, it couldn’t be happening. Not like this. The thing for which she had endured two painfully boring seasons couldn’t come now. Not when she had resigned herself to her fate.

“I feel as though I’ve disappointed you somehow.” His voice was boyish to match his smile, and she wished she could see his face more clearly, but the spectacles obstructed her view. “I’m usually in a person’s presence for quite a great deal longer before I do that.”

She tried to stop her own smile, suddenly worried she would give too much of herself away, but she didn’t know why she would think that. This man was a perfect stranger.

She pointed to the railway spectacles. “May I ask what those are for? You’re not precisely on a train at the moment.”

He made a self-deprecating noise then and pulled the spectacles from his face.

Oh lud. His face was boyish too.

His features were clear in the moonlight, but somehow she knew her heart would recognize him even if her eyes could not. He had light brown hair that stuck up haphazardly around the crown of his head as though he had spent a great deal of time adjusting the spectacles, and he hadn’t bothered to fix the damage they’d done to his hair. His forehead was high, his eyes twinkling with mirth much as his boyish smile suggested a private joke, and his jaw was surprisingly firm, almost chiseled. While the man oozed the suggestion of fun, she sensed something strong beneath the surface, and it called to her.

She heard a strange rustling noise in her ears and realized her hand had started to shake once more, and as she still held the limb, it gave her away. She noticed his eyes fall to the limb the moment hers did, and she snatched her hand back, putting it behind her as if to hide it.

He held up the spectacles and thankfully answered her question without mention of the shaking limb. “It’s a new design I had hoped to test tonight, but the clouds keep getting in my way.” He held the spectacles across one open palm as he pointed to the sides of the lens where normally there would have been mesh to protect the wearer’s eyes from flying hot coals and found the mesh had been replaced by cut tin. “I’ve modified the typical railway spectacle to better shelter the eye from outside light and focus the eye’s attention on what’s in front of the viewer.” Now he pointed to the red lenses. “The red is a theory of mine. I propose red light helps sustain a person’s night vision, allowing them to take in the night sky.”

Her eyes flew to his face. “You’re stargazing.”

It wasn’t a question, and she wondered why her voice sounded so breathless.

He blinked, his lips moving without sound for a moment. “I suppose I am. Although rather inadvertently. The main purpose of my excursion tonight is to test the red glass.” He held the spectacles aloft. “Should you like to try them? I would value your input.”

She was momentarily startled by the forward gesture, but if she’d had presence of mind, she’d realize everything about their encounter was forward. Her hand was already reaching for the spectacles when she snatched it back.

“I don’t even know your name.” The words left her lips in a kind of shocked whisper as she momentarily realized what was happening.

She was alone with a gentleman in the dark of a midnight courtyard. It was utterly scandalous, and should they be caught, everything would be ruined. Her mother—Oh God, Eloise’s mother would be lost to hysterics. So much planning had gone into this season, and they’d even managed to arrive in town early, and here Eloise was, cavorting with a stranger in the dark.

“It’s Tuck.” He said it so casually she almost missed it.

“I’m sorry?”

“Tuck,” he repeated and then smiled sheepishly. “Short for Tucker.”

It wasn’t proper. The way he said his name and the introduction. The whole thing should have been conducted by a mutual acquaintance in public with lots of prying eyes that would keep everything in check.

But then she found herself saying, “Eloise.”

Tuck smiled that heart-tugging smile and said, “Eloise. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope you won’t mind very much playing the part of my research assistant.”

She snatched up the spectacles before she could think about the way her stomach fluttered when he looked at her like that. She pushed the spectacles onto her nose, hooking the bent arms around her ears, and peered skyward.

“I can’t see anything.” It was true. The light of the gas lamp above the door she had slipped out of not minutes before obstructed the view of the night sky.

“Allow me.”

He touched her before she knew what he was about. He gripped her elbows through the heavy weight of her cloak and drew her back into the darkness along the path where she had first discovered him lingering. The heat that seared through so many layers was startling, but it hardly compared to the heat that coursed through her body when her back met his chest as he stopped abruptly.

He was much taller than she had first thought, and she found herself tucked neatly against him. Her eyes widened behind the glass lenses, but she saw nothing, her mind too clouded with the sudden realization of her dangerous position. Oh God, it felt incredible. The whole length of his body was pressed against hers, and suddenly her heart thudded with something too perilous to name.


This was why she hadn’t accepted a single proposal in her two seasons. This was why she had held out. This was why her mother was so horribly frustrated with her. Tears sprang to her eyes at the terribleness of it, and she was glad for the spectacles. Tears because it was too late. She had already resigned herself to what lay ahead of her, finally abandoning her notion that her marriage might be different. That she might obtain the rarest of things among society.

A love match.

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