What happens when an English ice queen gets dumped?
She upgrades and eventually lives happily ever after.
That is, after she has her frosty organ melted by a plain-spoken cowboy. The ice queen in question is the Baroness we first meet inThe Devil Duke and the star of my new book The Demon Duchess (just released). She is not only an ice queen but a villainess, displaying a deceitful nature when her love life is threatened by scrappy waif, Isabel De Luca.
The Demon Duchess, (book 2 in the series) is the tale of Abigail Sutton’s redemption and ultimate transformation. I relished the challenge of making such a treacherous she-snake likable enough to be the heroine in one of my stories. Truthfully, she’s not all bad, and after all—all is fair in love and war, right? I hope you end up forgiving the Baroness for her past transgressions. She turned out to be one of the most enjoyable female characters I’ve ever written. She just needed the love of a good man to bring her around. Enter our hero, Jack Johnson, the handsome horse trainer from America. Jack is a good man, but he’s also a complicated man and one who won’t take her shit. He’s just the dude to set her straight.
The Demon Duchess begins with the beautiful baroness getting jilted by her longtime lover, Trevor Barrington, who has just fallen for a much younger woman. Our favorite ice queen is not taking kindly to being passed over.
Devoy Estate, England
“Honestly, Abigail, isn’t it enough to be one of the most sought-after women in Western Europe? Did you really have to come here tonight and stir up trouble?”
“You’ve fallen in love with her, haven’t you?”
“Don’t be absurd. You know I don’t do that sort of thing.”
“I’ve never seen you look at a woman the way you look at her. It finally happened. That ungainly child has won the prize.”
“I’m no bloody prize—or haven’t you read the papers today?”
With those parting words, Trevor thundered into the house, leaving her feeling quite deserted and…
Alone was such an ugly word, especially when applied to a woman of her years. She was aging and alone—fermenting in fact. A portentous wind ripped through her champagne-colored evening gown; the chill that seeped into her bones sealed her fate. She was abandoned, forsaken—left for dead, completely and utterly jilted.
You’ve been tossed in the bin, old girl.
Discarding women was what Trevor Barrington, the Devil Duke of Devoy, did best. Except she’d been different from all the rest, hadn’t she? She’d kept his secrets, indulged his every whim and fantasy, shared a friendship with him that stretched back to a time when he dressed in short pants and she wore pinafores. Where had her longtime allegiance gotten her? Dumped on the front steps of his sprawling mansion, that was where, and all because of a scrappy waif from America who wasn’t half as beautiful as she was, even on her best day.
Her deception had caused quite a scene that evening. Trevor’s horrified guests had fled the dinner party when his little bride had pitched a fit and ran off in the direction of the rose garden to be followed by her equally outraged husband. Their shouting match had cracked the careful facade of English high society. Indeed, the debacle was something more suited to an American reality show than to an intimate gathering in the English countryside.
Yes, the Baroness had caused the ruckus, misled the sweet young thing into believing Trevor had betrayed her. She had possibly ruined their new marriage—all in the pursuit of one man, but Trevor Barrington wasn’t just any man. He was indeed a prize, and a rare one at that, even if he had argued otherwise moments ago. He was the most dashing and exciting man in all of Britain, not to mention one of the wealthiest. And he had been hers, for a time—a very long time in fact—almost twenty years. Well, partly hers anyway.
Abigail Sutton had practiced patience that would put a saint to shame, shared him with countless other women, seen him through his disastrous first marriage as well as the sham of a second, which turned out to be a marriage of love (much to her shock and dismay). She had waited since she was sixteen for the Duke of Devoy to make her his Duchess, the Demon Duchess the press would have called her. The Devil Duke and his Demon Duchess definitely had a ring to it. But their union would never be a reality now. Her destiny had been rearranged by a bubbly nitwit with a little boy’s haircut.
“What I need is a stiff bloody drink,” she muttered to herself. “He owes me that much for my decades of service.”
The Baroness never stomped, she usually sashayed or sauntered, sometimes even sailed. And she rarely cursed or drank more than half a glass of wine or champagne, but tonight she stomped with purpose, straight down the hallway toward the Duke’s study. She planned on getting good and soused.
She plopped down in a leather wingback chair behind Trevor’s desk, nursing her whisky. Soon the spicy scent of her former lover’s cologne overwhelmed her and she fled the reminder of his naked skin. Not that she’d had her nose or lips pressed up against that naked skin recently. He’d kept her out of his bedroom ever since that hysterical git had arrived, shunned her every advance, ignored her kisses and caresses, disregarded her subtle hints. In fact, the last time he had touched her had been in this room, but his lust had been inspired by another. Was she really so overly ripened that she should be passed over for some jabbering Thumbelina? She supposed youth appealed to most men, and she’d left her youth a while back—wasted it on a man she’d never have now.
Abigail knocked back her second whisky and began to pace. “You turn thirty-bloody-five and they’re ready to inter you.”
She was a year and a half past thirty-five, closer to thirty-seven really. That she was nearly seventeen years older than the woman who had replaced her made her need another whisky.
A shimmering glow caught her eye as she passed by the heavy gilt mirror on the way back to the sidebar. She stopped up short, studying her reflection in the glass, feeling a little like Snow White’s wicked stepmother.
“I may be a villainess but I’m still the fairest of them all,” she hissed to the statuesque flaxen-haired woman staring back at her. “Fat lot of sodding good it’s done me.”
The Baroness recovered from her little outburst and smoothed her coif with an elegant hand. Her chignon was still in place, no errant hairs coming loose. She hated her wavy hair—hated it even more when it became a mane of bouncy kinks in the damp, which was almost every day of the year in England—hated it because when she was a little girl her mother had told her that her hair was “unfortunate”. “An English lady doesn’t have hair like a lioness. And she doesn’t have an appetite either,” she’d said. “Remember that if you want to get a husband.”
Abigail tensed at the memory of her mother’s insensitive words. Sliding her other hand over her flat stomach, she tested its firmness. “You’d be so proud, Mother,” she said with bitterness as she pinched the side of her taut waist. “I haven’t had breakfast in twenty years. And for lunch, one piece of dry toast with tea, no sugar added of course. Shall I make that half a piece of dry toast?”
No, she’d have her piece of dry toast. Everything was still in order. Her figure was unequaled—high full breasts, slim long limbs, a tight rounded backside from years of riding. She’d been passed over for a younger model, but it wasn’t because her looks were failing. She was still a carefully crafted work-of-art, with her porcelain skin that never saw the sun and her wide green eyes framed by strikingly dark lashes and brows. Yes, she was still a beauty, and a raving one at that. If a little…
In the end, her beauty and breeding had won her nothing. Her perfect posture wilted, shoulders dipping and curving inward. She’d spent her entire life loving Trevor, staying beautiful to please him. Who was she without that drive and purpose—just an aging aristocrat on the shelf. The life that she’d known had been turned on its arse the day that undersized imp had made her awkward entrance.
Abigail stepped away from the striking woman in the mirror to refresh her glass. She took her time as she passed by the tall bookshelves filled with leather-bound volumes. Would she ever be invited to this great house again, this sprawling mansion she’d spent so much time in as a girl and even more time as a woman? Would she ever be touched again was the question? The answer was: not by Trevor. She’d never make love on this property again—this was certain. She’d gone from a duke’s mistress to a shriveled old lonely prune in one night. This was a problem that could only be solved by excessive amounts of her former beau’s single malt Scotch whisky.
BY THE TIME THE BARONESS STUMBLED OUT OF THE BENTLEY she was not quite soused, but exceedingly tight. The chauffeur held the door for her as she swiped at the hem of her dress. Her vision was a little blurry, but she could see the fine silk had torn where she’d stepped on it with her spike-heeled Louboutin’s.
“Oh, blast these shoes,” she huffed.
The tall stone facade of Sutton Place loomed, a forlorn and bleak presence. She’d be all alone in there, so dreadfully alone, save her live-in maid, Gracie.
In the near distance she heard the whinny of a horse. She knew a ride would distract her.
I’ll ride Trevor Barrington right out of my bones.
She was too sloshed to ride safely, but she didn’t care. She’d welcome a fatal crack to the head at this point. She was heedless of the icy wind that had followed her from Devoy. It was rather nippy to be sure, but the whisky had warmed her blood.
She dragged open the door to the stables, falling into a fit of curses as her dress got stuck in her heel again. Her entrance into the immaculate barn started as a stumble and quickly progressed to a calamity. It was those pesky shoes again, out to get her they were. This time the heel caught on a drain grate and sent her tumbling.
A rich masculine voice sounded from the shadows. “Whoa, there.”
Abigail’s head snapped up, peering through the low light until she made out the tall male figure at the end of the long row of stalls.
Mr. bloody Johnson.
“Bloody hell,” she hissed. “Not you.”
She hadn’t meant to say that out loud. She wasn’t acting like herself at all tonight. Bungling and tripping and swearing and acting in quite a haphazard manner. Abigail planned on never drinking again—and never getting her heart broken again either. She was in a sorry state to be sure.
She cleared her throat. “Were you speaking to the horse just now, or… to me?”
“A horse wouldn’t be stupid enough to wear those shoes in a barn.”
Abigail’s mouth fell open and a little gasp flew out. “I’m dressed for dinner, Mr. Johnson. I’m sorry if that offends you.”
She needed an interaction with him like she needed a hole in the head. Jack Johnson—the surly horse trainer from America. Trevor had hired him to work with her problem horse. The horse had been a birthday gift—a white Friesian with the glamour of Marilyn Monroe but the disposition of Adolph Hitler. The animal was a rare beauty, but impossible to ride. The trainer had been there almost two weeks, trying to ease the horse’s temper enough so that Abigail could ride her more than a few minutes without being thrown. The truth was: She didn’t like the horse and she liked the trainer even less. She found her time with the difficult man and the equally trying horse strangely disconcerting. Though the animal tossed her to the ground again and again, it was the way the American spoke to her that unsettled her.
“Is the Baroness having a bad day?” he drawled.
Everything he said seemed to drip with sarcasm. She could never quite tell if he was displaying a dry humor or just being contrary to spite her. He was obviously from a different class than she. He used plain speech, but didn’t seem quite like country people. The way he held himself and dressed suggested an educated background. She supposed he was unique, mysterious even—not that it mattered, because she couldn’t wait to be rid of him. If she had to suffer another one of his speeches on the benefits of Western vs. English riding she’d scream.
“I am having a bad day, in fact—a very bad day.”
To be continued…