A beautiful duchess mourns for her beloved
A sun-bronzed merchant returns to claim a birthright
Disparate souls in need of love and renewal
Paths cross and the journey begins...
Widely regarded a classic and a rule breaker, Autumn Duchess is a rare example of a much-loved heroine’s second chance at love in the autumn of her life. Deeply emotional and uplifting, this stand-alone story takes the Roxton Family saga into the bold new future of the next generation, led by Antonia’s son, the 6th Duke of Roxton.
Third book in the acclaimed ROXTON family saga
Character-driven romantic adventure
Non explicit (mild sensuality)
Story length 131,000 words
Deluxe Trade Paperback ISBN 9780987073891
Ebook ISBN 9780980801354
Kobo ISBN 1230000119793
Kindle ASIN B005GLFCX8 (ebook) B014EWKRDO (audio)
FEATURED REVIEWSSeldom has history and romance melded together with such beauty and delectable deliciousness than this! The history is spot on and the characters are painted with perfect deftness. They are compelling but flawed, with challenges, insecurities and strengths that encourage the reader to cry and cheer, as each encounter tragedies and triumphs on their road to a love redeemed. Admittedly the experience is heightened if one has read its predecessors but is still relishable as a stand-alone. Pitch perfect yumminess from one of the brightest stars on the Indie-romance horizon!
★★★★★ —TJ Mackay for InD'Tale magazine
—BJ AudioGals audiobook review
—Caz Owens ALL ABOUT ROMANCE audiobook review
Each time I listen to hugely talented Alex Wyndham narrating one of Lucinda Brant’s novels, I am completely blown away. This duo is so perfect together that I am completely lost to all else once I have started a Brant/Wyndham audiobook. All in all, Autumn Duchess is absolutely terrific and one I’m recommending most highly. Lucinda Brant and Alex Wyndham are a force to be reckoned with, and I for one, will devour every one of their collaborations.
—Wendy Romantic Historical Reviews audiobook review
Once again Lucinda Brant provides the reader with an extraordinary look into polite society of years gone by. No lack for adventure and suspense in her latest foray into London’s society. Autumn Duchess definitely moves up the ranks to one of my historical romance favorites.
—SWurman for Night Owl Reviews
Lucinda Brant has carved a niche for herself in this particular patch of history and she is gifted in weaving both story and history into a compelling read. Passion is the keynote of this novel: abundantly clear in the passion of the main characters, the robust energy of the age, and the pulse of action that creates an energetic and well-paced novel. The author has a wonderful turn of phrase, creating a sense of the opulence and oftentimes excessive luxuriance of the era. Food, drink, clothing, entertainment, and appetites are all described in glowing detail in an era that celebrated abundance and sensual gratification. Highly recommended.
—Eliza Knight History Undressed
As many people who will read this already know, I am a history geek with a singular fascination with the Georgian era. This also makes me a pretty harsh critic of any book set in this period. Autumn Duchess makes the fourth book I have read by author Lucinda Brant and I now declared myself a true blue fan. In her Georgian set romances Ms. Brant recreates the lives of the Georgian nobility, allowing us to venture beyond the closed doors and hear the whispers behind painted fans, to walk as equals amongst the uppermost elite. With an impeccable eye for detail she colors the aristocratic world, from their diamond shoe buckles to their white marble mausoleums, yet still manages to portray the privileged as real people. This is another highly recommended title from Lucinda Brant and an addition to my "keeper" shelf.
—Author Emery Lee.
E SAW HER from across the ballroom.
A striking beauty was staring straight at him.
Jonathon brought himself up short and stared back.
He couldn’t help himself.
He could count on three fingers the occasions he had crossed paths with such exquisite feminine beauty that it stopped the breath in his throat; twice on the Indian subcontinent and once in the East Indies, and now here, this very minute, in this ballroom, on this green wet island. So it was only natural he should give himself the leisure to drink her in. His admiring gaze wandered from her honey-blonde hair that fell in heavy ringlets over one bare shoulder, to the porcelain skin of her décolletage glowing flawless against the bottomless black of her gown. He would not have been male had his gaze not lingered on her ample breasts, barely contained in a square cut bodice. He tried to find fault with her heart-shaped face, with the small straight nose and determined chin, and with her unusually oblique eyes, but what was there to fault?
Smiling to himself, he fancied everything he saw, and everything he could not he was sure was just as alluring.
He wondered at her age. Not that it mattered. It was a game he played to pass the time at social functions such as this. Dressed all in black and wearing no jewelry about her slender throat or wrists he supposed she was a widow, and thus not in the first flush of youth.
What was a widow doing here?
His fascination increased tenfold.
For all his limited experience of the London social scene, Jonathon knew well enough that widows did not attend social gatherings of this sort, particularly not such a renowned event at the height of the Season. Perhaps her mourning was almost at an end and she was chaperoning one of the young things here tonight? Surely, she was not old enough to have a daughter of marriageable age? Jonathon pulled a face. For some unfathomable reason he did not like the idea that she may have been a child-bride.
Why was she staring at him?
She stood so still, with her hands clasped in front of her, as if she was a statue carved of alabaster draped in black cloth; as much a fixture of the ballroom as a blazing chandelier or the enormous, richly woven tapestry hanging behind her. And so it seemed when dancers began pairing up and passed her as if she was indeed no more than part of the furniture. Why? Perhaps she was so well known in Society that her incredible beauty was taken for granted? In a ballroom awash with beautiful young things draped in silks of soft creams, pinks, and blues, she was a real head-turner.
Jonathon found it impossible not to stare.
He watched as some of the guests even went so far as to go out of their way not to look at her, passing in a wide arc, eyes fixed forward or down to the polished floorboards. The one or two young ladies who did cast a curious, furtive glance in the beauty’s direction were instantly reprimanded in furious undertones by parents and guardians alike and quickly averted their gaze, heads hung, as if in shame at having committed a grave transgression.
Why was she being deliberately avoided?
Why did no one acknowledge her?
Why did no one stop and talk to her?
Why was she being neglected?
It burned him up to see her alone and forsaken.
It was unlikely the beauty had a sordid past or lived openly as some lucky nobleman’s mistress for she wouldn’t have been invited amongst this august company. The Duke of Roxton was an incorruptible prude and devoted family man, a rare bird amongst his preening peers. The King couldn’t praise the Duke’s example highly enough; a compliment that was so much sniggered about in Society drawing rooms that even Jonathon, just six months in the capital, had heard it repeated often enough. Whatever the reason for her social ostracism, it was of supreme indifference to him. He was determined to make her acquaintance, curiosity and allure compelled him.
A burst of wild laughter close by brought him out of his reverie. Tommy would know the beauty’s identity and her story. He always had the latest gossip. Collecting social minutiae that families desperately tried to suppress was Tommy Cavendish’s favorite pastime, second only to eating. And so with no regard for the two turbaned dowagers who were filling Lord Cavendish’s insatiable appetite for scandal with the latest wicked crumbs, Jonathon caught at the stiff skirts of the nobleman’s frockcoat and unceremoniously pulled him backwards to stand at his side.
“Tommy! Tommy, attend me!” he demanded without taking his gaze from the beauty. “She’s in widow’s drapery and she’s being ignored. Why? What is she doing here?”
“Good Lord, don’t tell me one of the fairer sex has finally piqued your interest? Bravo! Who, old dear?” asked his lordship, a wave of his lace handkerchief to the departing dowagers who flounced off in disgust at being so rudely interrupted by a tanned colossus of undetermined social consequence. He hurriedly plastered his quizzing glass to a watery eye and swept an eager roving stare out across the ballroom, the first minuet of the evening underway, before running his eye down to Jonathon’s large feet, then up to his head of thick, shoulder-length hair. “Are you truly six feet four inches?”
Jonathon pulled the quizzing glass out of Lord Cavendish’s chubby fingers and let it drop loose on its riband. “Have done with that silly affectation, Tommy. And that hideous black patch, if that’s what it is, is also beyond enough. A wart at best.”
“Brute,” Lord Cavendish responded without offence as he touched the corner of his mouth with a fat pinkie to reassure himself the heart-shaped mouche remained in place. “Those of us who can’t be Samsons must attract Delilahs in other ways.”
“Patch and paint doesn’t do it for you, Tommy. Trust me. What would Kitty say?”
Lord Cavendish shrugged and patted his portly belly, very snug in its tight-fitting Chinoiserie silk waistcoat. “M’wife? Told me to wear a half-moon rather than a heart, and at the temple not the mouth. But what would dearest Kitty know about patches and paint? And, I’m not the one who needs a wife—”
“Tommy, don’t start.”
Lord Cavendish pretended ignorance and swept a silken arm out towards the crowd gathered on the edge of the dance floor. “Start? My dear friend, the bridal campaign started in earnest months back, if you hadn’t noticed. And where better to find a nice little wife than at this esteemed gathering. Pick of the grapes, this bunch. No one with a relative below the rank of Viscount and it’s not as if you have to marry money. There’s a few dainty dishes with a pedigree as long asyour arm and no funds to match. Kitty thinks—”
“No, Tommy! No.”
“—that there are at least five delicious puddings for you to choose from; all in their early twenties and in their second Season. Although, I wouldn’t discount the Porter-Lewisham pikelet, even if she is eighteen.”
“Eighteen?” Jonathon was revolted. His daughter was just nineteen years old. He turned his portly friend’s shoulder towards the dance floor. “Attend, Tommy! The beauty over there. Who is she?”
Lord Cavendish fumbled for his quizzing glass.
“Where is this vision of loveliness, this delectable éclair that has whet your manly appetite?”
“Not over there. Over here,” Jonathon said impatiently. “To my left. The tapestry. She’s staring straight at me.”
Lord Cavendish made another sweep of the ballroom with his magnified eye, careful not to linger on any particular pretty face for more than a few seconds, but if there was an eligible beauty amongst the press of silk petticoats and fluttering fans, he could not discover her; pretty, yes, but no female so striking as to cause his tall friend to get steamed up under his cravat, unless… No! His smile remained fixed but his brow furrowed. He glanced up at Jonathon and followed his unblinking gaze… Oh God. No. He mentally gulped and let drop the quizzing glass, mouth at half-cock, and mumbled something unintelligible.
It was a few moments before he found his voice, long enough for Jonathon to witness two dour faced creatures, both dressed in dove-gray silk and with all the charisma of strong-armed jailers, approach the beauty from behind to stand two paces back on either side of her. They reminded him of a couple of gargoyles. The almost imperceptible way in which the beauty squared her snowy white shoulders told him she was aware of their presence and that they were an unwarranted intrusion. But she did not speak, nor did she look at them.
His assessment of these women was justified when a gentleman carrying two glasses of champagne staggered out of the refreshment room, skirted the dance floor ringed with onlookers, and headed straight for the beauty. He lifted both glasses in the air as he twirled this way and that to avoid spilling a precious drop of bubbly, and came face to face with one of the humorless gargoyles who stepped forward and waylaid him before he could get within ten feet of their mistress. He was quietly taken in hand by two liveried footmen, who appeared from the crowd as if from thin air, and was marched away, champagne soaking the front of his canary-yellow frockcoat.
“Well?” he demanded of Lord Cavendish as the Countess of Strathsay curtsied low before the beauty and then rose up to speak a few words. “Who is she that such a sanctimonious stickler for breeding and rank as the Lady Strathsay curtseys until her long nose scrapes the floorboards?”
Tommy Cavendish’s mouth was still forming words but then it fixed itself in a tight smile and he tapped Jonathon’s arm with the edge of his quizzing glass. “Strang! You cunning steak and kidney pie. For a moment you had me believing you. You can’t bamboozle me that easily.”
“I’m not. I’ve never seen her before tonight and I want to know who she is so I don’t make a fool of myself upon first introduction. Your contribution would be much appreciated but I will do without it if I must.”
Lord Cavendish’s usual bonhomie evaporated. He wished Kitty with him. His wife would know how to explain matters much better than he.
“Ah… Yes… Should’ve realized. She doesn’t go out in society any more. Damn shame, if you ask me. Damn waste of a beautiful woman.”
“Well?” Jonathon repeated rudely. He watched Lady Strathsay take her leave, shuffling backwards a few feet before turning and abandoning the beauty to the watchful eye of the two gargoyles. “Come on, Tommy. If she’s a recluse she could up and leave this claustrophobic social get-together at any moment. So out with it before I lose patience and take the plunge and ask her to dance without the benefit of your assistance.”
Lord Cavendish shook his powdered head.
“No, Strang. You do not want to go over there. It will be very bad for you if you do. Believe me, by going over there you’ll certainly make a fool of yourself. You’ll be boiled mutton for broth before you can be minced for steak tartar.” When Jonathon gave a huff of disbelief, his lordship sighed and dropped his quizzing glass to say without artifice, “Strang. Trust me in this. Deb Roxton has favored your dearest Sarah-Jane with her patronage. The Duchess doesn’t favor all her Cavendish relatives. Such noble benefaction is not to be scorned. If your daughter is to bag a baronet at the very least, you want to avoid incurring the Duke’s displeasure at all costs. Believe me, you, like the rest of us red-blooded males, must admire that divine beauty from afar.”
Jonathon was unimpressed. He stared out across the noble bewigged and powdered heads gathering in the vast ballroom and caught sight of the very nobleman whom they were discussing. He watched the Duke make his way through the crowd to come stand beside the beauty. She reached no higher than His Grace’s shoulder and, Jonathon suspected, this in heels. The Duke inclined his head, took out his snuffbox and said a few words to which the beauty did not respond. Finally, she turned and tilted her chin up at him, gave a response, and flicked open her fan of black feathers with a quick agitated movement. After an exchange that lasted a few minutes she dared to turn her bare shoulder on the Duke to look the other way. His Grace remained at her side, watching the dancers with an enigmatic smile, and by the inclination of his head he was continuing to talk to her under his breath despite being deliberately ignored. It was Jonathon’s opinion that one would have to be blind not to see the impenetrable wall of ice bricks that separated these two.
“If the man who offers for Sarah-Jane is spineless enough to put his Grace of Roxton’s good opinion of him before his love for my daughter, then I do not wish Sarah-Jane to be so favored.”
Lord Cavendish threw up a lace-ruffled hand in defeat.
“You always were an unashamed romantic.” He sighed. “And the family had to wonder why Emily ran off with a penniless second son of a second son who worked for the India Company. Ha!”
“The name of the beauty at Roxton’s elbow, Tommy.”
“What about your quest to have the Strang-Leven inheritance returned? Put the Duke offside and you can throw the ancient ancestral pile and Sarah-Jane’s marriage prospects out with the stock pot!”
Jonathon gave a grunt, annoyed. He hadn’t spent twenty years sweating it out on the subcontinent making a fortune for his plans to slip out from under him now before he’d had a chance to fully persuade the Duke of his moral obligations to return what rightfully belonged to the Strang-Levens. So he wasn’t about to tread lightly on the off chance he might offend the Duke and thus ruin his daughter’s chances of marrying into the nobility.
“Sarah-Jane can find herself a titled husband in Edinburgh just as easily as she can scuffing her silk mules on these noble floorboards.”
Lord Cavendish was shocked. “Strang! A Scottish lord? One might as well say Macbeth to an actor!”
“Do stop the French cook theatrics, Tommy, and tell me the beauty’s name.”
Lord Cavendish avoided the question. “Kitty is a remarkable woman,” he said and touched his eyeglass to his nose knowingly. “Has the ear of the Duchess. But that’s between you, me and the saucepan, old dear.”
Jonathon cocked an eyebrow. “Well, old dear, the saucepan knows more than I, so out with it!”
“It should please you to know that Roxton is rather ambivalent about your long-lost inheritance, particularly the Hanover Square residence. He’s bought a larger, more palatial house on the edge of Hyde Park which better suits his growing brood and, so say the cynics, puts more distance between his dukedom and the nefarious past of previous title-holders. As for Crecy Hall… It’s said he’s in a dilemma about the Elizabethan turreted terror; his words not mine. As you know, the house was let go to ruin and unfit for habitation, that is until five years ago, when the old Duke, breathing his last, decided to restore Crecy to its former glory.”
Jonathon was surprised enough to take his gaze from the beauty to look down at Tommy Cavendish. “For God’s sake, why?”
“Hold on to the cream in your éclair,” Lord Cavendish ordered and continuedsotto voce. “This Duke of Roxton sees himself as a morally upright nobleman and thus once the true nature of the acquisition of the Strang-Leven inheritance was made known to him by your lawyers, holding on to Hanover Square and the Elizabethan manor does not sit well with our Duke’s high principles.”
Jonathon was surprised. “Is that so? The clouds part yet again and the sun shines through. And? There’s more to tell. Your painted lips are twitching.”
Lord Cavendish rocked on his heels. “But what the Duke feels and thinks is here-nor-there to your cause, I’m afraid. It is the Duke’s French mamma who will be your undoing because it was for her the old Duke restored Crecy, as a dower house in her widowhood. And that is where she took up residence on his death three years ago. And so it is Antonia, Duchess of Roxton you must not only persuade Crecy should be returned to the Strang-Levens but also whom you mustevict.”
“Roxton’s mother?” Jonathon rolled his eyes to the ornate ceiling, muttering, “A cantankerous old widow to contend with, and French into the bargain!Fabuleux. Un malheur n'arrive jamais seul! The weather is ever cold in this country and now it turns frigid.” He let out a sigh and squared his shoulders, giving Tommy Cavendish a nudge as he returned his gaze to the beauty, who said something to the Duke over a bare shoulder that made the nobleman clench his snuffbox and shut his mouth hard. That they were arguing couldn’t be more obvious had they been shouting insults at each other from opposite sides of the ballroom. “So who is she, Tommy, that Roxton dares let off steam in public?”
Lord Cavendish made a noise in his throat that greatly resembled the sound of a startled pheasant. He coughed into his fist politely to find his voice.
“The—um—beauty who has aroused your lust is the Duke’s—Lord! I can’tbelieve the first female to heat your blood since your return to England is the Duke’s—”
“—cousin? Sister, distant third cousin, poor relation—”
“Antonia, Duchess of Roxton. The cantankerous old widow as you so amusingly put it.”
Jonathon swallowed hard.
“I’ll be damned,” he muttered in utter disbelief.
“And so you will be if you go near her.”
Jonathon cleared his raw throat.
“She’s not old enough, Tommy. Roxton must be my vintage if he’s a day.”
“We were at Eton together. He’s turned thirty. His grizzled locks and the fact his mother is cursed with being absurdly youthful for her years don’t help.”
Jonathon frowned his distaste. “Child-bride?”
“Do you doubt it? She was snatched from the schoolroom. The fifth Duke was a notorious rake who reformed for her. They were devoted to one another until his death. Enough said.” Lord Cavendish waved to a gentleman across the room who was making exaggerated head movements in the direction of the refreshment room. “Time to move on, Strang. Cards, conversation and comfits await us through those archways, and I for one intend to enjoy what’s on offer.”
Jonathon stayed him, gaze still very much riveted to the Duchess. “Tell me you’re hoodwinking me, Tommy. Tell me the truth. Tell me that such an extraordinarily beautiful woman has no blood connection to Roxton. Tell me, Tommy.”
Lord Cavendish let out a heavy sigh. “I wish I could. I cannot.”
“Then tell me what you do know.”
“Will you have done staring openly at her,” Lord Cavendish hissed, pulling at Jonathon’s velvet cuff. “Roxton’s glanced at us twice already, and no wonder with your eyes glued covetously to his mother. He’s damned protective of her, and who can blame him? The old Duke’s death signaled open season on his much younger wife. Her incredible beauty is matched only by her personal wealth, an inheritance left her by the old Duke to do with as she sees fit; the Strang-Leven inheritance amongst those riches, old dear. Roxton’s hands are tied while she is alive. So you see why he keeps her in a gilded cage. Well, that’s the line…”
“And the unauthorized version?” When this was met with silence, Jonathon forced himself to look away from the Duchess, down at Lord Cavendish’s frowning countenance. “Oh, come on, Tommy! Tell me and then you’re free to stuff yourself from the buffet tables with abandon.”
His lordship sighed. “You’re doggedly persistent.”
He again took up his quizzing glass to pretend an interest in the dancing, for not only was the Duke regarding them under heavy brows but those who milled about on the edge of the dance floor were beginning to turn heads in their direction and whisper behind fluttering fans and perfumed lace handkerchiefs.
“The old Duke died almost three years ago. He was three score years and eight and had been ill for a number of years, so his death was not unexpected. Except, that is, by his Duchess, who still mourns his passing as if it was yesterday. She is a divinely beautiful, sweet-natured creature who is to be pitied. Rumor has it sorrow has unhinged her. Sir Titus Foley, a dandified physician who’s made a name for himself in the study and treatment of female melancholia, has been summonsed to Treat by the Duke, and for the second time in as many years. It begs the question about the balance of Her Grace’s mind, does it not? And you didn’t hear this from me, old dear, for Kitty would surely have me trussed and spit-roasted.”
Jonathon pulled a face of disgust.
“The poor woman has lost her husband, who was the love of her life, her home and her exalted position in society, and her son keeps her under lock and key? Is it any wonder she’s suffering from melancholia? She has no life at all; bullied and badgered and totally misunderstood is my guess. She don’t need the peculiar attentions of a supercilious quack. What she needs is someone to talk to and a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.”
Lord Cavendish’s burst of high-pitched incredulous laughter was heard across the ballroom.
“T-T-Talk to? Oh, S-S-Strang! You are my bowl of chicken broth; so necessary to my comfort. Your remedy? So appealingly uncomplicated that you have me almost convinced. I take it you’re going to do the manly thing and offer Antonia Roxton your own broad shoulder to cry on?” He wiped his watery eye on the lace ruffles covering the back of a shaking hand. “And for your efforts she’ll be eternally grateful and not only sign over the Strang-Leven inheritance to you, but vacate Crecy Hall forthwith, for you to do with as you wish?” He shook his powdered head in disbelief. “May I live to see the day!”
Jonathon grinned. “Just watch me.”
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