ABOUT THE BOOK
Being so sinful never felt so sweet…
Constance Campbell, the Duchess of Kilmaine, once believed that all she needed in life was a duke. But everything unraveled when she realized her perfect husband was a perfect monster. Now broken beyond repair, she hides her misery behind a perfect Society mask…even from her childhood friend, Alec.
Dr. Alec McGuiness reluctantly finds himself back in Scotland, and checking up on the only woman to ever get under his skin, Connie. After she spurned him many years ago, he knows his humble life as a doctor could never be enough for her. But when the Duke of Kilmaine is murdered in cold blood, with Connie sleeping right next to him in bed, Alec knows he must protect Connie at all costs from those who would frame her for the duke’s murder.
Now on the run, Connie feels a freedom she only ever dreamed about before, and an unexpected attraction to the man who is keeping her safe. But even if they can win her freedom and clear her name, could she ever open her heart up to someone again?
*** Trigger warning – the chapter contains references to domestic violence and non-consensual intercourse. So for those of you who may find such a thing too confronting please don’t read further ***
The reflection staring back at Constance from the floor-to-ceiling mirror was perfect. So perfect that she felt like crying.
Her pale blond hair was perfectly coiffured in a classic twist. Her diamond necklace was perfectly placed to highlight the delicate hollow of her throat. Her sapphire-blue ball gown was perfectly molded to her curves, the color of it perfectly matching her eyes.
And though some might wonder at her choice of long sleeves, they perfectly hid the multitude of yellow and purple bruises marring her body.
After all, her husband did insist she maintain the appearance of a perfect duchess for the ball they were about to host. And one couldn’t be considered perfect with bruises on display.
God, she hated that word…perfect.
For a moment, Connie felt like slashing away at the sleeves of her gown. Tearing it from shoulder to waist. Showing everyone that her husband, Duncan Campbell, the Duke of Kilmaine, was in fact a perfect monster. A monster who enjoyed using his fists on her, instead of any words of endearment.
Her body clenched as the memories of the afternoon assailed her—of being curled up on the floor while Duncan’s boot slammed into her back and legs, over and over. The guttural sound of pleasure in each of his grunts as he kicked her, still sending a wave of sickness through her belly. And then when he’d grabbed her by her hair and yanked her to her feet, there was the cruel delight in his eyes that he never bothered to disguise.
No. He thrilled in showing her how much enjoyment he took in inflicting pain upon her. But, this time, he’d had the restraint to leave her face alone, for it was rather difficult to pretend everything was fine if one’s wife had a bruised cheek or a swollen eye.
Though for a second, she’d seen the contemplation in his gaze. Weighing up whether he could simply say she’d taken ill, as he’d done on previous occasions. But the sheer number of important society members attending, and the fact that Connie was nothing if not the perfect hostess, had obviously outweighed his desire to strike her again, at least anywhere visible. So he’d laid into her stomach and arms with his fists instead.
Just enough to hurt her but not enough to debilitate her. And then he’d dragged her to the bed.
Hot waves of tears began to burn like acid down her face. She swiped at them with her hands and squared back her shoulders. She couldn’t give in to any weakness. She feared what she might do if she did…
Walking over to the window, she peered through a gap in the curtains. Already a line of carriages was positioned along the drive, one after the other, waiting to deliver their lofty occupants to the castle’s entrance stairs so they could partake in another of the Duke of Kilmaine’s famous balls.
Duncan would be inside, playing the consummate host, with a gleaming smile on his handsome face as he effortlessly charmed all the guests. Fooling them, as he’d once fooled her. Caring little that he was holding the ball on the third anniversary of his first wife’s death.
Connie jumped a fraction, her head swiveling toward the bedroom door. Thankfully, it was her lady’s maid, whose kind eyes were lit with concern. An expression the girl frequently wore these days.“Yes, Sarah?”
“Mrs. Morgan asked me to tell you that the duke is asking after you.” The girl cringed slightly. “He’s wondering when you will be downstairs to assist in greeting the guests.”
Yes. Duncan would be inwardly seething that she hadn’t made an appearance yet. And of course, he would be harassing the housekeeper to find out where she was. But there were only so many hours she could keep up the pretense. And with each event, it was getting harder and harder to do so.
Sometimes she longed to flee, to run far, far away. But she couldn’t. Without funds at her disposal, and her family living in London, she was alone.
Not that her mother would help, anyway. No, she’d made that perfectly clear on the last occasion Connie had seen her, when she’d finally confessed what Duncan had been doing. She still felt a pang of despair when she recalled the fury in her mother’s eyes when Connie had broached the subject of leaving Duncan. Her mother had made it very clear that it was Connie’s fault for vexing the duke in the first place, and if she dared create a scandal by leaving him, she would never be welcome home.
Not that it really mattered. If Connie did try to flee again, Duncan probably would kill her this time.
Initially, when she’d fled, nearly two years ago after he first beat her, he’d caught her and punished her to the point of near death. It had taken her months to recover from her supposed fall down the stairs.
But at least, after that, Duncan had been more careful to not get so carried away. Not because he was worried about the police. No, as his wife, she was his chattel, to do with as he pleased. The reason Duncan took a little bit more care now was that he couldn’t risk losing the monthly dowry her inheritance gave him if she died.
A small comfort, that.
Not that she particularly minded the thought of death. Sometimes she even craved it, especially when he’d pick up her bruised and battered body, then carry her to the bed. The hot stench of his breath as he lay on top of her and pushed himself inside her, thrusting in and out, while she was helpless to do anything but close her eyes and pretend she was anywhere else.
Yes. On those occasions, she often welcomed death. Then there would be no more pain. No more hurt. No more fear.
“Are you all right, your grace?” Sarah asked, venturing into the room and walking over to her.
Connie closed her eyes tightly and tried to focus on breathing in and out. In and out. Just one breath at a time. “I shall be fine, Sarah.” She slowly walked back over to the mirror and checked her appearance once again.
As her mother had harshly reminded her on the one and only time the woman had visited her in Scotland, it was Connie’s duty to make the best of things, as much as she might long for the sweet bliss of nothingness.
Perhaps that’s what Duncan’s first wife had felt? Why she’d chosen to leap from the castle’s rooftop instead of enduring more of his punishments. But in doing so, the woman had left her little daughter, Amelie, alone with this monster.
Something Connie refused to do.
No six-year-old deserved to be under the same roof as such a man, subjected to his temper and fits of rage, even if he was her father. And since Connie’s arrival at Castle Kilmaine, she’d grown to love the girl. She would do anything to protect her from Duncan’s fists.
Even if that meant ensuring his anger was redirected upon herself instead. At least she was strong enough to withstand the physical beatings. She had to be. How else would she survive and protect Amelie?
Her reflection seemed to mock her. There was nothing strong about the image staring back. Her eyes looked haunted and, combined with the pale porcelain of her skin and almost ethereal looks and delicate figure, she projected an air of fragility.
An image she’d once carefully cultivated, earning her the nickname “the divine angel” when she’d had her coming out. An image that used to disguise the strong and determined young woman she’d once been. But it was an image she feared was becoming all too real.
An image she now loathed—but Duncan adored.
“Please tell Mrs. Morgan to ensure the duke is informed I shall be down shortly.”
Sarah curtsied. “Yes, your grace.”
The girl turned and left the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Your grace. How Connie had always longed to be called that.
And she’d pursued her goal relentlessly, refusing to accept anything less than a duke, believing that her life would be perfect when she became a duchess.
And in a way, it was perfect. A real dream come true— but never the way she’d intended. And the joke was on her, for wanting a duke above anyone else.
She glanced at her reflection and suddenly started laughing. The sound echoing across her bedchamber sounded manic and hysterical, even to her own ears. And then she collapsed onto the floor, buried among her petticoats and crinoline, sobbing as she’d never allowed herself to do before.
Sobbing until there were no tears left.
Who murdered the despicable and abusive Duke of Kilmaine? There were certainly a lot of people who were disgusted with his appalling behavior toward his second wife, Constance, and his first wife who allegedly killed herself. However, due to the location of the dead body next to Connie in her bed, the Duke’s cowardly brother, Fergus blames her and plans to have her arrested and placed in an asylum. But not if Dr. Alec McGuiness has anything to say about it.
Time is of the essence when Connie and Alec flee to Inverness to find proof of who actually murdered the Duke. Is it Fergus? And why and who are the people trying to kidnap Connie?
This is my first Maddison Michaels book and she certainly keeps the reader on their toes with many diverse characters and surprising plot twists leading to a shocking climax. I love a good romance with a bit of a mystery and this book delivers.
Thank you to Ms. Michaels for giving me the opportunity to read this book with no expectation of a positive review.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Indoctrinated into a world of dashing rogues and feisty heroines when she was a teenager, Maddison Michaels is a bestselling, award-winning Australian romance author, who loves to write sexy history with a dash of mystery! Her debut novel, The Devilish Duke, won the 2019 RWA Australia Historical Romance Book of the year.
Maddison’s historical novels are her way of time traveling back to Victorian London to experience a cornucopia of intrigue, romance, and debauchery all from the comfort of her living room! She lives in Sydney, Australia with her own very handsome hero, beautiful daughter, and two fur babies! Oh and always starts her day with a cup of liquid gold… coffee (just quietly, she’s addicted to the stuff)!