Romance readers have already spent several books with Eloisa James’ Wildes of Lindow Castle, but one of the ladies comes to the fore in Say No to the Duke.
As romance series go, Eloisa James’ Wildes of Lindow Castle is deliciously excessive in the best ways possible, or so we’ve said before in our reviews of Too Wilde to Wed and Born to be Wilde, which are fantastic titles all on their own.
Fortunately, things don’t seem to be slowing down in Say No to the Duke, which will be the next title in the series with a current on-sale date of June 25, 2019. Working together with Avon Books, we here at Culturess have not only the first look at the cover — but an excerpt from the first chapter!
Let’s just take that cover in first, though, shall we? One thing at a time.
Cover to Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James. Image via Avon Books.
Fans who have reached the end of Born to be Wilde know that Say No to the Duke will feature Betsy (Boadicea) Wilde and Lord Jeremy Roden, but Betsy gets to star on the cover all by herself. This isn’t uncommon for the novels, but it does continue a nice trend for the series, as all of the previous novels have also been solo affairs.
Still, there’s a rakishness to this cover that hearkens back to Too Wilde to Wed, with North’s knowing grin, but Say No to the Duke doesn’t really rely on the fact that its heroine is unclothed. Instead, she’s overdressed, with a dress pulled away to reveal breeches and boots underneath. Don’t worry, though: it’s plot-relevant. Even if it weren’t, it’s a great character note for Betsy. We know she’s a bit adventurous, to put it mildly. Why wouldn’t she don men’s clothes and go out on her own?
But before Betsy grew up to be the woman we already know from her previous appearances, she had her own struggles, and like many a romance novel, it looks like we’ll get a glimpse of her youth before we dive into the entire story.
Below, here’s an exclusive excerpt from the first chapter of Say No to the Duke!
Miss Stevenson’s Seminary
“The Girls’ Eton”
Queen Square, London
September 14, 1776
By her fourteenth birthday, Lady Boadicea Wilde had wished for a best friend on weeks of first stars. She had created a wishing stone by dunking it in milk under a midnight moon. She had written down her wish and burned the paper in the nursery hearth so it flew up to heaven.
The ensuing fire had burned all the evening’s logs, and she had been punished by being confined to bed, where she watched her younger sister Joan and stepsister Violet cuddle on the nursery sofa and whisper secrets to each other.
It was all her father’s fault.
Duke’s daughters, especially those who lived in huge castles, had no chance to meet prospective friends. They were kept in the country like potted violets, waiting for the moment when they would be paraded in front of the world and promptly married off.
From what Betsy could see, her father was her stepmother’s best friend. Only a girl with eight brothers could sympathize with the revulsion that swept over Betsy at that thought.
Friends with a boy.
Boys smelled and shouted. They thought nothing of tossing water over one’s head, pulling hair, and passing wind deliberately.
How could a boy possibly understand how she felt about life? She longed for a kindred soul, a girl who would sympathize with the unfairness of having to sit side-saddle, and not being allowed to shoot a bow and arrow from horseback.
A few years ago, when her brothers Alaric and Parth had announced they wanted to visit China, her father’s eyes had lit up, and a whole meal flew by talking of three-masted schooners and mountains of tea. True, the duke had forbidden the voyage until the boys were older, but he’d laughed when he discovered they’d sailed off anyway.
If she ran away to sea? The idea was unthinkable.
If her wishing stone had worked, she’d be living in a place where girls were allowed to wear breeches and travel wherever they wished.
Lying in bed after her fourteenth birthday party—attended by five brothers, since Violet and Joan were recovering from the chicken pox—Betsy realized that if she wanted a girlfriend, she had to take matters into her own hands. She had wished for a friend before blowing out the candle on her birthday cake, but inside, she no longer had faith.
Magic had proved ineffective, if not irrelevant.
Yet there is more than one way to skin a goat, as the family coachman had it. It took three months of coaxing, pleading, and downright tantrums, but finally Betsy, Joan, and Violet were taken to the very best boarding school in England, an establishment run by Miss Stevenson, who had the distinction of being the daughter of a baron.
As they walked into the imposing building, Betsy struggled to portray an image of ladylike comportment. She couldn’t stop the giddy smile that curled her lips. When a maid arrived to escort her to the wing for older girls, she hugged her father and stepmother goodbye and danced out the door, leaving them to comfort her stepsister Violet’s tears.
Violet was shy, and afraid to live away from home, but as Betsy heard girls’ laughter from behind a closed door, her heart swelled with pure joy. She was finally—finally!—where she was meant to be.
“You will share a parlor suite with Lady Octavia Taymor and Miss Clementine Clarke,” the maid informed her. “Each of you has your own chamber, of course, and your maid will attend you morning and evening. You may become acquainted with Lady Octavia and Miss Clarke over tea.”
Betsy’s heart was beating so quickly that she felt slightly dizzy. Clementine was such a beautiful name, and hadn’t Octavius been a general? Octavia was named after a warrior, just as she was!
The parlor looked like a smaller version of parlors at Lindow Castle, tastefully furnished with a silk rug and rosy velvet drapes. A table before the fireplace was set with a silver tea service.
Betsy’s eyes flew to the two girls who rose and came to meet them. Clementine had yellow ringlets and a pursed mouth like a rosebud; Octavia had low, dark eyebrows and a thin face.
“Your name is so pretty,” Betsy told Clementine, after the nursemaid left.
“I wish I could say the same for yours,” Clementine said, sitting down with a little smile, as if she were merely jesting.
Betsy blinked. “Boadicea is certainly unusual,” she said hastily. “I prefer Betsy.”
Clementine’s nose wrinkled. “We have a second housemaid who used to be called Betsy. My mother changed her name to Perkins.”
Betsy couldn’t think what to say. “I see,” she managed, her voice coming out flat and strange.
“Please, won’t you sit down, Lady Betsy?” Octavia asked, gesturing toward a chair.
Betsy sat. “Have you been at the seminary for some time, Lady Octavia?” she asked.
“Clementine and I have been the only parlor boarders since—” Octavia began.
“I have every expectation that my mother will fetch me away within the week,” Clementine said, interrupting.
“I see,” Betsy repeated, fighting to make her tone cordial. It was ridiculous to feel a shaky and a little frightened. This wasn’t the way she had imagined her first encounter with possible friends, but Clementine was only one person, and there was a whole school of girls to meet.
“Do you?” Clementine demanded.
“Are you very good at maths?” Octavia put in, her voice rather desperate.
“No, I am not,” Betsy said. “I am sorry to hear that you are departing, Miss Clarke. Is the parlor too small for three of us?”
“The meals are frightfully good here,” Octavia said, her voice rising.
“My mother will travel from the country to fetch me as soon as she learns of your arrival,” Clementine said, ignoring Octavia. “I sent a messenger yesterday.”
Betsy had the horrible sense that she’d somehow strayed into a nightmare. She took a deep breath. “Why are you so impolite, Miss Clarke?”
Clementine pursed her lips tighter than nature had made them, and then opened them just wide enough to speak. “No one can blame a child for its mother’s lascivious nature, but it would have been more agreeable if His Grace had thought how unpleasant it was for young ladies of stature to share a chamber with someone who…”
“Who?” Betsy prompted.
“Is bound to have inherited her mother’s sinful inclinations,” Clementine said, her eyes shining like greased blueberries.
Betsy stared back in horror. Of course she knew that the duke’s second duchess—her mother—had run away with a Prussian count when she was a baby. But no one had ever spoken of her mother so demeaningly—or implied that she, Betsy, would inherit a penchant for debauchery.
“Clementine!” Octavia protested, adding, “You are being frightfully ill-bred!”
Clementine turned toward her. “I’m merely repeating what scientists have proven, Octavia. Strong attributes are always inherited; it’s just precisely the same as when a racehorse was bred for speed. You could call it destiny, but it’s really science.”
“I don’t believe it,” Octavia said stoutly.
But Betsy’s brother North was fascinated by horse breeding and gave near-nightly disquisitions on which traits were making themselves known in the ducal stables. Betsy knew, better than most ladies, that traits were indeed inherited.
A strange tingle punched through her body, as if a wall had opened, revealing something frightful behind it, something she’d never imagined.