Wendy Soliman is a British author, brought up on the Isle of Wight, who now divides her time between Andorra and the west coast of Florida. She shares her life with her long-suffering husband and a rescued dog of indeterminate pedigree, named Jake Bentley after the hero in one of her books. Both Jakes are handsome mongrels with independent spirits and wild streaks.
Wendy has over forty published books to her credit, ranging from Regency romance, (her first love), to contemporary women’s fiction and marine crime mysteries. She also writes erotica for SirenBookStrand under a pen name.
When not writing, Wendy enjoys walking miles with her dog, reading other people’s tomes…oh, and she’s on a one woman mission to save the wine trade from the world recession. She figures someone has to do it!
TO DEFY A DUKE
Elias Shelton, the Duke of Winsdale, has a duty to produce an heir. Completely indifferent, he leaves his mother to invite all the most suitable candidates to a house party at Winsdale Park, promising to choose one of them as his duchess. Returning home after several days of pre-nuptial carousing, Eli falls from his horse and badly injures his head. His life is saved by a mysterious woman who fascinates and enthrals Eli.
Athena Defoe and her young twin sisters are hiding from their past in a tumbledown cottage on Eli’s estate. Athena refuses to place her trust in Eli, but he is equally determined to repay her by protecting her. To do so he must first discover what or whom she is so afraid of. With attention focused on her by the duke’s interest, Athena’s whereabouts becomes known and danger visits her quiet corner of Hampshire.
Caught up in the whirl of his mother’s entertainments, Eli must race against time to save the woman he’s fallen in love with, even if she isn’t duchess material…
“Mrs. Defoe.” Eli offered her an engaging smile. “Welcome to Winsdale Park.”
Athena continued to stare at him, looking totally stunned. She swallowed several times, deathly pale and so bewildered, Eli felt wretched for having deceived her. She made no response to his greeting as a kaleidoscope of conflicting emotions passed across her lovely features, none of them especially encouraging. She was not only shocked, but angry with him.
Eli wondered if she knew just how endearing she looked when in a high dudgeon. She was simply magnificent in her justifiable rage and clearly not the slightest bit intimidated by Eli. Silence sucked the atmosphere dry as she continued to fix him with a penetrating gaze of focused fury. Susan, equally bewildered by the chilly silence, cleared her throat and sent Eli a speaking look. It broke the spell, and Athena finally acknowledged his presence.
“Your grace.” She imbued the words with sweet sarcasm as she dipped an elegant curtsey.
“I am very glad you were able to come to my sister’s aid.” He waved a hand around the cavernous barn, treating her as though she had just spoken with the upmost civility. “She was quite at her wit’s end over all this.”
“I was?” Susan looked surprised to hear it.
“I am no longer sure I can be of any help,” Athena said, a determined jut to her chin.
“Susan, I believe Mother needs you.”
“No she doesn’t, Eli. She is discussing menus with Mrs. Coulton.” Susan sent him an impish smile and leaned her chin in her cupped hand, making her intention to remain with them patently clear. Eli supposed he couldn’t blame her. Susan, the little minx, would be eaten up with curiosity about his connection to Athena. “I should only be in the way.”
“You’re in the way now,” Eli replied, through gritted teeth.
“Me?” She elevated her brows in innocent surprise. “You must excuse me, but Mrs. Defoe and I are in consultation about decorating this barn. If anyone is in the way, it’s you.” She settled herself on a stool and sent him a sweet smile. “But don’t mind me. If you have matters to discuss with Mrs. Defoe, I shall find something to occupy me.”
“Mrs. Defoe.” Eli held out an arm. “Do me the goodness of taking a turn around the lake with me.”
His goddess sent him a lofty glance from beneath her fringe of thick, curly lashes. “Do I have any choice in the matter?”
“Absolutely you do,” Susan replied before Eli could. “No one ever dares to say no to Eli. He will bark at them, and intimidate them if they attempt it, you see. But you are my guest, not his, and it’s high time someone put him in his place.”
“Susan, are you absolutely sure there isn’t something you ought to be attending to?”
“Thank you for your concern, Eli, but I believe my morning is completely my own.”
“Mrs. Defoe.” Eli again proffered his arm, an edge to his voice. “Please oblige me.”
She inverted her chin, expelled a disgruntled sigh, and moved elegantly across the space that separated them. Eli felt victorious when she placed her small hand on his sleeve, even if she did so with obvious reluctance.
“Pray excuse me, Lady Susan,” she said. “I will not be gone for long.”
“Take all the time you need, Mrs. Defoe,” Susan replied with a mischievous smile. “I shall busy myself ordering the cutting of the blackthorn and elderberry branches you suggested.”
“Make sure they know to cut them as long as possible. These decorations need to be on a large scale in order to show to their best advantage.”
“Yes, I understand.”
Eli led Athena away in the direction of the lake. She looked straight ahead, but he could sense the fury in her fixed expression and rigid stance. What else could he have expected? He was unsure how to proceed or what to say to win her around, and so thought it best to wait for her to break the brittle silence that sprang up between them. It was several minutes before she did so—several of the longest minutes of Eli’s life.
“I dare say you enjoyed a good laugh at my expense,” she said through tightly compressed lips.
“Quite the contrary, I do assure you. I’ve never felt more obliged to anyone.” He sent her a candid smile. “You saved my life, and asked for nothing in return. I don’t think you understand how remarkable that is.”
“Why did you not tell me who you were?” She stopped walking and glared at him, a rich burn turning her eyes the colour of molasses, her cheeks flushed delightfully pink with indignation. “Or did you prefer to entertain yourself by making me look foolish?”
“What would you have done if you had known?”
“Sent word here at once.”
“Precisely.” He started walking again, compelling her to remain with him by placing his free hand over the one still resting on his other arm. “And I couldn’t have that.”
“You would rather sleep in a…just a minute.” She snatched her hand from beneath his and covered her mouth with it. “The repairs to the cottage, selling our lace so easily, this request for help from your sister…that was all your doing?”
“Yes, I wanted to repay you in some small way.”
“So Miss Dawson wasn’t impressed by our lace.”
She looked endearingly discouraged, and it took every last vestige of Eli’s self-control not to pull her into his arms and kiss away the hurt.
“Oh, I believe she was,” he said in a languid tone. “She ought to be. Even I can see that it is exquisite, and I’m told she has every expectation of it selling well.”
“It should. It’s far cheaper than it ought to be.”
“Why is that?”
She shook her head, and it was obvious she didn’t plan to say anything more.
“This may come as a surprise to you, your grace, but I was perfectly happy to help you, just as I would have helped anyone I found on the ground bleeding to death. You didn’t have to interfere in my life in some obscure attempt to repay me.”
Find More of Wendy’s Books at www.wendysoliman.com